Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Oxford Bake Off

Writing this blog is all very well but I need to challenge myself more in the food world, no I’m not suggesting I enter masterchef, that’s extreme but I wanted and still want to do the odd cooking event every now and again.

I had seen the posters and tweets but a bake off with a cupcake poster? I didn’t scream very me and certainly didn’t tick my culinary boxes. 

Category 3. The Perfect Pie.
On further investigation I found that there was in fact a pie category, savoury or sweet, your choice! Brilliant! However my investigation happened last weekend, so I had given myself under 1 week to pull this off, I emailed my forms over on the Tuesday (final entry day!)

Tuesday night – What type of pie should I make?
after having a chinese over the weekend and discussing this idea with my OH I thought I’d try a chinese pie and an Indian pie. Basic idea I know! So I ran to the shops after work and picked up my ingredients for both pies.
Chinese pie – I was thinking spring rolls – Butter, Carrot, Onion, Chilli, Ginger, Leek, Garlic, Soy Sauce.
Indian Pie – I was thinking samosa – Garam masala, Onion, Ghee, Garlic, Chilli, Chickpeas.
The Pastry – Ready to roll shortcrust pastry.

The verdict.
The Chinese pie was deemed good, but it was though that much more development was needed to get it right, be that ingredients, spices and slicing. so I will hopefully try this again when I’m not prepping for a competition. The Indian pie was the chosen one, I knew what I had to do to improve this, Garam Masala was just not going to cut it. As I have made plenty of curries in the past I didn’t feel that this would be such a daunting task to improve.

Wednesday night.
After a drive to work in the car with my fellow car lifties I was told by them, that I couldn’t enter a pie competition with pre-bought pastry! I was dismayed, I agreed but I only had 3 days to go and I wasn’t sure how my pastry would work out (and be fixed!) in time for Saturday. So that night I used ‘The Great British Book of Baking’ and make a shortcrust pastry, I wanted to jazz my pastry up so I rolled it in dried mustard powder before putting the ball into the fridge. I amended my mixture to discard the garam masala and include cardamom seeds, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and  garlic. It has to be said the result was much more appealing, and my pastry worked!

Friday night – last minute change!
I read on Friday at lunch that puff pastry lids were best for mini pies, and I wasn’t that happy with my shortcrust pastry lids. So some bought puff pastry was used in this process! (Shocking I know!)
After Thursday night off, the pressure was back on, but this time for real. I knew what my pie mix had to consist of  but I now had to think of quantity and improving my last effort. I was making mini pies, I had previously made 2 or 3 this time I wanted to make 6 – 8 mini pies.
This evening I had time on my side. I made my pie mix and pastry, and waited for the pie mix to cool, if it goes in hot, you will end up with soggy pastry.
At 8pm the first batch of 4 went in for 35mins at 180C. I removed them from the oven allowed them to cool for a further 20mins, remove the ramekins and left the pies on a cooling rack, I was happy with the result. But there was no time for dancing, the next batch had to go in. (I had only purchased 4 mini pie ramekins).

By 10pm I was ready to sit down with a glass of wine, just before bed for an early Saturday start!  

Saturday D-Day

So this was it, I had to take my pies into the unknown world that was The Oxford Bake Off! – Scary stuff!
On arrival there was a large amount of tables filled with amazing looking cakes! The first thing to notice about the room, was the amount of colour and vibrance that filled the room. There were huge cakes, bright cakes, little cakes and bread. I put my pies onto the table ready to be judged against others, later that morning. Unfortunately the competition in my round was lacking, no I’m not being rude, but it was just me in the Pie round, so I won the round. I’d like to hope that the flavour and taste of the pies were to the judges satisfaction anyway, and hopefully the pies that were left made a contribution in the charity sale!

I enjoyed the build up and the event despite the Pie turn out, (I do like a bit of competition!) I would recommend to anyone out there that enjoys cooking and or baking that you should give something like this a try, so long as your free on the day of the event, you don’t mind a bit of competition, oh and you can brave being judged by people (who aren’t your friends and family) then there is no excuse! You never know the competition might not turn up! You’ve got to be in it to win it!

So on that note I’ll let you know that there will be an Oxfordshire Bake-off in 2013. More information about how you can be part of it is coming soon. 

