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).