Wednesday, 20 August 2014

After years in the wilderness toast is back on the menu

Jay Raynor, one of the UK's most revered restaurant critics confesses to adoring his toast burnt with a smear of butter and a smattering of Marmite. ‘Toast’ is the title of Nigel Slater’s award-winning biography of a childhood remembered through food and Toast House is the name of my favourite cafe in my home town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire. It is an artful emporium of everything that celebrates toast; from food that can be toasted, toppings that can be smeared on toast to a beautiful collection of antique racks for serving toast. Toast, it seems, has endured the extremes of the low carb dieters and is once again back on the menu. I popped in to have a chat with Natasha Byers and Lisa Jenkins, the owners of Toast House, to find out why toast is making a comeback.

Lisa says “Toast is quick to make and comforting. It goes with the snug atmosphere we wanted to create in out cafe. We love the revival of traditional crafts like knitting, sewing and baking. Making toast from great quality, artisan bread fits with the nostalgic feel that is really popular at the moment. The word ‘toast’ also conjures up lovely feelings of family and goes well with cake. Toast has a lot of sensory qualities; the crunch as you bite into it, the smell as it cooks and the soft inside as butter melts into the crumb. It all adds up to a great eating experience. Everybody seems to like toast and associate it with memories of home and childhood. It’s a feel good food.”

Neither Natasha nor Lisa has an extensive catering background and so they wanted to serve food that was easy to prepare. They just wanted to make simple, fresh food with good quality ingredients.

“Toast is really versatile and can be served with savoury or sweet toppings at any meal” says Lisa. “You can have toast for lunch or with a cup of tea. One of our most popular dishes is toast smeared with Mascarpone, topped with raspberries, honey and cinnamon.”

I ask what has been the response to a cafe based around such a basic food. “Most people love it. They think it is a really simple, clever idea. Toast is not particularly bad for you. Many customers just want something very simple and wholesome to eat. It is also great for children cut up into fingers to dip into things.”

Lisa and Natasha tried toasting lots of different types of bread before they opted for bread made at the Bondgate Bakery, Otley and the Leeds Bread Co-op. “You want toast to ‘crunch’ when you bite into it, soak up the butter and carry a topping. If you get a sliced loaf it can have a sogginess that just does not work.”

If people want to make more of the toast they make at home Lisa and Natasha recommend:
  • Use the best bread you can. 
  • You have to use bread that toasts well. So check out craft bakeries and farmers markets.
  • Be creative about the toppings. You can put almost anything on toast for example mashed up broad beans or beetroot with feta; or even peanut butter with a good quality chocolate grated over it.
  • Use lots of colour and textures and complementary flavours. Toast with colourful toppings can look really attractive. 
  • We use a good smear of salted butter which gives the toast a bit more flavour.
Inspired by my chat with Natasha and Lisa I made up Natasha's great idea for this silky, green spread dotted with chunks of feta. It is delicious.

Avocado, pea and feta on toast

Serves 4


  • 150g frozen peas
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 100g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp mint chopped
  • 8 slices of sour dough or light rye bread


Place the frozen peas in pan and cook in a little boiling water for five minutes. Drain and leave to cool. Meanwhile cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and scrape out the flesh taking care to extract the thin very green layer next to the skin. This gives the pâté a beautiful green colour. Add the lemon juice and peas and season well. Place the avocado and peas in the bowl of a food processor and blitz for 30 seconds. The mixture does not have to be completely smooth. Adjust the seasoning and mix in the crumbled feta cheese and chopped mint. Serve on lightly toasted sourdough or light rye bread dribbled with a little olive oil.

More recipes for great things to eat on toast coming soon! So stay tuned.

For the latest news on toast @toastilkley or visit Toast House, 22 Leeds Road, Ilkley

Lisa Jenkins on the right
A version of this article appeared in the Yorkshire Post today 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Spiced carrot, orange and quinoa cake

I spotted a recipe for a carrot and quinoa cake by Rose Prince in the Telegraph's baking club cookery column. I loved the idea of combining carrots and quinoa in a cake. Using quinoa in baked products is a great idea and I had heard of it before teamed up with spelt in a scone at Le Pain Quotidian the lovely café on St Pancras Station, London. Apparently the scone is fabulous.

The original recipe for the carrot cakes used stratospherically expensive ingredients including 185ml of virgin coconut oil at £6.00 for a 300ml jar and 180g maple syrup at £6.00 for 285ml bottle. May be I would shell out for these ingredients for a very special occasion carrot cake but not for an everyday one. So I made some changes.

