Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

A huge Merry Christmas to all my blog readers!
 Peace & love to you all!

Easy Lasagne

I needed an easy, no-fuss dinner for the lead up to Christmas. We all love lasagne here, so it seemed ideal. I used a mixture of Gordon Ramseys's al forno lasagne recipe, and use the topping recipe from Jamie Oliver. I love his simple & quick topping idea, when you dont have the time or the energy to make a white sauce from scratch.  I like to serve mine with a salad & garlic bread.

Serves 4 -
2 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, peeled1
large carrot, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 pinches dried oregano
300g minced beef
1 tbsp tomato pureé
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp red wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes
50ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh lasagne sheets

200ml tub creme fraiche
Pinch nutmeg
100g grated cheddar
2 tbsp grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C. Heat the olive oil in a hot pan. Grate the onion and carrot and crush the garlic before frying together. Season with the bay leaf, a pinch of oregano, Worcestershire sauce and a little salt and pepper. Allow the onion to soften before making a well in the centre of the pan. Place the mince in the middle of the pan and stir to break it up. Add the tomato puree and allow to cook out for 30 seconds. Continue until all the meat has browned nicely. Add the wine and cook off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Leave to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Finally add the milk, turn off the heat and set aside.

Layer the mince mixture & lasagne sheets in a deep over proof dish. Finish with a final layer of lasagne sheets, then pour over the creme fraiche. Sprinkle on the nutmeg & the 2 cheeses.

Pop into the oven for 25 minutes, golden & bubbling on top.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Red Cabbage with Balsamic and Cranberries

This is one of the side dishes I am planning on having with our Christmas dinner this year. We don't really eat turkey, so we are having a gammon instead and probably a roast chicken. I think this dish will go lovely with those meats. I have a few other dishes too, but this is one I can prepare beforehand, and the flavours will develop in the fridge. I will prepare some more side dishes tomorrow (Christmas Eve) so that leaves the bare minimum for the actual day.This recipe is perfect for freezing too.

3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions , halved and thinly sliced
2 whole cloves
1 medium red cabbage , quartered, cored and thinly sliced
200ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
100g brown sugar
200g fresh or frozen cranberries

 Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions and fry, stirring every now and then, for about 10 mins, until they start to caramelise. Stir in the cloves, then add the cabbage and continue cooking, stirring more frequently this time, until the cabbage starts to soften. 
Pour in the stock, add the vinegar and sugar, then cover and cook for 10 mins. 
Stir in the cranberries and cook for 10 mins more. Cool and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days, or freeze for 1 month. Thaw in the fridge overnight. Reheat until very hot before serving.

Easy Cranberry Sauce

This is the first year that I have tried to make my cranberry sauce. I looked a few recipes, and came up with this easy recipe to try out. It can keep in the fridge for 4 days, and it is also fine to freeze. I like to make as much as I can ahead of time, for the Christmas meal, so this was cooked this afternoon & is now all ready for Christmas. I will have more recipes popping up in the next couple of days, so be sure to check back for more!

250g fresh or frozen cranberries
100g light brown sugar
100ml fresh orange juice
1 star anise

Heat the orange juice, sugar & star anise in a pan until bubbling. Stir in the cranberries & cook until they are soft but still mostly holding their shape. This will be about 5 minutes if using frozen, a bit longer for fresh. Decant to a jar or large ramekin, and allow to cool. Fish out the star anise, and keep in the fridge until it is needed. It can be frozen at this point too.

Saucy Chicken & Vegetable One Pot

This was just a recipe to use up some odds & ends that I had in the fridge. I was trying to clear some room for the epic Christmas Dinner shop. You could add any vegetables you like or need to use up. Chicken thighs, skin fried crispy first, would also work well. I am looking forward to some serious Christmas cooking, but I will be doing simple dishes up until then. Everyone seemed to really enjoy this, and it was very filling.

Serves 4
Olive oil
4 chicken breasts, diced
Half an onion or 1 shallot, finely diced
2 carrots, cut into thick circles
Half a head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
Half a head of broccoli, cut into small florets
Cupful of frozen peas
400g new potatoes, thickly sliced
Fresh tarragon, snipped
150 ml double cream
1 litre chicken stock

 Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. Fry the chicken for 5 minutes then add the onion (or shallot). Fry until soft, Stir in the potatoes, and toss until coated. Pour in the stock. Cover & cook for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are almost cooked through.

Turn the heat up high & reduce the stock until it just covers the bottom of the pan. Throw in the veg, and cover & cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the double cream, season & add the tarragon. Serve with crusty bread.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Chicken & Vegetable Coconut Curry

This is my entry for the Cook Off/Blog Off competition run by Gourmet Garden. They sent me some of their products to use in my recipes. I was quite excited to get my pack of herbs & spices - most of my herbs in my garden have died in the frosts :(

I love a tasty curry, so decided that's would I would make for my entry, as it uses as many of the products as possible. You could add any veg that you like, I just happen to love mushrooms! I also had green beans to use up, so added those too. I think this recipe would freeze well, and it definitely tastes the next day after sitting in the fridge overnight - most curries do! This is quite mild, so add more chilli to taste.

