Sunday, 30 September 2007

Joining Up the Blogs

I've recently joined the UK Food Bloggers' Association, which was set up by Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie. I've posted over at the UFBA blog tonight, and if you want to find out more about me, you can read my introductory post here.

Not long ago, Hubby asked me if I could make him some caramel shortbread. Could I? I love the stuff, so an excuse to make it was very welcome, especially safe in the knowledge that it wouldn't hang around for me to eat if he wolfed it down! I'd never made it before, having a bit of a fear of boiling a tin of condensed milk for hours on end. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would forget and let it boil dry. When I discovered that 'Nestlé' sell tins of 'Carnation' condensed milk already prepared into caramel 'Duche de Leche', I was thrilled. I used my regular shortbread recipe for the base, which features one of my favourite ingredients, fine semolina, but if you don't have any, just up the quantity of plain flour to 240g. I use unsalted butter for just about everything, but always make shortbread with salted butter. I just seems to taste better that way. As for the chocolate, use what you like. I prefer a half-and-half mixture of dark and milk chocolate - just break 150g of each into a bowl and stir together once they've melted.

Caramel Shortbread

200g plain flour
40g fine semolina

60g cornflour
100g icing sugar
200g soft butter, diced
397g condensed milk dulce de leche
300g chocolate

I make shortbread in my KitchenAid, just paddling everything together until it comes right. You can blast it in the processor, or take the long way round by stirring the dry ingredients together and then rubbing in the butter. Gently knead it into a softish dough.

Press the dough into a greased and base-lined 23cm square tin. Prick it all over with a fork and bake at 150°c. Cool it completely in the tin, then spread over the dulce de leche. Chill for about 30 minutes, then melt the chocolate in the microwave and pour this over the top. Spread it out carefully, then chill until just set. Remove from the tin and cut it into squares (or vice versa, depending on what sort of tin you have).

We had good old pasta and meatballs tonight - I got hold of some linguine (which I love) so I used that and Christopher had great fun getting himself into a mess with it all. We had garlic bread to go with it, and grated parmesan to scatter over.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

A little of what you fancy...

We've been on a bit of a decluttering mission again. While Karl has been building wardrobes in our bedroom, the room has got steadily more and more untidy. Today we started to put things right, hauling out everything from under the bed and from the other junk hidey-holes. We now has a pile of stuff to FreeCycle, and I took the debris to the tip this afternoon (escaping for some girlie shopping time as well - hooray!).

After abandoning our efforts for the day, some junk food seemed very appealing. I really don't like the idea of deep-frying very much of anything, but everyone craves those kinds of crunchy-textured foods occasionally. Chicken and chips is a bit of a favourite with all of us, and this way of oven-cooking it wins hands down with me. I've recently adapted the coating I use from plain flour to a semolina and cornflour mix after seeing Nigella Lawson use a similar coating on her new series Nigella Express. I generally use a ready-mixed Cajun spice blend for convenience, but you could use any seasonings you fancy. A mix of ground cumin and coriander, paprika and thyme or cayenne pepper are all good, though go easy on the latter!

Crisp Chicken

8 chicken drumsticks
2 tbsp fine semolina (or polenta works well, too)
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp Cajun seasoning (and see above)

Mix the semolina, cornflour and Cajun seasoning together in a large bowl. Turn the chicken pieces in this mixture to coat them, then place on a rack over a baking tray and cook at 200°c for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is browned and crisp.

I made some real oven chips to go with the chicken, then cut up some salad veg for a nice big pile of crudités. Ketchup and mayo on the table, lovely!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Fishy, Fishy, Fishy-oh

We all went into Aberystwyth this morning to do some shopping. Christopher spent some of his birthday money on a Kid Kinex set, so he and his Dad have been building 'monsters' together for most of the afternoon. We also dropped off his health forms at the school where he'll be starting nursery in January, then went on to the park for a bit.

While we were out I picked up some lovely salmon fillets. I ummed-and-aahed for a bit about whether to cook them with a crust of herby breadcrumbs, before consulting Christopher and deciding just to fry them as they were. I melted a bit of butter in a non-stick frying pan and fried the fillets on the 'fleshy' side for a minute or so, then turned them over and fried them on the skin side until they were cooked through. Soft, juicy fish, gorgeously crisp skin - what more could you want? Well, I added pesto-flavoured mash and some peas to the plates, which turned out to be a really good combination.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Not Quite a Lady

Most of our weekday lunches are fairly ordinary; the usual suspects like sandwiches, baked potatoes, Welsh rabbit or soup and bread, with fruit or yoghurt to follow. All very simple, enjoyable and popular with the children.

