Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I absolutely adore making lists, and not only the grocery-shopping sort. Things to cook, girly shopping, outfits to dream about, Christmas, wishes, stuff to do to the house, parties to hold (one day), all sorts. So here, in no particular order, is a snapshot from my melange of to-do lists...

Learn to crochet

Pack light.

Hold a Girly Afternoon Tea Party (with no children invited!)

Find time to do my BFN coursework assignments

Paint the kitchen purple

Make a Black Forest Gateau

Own some really kick-ass heels

Be fluent in Welsh

Decorate the boys' bedroom

Finish Christmas shopping

Have a Halloween party for the children and their friends

Sort out the front of the house

Go to France again

Clear out the junk in the upstairs drawers

And that's not even halfway through! Some may be pipe dreams, others more realistic - but I love the listing process, it cheers me to look back at past lists and realise how much I have done, when having two small children so often means that days pass with no obvious achievements to show. Except for my gorgeous boys, of whom I am so proud and who are, every day, so much an achievement in themselves.

Monday, 17 November 2008


Perfect for those (regular, in my house) "what on earth am I cooking for supper" moments, this is a pasta bake (yum - my favourite) with bits and bobs hauled from the fridge after one of those blind-staring moments at the open door. I always think that savoy cabbage is a winner with ham or bacon anyway, but this was certainly proved to be so tonight. I think this recipe is most definitely a keeper and up for regular repetition (without hesitation, but as always with me, a little deviation from time to time). It went down well with the children (and the husband who, it must be said, is a darn sight fussier than either of the kids).

Cabbage & Bacon Pasta Bake

200g dried pasta shapes
8 savoy cabbage leaves, sliced
200g smoked bacon, chopped
1/2 pint milk
20g butter
20g cornflour
1 tsp mustard powder
100g strong cheddar, grated

Cook the pasta and the cabbage in p[laenty of boiling salted water. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until just cooked and heat the milk, butter, mustard and flour in a pan, whisking until the sauce boils and thickens. Combine the drained pasta and cabbage, the bacon and the sauce and tip into an ovenproof dish. Top with grated cheese and a good grind of pepper. Bake for 15 minutes at 200°c, the ideal temperature and timing for a frozen loaf of garlic bread to go in alongide, hehehe.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Cop-Out au Vin

Well, the half-term madness is finally over and I have time to return to normality (or at least what passes for it in this house!). James celebrated his 2nd birthday during half-term so that made a busy week even more hectic, We visited my in-laws in Sheffield for a large chunk of the week and I indulged myself with a little pre-Christmas trip to good old Hobbycraft while we were there.

Our supper tonight was a shortcut of a real favourite, something that is a regular 'friends-for-dinner' special. One can't really go the classical French cookery route on a school night though, so here is my whistle-stop version...

Cop-Out au Vin

I serve this with baked potatoes, which I start off in the microwave for 5 minutes, then cook in the oven alongside the casserole pan for half a hour.

1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
170g pack lardons
100g small mushrooms
6 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets, halved
300ml red wine
300ml chicken stock
2 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato purée

Whizz the onion and garlic to a pulp in the blender. Fry briefly, then add the lardons and mushrooms. Lay the chicken pieces on top, then pour in the wine and stock. Stir in the balsamic vionegar and the tomato purée (which help to correct the purplish colour and boost the flavour), then add the bay leaves. Cover the pan, bring to the boil and then transfer to a 180°c oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid of the pan for the last 10 minutes to reduce the sauce. Scatter with roughly snipped parsley to serve.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Nursery Rhyme Cookery

This, for me, encompasses anything you cook because your children (or you) like the idea of it from a familiar story or nursery rhyme. It started for me in childhood with the recreation of the Lid Potatoes made, by Muvver, for Milly Molly Mandy and Little-Friend-Susan.

Now Jam Tarts are an obvious choice for this category, as are bread and honey, plum pie and good old Three Bears' porridge. Our favourite at the moment has to be the currant bun though...

Ten currant buns in the baker's shop,
Round and fat with sugar on the top
Along came Chris with a penny one day
Bought a currant bun and took it away.

Yes, letting the children loose with dough is messy, but great fun for all concerned and at least you can look forward to a toasted currant bun for tea. Cleaning the kitchen appeals more than sorting out arguments and picking up a sea of garish plastic, anyhow.

Currant Buns (makes ten, natch)

450g bread flour
1 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
1 tsp salt
40g sugar

Mix these together in a large bowl.

40g butter
50ml milk
100g currants
milk & sugar (preferably demerara), to glaze

Melt the butter in 230ml boiling water, then pour in the milk. Add to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix to form a dough. Knead in the currants and continue to knead until the dough is soft and springy. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size, the knock back and divide into ten buns. Prove for 45 minutes, then brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 200°c until golden brown.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


This is a really useful base for building meals on - so many things seem to start with cooking onions down until soft and flavoursome. More often then not, that's the pain with cooking meals; the time-consuming and tedious bits that seem to get in the way of the enjoyable main event (and I do mean the cooking and not just the eating, honestly). Try this, then. These slow-cooked onions can be used as the foundation for several meals and even kept in the freezer. If you take the package out in the morning to defrost, you can then skip quite a few steps when it's time to prepare supper. Six onions is quite a nice quantity to do - it will easily provide for three or four meals and doesn't take much work from you.