1 onion, sliced
5 mushrooms, sliced
100g trimmed green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
35g butter
4 chicken breasts
400g tin tomatoes, drained of juice
400g tin coconut milk
10 crushed cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon Gourmet Garden ready ginger
1 teaspoon Gourmet Garden ready garlic
1 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicier) of Gourmet Garden ready chilli
1 teaspoon Gourmet Garden ready coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala

Heat the oil & butter in a large frying pan or wok to a medium heat. Add cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, coriander paste, coriander spices & cumin spices and stir for 2 minutes to release the flavours & aroma. Add the chopped chicken & stir through. Add the tomatoes & coconut milk, and allow to come to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer and reduce slightly for 30 minutes. 2 minutes before serving, add the garam masala & stir through. Serve with rice & naan.

Kids Can Cook - Sticky Chicken Noodles

Tonight it was the turn of my 10 year old daughter to cook tea for her & her sister & brother. I thought a simple stir-fry would be a good start, so she could learn some knife skills and to help her balance flavours when making the sauce. She did really well, with minimal input from me. Dinner was eaten in record time, so I think it was a huge success! This is a good recipe for a beginner, as it has just a few simple ingredients and its hard to get it wrong. It's also great for a quick lunch if you are stuck for ideas. You could use any veg, we talked about how next time we would maybe add mushrooms and baby corn to the stir-fry.

Serves 3 children

2 chicken breasts, diced
Half a red pepper, chopped into bite size pieces
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Pinch Chinese 5-spice
200g egg noodles (cooked by an adult if you are a beginner)

Olive oil to fry

Heat up the olive oil in a large wok or frying pan on a medium heat. Stir fry the onions & peppers until they are soft. Add the chicken & stir fry until it is all golden in colour. Put your egg noodles on to boil for 3 minutes (or get an adult to help). Drain & put aside. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil. honey & Chinese 5-spice in a small bowl, and mix it up with a spoon until it is all combined. Pour over your chicken stir fry and toss everything in the sauce. Add the drained noodles, and toss again. Serve quickly to warm bowls & serve.

New Products - Fluffy Puff Puffs

A woman named Louise contacted me through my blog, asking if I would like to try her gourmet marshmallows called Fluffy Puff Puffs. Well, I loved the name and who doesn't love a wee sweet treat? So of course, I said yes. A few days later, a wee box arrived with my selection of Fluffy Puff Puffs to try - I was sent vanilla bean, cookies & cream and lime punch. I wish I had managed to get a better picture of them before I ate them! <blush> I was just too eager to taste them though.

Here is what Louise has to say about her new business ....

Initially I had an idea of selling high grade Ghanaian hot chocolate/iced chocolate on a market stall and I was trying to come up of different sweet treats I could serve with the hot drinks. Marshmallows are the perfect accompaniment with hot chocolate, but I soon realised that gourmet marshmallows haven't really been explored in this country like cupcakes have. So out went the hot drinks idea and in came Fluffy Puff Puffs! I hope the marshmallows will be received well by the public so that Fluffy Puff Puffs can grow into a whimsical store front because I have so many big ideas of where I can take this business.

I couldn't believe how different (and tastier) homemade marshmallows are! Really puffy with amazing flavour, not at all like those samey ones you get in a bag from the supermarket. The vanilla one was lovely, I could imagine dipping it into a very indulgent cup of hot chocolate! The cookies & cream one was also very nice, though very sweet. By far my favourite was the lime punch! I could have eaten a whole box of this flavour - I am sure all the fruit flavour ones would be delicious. I let the kids try a bit too and they all loved them, looked forlorn that there wasn't more to go round. I think I may order some for their Christmas stockings. I hope Santa puts some in mine too!

Louise's website is here if you would like to have a look .....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Curried cauliflower & coconut soup

I love soups just now, especially after a nursery run in below zero temperatures! It is quite literally freezing up here, snow yesterday and freezing icy rain today. I don't drive, so we have had some miserable walks the last few days. Ah well, its water not bullets (though it almost felt like it!). Coming home to a bubbling pot of soup is fantastic, and just what I needed to warm up. I created this recipe because I had half a head of cauliflower to use up and I hate waste! This takes only half an hour to whip up, and tastes great.

Half a head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 onion, diced
250 ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tin of coconut milk
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
Butter & olive oil for frying.

Saute the onion in some butter & a dot of olive oil. When softened (about 5 minutes) ad the curry powder. Fry this for about a minute then add the cauliflower & stir. Heat for about 4 minutes, then add the stock & coconut milk. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, season & then blend. Serve with a few spring onions snips or chives.