However, as Hubby is off work at the moment I wanted to make something a little bit special for myself. We had some leftover meat from yesterday's duck in the fridge, so I used a little of it in a salad. The idea for a mango chutney dressing came from a different kind of duck salad in The Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I must point out that my dressing varies enormously from theirs, but it was one of those ideas that just immediately grabbed me. I do love mango chutney, after all. As we don't often have duck, I've actually made this most often to go with cold cooked chicken, but I do think that it's better with duck, something about the sweet sharpness of the dressing against the richly flavoured meat. As we had some gorgeous Russet apples in the fruit and veg box this week, it would have seemed rude not to include one here.

Duck & Apple Salad with Mango Chutney Dressing

For the dressing:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp mango chutney
salt & pepper
Whisk the oil, lemon juice together to emulsify, then whisk in the mango chutney. Season to taste; I like it quite sharp, but with a sweet edge.
cold cooked duck meat
flaked almonds, toasted until brown

Cover a plate with watercress, and lay the shredded duck on top. Slice the apple and tuck in the pieces here and there. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and scatter with toasted almonds.

Very ladies-who-lunch, isn't it? I should probably have gone to the beauty salon or out shopping or something afterwards, but instead I walked up to the postbox to post thank-you cards for Christopher's birthday presents while Karl looked after the boys. I scrambled about in a hedge to have a look at some rosehips, which I fancy turning into syrup sometime soon, and picked a handful of blackberries on the way back. I was very popular with Chris when I got home, for some reason...

Dinner tonight was one of my good old faithful savoury crumbles, this time with Chicken, Leek and Bacon.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


This evening I cooked a beautiful free-range duck that Hubby was given by a friend. I love duck, it always seems such a treat, and this honey-roast duck is a particular favourite when I do have the chance to cook one. The real trouble is, despite being very rich and fatty, duck is incredibly moreish. What's more, you don't actually get a huge amount of meat off them. This was a 2.3kg bird, which fed the four of us for supper, with a few bits left over.

Roasted Duck with Honey

2kg duck, or thereabouts
6 tbsp clear honey
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°c. Score a few slits in the skin over the breast of the duck (just through the skin and subcutaneous fat - don't cut into the meat). Grind pepper all over the duck and rub it into the skin. You can use salt here as well, and I usually would, but James is still a bit young for added salt. Put the duck on a rack in a roasting tin and pour the honey over it . Smooth the honey across the skin of the bird with the back of a spoon, then put it in thje oven. After 30 minutes, baste the duck with the liquid from the tin, then add 200ml water and tent the bird with foil. Return it to the oven, turned down to 160°c for a further hour, basting halfway through this time. Remove the foil, baste again and cook for a final 30 minutes. Leave the duck to rest for 10 minutes or so on a warmed platter before carving.

The skin can look quite alarmingly black sometimes but it doesn't taste burnt, just sweet, smoky and caramelised; the perfect foil to the rich meat of the duck. I like to serve it with rice (basmati & wild, for preference) rather than potatoes and some still-just-crisp steamed green vegetables, broccoli and sugar snaps this evening. We finished off the last of Christopher's birthday cake for pudding.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Supper on Standby

Having neglected even to think about our supper tonight, I had to raid the freezer this afternoon. We had some packs of small sausages and cartons of my batch-cooked tomato sauce, so I defrosted one of each to make a version of my Sausage and Tomato Pasta. Favourite dishes like this one quickly become regular standbys for family meals, cooked slightly differently every time, adapted according to what we've got. That’s the way it should be; I keep cookery notebooks to scribble records of what I cook and how things change over time, but I don’t have the time (or the inclination) to start scouring recipe books for every evening meal.

So, while the penne was boiling briskly, I broke up the sausages a bit and fried them until they were cooked through and nicely browned, then poured the tomato sauce into the pan and let it reheat gently. The sausage-studded sauce could then be quickly tossed through the drained pasta. As always, I reserved a cupful of the pasta-water to stir in. This really does help all sorts of sauces to combine with the pasta, though sometimes you only need a spoonful or so, it’s still a habit worth getting into.