Slow-Cooked Onions

6 onions, halved and thinly sliced
25g butter
200ml dry sherry

Melt the butter and turn the sliced onions in the fat. Bring to a sizzle, then stir well and pour in the sherry. Mix thoroughly and cover the pan. Turn down the heat and cook for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid, turn up the heat and bubble to reduce any excess liquid. Allow to cool, then divide into portions and chill or freeze.

Last night I used a good 400g of the onions to form the basis of a simple onion tart; a ravishing supper for a cold autumn evening. Put your slow-cooked onions into the bottom of an 8" pastry case, then pour over two eggs beaten with seasoning and a small carton of crème fraîche. Bake for 30 minutes at 200°c and serve warm.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Funkin Good Time

This weekend was a bit of a big one; I went out with a couple of girlfriends to celebrate one of their birthdays and my Mum came to visit - ostensibly to babysit (aren't Mums great) - but I had a lovely time with her on Sunday and Monday too.

On Saturday night, before going out, my friend Sharna and I tried out these new Funkin Cocktail Pouches. I was sent samples from this brand new range of clever cocktail mixers to try out. It's a great idea, I have to say - perfect cocktails in just minutes. You just have to add you r spirit and ice to a glass and top up with the single serve cocktail pouch, though I must admit that for testing purposes we opted to make two small drinks (i.e. one for each of us) with each pouch!

Of the three we tried, we were a little disappointed with the Mojito mixer - bags of lime flavour, but little in the way of mint - if you had access to some fresh mint it'd still be a goer though. It also occurred to us that it would be gorgeous with a shot of tequila instead of the rum.

The other two pouches were better - the raspberry mojito still suffered from the lack of mint but the fresh, fruity flavour made up for thatt. The Cosmo - easily among my favourite cocktails anyway - was really good, and it really took no longer to make this than it would to throw together a vodka and orange. Way more stylish, though!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Don't Be Blue...

Any regular readers with be familiar with my love of bright colours and it should, perhaps, come as no surprise that my children have inherited this from me.

When we went to the shop the other day, Christopher rushed up to me, bearing this really rather fabulous heliotrope-coloured Graffiti Cauliflower as though it was the find of his life. So what choice did I have?

You probably won't be astonished when I write that it tastes like, er, cauliflower. But it loses its pinkness with cooking and turns a somewhat gothic shade of inky blue, which fascinated the boys. As a novelty item it was a pretty good buy - the kids ate their vegetables and were so pleased with it in the shop that they forgot all about nagging me for sweeties. Bonus.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Lightening the Load

Anything that makes dinner (and, more importantly, the clearing up) a little easier to manage is always welcome, am I right? One of our family's regular favourites is a Roast Chicken with Succotash and tonight I tried a new method; cooking it in one dish to save on washing-up and to make the workload lighter, as anything which is doing it's thing in the oven, as opposed to on the hob needing any kind of attention (and I include just seeing it there in that) , is by far the preferred option as far as I'm concerned.

All-in-One Succotash Chicken

2 x 400g cans butter beans
340g can sweetcorn
170g pack bacon lardons
142ml carton double cream
250ml chicken stock
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
4 chicken leg portions

Drain and rinse the butter beans and sweetcorn. Mix them together with the bacon bits and put this into an ovenproof dish. Stir the cream, stock and herbs together in a jug, then pour oover the beans and stir. Lay the chicken legs on top of the succotash mixture, then cook at 200°c for 40 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Serve straight from the dish.

There was not a scrap left (which is always a good sign) and we all declared this to be a successful experiment.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pre-prandials: Tongue in Cheek

I have to say that, in general, I'm deeply suspicious of all the 'health food' stories you read in the media and the whole 'superfood' phenomenon is no exception to that. But no matter, some of the foods the mysterious 'they' like to recommend happen to be really tasty, so I go on eating them fopr that (and only that) reason. As for goji berries or linseeds, forget it! I tried having linseeds on top of my cereal for a while when I was pregnant with James but - ugh - never again.

With that in mind, then, here is tonight's cocktail. Named (albeit sarcastically) to reflect the alleged superpowers of the fruits included, this cocktail should only be drunk for pure pleasure. Although the possibility of negating the alcohol, by the inclusion of the supposedly all-powerful pomegranate and blueberries would be a nice thought...


1 part gin
2 parts pomegranate juice
2 parts blueberry juice
squeeze of lime

Shake everything together, over ice, and then strain into a glass. Drink, humming the 'Wonder Woman' theme tune.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Vegging Out

Earlier this year I set myself an informal challenge; to cook and serve a completely vegetarian meal at least once a week. Not from an ethical viewpoint (I remain a committed multivore), I should add, but rather one of wanting my children to grow up enjoying vegetables for the wonderful foods that they are, rather than as a mere garnish to a slab of meat.

Things have been going well, so recently our veggie nights have upped to twice a week. Tonight was one of those nights, with that in mind I cooked this lovely mushroom dish, ever mindful of keeping to my 2008 resolution, to learn to cook Indian meals properly, rather than relying on jars and packets of sauce, paste and mixes. I understand from Schott's that Karahi is used to refer to dishes that are "dry...with onion, and tomatoes".

Mushroom Karahi

If you want to add another dimension to this dish, then stir in a drained can of chickpeas with the tomatoes, or wilt a handful of spinach in the karahi just prior to serving.