I also wanted to think about a different kind of topping. I suspected the usual soft, rich creamy cheese type topping would be too heavy for this moist nutty cake. I thought long and hard about the flavours that marry with carrots. 

A rummage through my store cupboard turned up home made candied orange peel and some dark chocolate. "Spot on" I thought "these would do nicely." A spidery dribble of dark chocolate always looks great with orange and tastes great too. 

To spice up the cake I added a little ground coriander, cinnamon and some mixed spice.

This is a large, moist cake. The flavours work really well and the nuttiness and crunch of walnuts makes it taste wonderful. Quinoa is definitely a great ingredient to use in a cake like this.

Spiced carrot, orange and quinoa cake

Serves 12


  • 100g plain self raising flour (or to keep the cake gluten free use gluten free SR flour)
  • 175g ground almonds 
  • 1½ tsp ground coriander 
  • 1½ cinnamon 
  • 1½ ground coriander
  • ½ tsp mixed spice 
  • 100g light brown sugar 
  • 100g walnuts roughly chopped 
  • 170g qinoa(cooked according to the instructions on the packet) 
  • 80g maple syrup (or golden syrup which is much cheaper) 
  • 250g peeled and grated carrot 
  • 185ml sunflower oil 
  • 3 eggs, beaten 
  • For the topping 
  • 75g plain dark 60% chocolate 
  • 25g home made or good quality candied orange peel (optional) or orange zest 


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. You will need a spring form baking tin measuring 23cm/ 9 inch across with the base lined with buttered silicone baking paper.

Place the dry ingredients (flour, spices, ground almond, walnuts and light brown sugar) together and mix thoroughly. Combine the oil, eggs and maple syrup and whizz together with a stick blender or a hand whisk. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir in the quinoa and carrots. Fold the ingredients together carefully until well combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and cook for 45 minutes or until the cake is just turning golden brown and is firm and springy to touch. Remove the cake from the oven and when cool enough release it from the tin and allow it cool completely.

To decorate the cake: break the dark chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl over hot water and allow it to melt. Dribble the top of the cake with the melted chocolate and decorate with either orange zest or candied orange peel. Or you could simply sprinkle the top of the cake with a little icing sugar.

Friday, 8 August 2014

What to cook with what you grow. Easy recipes for children.

This week I met 7 year old Amelia Hirst on her very own allotment in Laisterdyke, on the outskirts of Bradford. I had read about her in the Times and followed her up for a piece I am writing for the Yorkshire Post. She was quietly spoken, tiny and really quite inspirational. 

At two years old her father Paul took her to their family allotment to give her mum, Beth, some time to set up her designer hat business. Something about Amelia's experience at the allotment really captivated her and here she is 5 years later and not only is she helping her dad with his plot but tending one of her own. 

And she knows her stuff. I asked her about when to harvest parsnips and she gave me an answer without hesitating. "After they have had some frost. It makes them taste better" she told me confidently. She knows exactly what a cold frame is for and she has plans to have her own green house next year. She fancies growing flowers.

She is not a fair weather gardener either. If the weather turns bad while she and Paul are at the allotment she has plenty of indoor work to be getting on with. " I take the onion seeds from the heads of onions that have gone to seed and dry them. They will form next years crop" she tells me.

I was interested to know if she plans for what to do with this year's allotment produce. She was not short of ideas. She goes to bed reading The Allotment Seasonal Planner and Cookbook and draws up lists of what she wants to cook. She turns blackcurrants into a type of Eton Mess and redcurrants into a jam spiced with cinnamon and allspice. She points to several rows of vegetables and says they are the vegetables for this year's Christmas dinner - swedes, onions, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, carrots and parsnips.”Last year Amelia helped to grow 25kg potatoes which lasted the family through to April. 

The recipe for a simple tomato tart below is inspired by Amelia and is timely because tomatoes are just beginning to ripen on the vine in the UK. I have used marjoram from the garden because I have loads but you could use parsley or basil. If I had had more time I would have made the pastry but as this is a simple recipe that even young children can make I haven't. The trick to making something which involves a shop bought ingredient is to flavour it boldly and to cook it well. Enjoy. 

Easy tomato and herb tart

This is the simplest recipe for children to make and is a great way of using up a glut of tomatoes.