I serve ‘big’ pasta dishes like this one straight from the pan at the table, spooning out as much as everyone wants. Garlic bread, a green salad and some grated cheese to scatter over the pasta were just the right accompaniments for a damp and rather chilly evening. We all had a slice of Christopher’s birthday cake for pud.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Birthday Boy

What a busy weekend! Christopher had a lovely birthday, and his party went off without a hitch in the end. Six children was a nice number to have; they all played really well together with no squabbling or fighting (which makes a refreshing change). I decided that they were probably still a bit young for full-on party games, but luckily the weather brightened up for the afternoon so they could play in the garden.

The party tea seemed to go down very well. I decided against making the usual sandwiches as, in my experience, they make a huge mess before remaining largely uneaten. Instead, I made a huge tomato-and-cheese pizza and cut it into squares to eat cold. The menu was, thus:
  • Pizza Squares
  • Cocktail Sausages
  • Cheesy Bites
  • Raw Carrot & Pepper Sticks
  • Grapes & Raisins
  • Salt & Shake Crisps (sans salt)
  • Dinosaur-shaped Chocolate Biscuits
  • Marshmallow Top Hats (see below)
  • Birthday Cake!
Marshmallow Top Hats

These are a family classic, and a party favourite from my childhood. Particularly favoured by my brother, I now make them for my boys as a party treat. 'Scotbloc', or cake covering, is the taste I grew up with, so that's what I use. You can use proper chocolate if you'd rather.

100g chocolate cake covering
12 marshmallows
12 Smarties

Melt the scotbloc and pour a little into the bottom of each of 12 petit four cases. Place a marshmallow centrally in each and dab a blob of chocolate onto the top. Fix a Smartie to this and leave the top hats to set.

We've got quite a lot of bits left over, but as Hubby is on leave for a while from tomorrow, he'll find something to do with it all, I've no doubt.

All in all, a great day for all of us, and a pleasantly old-fashioned birthday party. I suppose I try to base the parties I give for my boys on the ones I remember, full of love and laughter, from when I was a child, but I don't think that's any bad thing. I've been warned, by friends with older children, about the competitive kind of party-giving that seems to take over once children are at school, and which seems to say much more about the parents than the children. I loathe the whole idea of it: 30-plus guests, a fortune on 'entertainment', professional caterer-standard food and party bags to rival the goodies given out at the Oscars? Not if I can help it. Sorry, rant over.

Enjoy being 3, my darling Christopher. Mummy xx

Friday, 21 September 2007


Well, it's Christopher's birthday tomorrow and I'm taking a break from blowing up about a million balloons and finishing off preparations for his party. The cake is finished and I am so proud of myself. When Chris asked for a Mr Men cake, he initially wanted "all the friends", but I persuaded him to choose his favourite one. It worked out really well; I'm thrilled that the cake looks just like good old Mr Bump!

Underneath the icing the cake is my birthday standard; a vanilla-flavoured sponge, filled with some of my homemade blackberry jam. I keep a jar of golden caster sugar with a few cut-up vanilla pods in it for baking, but you could add a teaspoonful of vanilla extract with the eggs instead, if you prefer.

Birthday Cake

200g vanilla sugar
200g soft butter
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour after each. Sift in the rest of the flour and combine gently. Divide the mixture equally between two 20cm greased and base-lined sandwich tins and bake at 190°c for 20 minutes. Remove the cakes from the tins and cool them on a rack. Sandwich the two cakes together with jam. I brush the top of the cake with a little apricot jam to help the icing stick to it.

Hubby is at work late this evening, so it was just me and the boys for supper. I got some more of my huge Mexgrocer pack of corn tortillas out of the freezer and made quesadillas for us, using a mixture of grated cheddar and mozzarella and some leftover roasted vegetables from last night. You could use whatever you fancy, I suppose. Within reason.


corn tortillas
grated cheese
leftover roasted vegetables

Heat a non-stick frying pan. Use the tortillas to make a 'sandwich' with some cheese and vegetables. Plop the tortillas into the pan and dry fry for a couple minutes until the cheese is melting. Flip the quesadilla over to toast the other side too, then slip it out of the pan and onto a board or something to rest while you cook the rest. Cut into wedges to eat; I had a dollop of soured cream with mine, but Chris, being a boy, wanted ketchup. These were fantastic finger food for the boys, but particularly for James; the cheese sticks everything together so he can't pick it all apart, like he so often does when I give him a 'normal' sandwich.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Holey Mole

Christopher's Birthday is fast approaching and I've got a party to get ready for. That means baking, and lots of it. I baked his cake today, which I'll decorate tomorrow, and made some chocolate cookies and some cheese biscuits. These mini-sized biscuits go down really well as snacks with both my boys , so I thought they'd be a tasty, healthyish addition to Saturday's birthday tea.