1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
450g mushrooms, sliced
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic together until softened. Tip in the spices and cook for a further minute or two, mixing well. Add the mushrooms to the pan, fry for a few moments, stirring well, then tip in the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Serve with rice and naan bread, with yoghurt to dollop on top if you like. Our family is divided equally into the enthusiastic yoghurt-dollopers (me and James) and the vociferous anti-yoghurt faction (Karl and Chris). There's just no accounting for taste, is there?

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Meat and (Two?) Veg

This is pie for lazy people, or people (like moi) with only half an hour to get dinner ready and a serious craving for pie. All you need to do is make a filling and stick in a case made separately, by scoring and baking some ready-made puff pastry. The kids enjoyed it and as for Hubby, well, it's PIE - what's not to like?

Cheaty Meaty Pie

500g block puff pastry
1 red onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 large mushrooms, chopped
500g beef mince
300ml beef stock

Roll the pastry out into a rough square about half a centimetre thick. Cut into quarters, then score a square in the centre of each. Put on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes or so at 200°c.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Fry the onion, pepper and mushrooms together until softened, then add the mince. Brown it well, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the pastry cases are ready.

Place each pastry case on the serving plates and use a knife to remove the centre squares. Fill each case with some of the meat mixture, then top with the pastry squares for 'lids'.

Serve with a green vegetable (or two, if you like).

Monday, 29 September 2008

Change of Plans

I was going to make stuffed pancakes today - until late this morning, when I remembered that (a) I had a pack of tortillas in the freezer that needed using up and (b) that making pancakes is a pain. So it became a tortilla bake. Spinach is one of my favourite vegetables, especially when paired with nutmeg. In a mildly cheesy sauce like this it even meets with approval from avowed spinach-haters.

Cheese & Spinach Tortilla Bake

6 flour tortillas
300g soft cheese
300g spinach
150ml soured cream
100g cheddar cheese, grated

Wilt the spinach by putting it in a colander and pouring a kettle-ful of boiling water over it. Cool, then squeeze out as much water as you can, Chop the spinach and mix with the soft cheese and about half the grated cheese, seasoning with fresh nutmeg and black pepper to taste. Divide the mixture between the six tortillas, roll them up and place in an ovenproof dish. Spread over the soured cream and scatter with the remaining cheese. Bake at 200­°c for 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is heated through thoroughly.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pre-prandials: Classy Classics

A true classic cocktail this Sunday, and one not to be messed about with. Thankfully I have yet to come across a messed- about Raspberry Mule or Moscow Cosmo, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before some loopy dude comes up with those. I don't (yet) have any copper mugs in which to serve my Mules - but that's about the only departure I can put up with. Does anyone else remember the truly hideous Smirnoff Mule alcopop from the late nineties? The one that could simultaneously induce diabetic coma with its sweetness and strip tooth enamel with its roughness? Thankfully that one seems to have evaporated into alco-hell, along with student staple Hooch. This is soooo much better...

Moscow Mule

For the ginger beer, I like Fentimans' Traditional or Idris' Fiery Ginger Beer. You want to feel the heat of the ginger, that's half the fun! Everything must be well-chilled, even so.

50ml vodka
juice of 1/2 lime
ginger beer

Pour the vodka into a suitable receptacle and squeeze in the lime juice. Top up with ginger beer and add a wedge of lime for garnish, if you must. I must. Chin Chin!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

It's Been a While...

Sorry, but sometimes life just gets in the way of blogging, the cheek of it! Most of September has been taken up with the whole rigmarole of getting back to school and organising Christopher's birthday, not to mention a 'Pirates' party for several overexcited children

You can see the all-important cake here, along with a pic of some chocolate éclairs I stuck in for the hell of it. Choux pastry is fast becoming my new best friend, albeit a friend who is a bad influence; being able to produce cream cakes at home is the true definition of 'Naughty but Nice' (remember the 80s?).

Any pastry cookbook has a recipe for choux pastry and believe me, it's easy-peasy. Having spent (literally) years being too scared to try doing it, a couple of weeks ago I had a bash at some profiteroles (lush) and now there's no stopping me. I've got a piping bag and I'm not afraid to use it!

Feels like I've never been away... xx

Monday, 1 September 2008

Another Popular Veggie Supper

I'm a manic clipper of magazines and newspapers. Anything that I think might come in handy in future gets torn out and goes in my cuttings drawer. This could be recipes, website URLs, ideas for kids' parties, or just pictures that i really like (though these normally end up on my collage wall upstairs). This pie was originally adapted from an ancient cutting from the Safeway magazine (telling you just how old it was). The veg I use most often are potatoes, carrots, leeks and swede, but vary them as you like. Chunks of squash are good in it, as are parsnips in place of the swede or potato.

Cheesy Vegetable Filo Pie

approx. 2lb vegetables (and see above), peeled and cut into smallish chunks
284ml double cream
50ml dry sherry
vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 50ml hot water
350ml cheese sauce (homemade, or use a shop-bought tub of 'fresh' sauce)
200g frozen peas
270g pack filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
melted butter
75g grated cheese

Heat a little oil in a large, deep pan and fry the vegetable chunks for 10 minutes until lightly browning. Pour in the cream, sherry and stock-cube water then add plenty of black pepper. Mix well, cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the veg are tender. Stir in your cheese sauce and the frozen peas. Transfer all this to an ovenproof dish. Brush the sheets of filo with melted butter and lay them on top, scattering on grated cheese as you go. Bake at 200­°c for 15 minutes until the pastry in browned and crisp.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Tonight's Dinner...

