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!

People are laughing at me because I’ve decided I like soup. For years I’ve been very picky about hot bowls of liquid masquerading as meals letting only those involving noodles, wontons or chunky bits into my life. It’s a texture thing; I can’t stand anything that’s devoid of chew or crunch and there’s only so much bread one can justify eating in a single sitting. I say this as a professional-level carb-consumer.

Recently I’ve relaxed the rules a little but still require plenty of vegetables and garnish to keep my soups from the dreaded one-note drab fest. This soup was originally destined to remain a stock but evolved over a couple of days into a rich, meaty number with a warming background heat from the scotch bonnet chillies. People asked for the recipe after watching me make it on Instagram Stories, so here it is.

I quick-pickled some red onions because I thought the soup would want something to cut the richness. It didn’t. The crispy okra is important, however, adding a bright, fresh flavour and of course, another all-important texture. It’s going to be a long winter filled with warming bowlfuls in this house. Yeah I know, you’re all doing it already. Maybe I can tackle another traditionally shunned one-texture food next? Polenta perhaps. Or mashed potato that isn’t 70% butter.

Oxtail Soup with Scotch Bonnet, Potatoes and Crispy Okra Recipe

This soup is a bit of a time investment but you will be rewarded. You need to start it the day before you want to eat it as oxtail is very fatty and leaving it overnight in the fridge means you can easily remove the fat which sets on top. I also used a pressure cooker to cook the oxtail which makes the process faster but you could simmer the stew for 3 hours until tender. This makes around 6 servings.

1 oxtail (around 9 pieces – ask your butcher to chop it for you)
2 litres good beef stock
500ml Guinness
1 carrot, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 scotch bonnet chillies, split but left whole
1 thumb ginger, peeled and sliced thickly
8 stalks thyme
4 waxy potatoes, diced
A good handful chard or other sturdy greens, sliced
Around 10 okra, sliced
Flour and oil, for frying the oxtail

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan or skillet. Toss the oxtail in seasoned flour and brown it really well in a pan. A lot of fat will come out which you may need to drain off as you fry. Set aside.

Remove all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan and fry the onion, carrot and celery until soft and starting to colour golden. You want to get them nice and soft as this forms a sweet base for the soup. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so.

Add the mixture to a pressure cooker along with the beef stock, Guinness, chillies, thyme, ginger and some salt and pepper. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the oxtail is very soft. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove from the fridge and take the layer of fat off the top. Pull the meat off the oxtail and add back to the soup. Pick out any pieces you don’t want like thyme stalks and the whole bonnets (you could leave the chillies in if that’s your thing!) then reheat the soup.

Add the diced potatoes. Fry the okra slices in a couple of tablespoons of oil until crisp and drain on kitchen paper. When the potatoes are cooked, add the chard and bring back to the boil. Check seasoning and serve, garnished with the okra.

Hake with Parsley and Wild Garlic Sauce

I often enjoy popping my rose-tinted glasses on and having a look back at the food I grew up with in the 80’s. Perhaps many of you have stories about grannies and apron strings but what I have is memories of things that came in boxes marked Findus or Bird’s Eye. Fond memories. In the wake of the horsemeat scandal I was delighted to trot down memory lane and revisit the Findus Crispy Pancake, which I filled with 100% horse and coated in crumb the colour of cheesy Wotsits. Yesterday, it was the turn of boil in the bag cod in parsley sauce.

I expect many of you remember this delicacy of cod and sauce ready combined inside a flappy plastic bag, which your mum simply plopped into the water and served up 15 minutes later with peas and mashed potato. It was a personal favourite of mine and so we decided to have a bash at recreating it, with some more modern-day high falutin changes, natch.

I’m a big fan of Farmdrop, which is why I had these hake fillets in the fridge, but also why I didn’t have any wild garlic, since it had failed to arrive from their supplier. I thought it would be so lovely in the sauce that I became a touch obsessed with finding some, spending two hours traipsing around local woodland with no luck; in the end, I bought some in Borough Market for the very reasonable price of ten million pounds per kilo.

Hake in Parsley and Wild Garlic Sauce

It’s very simple this recipe. Just make the sauce, cool it a bit and whack it in sandwich bags with the fish. Is it ok to cook things in sandwich bags? Apparently. I wanted to do this recipe so I didn’t ask too many questions. It’s basically like sous vide except sous vide fish is gross and slimy so we just poached it at a slightly higher temperature (using a thermometer). You could, of course, poach it separately or fry and serve with the sauce but really, you’d be letting the team down.

The mash is lumpy yes, thanks for asking. The reason for this is because we poshed it up by doing half spud, half salsify, and the latter broke our crappy potato ricer (because I bought it in Khan’s). What you see there, then, is lovely smooth mash with chopped salsify in it. We also forgot the peas.

All in all, a resounding success.

Hake with Parsley & Wild Garlic Sauce (in the style of Bird’s Eye)

This is actually incredibly delicious and there’s no reason at all for you to stuff up your mash or forget the peas. 

2 hake fillets (sorry, didn’t weigh them)
1 small onion finely chopped
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
550 ml milk
30g butter
40g flour
Small handful parsley, chopped
Small handful wild garlic, chopped
The heaviest duty zip lock freezer bags you can find
You’ll also need a thermometer

Bring the milk to the boil with the onions, bay and peppercorns, then turn off and leave for 10 minutes. Strain.

In a clean saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour to the pan, stirring constantly until it’s combined into a light brown paste. Slowly add the milk bit by bit, stirring until each addition is incorporated in the sauce. The sauce should coat the spoon, leaving a clean area for a second on the base of the pan after swiping with a spatula.

Cover with cling film, laying the film directly on the surface of the sauce. Leave to cool a bit.

When cool (you just don’t want it too hot), add the parsley and wild garlic and season to taste (it’ll take quite a bit of salt as it’s rich and creamy).

Put one hake fillet in each bag then spoon in the sauce. Bring a large pan of water up to about 40C, then push the open bags gently into the water allowing the water pressure to force the air out of the bags, once the surface of the water is just over the zip lock line, seal the bag. Bring the water up to about 56C and cook on the lowest heat for 15 mins. When ours were done the water was about 64C, so the fish was cooked through and still super moist.

Serve with mash, peas and a heavy dose of nostaglia.