I have a confession to make today, which is that I didn’t – until approximately 1 week ago when Breville sent one – own a classic toastie maker. There’s a fancy-pants panino press in the kitchen (panini is plural, I won’t apologise), which is great for smashing too much kimchi and blue cheese into an admittedly very good and on-trend sandwich but it does feel a bit like cheating on the original.

The sealed-crust Breville is a good leveller. Everyone has a story about burning their face on a hot pocket be it cheese and onion, cheese and beans or – worst of all – cheese and tomato. Proper welt territory, that one.

The pocket is, of course, one of the key features of the classic style; the bread seals properly at the edges meaning the majority of filling is encased inside one, freshly plumped cushion. What to put inside though? Leftover curry, obviously. Any will do but I’d tried aloo gobi before and knew it to be good. A fresh coriander chutney, red onion and pickled chilli bring essential zip.

We are living in a strange time. A time that people will one day read about in history books. Cooking and eating are all I really have to keep me going right now, and I know it’s the same for many of you. May I suggest that a nostalgic toastie making sesh may lift your spirits? Just steer clear of that sliced tomato.

Aloo Gobi Toastie Recipe

This recipe for aloo gobi makes enough to feed 4-6 people for dinner, so it’s obviously way more than you’ll need for a toastie. I’m assuming you’ll save some and enjoy it the next day. It’s not a very spicy version as I add chilli to the toastie later. If you’re just making this for dinner, then up the chilli.

To make aloo gobi

300g waxy potatoes, cut into small dice (about 2cm)
1 cauliflower, cut into florets (keep them larger than the potato pieces)
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tin tomatoes
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan then crushed or ground
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 green chilli, split lengthways
2 teaspoons garam masala
100ml water
Juice of 1/2 lime
Oil, for cooking

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large, lidded pan. Add the cumin seeds and when they start to spit and crackle, add the potatoes. Cook over a medium heat, stirring until they begin to turn golden at the edges. Set them aside. Add the cauliflower and cook until it’s coated in the oil and spice too and just starting to take colour. Set aside.

Add a splash more oil, then cook the onion until golden, stirring often. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes, again stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Add the turmeric, coriander seeds and the green chilli and cook, stirring all the time for a minute or two. If it starts to catch you can add a splash of water.

Add the tomatoes and leave to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add back the vegetables with some salt and the water. Stir well. Don’t worry that the water doesn’t seem like enough, it will cook well with the lid on. Put the lid on and leave for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Stir it regularly and mush up the cauli a little bit smaller once it starts to soften.

Once cooked, stir in the garam masala and add the lime juice and some more salt if needed. I left mine overnight before making the toastie as the curry tastes even better the next day.

To make the toastie

Sliced white bread
Leftover aloo gobi
Cheese (I used a mixture of what I had but Cheddar is fine – anything that melts nicely)
Sliced red onion
Coriander chutney (see below)
Pickled red chillies (see below)
Melted butter or mayonnaise

Coriander chutney recipe

Blend 1 large bunch of coriander (stalks and leaves) with 1 green chilli, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a large pinch of salt and 2 pinches of sugar.

Pickled chillies recipe

Combine 2 sliced red chillies with 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 2 large pinches sugar, 2 pinches salt and a splash of water. Set aside for 20 minutes or so.

Heat the Breville toastie maker. While this is happening, brush the outside of each piece of bread with either melted butter or mayonnaise.

Turn the pieces of bread over and spread one side of each sandwich with coriander chutney. Add a spoonful of aloo gobi and top with a handful of cheese. Add sliced red onion and pickled red chillies. Top with the other slices of bread (buttered/mayonnaised side facing upwards). Toast!

Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds

Many of us need comfort after the events of the past week or, to be more accurate, the past year. Yes, the cheese toastie is a small thing but its cheering potential should not be underestimated; a shit tonne of melted cheese + nostalgia = a force to be reckoned with. I should, as a sandwich fanatic, own an old Breville toastie maker; I often find myself hankering for the old triangular style made with cheap white bread. Instead, I have a snazzy Heston Blumenthal contraption I was sent as a freebie but which I’ve battered through consistent heavy use. It just about works if you hold in a screw and say ‘melted cheese is the one’ three times fast while thinking about pickled onions.

The build. Piling on half the cheese, beef and pickled mustard seeds.
The build. Piling on half the cheese, beef and pickled mustard seeds.