This is a slightly more upmarket version of my usual cheese strata. It occurs to me that, as a supper dish, it might be nice to layer some pieces of ham in the sandwiches with the Brie. I served it with a green salad and followede it with chocolate cake for pudding.

Baguette Brie Bake

1 baguette
250g Brie, sliced
4 eggs
300ml milk

Cut 20 slices from the baguette and use them, and the sliced Brie, to make 10 sandwiches. Put these in an ovenproof dish, with crusts facing up. Beat the eggs and milk together and season with salt and pepper. Pour this over the bread-and-cheese in the dish, then leave for 10 minutes to soak. Bake at 180­°c for about 35 minutes until the eggs are just set, but keeping some wobble.

The Omnivore's Hundred

This is doing the rounds on food-related blogs of present and it's been quite interesting having an extra insight into my fellow bloggers' attitudes to food and what they've eaten. It was started at Very Good Taste and I picked it up from Jules at Domestic Goddess in Training. Here is my effort.

Here’s what to do to keep it going:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (although I have eaten alligator)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (just waiting for a chance!)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (I'm on a promise for this one though)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (When my Dad tricked me into it)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (I often make blini to go with smoked salmon)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (nasturtiums)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor (sadly not - not even with a fried egg on top and SPAM)
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

That's all. Quite a few things to be working on there, though the wuss in me will (probably) never give in to raw chillies and phaal. Do you think there's anything missing from this list; something you've eaten which you think everyone should try?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Summer? What Summer?

Well, the weather continues to be, frankly, crap. Neither cold and wet nor warm and dry; just kind of cloudy and damp all the time, with temperatures all over the shop. It sure makes it hard to know what to wear in the morning.

As well as my sartorial objections, the indecisive weather makes it difficult to know what to plan for meals, and some days everything just feels back-to-front. Tonight was a good example, when the dish was light, fresh-tasting and summery and the weather outside, well, wasn't. Oh well, it tasted good and that's the main thing. I used frozen soy beans for this, but you could substitute broad beans or peas. Equally the cheese could be ricotta, and feel free to use whatever tortellini filling you prefer. Think of it as a kind of moveable feast...

Summery (ha!) Tortellini

zest of 1 lemon and half its juice
50ml olive oil
handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
2x250g packs of 'fresh' spinach & ricotta tortellini
150g frozen soy beans (and see above)
150g soft(ish) goat's cheese

Put the lemon zest and juice in a small bowl with half the chopped mint and pour in the olive oil. Whisk together and set aside, while you put the water on for the pasta. Boil the tortellini and the soy beans until tender, the drain. Heat the lemony oil, then return the pasta and beans to the pan, stirring well to coat in the oil. Crumble the cheese in and mix through briefly, then tip into warmed bowls to serve.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

A Trifle Boozy

My in-laws came yesterday for a (flying) visit. They were only here for one night and, with one thing and another, we've hardly seen them all year; so I thought I'd better push the boat out, dinner-wise. We started with a platter of various antipasti - olives, prosciutto and salami, that kind of thing - then moved on to a tomato risotto (done in the oven for ease and less time spent kitchen-bound for moi). As a pudding I put together this rather glorious and decadent trifle; I can't help feeling that a trifle is pretty much the ultimate in pudding indulgence and this one comes pretty close to the apotheosis, believe me. I used frozen raspberries, defrosted overnight in the fridge. When you're crushing them, it doesn't seem to matter and anyway, they're cheaper (especially given that our raspberry canes produced the grand total of nine raspberries this year). We had some Kahlua left from a bottle my BFF Steph brought to my birthday party last week, so that kind of suggested itself, really.

Boozy Raspberry Trifle

250ml cold coffee
60ml Kahlúa
2 tbsp sugar
500g Madeira cake
350g raspberries (and see above), crushed
250g tub mascarpone
400g can custard
142ml carton double cream
grated chocolate

Mix the Kahlúa and the sugar into the coffee. Beat the mascarpone and fold in the custard. Spoon a layer of the custard mix into the bottom of a suitably decorative bowl (preferably glass so you can see the layers, but don't lose sleep over it). Cut the cake into slices or cubes, dip quickly in the coffee mixture, then tessellate it to form a layer of booze-sodden cake Follow this with a layer of crushed raspberries and half the remaining custard. Continue, using up the rest of the cake and berries, leaving you with about one-third of the original custard mix. Stiffly whip the double cream and fold it into the custard. Dollop and spread this over the top of the trifle, then cover with a layer of grated chocolate. Chill for a few hours to let it settle before serving, in big squelchy spoonfuls. It looks very glam when you first bring it to table but, I assure you, that doesn't last long...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Love Food? LOVE this Soup...

I can't help being proud of myself when someone else publishes one of my recipes. Not that this one really is mine, mind you. This is my version of my Mum's vegetable soup, made with the leftovers from a roast dinner. I submitted it to Love Food, Hate Waste, they published it and here it is for you.

Roast Dinner Soup

How many servings you get out of this depends, obviously, on how much you’ve got in the way of leftovers. I normally get 2-3 lunch sized portions out of an average roast dinner's worth. If you have made stock from the bones it would be really good to use this in the soup. Add some grated cheese or croutons to serve.  The apotheosis of this soup is that which I make on Boxing Day each year, with turkey stock from the carcass and the leftover veg, etc. from Christmas lunch.