Family Day Out - Edinburgh Zoo

Everyone loves a family day out, and we are no exception! I was thrilled to be offered tickets to Edinburgh Zoo from as part of their Family Days Out & Days out discounts. I haven't been to Edinburgh Zoo since I was 5, so I was really excited :)

Those who have been will now that it is on a hill. This didn't bother the kids, but my I got a braw workout! There were animals to thrill everyone, and they are just building a new enclosure for the penguins that looks awesome! I will be going back when it is finished to see the penguins zooming down the mega-slide. The highlight for me were the Pandas! So cute, and luckily willing to pose & walk about for us. The kids loved the monkeys the best, so of them were very cheeky! (The monkeys, not the children ha ha).

There are plenty of play areas dotted about, to keep the kids happy while the grown ups have a wee sit down with a latte from the many coffee shops. Even on a cold day, there was plenty to see & do. We stayed from opening right up til closing time, and we still missed a couple of exhibits.

Make use of the safari bus ride - they will drive you right to the to of the hill, while giving a guided & informative tour on your way up. It is much easier to walk down than it is to go up! Our guide was very friendly & very knowledgeable about the zoo & its animals - telling us which had just had babies and where to spot them.

All the kids were enthralled by the baby monkey - he was so small & cute that they all wanted to take him home!

The guides at the Panda enclosure knew their stuff - they fascinated the children by telling them that Pandas poop 40-50 times a day! There are 2 pandas there, a girl called Tian Tian (which means sweet sweet, the repetitive is to emphasise how sweet she is) and the male is called Yang Guang (which means sunshine). They sleep a lot of the time, but we were so lucky to see both awake! They are kept in separate enclosures as they are solitary animals. Tian Tian seemed to smile right at us! She was quite sleepy, but posed for all the cameras - such a diva. Yang Guang was asleep in his private room though, but came bounding out when he smelt the honey (their favourite treat) that his keeper put out for him. He wandered around his pen for awhile, so it was great to see how they move about & interact with their surroundings.

We all enjoyed watching the zebras galloping around in their field. My friends wee one kept yelling "wow zebras!" she was so excited by them. This one was peering at us through the trees, very sweet.

We all loved watching the penguins! They were diving in & out of the water, waddling about and playing with each other. It will be great to see them in their new enclosure, it looks so much fun!

In the Bandango Trail, the kids got to touch & handle some chimp related stuff, which was great. They asked the lady lots of clever questions, she was really fab with them. They came away with some great little nuggets of information about chimpanzees. Touching the fake poo was met with much merriment!

I can't wait to go back, and spend another day visiting all the animals. Here are a few more of the animals we saw ....

 This monkey didn't think much of us!!

If you fancy a day out at Edinburgh Zoo, or a family day out anywhere, try MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts  .

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cooking Tips - Shortcuts!

Even though I Llve cooking, there are still days when I am too busy or too tired to create a wonderful meal for my family - and that's when I use my little "cheats". I would love to hear yours - leave a comment below. I'll share a few of mine here and hopefully learn a few new ones from my readers!

1. Pastry. I never make my own, I think life is too short! Ready made all the way for me. I like to keep a pack of puff in the freezer, as a quick pie top or to make some quick sausage rolls or a pudding.

2. Condensed soup - I have been known to use a tin of condensed soup as a pie filling or a pasta sauce, with some cooked chicken & frozen veg added. Not something I use often, but it is a great standby for when you really cant rustle up your own sauce.

3. Microwaved jacket potatoes - I do then top them up in the oven for 10 minutes, as I like a crispy skin. 10 minutes in the micro wave and then 10 in the oven = perfect potato!

4. Ready grated cheese. Yes, I do admit to buying this! So easy to be  able to grab a handful of cheese when you need it, and without messing up the grater.

5. Ready made custard. I buy the fresh, "posh" ones from the chiller section. I have never made my own <blushes>. A link to a simple but tasty recipe would be appreciated!

6. Frozen food. I have a massive chest freezer, and I keep it quite full. Half is frozen meat that I have bought cheap & meals that I have made & frozen as standbys. The other half is potatoes/vegetables/kids food that I can whip out for a fuss-free dinner. I quite like frozen peas/sweetcorn and green beans, usually I am fussy with my veg (insisting that it is fresh) but these I make allowances for.

Aunt Bessies make great roast potatoes that you can keep in the freezer and use when you need to. My kids love roasties, but I don't always have hours to prepare them myself. No need to skimp on taste, you can just whip these out & bung in the oven. Great if you are looking for a stress-free Christmas dinner this year! I will have some Christmas meal ideas coming soon, so please check back.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Thai Salmon Parcels

These are based on a recipe from the Lorraine Pascale cookbook called "tinfoil trout". I couldnt get trout, so I used salmon instead. It still tasted amazing. Serve with some noodles tossed in sesame oil with a few beansprouts chucked in, or a nice rice dish. Wrap the foil with a tight seal, but loose around the fish to let the steam circulate. I have more salmon fillets in the fridge, so looking forward to making this again soon.