There was something lovely about the simplicity of old school toasties, with their one, maybe two-item fillings. Cheese; ham and cheese; cheese and onion; cheese and tomato. We all know the dangers of hot tomato as part of the learning curve; many a child went to school with a tomato-shaped blister on their chin. Beans were also high risk. There was egg if you were being fancy (tricky to pull off).

Add blanched cauliflower leaves and more cheese.
Add blanched cauliflower leaves and more cheese.

This style of toastie is still popular in pubs in Ireland, at least in Dublin, where lots will do a ‘toasted special’ – a very basic toastie which I’ve seen cooked in a normal toaster turned on its side while I waited for my pint of Guinness to settle. Cheap white bread, weird canary yellow cheese, too-thick onion. Lovely.

Toasties now are a different thing entirely – a street food trend, people’s livelihoods. We buy them from air stream trucks and restaurants for anything between £5 – £10. They contain multiple varieties of cheese (for the right balance of flavour vs. stringiness) and there are additions, like slow cooked short rib; haggis; onion and herbs; chorizo; macaroni; roast broccoli; pickles; you name it, they toast it.

I rather enjoy the way toasties have evolved, even though it took me a week to make this one. Why? Life. I forgot to buy ingredients, then I didn’t have time to slow cook the meat, then Trump… nope, still can’t deal with it.

Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds.
Cheese toastie with beef cheek, cauliflower leaves and pickled mustard seeds.

So this is a thoroughly modern toastie. There is beef cheek which has been cooked slowly in a sauce given depth with red miso. There are cauliflower leaves because right now I’m enjoying them more than the florets, and there is a poky mixture of pickled mustard seeds and onion to offset the cheese. About that: it’s Isle of Mull Cheddar and Marechal. A good combination for flavour + requisite stringiness. It’s a very full-on experience, a world away from the simple toasties of childhood. The thing is, I have a lot more to worry about now. I need a comfort toastie to match.

Cheese Toastie with Beef Cheek, Cauliflower Leaves and Pickled Mustard Seeds

We made the beef stew in a pressure cooker to save time (it had been a week, after all). I use an Instant Pot in case you’re interested. The method as a whole is actually a little ridiculous now I look back over it but hey this is what we did. It tastes fantastic.

For the stock and beef cheek

1 onion, diced
500g beef cheek
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons red miso

For the stock

Beef bones (get some from your butcher, they’ll give you enough for stock)
2 onions, roughly chopped into a few pieces
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
Parsley stalks

Put the beef bones in a roasting tin and roast for 30 mins at 220C (not fan assisted). Remove from the tray (keep the pan with the drippings) and put in a stockpot, cover with water and add the roughly chopped onions, peppercorns, parsley stalks and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then simmer for a couple of hours, 3 or 4 if you have time, occasionally skimming off the scummy bits that rise to the top. Strain and reduce the stock by half.

Warm the pan with the drippings and stir in the flour, mixing well for 2-3 minutes. Add a good splash of stock to loosen everything, set aside.

Dice the beef cheeks then sear them in a little oil. Set aside. Brown the diced onion until soft and starting to colour, set aside. Add a splash of red wine, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Add back the meat, gravy (from the roasting tin) and top up with the stock. Cook for 30 minutes then release the pressure quickly. Add the onions and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the meat, reduce the sauce a little, add back meat and the miso. Season.

It’s best if you now leave it overnight. The meat mixture goes thick and jellified and is easier to work with.

For the sandwiches

Slightly stale sourdough
Cauliflower leaves (these are best if you go either high or low end. So, caulis from a farmers’ market or a supermarket basics range will have the most leaves)
Large handful cheddar, small handful Marechal per sandwich
1 tablespoon mustard seeds mixed with 1/2 finely diced onion, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons white wine vingegar for 10 mins
Butter

Butter the outside of the bread. Blanche the cauli leaves. Layer up sandwiches with half cheese, beef, cauli leaves, pickles, more cheese. Toast in a sandwich toaster, or you could use a hot pan (weigh the sandwich down with something heavy, fry in butter).

Grilled cauliflower with labneh, dukkah and eggs

Holy shit.

I’ve just come back from the hospital where I was referred for an examination of my ribs and chest because I stacked it in a pub over the weekend. Had I been drinking? Alright yes, but goddamn it if people shouldn’t just level out tricksy little steps in pubs, particularly if they’re potentially in front of someone carrying a pint of lager and a slice of coffee and walnut cake (not natural bedfellows, you say? Whatever). I fell onto my chest with a great thwack, the wind left me, the world spun and when I got up I realised I had cake in my hair.