Roast potatoes and/or parsnips
Cooked vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, courgettes,
Meat stock to cover
Ground black pepper

Put the potatoes and vegetables in a suitably sized pan (one that holds them snugly in the bottom and about halfway up the inside). Cover with stock by about 2cm (go easy, you can always add more to adjust the consistency).Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated through.Liquidise the soup with a hand-held electric blender. Taste the soup and season. This is a soup that needs plenty of pepper. Serve in mugs or bowls with grated cheese or croutons.


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Big 3-0!

Sorry I've been quiet for a while (it's so unlike me). We've been away on holiday - camping in Brecon - and yes, it was wet. Kind of like Glastonbury without Amy Winehouse and Portaloos, but we had a ball anyway. Immediately we got back I was busy turning thirty, having a 1950s themed party , complete with cocktails and barbecue.

Far from the "I-feel-old" nonsense that you might expect, bemoaning the departure of my twenties and the like, I LOVE being thirty and was excited about it for weeks. As one of my cards (from my fab friend Steph who knows me sooo well) read, "Think of yourself as an 18 year old with 12 years experience". Amen to that.

This is the cake I made for my birthday.

And, in a total moment of arts-and-crafts frenzy, I made these bowls to jhuzz (is that even a word?) up the party's rock 'n' roll atmosphere by melting some charity shop LPs and shaping them over a glass vase. You so know I'm still using them, don't you?

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Competitive Cooking?

I was quite nervous about cooking this tonight; it was by request, but Hubby makes a mean Bacon & Mushroom Pasta and I wasn't sure that my version would live up to (largely the kids') expectations. Never mind, it was a roaring success - and clean plates all round!

Pasta with Creamy Bacon & Mushroom Sauce

350g dried pasta
30g butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
200g bacon, chopped
150g mushrooms, chopped
200ml single cream
75g cheese, grated

Put the pasta on to cook in plenty of salted, boiling water. Melt the butter and soften the onion, before adding the bacon and mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes, then stir in the cream. Grind in plenty of pepper and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce begins to reduce. Add the cheese to the pan and mix well so that it melts into the cream. Drain the pasta and toss in the sauce.

We had some garlic bread (and also see my notes here on an easy shortcut to avoid the packet stuff) with it; well buttered and oozy. Dee-lish.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Colourful Days

I've always been a magpie, attracted to anything bright and sparkly. So, anything that allows me to indulge my passion for as much colour as possible is always popular. In fact, I've long said that my chances of having a fabulous day increase in direct proportion to how many different colours I'm wearing on that day. Decorating cakes is another outlet for some serious colour-therapy. This one, I made for a friend's birthday., A friend who, happily, collects Momiji dolls, so my homage was appreciated.

When we moved into our house (nearly six years ago now), we inherited an obviously homemade clay nameplate on the front of the house. I quite liked it's quirkiness, but the brown-and-beige colour scheme just did nothing for me - and even less once it was splattered with white paint when Hubby painted the front exterior wall. Yesterday I decided I'd had enough of it and set about it with a veritable rainbow of acrylic paints. A couple of coats later and - just look - isn't it great? So me, so us. I feel happy every time I pass the front door and see it now. You can't buy therapy like that, you really can't. Now, what else can I paint..?

Monday, 28 July 2008

Enter the Dragon

Remember Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae Sauce on Dragons' Den? Well, my hubby does, and for weeks has been driving me crazy with borderline-racist faux Jamaican requests for "some of de Reggae Reggae, man". Today I gave in and bunged some chicken thighs in the sauce to marinade, before swiftly going out shopping and visiting friends, thus avoiding the risk of having to listen to jokes which are just not funny. Sorry, hon, the truth hurts.

Having to eat the resulting meal, however, absolutely did not. I've never liked secrets anyway; now I feel vindicated by how right Mr Roots was to share his old family recipe with all of us. I can't even begin to describe the gorgeous smell that wafted from the kitchen while the chicken was cooking, nor how delicious it was. If you're not yet a convert - and tonight, to a man, woman and two children we were - then get out and buy some of, as they say, that wonderful stuff.

To go with the chicken, I was going to cook just some plain rice, but then I got my cooking mojo on and made this Caribbean-inspired rice and beans dish. Flavoured with coconut, it was (almost) as much of a hit as the Reggae Reggae chicken itself.

Red Beans & Rice

I used brown rice because that's what we have in the house, but use white if you prefer.

butter and oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 - 3 tsp lazy garlic
250g rice (and see above)
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1/4 tsp powdered chilli
50g dessicated coconut
400g can red kidney beans

Heat a little butter and oil in pan with a lid and fry the onion and garlic together until soft. Add the rice and turn it in the fat to coat the grains. Stir in the herbs and chilli, the add 450ml boiling water from the kettle along with the coconut and drained, rinsed beans. Cover the pan, then bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Fluff it all up with a fork, then serve.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Pre-prandials: Put a Sling in your Step

For as long as I can remember, I've had this postcard on the wall in my kitchen and, just like Will Young in the fridge, it's become somethingt of an institution. Simple then, to explain just why the Gin Sling lists among my very favourite cocktails. Being a cocktail drinker inevitably carries with it a certain air of kitsch that is, in my opinion, to be embraced and played up to at every opportunity - even if my only audience is the cat!