Cheesy Bites

100g soft butter
50g cheddar, finely grated
75g mozzarella, grated
200g granary flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp English mustard powder

Beat the butter and grated cheeses together, then stir in the flour, baking powder and mustard powder. Add a splash of milk to bring the mixture together into a soft dough. Roll into 32 small balls, then place on oiled baking sheets. Flatten the balls a little with the bottom of a glass (dipped in flour). Prick each flattened round two or three times with a fork.

Bake for 12 minutes at 180°c, then remove to a rack to cool. They keep for about a week in an airtight box, but they're very moreish, so they might not actually make it that far...

After the baking extravaganza, I really needed something straightforward to cook for dinner. I'd ordered a carton of ready-made mole (mo-lay) sauce as part of my Mexgrocer consignment the other weeks, so tonight I tried it out.

I roasted some chicken thighs, pouring the mole sauce over them for the last 15 minutes' of cooking time. Served with some plain basmati rice and some roasted vegetables, it was a really good, easy supper. Christopher was a bit suspicious of the sauce until I told him it had chocolate in it (which is true), then he tried it and it went down a storm. James gobbled it up, same as he does with everything at the moment. Growing boys and all that. I think I'll have to get some more of this stuff in; supper tonight felt like a total skive!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Hot Potatoes

We're all still loving our 'Mexican Week'. I'm cooking things I never even thought of trying before and I'm enjoying it immensely. It really hasn't even been any extra effort - no more work than making the usual family meals. Tonight's dinner was my adaptation of one of the recipes on the Mexgrocer website. I didn't want to scare the children (or the old man!) with anything too outlandish, so this Mexican take on cheesy mash immediately struck me as likely to be very popular. I wasn't wrong; the baby in particular is now a right little burrito-face. I get the feeling I'll be making this again before too long...

Chile Potato Burritos

I prefer to steam potatoes rather than boiling them, but do as you like. To steam them, peel and cut into large chunks, then place in a steamer over boiling water for about 25 minutes. Quickly empty the water pan and use it to dry off and mash the cooked potatoes.

4 large potatoes
1 scant tsp ground de arbol chile powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
150g cheddar cheese, grated
8 corn tortillas
400g can chopped tomatoes
about 5 tbsp Mexican Pepper Recaudo Marinade & Grill Sauce

Cook and mash the potatoes (and see above). Beat in 100g of the cheese, the chile powder, cumin and oregano. Spoon some of the potato down the centre of each tortilla and roll up. Place the tortilla rolls ('seam' facing down) side by side in an ovenproof dish. Stir together the tomatoes, the pepper sauce and 100ml water. Pour this over the tortilla in the dish and scatter over the rest of the cheese. Bake at 180°c for half an hour until the cheese has melted and the protruding edges of the tortillas are crisp and browned.

I served this with a simple salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumber and a bowl of soured cream. It was actually quite hard, having to leave some in the dish for Karl, who was due to arrive home from work after the boys and I had eaten dinner this evening. I would have eaten it all, given half a chance! I can hardly even begin to describe how tasty it was, nor urge you to try it strongly enough.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Sopa di Tortilla

Lost for inspiration on the Mexican food front a couple of weeks ago, I trawled the internet for ideas. I kept coming across references to Sopa de Tortilla, or Tortilla Soup. Intriguing, until I realised that the 'tortilla' part is a garnish of crisply fried tortillas. Irresistible...

This, then, is my interpretation of the dish. I've tried to stick to the Mexican ideal, but I make no promises as to its authenticity. I used cooked chicken left over from our Sunday roast, plus stock that I made from the carcass yesterday. I got the canned black beans, chile powder and tortillas as part of my shopping trip to Mexgrocer last week.