Cue hanging over the sink in the ladies loo washing my barnet, which then had to be dried under the hand dryer until it was just the right level of post-electrocution frizz. I sheepishly returned to the garden to find a fresh slice of cake and a pint gifted by pub because I assume they could tell I was just unlucky and not a terrible drunken heathen.

Parsley salad with pomegranate molasses.

I am clumsy, though. No denying it. Two weeks earlier I went arse over tit when exiting the tube station at South Wimbledon, not even realising it was happening until I was on the floor watching my shoe spin through the air behind me. A stranger ran out into the road to retrieve it and I dusted myself off and then ten minutes later came over all shaky and had to be placated with at least three ice-cold beers in quick succession.

I was going to say it’s a wonder I don’t hurt myself in the kitchen more often (TOUCH WOOD), which would at least have provided some kind of link into this recipe but then I remembered The Great Sprout Water Burn of Christmas 2014 and that was the end of that.

Dukkah = squirrel crack.

So now this is an unrelated recipe for grilled cauliflower but whatever. It’s very good. Do you remember when cauli was in danger of not being eaten anymore? It was like, ten years ago or something and all the farmers said they weren’t going to grow it because no one was bothered. Along came people like Ottolenghi getting all spicy on its ass and hey presto, cauli problem solved. It does take strong flavours well, and also it likes a bit of grilling. Combine the two and what have you got? Well, just about every side dish in every vaguely Middle Eastern restaurant in London right now is what.

So here’s my two penneth. You can smother the cauli in any spices you want really, so long as they, you know, go with cauliflower. Cumin, paprika, coriander seed, that kind of thing. I kept it simple, then blobbed thick, cool labneh here and there, topping with dukkah – that’s just a mix of nuts, seeds, spices and salt but together = squirrel crack. Eggs give the dish richness and also make it more filling but if you don’t want them then – wait for it – leave them out.

Grilled Cauliflower

The salad is a herby arrangement with radishes, olive oil and pom molasses squizzled on top. Pitta on the side and plenty of extra dukkah cause you won’t be able to get enough of it. I’d like to take the credit for the dukkah as it’s the best ever but I can’t, Donald made it. I’m scared that if I don’t tell you karma will catch up with me and I’ll accidentally drop a brick on my toe at the next opportunity.

Grilled Cauliflower with Labneh, Dukkah and Eggs

For the dukkah (do not ask me why he did this in cups. It’s probably because we just bought some new ones)

1 cup mixed hazelnuts, pistachios and pine nuts
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup cumin
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup Maldon salt (or other good sea salt)
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon ras el hanout

Toast the nuts and sesame seeds in a dry pan or oven. Bash up the seeds and nuts a bit until they resemble the picture above. Mix everything together.

For the cauliflower

1 small cauliflower
1 tablespoon vegetable or groundnut oil
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon grape molasses (you could also use date molasses, which is sweeter, or pomegranate molasses, which is more sour)
Hard boiled eggs (however many you want, I did three). I cook mine from cold then when the water starts boiling time 6 minutes – this way you get a slightly squidgy centre.
Labneh (strained yoghurt, I tell you how to make it here or buy it in a shop like the Turkish Food Centre)

Salad and toasted pitta, to serve

Prepare your BBQ for direct grilling.

Trim the cauliflower and cut it into thick ‘steaks’. I had a small cauli which only yielded two steaks – you don’t really want it any thinner as the florets will break apart. Rub them with the oil, paprika and grape molasses and season with salt and pepper. When the BBQ is ready, cook them for around 5 minutes each side or until tender.

Serve the cauliflower steaks with dollops of labneh, dukkah, hard boiled eggs and salad.

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower and Crispy Capers

You may notice that things looks a little different around here. Finally, the site looks close to the way I wanted it before I hired a dodgy developer who tacked it together with sellotape then buggered off and left me to deal. I hope now that it will be a lot more user friendly, organised and easier on the eye. There’s still a lot of housekeeping to do, so please bear with me if something doesn’t work – I will get it sorted.

I noticed that there are only nine pasta recipes on this site, which makes no sense whatsoever for a writer who claims to be obsessed with the stuff. It’s a total disgrace. I promise to serve your carb needs better in the future starting right here and now with this recipe, which includes toasty cauliflower, anchovies and capers, the latter fried until crisp.