To try my pies for yourself follow my recipe:

250g plain flour
pinch of salt
150g Unsalted butter
6tbsp cold water
How too:
Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse
Dice in the butter and blitz in the food processor
While the processor is running pour in the cold water, the mixture will quickly take shape in a solid round ball. At this stage take it out of the processor, cling film the ball and sit in the fridge for 25min.

2 Onions- chopped
1 tin of chickpeas
5 fresh tomatoes – chopped
2 garlic cloves – crushed
Small portion of peas – approx 100g
1/2 tsp sugar
2tsp mustard seeds
2tsp Cumin Seeds
6 Cardamom Pods – seeds only
1tsp ground coriander
1 fresh chilli (home grown if poss) finely chopped, add seeds if you want the heat.

Add some Ghee to a large pan, add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook slowly and stir every now and again until the onions are soft and clear.
Now take a dry pan add the spices until the mustard seeds start to jump. Now turn the heat off and pour the spices into a pestle and mortar and crush.
Mix the spices in with the onion and garlic pan, now add in the chopped chilli and season.
Add in the tomatoes, sugar and peas keep on a low heat for about 10mins
Now leave the filling to cool before adding to your pie pastry

Take your pastry out and roll. Now cut out your pastry and make sure this fits into your chose pie dish. Add your filling and top the pie off with puff pastry.
Add the pie to the oven. Mini pies took 25mins at 200C 



Work soups – Courgette and leek

1/2 onion
1 medium leek
1 Baked potato diced
3 Courgettes
600ml Vegetable stock
Butter (for softening the veg)

Time to create – under 1 hour
Portions 4-5 so this should see you through the week

So this weekend has been about green, if you celebrated St Patrick’s Day that is! my soup will follow this trend for the next 5 days. I’m making courgette soup, unintentionally the green weekend rubbed off on me!

Add butter to a pan and start to melt, gently. Chop half an onion and put this into the pan and allow to sweat for 10 mins.
Chop the leek into a sieve, then rinse. The sieve makes washing the leek so much easier. Now add the leek to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon.
While the leek and onion are softening chop your courgette and potato into small cubes then add to the pan, now mix the veg within the pan.
The final part is to add the stock, I used a bouillon vegetable stock cube, I think it has more flavour than most.

Leave the soup to simmer for 30 – 45mins then mash with a potato masher for textured soup or whizz with a hand blender until smooth.

Work soups – Roasted Butternut squash

This should serve 4 to 5 portions, so it’s ideal for your working week. If you don’t want soup without bread then take a slice in! This soup has one main ingredient so it’s easy on the wallet and the waistline. 
Time: 1hr
Cost: Approx £2.00 providing you have the spices in your cupboard and some stock cubes.

1tsp Ground turmeric
1tsp Ground cumin
1tsp Ground coriander
4-5 Garlic cloves
1tsp sugar
1 Medium sized butternut squash
500ml of veg or chicken stock

Pour some oil in to a roasting tin and put this in the oven to warm up. Set your oven to 180C. Roasting your veg in hot oil starts the roasting process off to a better start, something to remember for roast potatoes next time! 

Peel your butternut squash and chop into 2 inch chunks, and discard the seeds. 
Tip your chopped squash into the roasting tin, do this away from your body, so as to be careful not to splash any hot oil onto yourself.


Add in your spices and garlic to the tin, coat the squash in the spices by stirring. Now put the roasting tin back into the oven. Roast your butternut squash for 30mins
Once roasted, use a slotted spoon to transfer the contents of your roasting tin into a pan, now add your stock and simmer for 15mins
Blend with a hand blender or simply use a masher.

Taste and season to taste, Leave to cool before pouring the soup into your container.

Lunches for Work

Over the past few years people are constantly thinking about how best to save money, be it on food, drink or lifestyle. There are programs that help you get the most out of your weekly shop and the supermarkets are always doing price comparisons for the consumer.  

  • With your weekly shop do you consider your lunches?
    If you work in an office maybe you buy a loaf of bread and a variety of fillings to put into your sandwich each day?
    Maybe you buy the ready-made soups to put in the microwave at work?
    Or maybe you don’t think about lunch and then take your wallet to the company canteen or local shop or pub?