Chicken Soup with Tortilla

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1.2 litres chicken stock
75g white rice, uncooked
300g cooked chicken, shredded

560g can black beans, drained
340g can sweetcorn, drained
1 tsp ground de arbol chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
corn tortillas (I used 5)
oil for frying
grated cheddar

Heat some oil in a large pan. Fry the onion and garlic until just soft. Pour in the chicken stock and tip in the rice. Bring to the boil, then add the shredded cooked chicken breasts along with the beans and sweetcorn. Stir in the chile powder, cumin and oregano. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the soup simmers, cut the tortillas into thinnish strips. Heat a couple of centimetres' depth of oil in a deep, wide pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the tortilla strips, in batches, until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle of cheese on the top of each portion. Top with a handful of the tortilla strips. This was a really hearty meal, much enjoyed by all of us. I think it could do very well with vegetable broth and more beans and corn as a veggie alternative, if you like. It had a nice little twang of chile, but if you like your food spicier (than I dare to cook it with two little ones to feed), add up to another teaspoon of chile powder. It also occurs to me that for speed (and fewer pots to wash), you could top each bowful with some ready-made tortilla chips.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Wrap & Roll

A while back I was invited to take a culinary adventure into Mexican food by I was really excited by the idea as this isn't a cuisine I've ever really explored before. The ingredients on the site are truly authentic and it seemed a fantastic introduction to something totally new. Living in a rural area means that we lack access to the range of ethnic grocery shops found in larger towns and cities, so internet shops like this one could be a real boon for cooks who want to dip a metaphorical toe in the waters of international cuisine. I spent a long time surfing the site and planning a week or so of evening meals based around some of the ingredients available and then - click! - went shopping

When the box turned up there was a gorgeous waft of spices as I opened it and I could hardly wait to get started. I'd already decided to start with something fairly straightforward and make fajitas the first night, using the spice blend I'd bought and some of the corn tortillas. I used steak for Karl and myself and cooked some chicken for the boys; James can't really cope with chewing steak yet and while Chris likes a bit of steak, I knew he'd want some chicken as well if I did some for his baby bro.


1 large onion, sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
2 thin-cut frying steaks, cut into strips
1 chicken breast
Mexgrocer Fajita Spice Mix
corn tortillas

Heat some oil in a pan and fry the onion and peppers until soft, sprinkling over a large pinch of the fajita spice mix as they cook. Scoop into an ovenproof dish and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the steak strips, then the chicken strips. Add some more of the spice mix as you cook each batch of strips. Warm the tortillas briefly in the oven, then serve everything at the table for self-assembly.

I also put some soured cream and a dish of grated cheese out on the table. The boys loved their hands-on dinner. The actual construction of the fajitas defeated them rather, but they still seemed to enjoy fiddling about and getting in a bit of a mess. As for me, I alway like to play with my food, and the spicing was just right. Warm and fragrant but not blast-your-socks-off HOT.

I must mention that the corn tortillas looked quite small and I was a little bit worried that they wouldn't make much of a meal, but actually they were incredibly satisfying, much more so than the flour tortillas I've bought from the supermarket to make 'wraps' in the past: the texture was much better too, pleasantly mealy and not at all 'chewy'. This meal also proved to be a good way of stretching quite a small amount of meat a long way. Even my notoriously hollow-legged husband found himself full after this dinner. All in all, a stunning result fo a first try; I'm looking forward to the next round tomorrow...

Friday, 14 September 2007

Fishy Dishy

When I was deciding what to have for tonight's dinner , I really fancied fish pie. I got some fish (coley) out of the freezer last night and infused the milk for the sauce this morning, but then left it far too late to start dealing with potatoes for the mash topping. Quick change of plans, and I created another variation on savoury crumble. These savoury crumbles are just as satisfying as pies and the topping is so easy to make. I regularly make a mince crumble and do a chicken version too. Now I have a trilogy!

The parsley sauce can also be used with pieces of plain grilled fish, or with gammon steaks (and mashed potatoes please). I like to infuse the milk, but if you don't have time, don't worry. Just make the sauce as below. If you want to, put the milk in a saucepan with the stalks from the bunch of parsley. Bring it to the boil, then remove it from the heat and leave it to cool completely. Strain the cold milk into a jug and use it for the sauce. You can do the milk in the morning, or even the night before and keep it in the fridge once it's cold. Don't put it in your tea, though.