Serves 4

250g puff pastry
300g cherry tomatoes or sliced large tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 sprigs of fresh marjoram to garnish (optional)
1 egg beaten together with a splash of milk
grated Parmesan or other cheese to serve


Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Roll the pastry into a circle approximately 20cm across and 1/2cm thick.  Lay the pastry in a flan case 20cm in diameter. If you are using cherry tomatoes prick the skin of each tomato and place it in the pastry lining the baking tin.  Make sure the tomatoes are fitting close to each other. If you are using large tomatoes, slice them thinly and place them over the base of the flan. Sprinkle with garlic and dried oregano, and season well.  Brush a little of the egg and milk over the edges of the pastry and place the flan in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.  About half way through the cooking time check the flan is cooking evenly. If it is beginning to scorch in one place turn it around. Remove the flan from the oven and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. 

Amelia Hirst

Monday, 28 July 2014

Beetroot roasted with woody herbs, truffle pecorino and lentils

This dish began with my weekly visit to Arthur's allotment in Ilkley, a short walk along the river from where I live. It is the peak of the fresh beetroot season and I spotted neat rows of red veined leaves rising and waving from the earth as a gentle, summer breeze blew across them. I called to Arthur to establish his whereabouts and found him in his little wooden shed, eyes sleepy from  a brief postprandial nap. Arthur told me he sowed the beetroot seed in modules and, when the seedlings were large enough he planted them out - usually in May. Growing a field of beetroot is back breaking work but he has done it for years and it is part of his garden calender.

"Beetroot do not keep for long in the ground. They must be harvested before the cold sets in" he tells me. I bought seven perfectly formed beetroot for £1.00. Arthur always makes sure he undercuts the local Tesco supermarket.

I love to roast beetroot and I have discovered a new way - the best yet. I was in a bit of a rush to cook dinner over the weekend and I thought wrapping each beetroot in a piece of foil was a time consuming fiddle. So what else could I use? In a flash, I remembered a stash of roasting bags.

I cleaned the beetroot, cut off their leafy tops and placed them in a clear roasting bag with a selection of woody herbs -  thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano; a dash of olive oil and a liberal pinch of flaked sea salt. I secured the bag with a loose knot and placed the bag in an over preheated to 200C. After 20 minutes I opened the bag and inserted a sharp knife into the centre of one of the beets. The flesh gave way indicating it was cooked and I removed the bag from the oven leaving the purple globes to cool. Large beetroot will need longer to cook.

When the beets were cool it was time to find out if my new cooking method had worked. Perfect - caramelised sugars added depth and sweetness to the flavour of the beetroot. Sea salt had penetrated the silky smooth flesh and aromatic volatiles oils released from the woody herbs added to the complex earthy flavour. This is a great way of cooking beetroot quickly.

At the weekend I visited the Courtyard Dairy, Settle to buy cheese. I discovered pecorino, a sharp, young sheep's milk cheese cut with veiny threads of real truffle paste. I could smell it's heady scent as Andy Swinscoe, the Courtyard dairy's owner and cheese refiner, peeled a slither for me to taste. Andy suggested it would be great in a salad and so I had this in mind when I made this dish.

Beetroot roasted with woody herbs, truffle pecorino and lentils

Serves 4


4 beetroot, cleaned and tops removed
springs of rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage
150g Puy lentils
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 deseeded red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp good quality olive oil
Maldon sea salt and ground black pepper
25g truffled pecorino or 40g plain pecorino


Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Remove the tap root from the beetroot. Place the beetroot in a roasting bag with a little of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and a bunch of woody herbs. Fasten the roasting bag with a loose knot. Shake the beetroot in the bag to make sure they are covered with the herby seasoning. Cook the beetroot in the oven for twenty minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and allow the beetroot to cool. 

Meanwhile cook the Puy lentils in twice their volume of boiling water for ten minutes or until tender to bite. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.

To assemble the salad. Place the lentils in a bowl and add the chopped red onion, tomato, parsley, and chilli and mix well. Add a good pinch of Maldon salt, lemon juice and two tablespoons of olive oil. Place two tablespoons of lentil mixture on each of four small plates. 

Peel the beetroot if necessary - sometimes the skins are good enough to eat - so you might not need to peel. You decide. Slice the beetroot into delicate discs and cut each disc in half so you have a pile of half moon shapes. Assemble four or five pieces of beetroot across the top of the lentils and top with slithers of pecorino cheese and some fresh herbs to decorate.

PS... Just in case you wondered what was for pudding. The answer is tayberries with some elderberry syrup and Greek Yogurt.