4 salmon fillets
8 spring onions
1 red pepper
1 garlic clove
1 piece of ginger, finger size
1 red chilli
Handful coriander leaves
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 200c. Cut the spring onions into thin julienne strips (fine strips). repeat with the ginger & red pepper. Finely chop the garlic and chilli. Mix all these together. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil & lime juice together. Place a salmon fillet on a square of tinfoil, then top with a quarter of the vegetable mix and then a quarter of the sauce mix. Seal each parcel, place on a baking tray & cook for 12 minutes. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Savoury Breakfast Muffins

I get bored with cereal and toast for breakfast, so when I tried these I was very happy! I make a batch up & keep them in the fridge for everyone to help themselves to. They are tasty hot or cold, you can reheat in the microwave if you want to. I eat mine cold though, except from when they are fresh out of the oven. This recipe makes enough for a 6 muffin tin. You can add any meat/veggie that you like - peppers, onion, chorizo, chicken and tomato would all be tasty. A great way to use up those wee bits of veg left in the bottom of the fridge.

4 large eggs
100ml whole milk
Salt & pepper to season
4 slices thinly sliced ham, chopped
6 mushrooms chopped
Large chunk freshly grated Parmesan(amount to your taste)
Chopped fresh parsley leaves

Combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly but gently. Divide equally between the 6 muffin cups. Put into a preheated oven (200C) for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Seared Tuna & Cucumber Relish

I fancied a light dinner tonight, after having had some creamy, rich meals this week! I picked up a tuna steak in Morrisons, and made this light relish to go with it. You could add some boiled new potatoes too, or maybe a rice salad. I used the very last of my fresh parsley making this, I don't think I'll have much more grow now before spring :( I maybe have to buy a pot to keep on my windowsill until the garden flourishes again. Do any of you grow your own herbs?

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
4 tuna steaks , about 140g/5oz each
½ cucumber
2 spring onions , finely chopped
1 medium tomato , finely chopped
½ large red chilli , seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice

 Put the oil into a food bag and add the tuna steaks. Rub well together and leave for 30 mins while you make the relish. Peel the cucumber, halve lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Chop the flesh into a small dice. Mix with the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Set aside.
Heat the pan to hot, then cook the steaks, turning after 2 mins, and cooking for another 2 mins each side depending on the thickness of the steaks. Remove the steaks from the heat allow to stand for 3-5 mins, then spoon over the relish and serve.

Braised Cabbage

I saw this recipe recommended on a recipe thread, and just had to try it. Who knew cabbage could be so tasty? My kids all LOVED it. I even ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. I served mine as a side dish to roast guinea fowl and celeriac fondant. Can't wait to have it again!

1 whole white cabbage
250ml (or thereabouts) cream
Salt & pepper
25g butter

Remove the outer layer of leaves.  Cut the cabbage in half, through the stalk. Cut those in half, and then in half again. You should have 8 wedges with a piece of stalk at the bottom. Heat a frying pan and melt the butter. Add the cabbage wedges and cook until brown on one side. Flip and brown the other side. Pour over the cream and then place a lid on & lower the heat. Allow to cook gently for about 20/30 minutes, it will be nice & soft.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Celeriac Fondant

I am a huge Masterchef fan, and sometimes I am just itching to try some of the recipes. Quite often, contestants make potato fondants, which didn't really excite me. One day though, one made a celeriac fondant that DID excite me! I had a guinea fowl that I wanted to roast, and felt like it needed something a little different to go with it, celeriacs are in season just now, and are so tasty. This method of cooking it brought out an amazing flavour, it is now one of my favourite dishes. I reduced the stock right down after the fondant was cooked, and used it as a gravy - delicious! We had guinea fowl, braised cabbage along with the celeriac fondant.

1 celeriac
Enough stock to almost cover the fondants in the pan (i use chicken stock)
1 crushed garlic clove
25g butter plus a drizzle of olive oil

Cut the celeriac into 2 cm deep rectangles (or circles if you prefer, use a cookie cutter). Heat the oil & butter in a large pan, then brown the celeriac wedges on both sides until golden. Pour in the stock, add the garlic & seasonings and then allow to simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes. the celeriac should be cooked through. Remove the celeriac to a warm plate and reduce the stock down until you are left with less than half the amount. Pour over the celeriac.

How I Cook My Steaks ...

Everyone has their favourite way of cooking a steak. Ask about, and the methods are wide & varied. This is my particular way of doing it - having seen Heston do this on his Heston At Home series. I now use this method for gammon steaks & pork chops too, all turn out delicious!