Fish Crumble Bake

500g firm white fish
250g smoked fish
198g can sweetcorn, drained
600ml milk, infused if possible (and see above)
240g plain flour
140g butter
bunch of parsley, leaves chopped finely

Cook the fish in the microwave until it's just flaking. Break it up into large pieces in the
bottom of an ovenproof dish and scatter over the sweetcorn.
Put the milk, 40g of flour and 40g of butter, cubed, into a saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil, whisking all the time, then turn down the heat and add the chopped parsley. Simmer for a couple of minutes, still whisking, then pour the sauce over the fish and sweetcorn.

Rub the remaining 100g of butter into the rest of the flour, then season and use to top the fish mixture. Bake at 200°c for 20 minutes.

Christopher wanted peas to go with it, so that's what we had. No potatoes, obviously, for reasons of tardiness already discussed.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

I Love Breakfast!

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. A good, communal family breakfast at a nicely laid table, even if it’s only once in a while, is a habit worth getting into. You can even set the table the evening before if you feel so inclined. I try, but admit I don't always achieve that level of organisation. Making time, though, to relax over a (reasonably) leisurely breakfast with good things to eat, is the best way to start the day I know. I don't feel that I can function at all if I haven't had a decent breakfast, so the boys and I always sit at the table and eat properly in the morning. My usual breakfast is a cup of tea, a glass of orange juice and a bowl of Dorset Cereals Really Nutty Muesli, while the boys mostly have Weetabix, Oatibix or Shreddies. Christopher has acquired a taste for my muesli of late, though! We follow our cereal with toast and some fruit, mainly bananas, but sometimes other seasonal fruits that have come in the organic box. I try to stretch to cooking breakfast; porridge or some eggs, for us all at least once or twice a week.

One of the things I do to keep our everyday breakfasts interesting is bake different breads. This is made very easy by having a bread machine. My most usual 'special bread' is a Spiced Fruit Loaf, which has a flavour akin to teacakes and hot cross buns, but I branched out this week, adapting my usual white loaf recipe to make some chocolate bread. We were not disappointed by it; the boys have enjoyed snacking on it, as well as eating it at breakfast time. I rather love it too, and it toasts particularly well, filling the kitchen with a gorgeous smell.

Chocolate Bread

¾ tsp easy-blend dried yeast
360g strong white flour
40g cocoa powder
2 tbsp sugar
25g butter
1 tsp salt
100ml milk
200ml warm water

Add the ingredients to the bread machine in the order required by your machine. I have a Panasonic™ Bread Bakery, so the yeast goes in first, but machines do vary. Check your instruction manual for details.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Surprisingly Successful

Today I cooked one of the best things I've done for ages and I'm so proud of it! We had 500g of cubed lamb in the freezer, which I defrosted overnight before realising I had no idea what I was going to do with it. This casserole-type dish took hardly any time to put together, and looked after itself in the oven while we took the boys out into the garden to play. I served it with some of my homemade bread and, honestly, I could hardly believe how much we all enjoyed it. Clean plates all round, with considerable jostling for seconds.

Spiced Lamb with Butter Beans

1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
few sprigs thyme
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
500g cubed lamb
500ml lamb stock
2 x 400g tins butter beans, drained and rinsed

Heat some olive oil in a large casserole and fry the onion and celery until softened. Add the thyme leaves and spices, stirring well. Brown the lamb and season with black pepper, before pouring in the lamb stock. Add water if you need to, to just barely cover everything with liquid. Bring to the boil, then transfer the pan to the oven. Cover the pan and cook for 1 hour at 180°c, then stir in the beans. Reduce the oven temperature to 150°c and cook, uncovered this time, for a further 45 minutes.

I always like a pudding of some sort to round off a meal. Most evenings we have fruit, either a mixed plate to share or something special like a pineapple. Last Thursday we got a coconut in the organic box, which provided a couple of nights' worth of post-prandial nibbling. Our other 'everyday' pudding option is to raid the tins in the kitchen for cake or biscuits of one sort or another, whatever I've been baking recently. Tonight we cut into the bara brith I made on Sunday. This is a lovely cake to have around the house; one of those fruity cakes that is just right with a cup of tea and very simple to make. I made this one because I had some tea left in the pot after a friend had been over on Friday, it was a tad stewed but perfect to soak the fruit for this cake. I actually ended up leaving the fruit soaking for two days, as I forgot about it on Saturday, but it was none the worse for that. If you don't have 'leftover' tea, just make a fresh mug and use that. Use whatever mixture of dried fruit you like. I keep bags of 'mixed dried fruit with peel' in my baking cupboard, so I tend to use some of that.