The Gin Sling, however, needs none of your faffing about with shakers and blenders, nor any elaborate garnishes à la Piña Colada. Perfectly simple; a lovely, long drink for a very warm and humid evening. Although, personally, I can never resist the pull of the ubiquitous little maraschino, waiting sweetly at the bottom of my glass.

Gin Sling

I tsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
double measure (50ml) of gin
soda water
maraschino cherry, if you like

Add the sugar and lemon juice to a hi-ball glass and pour in the gin. 'Muddle' together with a stirrer or long-handled spoon until the sugar is more or less dissolved. Top up with soda water and pop (in) your cherry.

Lovely, that - I might have another...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Top o' the Mornay to ye...

It's been back to reality with a serious bump today - we got back from Mum & Dad's on Thursday, then yesterday the children and I were booked on a day trip to Folly Farm. Today I had to get down to the serious business of restocking the house with food. Just what Hubby's been living on while we were away, I can't be sure - but there are a lot of suspicious-looking cartons in the bin! So this morning I baked bread and made some gingerbread, then the boys and I went out shopping...

(Much later) We spent the afternoon in the garden, as summer seems to have finally decided to put in an appearance. The sweet peas are out in abundance and, just in case you're wondering, he did mow the lawn!

Tonight's dinner was based on a half-remembered childhood favourite of Karl's. As with so much, he didn't go into any kind of detail - just that it was "chicken in a cheesy sauce with a crispy topping".  'Crispy' is a simply ludicrous word, in my opinion, but I let this pass for the sake of marital harmony... and in the end I did use potato crisps, so I suppose it might count as 'crisp-y' just this one time.

Chicken Mornay

6 skinless & boneless chicken thigh fillets
40g butter
40g cornflour
1 pint milk
1 tsp mustard
100g grated cheese
2 packs ready-salted crisps, crushed
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Put the chicken pieces in an ovenproof dish and bake at 180­°c for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the milk, butter, mustard and cornflour in a pan and bring to the boil, whisking until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and beat in three-quarters of the cheese. Take the chicken out of the oven and carefully whisk any juices into the sauce, then pour the sauce over the top of the chicken in the dish. Mix the crushed crisps with the remaining cheese and the parsley, then scatter this mixture over the surface of the sauce. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

We ate this with some (brown) rice and steamed baby corn and broccoli. It wasn't quite how Hubby remembered it from his youth, but very good all the same. Judging by the amount he packed in, I think little James has a new favourite dinner!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

If you go down in the woods today...

As I don't have girls, I need to get my girly kicks when I can. Normally this restricts me to filling my life, magpie-like, with as much colour and sparkle as possible. Just occasionally, however, a better opportunity comes along...

Today I went to visit a friend in order to (among other things) help her decorate her daughter's birthday cake for the weekend. I made the cake last night and took it over there with me, along with my box of tricks; paste icing colours, brushes and the like. Oh, and a rolling pin. Huddled in the kitchen, leaving the kids to play together for a bit, look what we did. Look what we did!

We're so pleased with it - has there ever been a better cake for a little girl's "Teddy Bears' Picnic" party? Even if the only plate we could find to put it on said 'Merry Christmas', there's always the option of covering it with foil before the big day.

Right, I've now got to get on with packing bags for the boys and me - as I've already said, we're off to my folks' for a few days, leaving Hubby to revel in wife-and-childless bliss for a bit. Just as long as he mows the lawn, eh..?

Monday, 14 July 2008

Bring it On...

And she does it again! Top tip of the day - twice. I can't tell you how (unreasonably) this has boosted my self-esteem. Today's tip was one that becomes a great favourite when we have weekend after weekend stacked up with guests (usually over the summer), "How to cook a cooked breakfast without making a mess".

The self-esteem boost was much-needed as we're currently mired in what I think are the 'end-of-term blues'; we've all been down, one by one, with a tummy bug and I'm certain that this is the long term (due to Easter being so early this year) finally taking its toll. Just a few more schooldays to go - for us in Wales, anyhoo - then I can be off to my parents' house for a bit of a break. Yes, that's right folks - I need my Mum!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cor! -onation Chicken

Last night, I was soooo organised and made a really nice lunch to take out to a friend's house today. I shook off any potential food-snobbery and tried out some frozen cooked rice for the first time. I was not disappointed; it allowed me to assemble this rice salad easily and in next to no time at all. You just weigh out the required rice, pop it in a basin with a little water and microwave ever so briefly. Because I wanted it cold, for a salad, I cooled it fast by putting it in a sieve and running it under the cold tap.

Coronation Chicken Rice Salad

225g frozen rice, 'cooked' and cooled (and see above)
2-3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp curry paste
100g cooked chicken
50g sultanas
1-2 tbsp chopped chives
watercress, to serve

Combine the mayo, curry paste and about 50ml water to make a creamy curried dressing. Mix in the rice, then stir in the chicken, sultanas and chives. Serve on a bed of watercress for the full 'coronation chicken' experience...

Ooh, it was lovely - might have to have a repeat performance soon!

Monday, 7 July 2008

A Dab Hand in the Kitchen

Although sometimes that's debatable, hmm. Any
how, when we were out shopping, Christopher exclaimed excitedly that he'd "found our dinner, Mummy", then showed me some nice-looking dab on the fish counter. I couldn't resist. Well, I was so impressed that a three-year-old, without any outside influence, would choose something like that for dinner that I decided to ignore hubby's general squeamishness about fish and picked up three fine specimens (exceptionally good value at under £2 the lot) for tonight's meal (one each for we adults and one for the two nippers to share).