Whatever you do, this section of my blog is going to let you know about my inexpensive working week lunches.
Don’t get me wrong, I do go to pub for the socials and birthday lunches, I also use the work canteen and occasionally I head down to the business parks cafe, to pick up a baguette. But what I won’t let myself do, is go to these outlets everyday!

Have you ever thought about how much you spend on your work lunches?  

I work on a business park in Oxfordshire. A few years ago my weekly spend for lunch used to be around £20-£25. So £100 in 1 month on lunch! This was my first job after university and it was a crazy amount to spend.

Why did I do this!? My work place at the time had no subsidised canteen, the kitchen had no kettle and no microwave (for fear of smelly food!) My lunch options were therefore limited to cold lunches, sandwiches or salad. Alternatively one of a few local pubs or the 2 sandwich bars on the park.
The sandwich bar lunch usually consisted of a create-your-own baguette, drink and crisps or a sweet thing. £3.50 of this was for the baguette alone!
Things Improved when I moved company, they had a subsidised canteen and a kettle and microwave in the kitchen. For me this ment that creating my own lunches could get more exciting, as they could be hot or cold depending on the season! Now my average weekly spend can be as low as £2.

Microwave campaign: I think it’s wrong for companies not to provide a microwave, I’m not a huge fan of mine at home, but they are so handy at work! Just because one staff member has a sensitive sense of smell shouldn’t cause expensive lunches for others.

The Oxford Blue – Marston Street

Between Iffley Road and Cowley Road sits the Oxford Blue on Marston Street. And it’s changed!
There are wine boxes decorating the back of the bar, a bird flying through a mirror and a moose head over a table. This pub has become a more artistic spot, it’s more about its food and wine, and I hope it continues to grow. From what I’ve seen so far it’s good. Price wise its sensible: £12.50 being the most for a main course. Between £4 – £7 for a glass of wine. There is: Bar food; Starters; Mains; Platters; Sides and Desserts.

On my first visit to the new Oxford Blue, I had the Cheese platter to share – £10.50 Oxford Blue, Manchego, Westcombe Cheddar, Oxford Isis, Mebrillo. And a money bag of croutons – these were kept warm by the bag! The service was friendly and the barman was chatty, he suggested that we have the Charcuterie platter next time as it was also very good. I’ll opt for the Vegetarian platter next time but it’s clear that good produce is key to the new Oxford Blue.

After a great first visit and lunch, I decided last to try the Sunday lunch. I follow @TheOxfordBlue on twitter and often see tweets highlighting their variety of meat, they specialize in rare breed free range meats and Organic Vegetables. After further investigation their vegetarian options are good too, so I went ahead and booked via twitter, so if you’re on twitter and fancy a change give them a tweet and book in. If you don’t follow them already find them: @TheOxfordBlue

Last Sunday I selected my lunch from the specials board, opting for the Smoked haddock – this was a dish with a white cheesy sauce with tender stem broccoli, and perfectly runny poached egg on the top. The fish was delicious, I haven’t had smoked fish for a while and it certainly reminded me to have it more.

Slow roast belly of Gloucester Old Spot Pork & spiced Apple Sauce. This went down well and ended with a clean plate. Apparently the crackling was ‘Awesome’ as well as tasty, the nice big Yorkshire pudding went down a treat too, it’s rare to get them as good.


We shared the: Warm Chocolate Brownie with hot fudge sauce, this is unusual, purely because I’m not normally drawn to chocolaty puddings. This was a good choice after having warming Sunday dinners. I did feel unable to move for a short while afterwards! #Piglet

It was quite quiet for what I’d usually expect for most pubs on a Sunday, especially with such a great menu choice on offer. Perhaps this is because the usual crowd have moved on? Or those that weren’t keen before aren’t aware of the changes inside! So step off the main routes, wander down Marston Street and you’ll find some good food and wine. Mothers Day is around the corner and she wouldn’t be disappointed with this venue.

So it might not be the sports pub that it used to be but so what!? I admit I was slightly dismayed at first: ‘Where should I watch the boat race this year?!’
However there is plenty on offer @TheOxfordBlue
Wine tasting with nibbles night, they had one back in Feb and have plans to host another one in April. I couldn’t make it in Feb but hope to be available in April!
They also have monthly Jazz on the 3rd Wednesday of each month, so if you like jazz set the reminder in your phone and turn up!

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