Allow your steak to come to room temperature before cooking, in the open air to dry.
Sprinkle with a little salt (no pepper, add this afterwards, it will burn whilst cooking)
Heat a frying pan with a little oil to a high heat
Add the steak and allow to sizzle for 15 seconds (ish, its not exact)
Flip your steak
Flip again after another 15 seconds.
Repeat the 15 second flipping until it is cooked to your liking.
Allow to stand for 10/15 minutes, to allow the juices to all soak back in. This is an important step for a juicy steak.
Season & serve!

I like mine medium, sometimes medium rare, served with chips & onion rings, or creamed leeks & fried mushrooms.

I would love to hear your steak-cooking method, leave a comment below ....>

Kids Can Cook - Mince & Dumplings

My 12 year old daughter has always shown an interest in cooking (just like her mum), but I feel she is now old enough to start to use cookbooks & prepare a proper meal for the family. I bought this great wee cookbook for her, called Maw Broons Cooking For Bairns. As anyone Scottish person would know, The Broons are a cartoon family who are typically Scottish. I love getting my Broons book every Christmas! There have been a few cookery books released, and this one caught my eye. What better way for my daughter to cook than to learn the old-fashioned Scots way!

The meal she decided on was mince & doughballs (dumplings). It had just a few ingredients, and just one pot (minimal mess, I was thinking). She managed very well, and produced a meal for herself & her siblings - who all enjoyed it. I will definitely be letting her loose in the kitchen more often!

500g beef mince
2 carrots, diced
2 onions diced
Salt & pepper to season
500ml beef stock
2 tablespoons oil

150g self raising flour
50g suet
salt & pepper
3.5 tablespoons water

Heat up a large saucepan with the 2 tablespoons of oil on a medium heat. Fry the onion for about 7 minutes, until soft & golden. Add the mince, and stir in with the onions. Cook until all the mince has browned. Add the carrots & stock and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the dumplings, mix the suet, flour & water with your hands and make into 8 balls. Add to the top of the mince after you have added he stock.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Eggs in Purgatory

I saw this dish on Nigella's Nigelissima on TV recently. They looked easy to make, budget friendly and very tasty - and all round winner for me! They took about 5/10 minutes max to make so perfect at lunch time. I made this just for myself, if you want to feed more just times the ingredients by how many people you are serving. Serve with a big chunk of bread to mop up the juices.

1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 or 2 eggs (depending on your appetite)
Olive oil
1 garlic clove
Pinch of chilli powder or flakes

Heat a small frying pan, and heat the olive oil. Add the garlic & chilli and heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and allow to come to a simmer. Crack in your egg(s) sprinkle on some parmesan, cover & allow the eggs to poach. You want the egg whites cooked but the yolk runny, so keep an eye on it. Either eat from the pan (ala Nigella) or transfer to a plate. Top with a little more parmesan, then tuck in with your hunk of bread.

Slow Cooker Boston Baked beans

I love to cook a gammon joint in my slow cooker with nothing but 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in with it. The meat that comes out is amazing! As soon as I remove the gammon though, I am left with a crock pot full of gammon & brown sugar stock, which seems a shame to waste. This time I added some beans & other ingredients, plus some left over shredded gammon, and created these tasty boston baked beans. They were fab on jacket potatoes topped with cheese.

Leftover gammon & brown sugar liquid from slow cooker
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp tomato purée
1 tbsp maple syrup
 2 tsp English mustard powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 x 400g cans cannellini or haricot beans, drained and rinsed - I used a tin of both
Leftover shredded gammon

Just add all the ingredients to the slow cooker, and cook on low for as long as you can. Mine were on for about 8 hours.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Guest Post - Simple Chicken Soup

I invited some of my family & friends to write up their favourite recipes to include on my blog as guest posts. Here is the first, from my cousin Heather, who also loves to cook. This is her recipe for a basic chicken soup.

~Basic Chicken Soup~
900mls boiling water
1-2 chicken stock cubes (I use one, but I like this to taste less salty)
225g skinless chicken breast, cubed into bite sized pieces
1 red pepper, sliced into thin slices and halved
1-2 tbsp fresh tarragon chopped, or 1-2 tsp dried if you can't get fresh
a small bunch of chives cut into pieces.
2 tbsp medium sherry, or 1-2 tsp vanilla extract
Purple sprouting broccoli or shredded curly kale
a large handful or two of frozen sweetcorn kernels
Bring the stock to the boil and add the pepper and sweetcorn,
Let boil for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken.
Allow to simmer for 5 minutes before adding the sherry/vanilla and herbs.
Stir and then place the greens on top, don't stir them in, allow the broccoli/kale to cook on top. Place a lid on the pan if you wish but keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't boil over.
After 5 more minutes give the soup a careful stir. Taste a little of the broth to see if you need to add any salt or pepper.
You can add twists to this soup.
Exchange the kale for pak choi, and the tarragon for ginger (be careful and add a small amount, and add more as you need) break up a portion of the dried fine egg noodles and add and a slug of good rich soy sauce will give you an oriental version (for people that like a kick, add a finely shredded fresh red chilli too)
You can add different vegetables depending what you have in the fridge and cupboards. All greens go well. Onions for extra flavour. Only potatoes would thicken the broth and make the texture weird.