Fish only needs simple treatment so I put them in an ovenproof dish with some lemon slices and fresh bay leaves, ground over black pepper and seasoned them with a little salt, then baked the at 180­°c for 20 minutes, during which time I steamed some new potatoes and cooked some green beans. Including preparation (and putting water on to boil for the steaming pan), this meal was ready in about half an hour. In the end, hubby didn't eat all of his (it was 'too fishy', apparently - go figure), but the rest of us, and subsequently the cat, dined very well tonight, thank you.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Nifty Nachos

Here's a quick idea for a fab lunch. The other night there was a portion of chilli con carne left over after we'd all eaten supper. As usual I put in in a plastic box in the fridge to be eaten, by someone, at some point. Today I was stuck for a nice 'hot lunch' idea for the boys and as my gaze lighted upon the languishing chilli, I remembered the half-bag of tortilla chips still hanging around from the same meal and inspiration struck. NACHOS!

I piled tortilla chips into the bottom of a smallish ovenproof dish and spooned the chilli, over and around, in non-too-tidy dollops. I finished off with a layer of grated cheese and baked the dish at 200­°c for about 10 minutes until everything was piping hot and the cheese all melted and gooey. The boys tucked in, which was just as well - we went to a fête this afternoon and some serious exercise was had on the bouncy castle!

Leaving a Tip...

Have you discovered the site 'Top Tips for Girls'? It's a mine of useful tips on just about every subject imaginable and one of my first go-to sites for general life support. You can also post problems if there are no tips to cover your specific question.

I particularly mention it because I was gratified to find that one of my own tips, "What to put in a handbag to be equipped for any situation", had been made today's 'Tip of the Day'. Result!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Friday Night Noodles

Of course, you don't have to cook them on a Friday night but I find, more and more, that we have them as a kick-off to the weekend. I do the shopping towards the end of the week, so there's always a good selection of vegetables to choose from. The recipe is only a blueprint; I vary the veg according to what we've got and rotate between chicken, turkey, beef and pork depending on what I fancy when I'm shopping or what someone else fancies when I'm planning the week's meals and making the shopping list.

Kinda Chow Mein-ish Noodles

200g dried egg noodles
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2cm piece ginger root, peeled and minced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
400g diced turkey thigh meat
4 tbsp dry sherry
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour
2 carrots,
1 stick celery
1 x 225g can bamboo shoots
1/2 green pepper, sliced
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced
100g sweetcorn, defrosted if frozen

Soak the noodles in boiling water from the kettle until soft, then drain them and separate the strands. Put the garlic, ginger and spring onions into a large pan with the cold oil, then heat up until sizzling. Add the turkey meat and stir-fry until sealed all over. Meanwhile, whisk together the sherry, tomato purée, soy sauce and cornflour. Pile the vegetables and noodles into the pan, then pour over the sauce and mix well. Add 200ml water and cover the pan. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the turkey is cooked through, the sauce has thickened, and the vegetables are just tender. Give it a good stir and serve straight from the pan.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Cow Pie

Call me childish, but when I had some pastry trimmings left over from making tonight's Minced Beef & Onion Pie, the nostagia bug bit me and I decided that it should be a 'Cow Pie' in honour of Desperate Dan. My tomboy tendencies as a child made me an avid reader of 'The Dandy' and a particular fan of Dinah Mo, though I also read 'Bunty', just to prove that I've always been one to want a bit of everything!

Cow Pie

400g flour
200g butter
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
250g beef mince
150g mushrooms, chopped
beef stock cube
1 tsp cornflour

Make some pastry and set it aside while you prepare the filling. Fry the onions until soft, then add the mince and brown it. Add the mushrooms and crumble the stock cube into the pan, mixing well. Stir the cornflour into 200ml water and pour this into the pan. Bring to the boil and let the mixture bubble gently while you roll out the pastry and line a pie tin or dish. Fill the pie case, top with the pastry 'lid' and (if you're as juvenile as I am) use the trimmings to make two 'horns' and a 'tail'. Affix these with a leittle beaten egg, then glaze the pie crust and bake for 20 minutes at 200°c. I tastes really good, believe me - especially with mashed potatoes and peas, though tonight I decided to forgo the mash and just cook a vat of peas with plenty of mint from the garden.

Aunt Aggie would be proud of me...

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Pre-prandials: Pink Lady

Definitely one for the girls, I feel - tonight's libation of choice is one of my perennial favourites. And for good reason, trust me. Gin-based (always a winner) and pleasantly sweet, but with a wicked sharp kick from the lime. That, and the addition of a maraschino cherry makes this, if not numero uno, then top three at least

Pink Lady

2 measures gin
1/2 measure grenadine syrup
juice of 1/4 lime
soda water
maraschino cherry and lime slice, for garnish

Pour the gin, grenadine and lime juice into a shaker and toss in one or two ice cubes. Shake it, baby! Strain into a cocktail glass and top up with soda water. Add the lime slice and - plink - the all-important maraschino.

Best enjoyed barefoot and in a swishy skirt - preferably while listening to some disco diva classics. Did you know I have a mirror ball in the dining room?

'Millions' of Cheese

I've been enjoying getting Christopher's input on ideas regarding what to have for dinner lately. He's come up with some pretty sensible suggestions too, most of the time, so as well as letting him decide what he fancies, it allows me to (subtly, I hope) help him learn to make good choices about putting a meal together; from both a gustatory and a nutritional point of view.