Bara Brith Hawdd

You can, if you like, add some orange or lemon zest to this very basic recipe.

300ml tea
250g dried fruit (see above)
250g self-raising flour
125g sugar
1 egg

Soak the fruit in the hot  tea until it is cold (and see above). Stir the finely chopped zest into the fruit-and-tea mixture, then beat the flour, sugar and egg. Turn the batter uinto a greased and floured 1lb loaf tin. Bake at 160°c for 50 minutes.  Cover with foil durig cooking if it is browning too much. Cool the cake in the tin. For the best result, wrap the cake in foil when it has cooled and leave it in an airtight tin for a couple of days before eating it, spread with salted butter in the true Welsh way...

Monday, 10 September 2007

In Praise of Pasta

I really don't know what any of us would do without pasta. It's so quick and easy to cook and so versatile. So many possibilities - there are too many sauces to ever get bored - I can't imagine how I'd manage to feed the children without it, sometimes. One of their favourite lunches is pasta tossed with a little butter and grated cheese. I buy quick-cook fusilli especially for lunches and that way it doesn't take much longer to make than a sandwich. Pasta suppers are a tiny bit more involved than that, but not much. This sauce, like so many others, is ready in the time it takes the pasta to boil. If you've got some garlic-infused olive oil, use that instead of flavouring tbe oil yourself. I've run out, so I took the long way round.

Tuna and Tomato Pasta

200g pasta
2 cloves garlic, squashed with a knife
2 tbsp olive oil
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
185g can tuna in spring water, drained

Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the oil and garlic together until the oil is fragrant and the garlic just beginning to brown. Sccop out the garlic with a slotted spoon and discard. Fry the diced celery until soft, then add the tomatoes. Cook briefly to heat through, then flake in the tuna. Stir the sauce very gently to avoid breaking up the fish too much. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, then toss in the sauce, adding a splash of the pasta water to bring it all together nicely. Serve with a green salad.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Saddle Up!

I roasted a saddle of lamb for tonight's dinner. This was from the half lamb I bought for the freezer a few weeks back. I am definitely of the opinion that the saddle is an underrated cut. Ours was just under a kilo and took less than an hour to cook. It was nice and pink in the middle still, and the flavour was brilliant. It had some nice crisp skin on the surface and was tender and juicy to boot.

The Sunday roast is a great British institution, but some weeks the full works is just too much to cope with. Tonight we had some simple steamed vegetables; carrots and runner beans from the organic box, and what are known in my family as 'Nanny Potatoes'. This is one of my late Nan's genius dishes; along with her fabulous meat pies (my favourite) and her crunchy-topped pork chops, which are also much-loved family classics. The whole dish is far, far greater than the sum of its parts would suggest. You can make this with whatever quantities you like, and add a little garlic to the layers if you want. I use 750g potatoes to 1 large onion to feed four as a side dish.

'Nanny Potatoes'


Butter an ovenproof dish. Peel and thickly slice the potatoes and put them in a pan. Cover them with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain. Meanwhile, halve and slice the onion and cook in a little butter until soft. I do this in the microwave so they don't colour at all. Layer the potatoes and onion in the prepared dish, seasoning as you go. Pour boiling water into the dish to just below the top of the potatoes. Bake at 200°c for about 45 minutes.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Another Favourite...

Here's a great quick dinner. I always have bits of smoked fish stashed in the freezer, usually coley because it's nice and cheap, and great to go in things like fishcakes and fish pie. This chowder only contains 'storecupboard' sorts of things and takes hardly any time to make. All you need then is some good tasty bread to put on the table, next to the pan of soup, and you've got a meal. I know people bang on about using undyed smoked fish, but I just can't manage to get worked up about it when there are so many worse things to worry about. Besides which, I actually think the yellow colour looks quite pretty in this dish.