Chicken Fricasse

This was a dish that included all of my favourite ingredients - chicken, mushrooms and cream! My girls are away this weekend, so I made this for just the 3 of us, which meant plenty to go round. The sauce was so tasty I was almost tempted to lick my plate. You could use sliced onion instead of shallots if you wished, it wouldn't make a huge difference to the flavour. Serve it whichever vegetables you like, and perhaps a big dollop of creamy mash. I always like to use up whatever veg I have left in the fridge - which happened to be carrots & green beans today.It tastes just as great

Serves 4

8 chicken thighs
2 tablespoons butter
250g button mushrooms
12 shallots
400ml chicken stock
250ml white wine
75ml double cream
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme stalk & parsley stalk tied together)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt & pepper to season

Heat the oven to 180c. Melt 1 tblspn butter in a flame-proof casserole dish, and brown the chicken on both sides until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add the wine, allow to bubble for a minute then add the stock. Chuck in the bouquet garni, and stir while it bubbles & thickens. After about 5 minutes, season & taste then add the chicken on top, cover & pop into the oven for 1 hour.
Melt the remaining  butter in a frying pan, and brown the mushrooms & shallots for around 5/6 minutes. Add to the casserole dish with the chicken, and return to the oven for another hour.

Serve the chicken to the plates, leaving the stock behind in the dish. Add the cream & parsley, and mix through. Taste & season, then pour over the chicken.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Irish Stew

It's not St Patricks Day, but when I found this recipe I just had to try it. I have only ever had Irish stew from a tin before (gag) so was eager to try the real thing. We are not big lamb eaters, but I will buy it occasionally. I find it quite expensive when you are feeding a family, but this recipe uses cheap cuts (scrag end or neck fillets are perfect). Its slow cooker so the meat becomes really tender. With pearl barely added, its a hearty meal! I was stuffed after one bowlful. This recipe made plenty, there were some leftovers for my lunch with a hunk of crusty bread & butter. This recipe tastes even better the next day, so if you can, cook it a day early & reheat when you need it - its worth it!

1 tbsp olive oil
125g smoked streaky bacon cut into chunks
500g stewing lamb , cut into large chunks
3 medium onions , sliced
3 carrots , sliced into chunks
2 bay leaves
small bunch thyme
75g pearl barley
500ml lamb stock
6 medium potatoes , cut into chunks

 Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole. Sizzle the bacon for 4 mins until crisp. Turn up the heat, then cook the lamb for 6 mins until brown. Remove the meats with a slotted spoon. Add the onions, carrots and herbs to the pan, then cook for about 5 mins until softened. Return the meat to the pan, stir in the pearl barley, pour over the stock, then bring to a simmer.
 Sit the chunks of potato on top of the stew, cover, then braise in the oven, undisturbed, for about 1½ hrs until the potatoes are soft and the meat is tender. You could also tip into a slow cooker & cook on low for 4 hours.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Swedish Meatballs with Dill sauce (like Ikea)

I have never tried Ikea meatballs, but I have heard everyone rave about them. With no Ikea near me, I have had to make my own to see what the fuss is all about :) Well, they went down a storm in our household! I have had requests from them all to make them again, soon. I was wary about having meatballs in a creamy sauce, but it worked and it was delicious. I think you are supposed to serve them with lingonberry sauce, but I am unlikely to find that in our small town, so I substituted cranberry. Tasted lovely, so I think it was good substitute. I am looking forward to making these again, I liked them a lot more than I thought I would. I served ours with boiled new potatoes. For a low carb version, leave out the breadcrumbs and serve with veg ribbons instead of potatoes.

Serves 4
200g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 egg
1 small onion, blitzed or finely diced
100g of breadcrumbs
pinch of nutmeg
oil for frying
200ml beef stock
200ml double cream
400g  new potatoes
fresh dill chopped
cranberry sauce to serve

Combine the mince, egg, onion, breadcrumbs nutmeg & salt & pepper, and really get it mixed with your hands. Form into small walnut size meatballs. Heat up the oil in a  frying pan to a medium heat, and brown the meatballs on all sides. Add the stock & cream, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. The sauce should thicken slightly. Sprinkle with dill & serve with a dollop of cranberry sauce & potatoes.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Creamy Pesto Pasta

This is one of those meals that just uses up the odds & ends in the fridge. Half a tub of this, half a jar of that, the 2 leftover chicken breasts and half a pack of mushrooms. I always keep a wedge of parmesan in my freezer, its grates perfectly from frozen. I made this for just me and my husband, but there are enough leftovers for my eldest daughter (who loves pesto) to have for lunch tomorrow with a nice chuck of crusty bread. It is quite a quick meal, it took me less than 30 minutes from start to finish. try using an interesting shaped pasta to liven it up a little. This is nice cold as well as hot. Add some pine nuts to add a crunch to the dish.