Yesterday, a friend and I took our children over to the Teifi Mania soft-play centre in Cardigan , for lunch and some seriously rambunctious playtime. This gave us a chance for coffee and a gossip while the children were burning off some of that excess weekend energy, knowing that they'd all be both starving for supper, and tired for bedtime when we got home.

On the way home in the car, I asked Chris what he fancied for supper. He immediately replied "pasta!" and then, thinking for a moment, added that he wanted it "with MILLIONS of cheese..."
I actually decided that, just maybe, four cheeses would be enough, so, taking inspiration from the flavours of a Quattro Formaggio pizza, I used it as a starting point for a pasta bake, which we ate with gusto, and some lettuce cut from the garden.

Four-Cheese Pasta Bake

These are the cheeses that I had, but you could easily substitute a different blue cheese and a different hard cheese, perhaps Cheddar, for the Double Gloucester.

500g dried pasta shapes
40g butter
40g cornflour
1 pint milk
75g Danish Blue cheese, diced
2 x balls mozzarella, diced
80g Double Gloucester, grated
50g Parmesan, grated

Put the pasta on to cook. Meanwhile, put the butter, cornflour and milk into a sucepan and brting to the boil, whisking continously, and simmer until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the blue cheese and 2 tablespoons of water from the pasta pan. Drain the pasta. Stir the blue cheese sauce and the mozzarella pieces through it, then transfer it to an ovenproof dish. Top with the grated Double Gloucester and Parmesan, then bake in a 180­°c oven for 15 minutes or so, until the cheesy surface is melted and bubbling, but only just tinged with brown.

There was enough, with salad, for all four of us for a really filling and enjoyable dinner, and enough left over to reheat for the children's (and possibly my) lunch, later today.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Favourites Old and New

This first course is a 1950s American favourite. informs me that the Lipton company first printed the recipe for its 'California Onion Dip' on the back of Lipton onion soup mix packets in 1954.

I first came across the idea in my copy of Kitschy Canapés by Babs Harrison and recently rediscovered it while book-trawling retro catering ideas for my 30th birthday party later this year. As the vrai Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix is un available to us limeys, I substitute a sachet of Knorr French Onion Soup mix. Mixed with a 300ml carton of sour cream and chilled for an hour or so, it makes for something that is way more than the sum of its parts. Things become classics for a reason, don'cha know..?

Speaking of which, may I present my new best thing. After a Facebook-based conversation with an old (the friendship, not the friend) mate, I was introduced to this, and could hardly wait to cook it for dinner tonight to accompany some plain-cooked Lincolnshire bangers.

Daniel's Favourite Potatoes

new potatoes
mature cheddar

Boil the potatoes until tender, then drain them and 'crush' lightly with a potato masher, to break them up but not too much. Mix in some mustard (I used wholegrain, but Daniel's original uses English mustard). Bung in a dish, top with cheese and melt it, in the oven or under the grill.

This is the sort of food you SCOFF!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Blogger's Block

I just don't know what to say tonight - it's been one of those days. Busy the whole day; I haven't stopped, but I'll be darned if I've any idea what I've been doing with my time. Constructive? Fun? Not on my watch! So, in the absence of anything else to write about, let's proceed directly to what I cooked for dinner. It was lovely - I'll give it that - and the livers were cooked perfectly, despite my inner disquiet about frying and then poaching, but it has totally failed to cure my writer's block. It's hubby's night off, so maybe sharing a bottle of rosé will help. Ha! Well, it's an idea, at least...

Spiced Chicken Liver Pilaf

Cartons of frozen chicken livers vary between 100g-200g, depending on your butcher or supermarket, but are usually the size of a standard tub of cottage cheese. Don't lose sleep over it...

2 x cartons frozen chicken livers, defrosted
2 tbsp flour
approx. 6 spring onions, chopped
500g brown basmati rice
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cardamom pods
100g cashew nuts, chopped roughly

1 litre HOT chicken stock
chopped fresh parsley

Drain the chicken livers of any liquid and toss them in the flour. Fry, in a large pan, over a very high heat, just until sealed, and set aside. Add some more butterto the pan, then soften the spring onions and add the rice with the spices, stirring until the grains are coated in fat. Return the livers to the pan, stir in the chopped nuts and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat right down. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed, then fork through lots of chopped fresh parsley.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Pre-prandials: Salty Dog

I've decided(in a Sir Alan-esque, home-executive kinda way) that a cocktail or two on a Sunday night is a civilised way to end the weekend and start the new week in style. It helps that cocktails don't somehow become the proverbial challenge, like a bottle of wine does; why is it that a glass of wine makes you want more wine, but you can drink just one cocktail and be content? This was the situation that my girlfriends and I pondered as we drank Cosmopolitans together before going to see the Sex and the City movie during the week. We were glad of the fact that we weren't the only ones who'd dressed up to the nines in honour or Carrie and her cohorts, although to be honest I get gussied up for far less than that.

So, tonight (Matthew) I'm drinking:

Salty Dog

Frost the rim of a cocktail glass with salt. Add a shot of vodka and top up with chilled grapefruit juice. Sip, and sigh...the weekend's nearly over.

Cocktails, of course, mean canapés. Sometimes I really go to town on these, even just for myself; they're so much fun - but tonight I really can't be bothered, so I've cracked open a can of olives. Simple is as simple does.


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