Smoked Fish Chowder

1 large onion, sliced
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 litre milk
340g can sweetcorn, drained
300g smoked fish
fresh chives, finely chopped

Put the sliced onion, potatoes and milk into a large pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sweetcorn and plenty of black pepper, then add the fish. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, then add the chives and stir well to break up the pieces of fish. Serve with some bread to soak up the juice and wipe the bowl clean. This is not an elegant supper.

If you have any leftovers, they will keep in the fridge for a day or so. I managed to keep some to have for my lunch tomorrow, which I am looking forward to already. As a side not, I should point out that the chowder will freeze really well for up to a month, provided that you use fish that hasn't already been frozen.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


There’s just nothing like it. Comfort food, ultimate meal, call it what you like. Nothing really touches good old egg and chips. Hubby prefers to have something else as well; sausages or, as tonight, a bacon chop, but that’s men for you. As far as I’m concerned, anything more is a step too far.

Deep-frying chips at home is emphatically not for me. Once upon a time we did have a deep fat fryer, but after it broke when Karl dropped it on the kitchen floor, we never bothered to replace it. My method of cooking chips in the oven works brilliantly, is much healthier and safer to cook. The firemen who visited our playgroup earlier this year put the fear of God into us all when they talked about the statistics for chip-pan-related house fires. I’ve got a ‘Misto™’ oil spray which I fill with sunflower oil for this, but use whatever oil spray you have, or indeed just drizzle the chips with a little bit of oil.

Real Oven Chips

Peel your potatoes and cut them into chips. Rinse them in cold water, then plunge them into a large pan of boiling water. Wait for the water to come back to the boil, and then set the timer for 5 minutes. Drain the chips in a colander and leave them to cool a little. Spread them out on an oiled baking sheet, giving them plenty of space - use more than one sheet if you need to. Spray or drizzle with sunflower oil, then cook at 200°c for 20 minutes or so, until the chips are crisp and golden.

While the chips are in the oven you can lay the table, fry your eggs and sort out whatever else you need in relative peace. Even better, the house doesn’t stink afterwards. Or burn down, which is always a plus.

After that little lot, I thought we'd better have some fruit for pudding. So we did.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Fasta Pasta

I’d planned to cook a pasta bake this evening, but the weather proved too hot for any of my usual recipes to appeal very much. We still fancied pasta though, so I threw together this new dish, using what I had in the fridge. Any short pasta would be fine; I used penne, as it's what I have in the house. I limit our stores of pasta as much as I can; one short type (penne) and one long (linguine for preference, but usually spaghetti). I also keep macaroni and some quick-cooking fusilli in the cupboard to do fast meals for the children.

Summery Pasta Bake

200g dried pasta (see above)
2 rashers bacon, chopped
handful mushrooms, chopped
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
handful spinach

Cook the pasta, then put the spinach into a colander in the sink and drain the pasta over it. This will wilt the spinach. Meanwhile, fry the bacon and mushrooms together. Stir these, and the tomatoes, into the drained pasta and spinach. Tip it all into an ovenproof dish.

250ml milk
2 eggs
100g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Beat all the ingredients together in a jug and pour over the pasta in the dish. Top with another 50g of grated cheese, then bake for 30 minutes at 180°c.

It did feel very summery, actually. A bit of green salad on the side was all it needed; the boys gobbled it up and Hubby, without any prompting, pronounced it "smashing", which pleased me inordinately.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Bang Bang

A miserable rainy day like today always calls for comfort food of one kind or another. We all love sausages and, since there were some in the fridge, sausages it was. I toyed briefly with the idea of Toad in the Hole, but decided instead on good old Bangers and Mash. Brilliant family food, nice and simple. This way of cooking the sausages keeps them from drying out and gives you a lovely, and very easy, gravy to go with them. I'm not a huge fan of gravy as a rule, but with a Great British meal like this, it's a must!

Sausage Supper

butter and oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
6-8 sausages
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
mixed dried herbs
black pepper

Heat a large knob of butter and a little oil in a large, deep-sided frying pan. Fry the onions over a low heat until soft and just golden. Turn up the heat and add the sausages, browning them a little all over. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Add a good pinch of mixed dried herbs and grind over some black pepper. Reduce the heat once more and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes. I steam the peeled and halved potatoes for 20-25 minutes, then mash them with a large dollop (or two) of créme fraîche.


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