Serves 2 with leftovers. You can make more/less than my amounts, I was just using up extras from the fridge.

2 chicken breasts, diced
10 mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Olive oil
Half a jar of basil pesto (or use homemade, recipe here.)
Half a tub of creme fraiche
Tablespoon of pine nuts (optional, but great for a crunchy texture)
300g of dried or fresh pasta
Fresh parmesan to garnish

Heat the oil on a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the mushrooms & garlic, and stir fry for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the chicken and fry until coloured (about 10 minutes). Put the pasta on to cook, and cook til al dente. Save about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water.
While the pasta cooks, add the pine nuts & fry for another 3/4 minutes. Add the pesto and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the creme fraiche and heat through. Add the pasta water, stir and then add the pasta. Toss the pasta in the sauce until it is all coated.
Serve in bowls with fresh grated parmesan on top.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Sausage & Bean Casserole

I love this kind of comfort food when its cold! The smokey paprika in this gave it a Bonfire Night feel, very comforting. There was plenty for the 5 of us, with crusty bread to mop up the sauce. I love chorizo, but I picked a mild one (from Lidl) so that it wasnt too spicy for the children. You could use any beans you liked, I used haricot because I had some in the cupboard.

2 tbsp olive
1 onion , finely chopped
2 medium sticks celery , finely chopped
1 yellow pepper , chopped
1 red pepper , chopped
3  garlic cloves , chopped
1 chorizo sausage (about 300g), sliced
6 pork sausages
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried thyme
125ml white wine
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 chicken stock cube
1 x 400g tin haricot beans, rinsed

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan. Brown the pork sausages, then remove. Fry the chorizo until the oil turns orange & it is slightly crispy. Remove the chorizo but leave the oil. Add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the celery and peppers and cook for a further 5 mins. Return the cooked sausages to the pan.
Stir in the garlic, spices and dried thyme and continue cooking for 1 - 2 mins or until the aromas are released.
Pour in the wine and use a wooden spoon to remove any residue stuck to the pan. Add the tinned tomatoes, and fresh thyme and bring to a simmer. Crumble in the stock cube and stir in.
Cook for 40 minutes. Stir in the beans and cook for a further five minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs, season with black pepper and serve.

Giveaway Winner!

The winner is ... Eleanor Jones! Please get in touch with your postal address, thank you :)

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Beef Stew & Dumplings

Is there anything more warming than a bubbling pot of beef stew? The house smells divine, and everyone was hungry & eager to tuck in - just what I love. I love my dumplings to soak up the gravy underneath, but crispy on top. Everyone likes them different though - how do you like yours? Serves 4, you could serve mash alongside to make it go further.
2 celery sticks, thickly sliced
1 onion , chopped
2 really big carrots , halved lengthways then very chunkily sliced
5 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 beef stock cubes , crumbled
850g stewing beef cut into nice large chunks

 Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Put the kettle on. Put the celery, onion, carrots, bay and 1 thyme sprig in a casserole with 1 tbsp oil and the butter. Soften for 10 mins, then stir in the flour until it doesn't look dusty anymore, followed by the tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce and beef stock cubes. 

Gradually stir in 600ml hot water, then tip in the beef and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and put in the oven for 2hrs 30 mins, then uncover and cook for 30mins - 1hr more until the meat is really tender and the sauce is thickened.


125g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
60g suet
water, to make a dough

 Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the suet and enough water to form a thick dough. With floured hands, roll spoonfuls of the dough into small balls. Drop them on top of the stew for the last 30 minutes of the cooking time.

Roasted Honeyed Celeriac

Celeriac is back in the supermarkets! It must be back in season - I just love it and have been waiting months for it. I used it as a side dish for our roast dinner this week. I love it cooked all different ways, but this has to be one of my favourites. We had it with herby roast chicken, sweetcorn, sweet & sour carrots and gravy. The others also had potatoes, but not me, the other veg was enough!

1 celeriac
a thick slice of butter
a little olive oil
2 tbsp honey
8 sprigs thyme
4 tsp honey

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil. Peel the celeriac and remove the tops. Slice the flesh into thick chips. Drop them into the water and leave for 10 minutes till almost tender.
Drain them, then put them into a roasting tin or baking dish with a thick slice of butter and a spoonful of olive oil or beef dripping. Season with salt and black pepper, the thyme leaves pulled from their stalks, and the honey. Toss gently then roast for 35-40 minutes until the celeriac is crisp and pale gold.