You can make the anchovies more or less of a thing here – personally, I love them so I add 8-10 fillets, but it’s up to you. Capers are brilliant fried, by the way. If you can, get the ones that come packed in salt as they have a much better flavour than those in brine. Rinse them, pat, then fry until their petals explode in the hot oil and they crisp up, salty and sharp. They may just be the best pasta garnish since oh, I don’t know, breadcrumbs fried in anchovy oil.

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower and Crispy Capers

500g good quality dried tagliatelle
8-10 anchovy fillets
1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
4 cloves garlic, 2 whole, 2 crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 handful parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and dried on kitchen paper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons oil, for frying (like groundnut or vegetable)
50g butter
Parmesan, to serve

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F). Toss the cauliflower with enough oil to coat plus salt, pepper, and 2 cloves of the garlic. Roast for around 40 minutes until tender and golden.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Heat the veg oil in a small saucepan and fry the capers in it until crisp, then drain on kitchen paper.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a pan and add the anchovies until they melt. Add the crushed garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute or so, stirring. Add the cooked cauliflower plus some salt and pepper and stir until combined.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and add the cauliflower mixture, plus some lemon juice and parsley. Taste for seasoning and serve with grated Parmesan and the crispy capers.

Whole cauliflower tagine

Diet? January? Pah! I’m sorry but we need insulation during this snowy month and I’m all about blubbering up. Okay I’m actually going to join the gym as soon as I get paid. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks eating things like langos, an Italian feast and my own body weight in melted cheese at Forza Winter. Oh, and after Forza Winter I ordered a pizza at 2am. And then finished it for breakfast. And then and then and then and then. So you see I need to cut down on the cheese intake and up it on the veg side of things, which is how this cauli tagine came about.

The cauli is one of my favourite vegetables, and the once poor, unloved brassica is now apparently back in favour. I’ve wanted to steam one whole for ages and it seemed perfect for the tagine; it would cook gently inside, picking up all the spiced aromas over and hour or so. It would also look pretty snazzy on the table.

I streaked the top of the brain-like cauli with saffron steeped in water; a flavour I used to hate with a passion. I found it soapy and unpleasant. The most expensive spice in the world? Didn’t get it. Well, I did; it’s very laborious to harvest of course but still. I’ve come to like it through cooking Iranian food and although I still wouldn’t count it among my favourite flavours, it sure does look purdy and I find it fragrant when used with appropriate modesty.

The cauli was cooked in a rich, thick sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes and a few dried apricots, with a dried lime for a sour note; dried limes are amazing, when plucked from the bag they smell like lime sherbet. Spices went in, whole and ground; the onions taking on a beautiful amber hue from the turmeric.

It took rather longer to cook than I’d imagined, which has been my experience with the tagine thus far. I predicted an hour – it was more like one and a half. We ate it with a minty cous cous and a yoghurty drizzle effort which was basically yog mixed with diced pickled lemon and some garlic, briefly simmered to take the fiery edge off.

A seriously satisfying dish and, all importantly, insulating. I felt sufficiently sleepy, particularly when curled up with a glass of red and some Attenborough on the laptop. In bed by half past nine. Result.

Whole Cauliflower Tagine

(serves 4, I’d say)

1 whole cauliflower
2 tins chopped tomatoes
2 large onions, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods (I like cardamom, a lot)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 scant teaspoon ground turmeric
1 dried red chilli
Pinch saffron (optional and like, totally not necessary)
1 dried lime
Handful dried apricots (preferably Persian)

Start by heating up the tagine slowly. Add some oil, then sling in the onions. Let them cook slowly for about 10 minutes. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then crush in a pestle and mortar with the dried chilli. Add to the tagine with the other spices and the garlic. Continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes and dried lime, plus the apricots. Let the sauce cook down for 20-30 minutes until it’s starting to look all thick and gooey and lush. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Remove all the leaves from the cauliflower then trim down the base so it’s all nice and neat. Place the cauli on top of the sauce. If you want to use the saffron, steep it in a little boiling water for 5 minutes then steak across the top of the cauli. Put the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for about 1 hour to 1.5 hours, depending on the size of your cauli. When it’s tender, it’s cooked.

Serve with herby cous cous (I used mint and parsley) and yoghurt with chopped preserved lemons and garlic which has been simmered to take the edge off, then crushed.