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 pureƩ
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.