Very Tasty Veg Stew

This is a recipe that I saw Nigel Slater make, though of course I adapted it slightly to suit our tastes and fridge contents! The key to this recipe is cooking the veg in stages, rather than bunging it all in to make a mushy stew. The veg keep their individual flavours & textures, which makes it sing. This would also make a lovely pasta sauce, or a filling for a pie. Top with mash or pastry, or even grated cheese. This makes enough for 5 hearty appetites! It is also a perfect recipe for those following the 5:2 fasting diet - 1 large portion comes in at 150 calories. You get a lot of food & nutrients for your calories with this!

olive oil
a large aubergine, halved and thinly sliced
2, halved and sliced courgettes
2 peppers, (orange and red) peppers
2 onions, peeled and roughly sliced
2 garlic peeled and crushed
marjoram, parsley and thyme
3 medium, quartered tomatoes
12 or so cherry tomatoes
500ml jar or pack tomato passata or crushed tomatoes
3 bay leaves
basil leaves

Heat a shallow layer of olive oil in a large, low sided pan and brown the aubergine on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Fry each of the other vegetables separately in the order above, adding more oil as necessary, until each is pale gold. Remove as each one is ready and set aside.
When you reach the onions, cook in the same way along with the garlic but when cooked, don’t remove from the pan. Add the herbs, along with the tomatoes and allow to cook a little before transferring the cooked peppers back into pan. Add the passata and leave to simmer, with the lid on. When the sauce is reduced a little transfer the aubergine and courgettes back in to the pan along with the bay leaves and season. Taste – leave to simmer for a few more minutes. Stir gently with a handful of torn basil leaves and serve.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Chicken & Almond Traybake

I love meals that I can bung it all in a dish & pop in the oven! Simple and quick, this took just a few minutes to put together then needed very little supervision. You need quite a big oven tray to fit this all in though! Alternatively, split it between 2 trays. A dollop of greek yogurt was lovely on top, sprinkle with some coriander. This recipe will serve 4 people (it went round all 5 of us).

500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 medium red onions , cut into thick wedges
500g small potatoes , cut into thick slices
2 red peppers , deseeded and cut into thick slices
1 garlic clove , finely chopped
1 tsp each ground cumin, smoked paprika and fennel seeds , slightly crushed
3 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice 1 lemon
50g whole blanched almonds , roughly chopped

 Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Place the chicken, onions, potatoes and peppers in a large roasting tray (or 2). In a bowl, mix together the garlic, spices, oil, and lemon zest and juice. Pour this over everything. 
Roast for 40 mins, turning over after 20 mins, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the almonds for the final 8 mins of cooking.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Giveaway! Chocolate Recipe Book CLOSED

 This giveaway is now closed.

I have a brand new copy of this yummy recipe book to give away to one of my readers!

 Dark, milk, white. With hints of vanilla or licorice, of coffee or violet. Enhanced with dried fruits, laced with liquor, matched with pears, strawberries, oranges. Is there anything more irresistible? What is diving into the paradise of a praline, into the exalting music of a crispy square, into the infinite sweetness of a cup of hot chocolate? What is it to let oneself be enveloped by a sensuous mousse, be amazed by chocolate bars with flashes of hazelnuts, covered with a thin veil of caramel, or be pampered by the childlike poetry of a mountain of profiteroles? "Food of the gods," as the Mayas called it, it was used from the outset for preparing desserts, from the simplest to the most sumptuous. What would life be without chocolate? It's hard to imagine. Moreover, it's also difficult just to imagine the endless colours, shapes, and intensities that chocolate can take on: dark, black, milk, white; tablets, chocolate drops, ice creams, puddings, creams. Here is a lavishly illustrated volume, in a highly innovative and original design, celebrating the endless tasty variations that will delight

All you have to do is leave a comment, telling us your favourite chocolate treat! Tweet/Facebook this post for an extra entry. Blog & link to this post for another entry. Max of 4 entries per person. Competition ends midnight on 31st October. UK residents only. Winner will be chosen at random using Good luck!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Mushroom Soup

I am loving the series of MasterChef Australia that is on TV at the moment. I have already tried the melting moments that Julia made in an episode. Whilst browsing, I saw this recipe by Wade, for mushrooms soup. So simple and it was an amazing flavour! Luckily I made enough to have some tomorrow too :) I can see this being made quite often for a quick lunch. I dropped a couple of dried porcini mushrooms on top as a garnish.

Makes enough for 4 hearty bowls

125g butter, cubed 
1 onion, finely sliced 
1 garlic clove, finely sliced 
600g button mushrooms, finely sliced 
4 parsley stalks 
1L chicken stock 
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Parsley leaves and/or porcini mushrooms to garnish.

Melt the butter in a pan, and cook the onions & garlic until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and parsley stalks and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the sherry & reduce for 5 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 15/20 minutes. Season & taste. Blitz the soup and serve.