Saturday, 18 December 2010

One Pot Wonder

I love a meal that cooks in one pot... Not only is it easy to serve but, happily, easy to wash up after.  This is something that was quick to throw together with ingredients that, bar the chicken, I always have in the cupboard.  As for the chicken, thighs are always a sensible option, easily portion-controlled and much, much tastier than all the skinless breast fillets you can throw at me!  I usually have these in the freezer so it was an ideal meal to make when we are snowed in.  The Jamaican spice blend can be any of your choosing, bringing a hint of sunshine and warmth to what is - essentially - a very simple meal.

One-Pot 'Jamaican' Chicken with Rice and Peas

3 tbsp dripping or oil
1 large onions, peeled and chopped

1-2 tbsp Jamaican or jerk seasoning
8 chicken thighs (skin on)
350g long-grain rice
1 litre chicken stock
400g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed well

Heat the fat in a large pan and lightly brown the chicken pieces on all sides.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Fry the onion gently until soft.  Add the spice mix, then tip in the rice and cook for 1 min, stirring all the time. Stir in the kidney beans and then add the chicken stock.  Lay the browned chicken pieces, skin-side up, on top.  Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover the pan and simmer for 40 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through and the rice is tender.

Cath xx

Friday, 17 December 2010

Snow Day!

This is our day today.  A white, powdery, perfect snowscape.  So no work for me and no school for the children.  We will be carefully adhering to the 'official' snow day rules of tea, toast and television.  After what feels like weeks and weeks of chickenpox, interspersed with various other ailment, I need some down-time to prepare me.  After all, it's time to take Christmas by the antlers..!

In fact, a couple of Christmassy movies might be just what we need to get us, fully, into the required festive mood.  Earlier this morning I made my usual cranberry sauce, to the same recipe I have made for as long as I can remember.  In fact, the link takes you to a post from 2007 with a three-year-old Christopher helping to stir the berries in the pan, bless his heart!  The marzipan will go on the Christmas cake later today, finally preparing it for decorating at the beginning of next week.  Then it's just a question of waiting for the snow to melt for the final sortie to the shops (to pick up the turkey the Christmas Eve ham, the vegetables and maybe, just maybe, a few little extra treats.  Well, it is Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Tortilla for the Illa

My children aren't ill very often, we've never (touch wood) had many of the usual childhood bugs, coughs and colds to deal with.  So it comes as a horrid shock when one of my babies is laid low by being really, properly poorly.  Earlier this week, my youngest boy broke out with spots all over his little body; attack of the dreaded chicken pox! We've been holed up at home for most of the week so far, and it shows no sign yet of abating.  Luckily, a homebird like me doesn't feel the cabin fever thing so much, but I am struggling to find seemingly endless ways to entertain a crochety child, who is missing his schoolfriends, feeling a bit pathetic and who is really too young to completely understand why.  We've read lots of stories, talked to Granny on the telephone, done colouring and sticker art.  We have also, snuggled under a duvet on the sofa, watched rather more television than I would normally allow, but I am choosing not to feel bad about that.

We have also made one of our current favourite treats;
chocolate covered pretzels! I say 'made', of course what we actually did was coat a bag of Julian Graves' salted pretzels in melted milk chocolate.  These are always a real nostalgia trip for me; does anyone else remember those bags of Nestlé chocolate-coated 'Pretzel Flipz' that were around about 10 years ago? They were gorgeous.  Then they disappeared, how rude.  I did think of doing a little more baking with him today, but he has spent most of the day in and out of the bath as it seems to soothe the itching, poor boy...

Supper tonight just had to be chicken soup for the invalid, more specifically my Chicken Tortilla Soup, which is comforting and easy-to-eat, with grated cheese and soured cream on the side.  We had a roast chicken for supper last night, so I made my usual 'overnight stock' in the slow-cooker to have it ready for tonight's supper  Quick shopping trips hardly being a priority at the moment, we had no convenient carton ofc soured cream in the 'fridge, but did you know you can make a perfectly good substitute by mixing 3 tsp of lemon juice into 150ml double cream? No? Well you can, and I am more likely to have a bit of double cream knocking around than I am to have bought soured cream 'on the off chance'.  Actually, last week I'd overbought double cream because it was on offer when I did the shopping, knowing that we had visitors at the weekend.  So it all worked out in the end... now we've just good to wait for the pox to vacate the residence!
Cath xx

Monday, 22 November 2010

Pork Rescue

After a fabulous weekend with friends, the centrepiece of which was surely the 4kg shoulder of pork we roasted on Saturday afternoon, I found myself with a huge hunk of meat still left in the 'fridge.  As pork seems to roast so much better when cooked in a large piece (and anyway, you get more crackling this way), it seems silly not to cook a large piece when you get the chance, especially if the only 'problem' is having meat left over; leftover pork is so lovely, whether you cook it or not , and so versatile when you do. This recipe also, happily, uses up the rogue green peppers so often lurking in my 'fridge; refugees from bargain mixed bags of peppers.  The frozen 'mini rösti' I sometimes use to top this sort of meal are easy enough to get hold of in most supermarket freezer sections;  the usual mashed potatoes for the top are great, but ultimately, on a cold Monday evening, these are the easy option, however lazy it may seem... and, justifiably so, as it's very tasty either way!

Pork Pot (as named by James)

1 tbsp dripping, oil or butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 stick celery, chopped
1 green pepper, de-seeded and chopped
200ml pork gravy (or water)
500ml passata
400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 or 4 handfuls of shredded cooked pork
frozen mini rösti (12 or so)

Heat the fat in a large casserole and fry the onion, celery and pepper until softened.  Add the gravy (or just some water if you don't have gravy left over, or to hand) and the passata, then stir in the chickpeas and the shredded pork.  Stir well to mix, then turn it all out into an ovenproof dish.  Top with the frozen rösti (and see picture) and cook at 200°c for 25 minutes.  Serve with something a little crunchy, whether salad or vegetables.

Cath xx

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mother's Ruin

"Do not allow your children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth."  Social Studies, Fran Lebowitz, .
If you have access to damsons, this is a lovely thing to make at this time of year. Because of the time of year that the damsons start to fall,  it will be ready in time for Christmas and makes a good present, if you are generous and would like to give some away.  It is also great to be able to offer your guests a nip during the cold winter months. It takes a good six to eight weeks, but a little shimmy-shake occasionally is all that is required of you for most of that time.

Damson Gin Liqueur

This recipe also works very well with cranberries for a pleasantly bittersweet liqueur, to be served icy-cold in shot glasses.

450g damsons
450g caster sugar
1 litre gin (inexpensive, even cheap, stuff is fine)

Put everything into a large, clean Kilner-style preserving jar and seal.  Store in a cool, dark place and shake the jar vigorously every day (or as close to that as you can manage).  After six or eight weeks the liquid will be a gorgeous deep purple-red colour and look slightly syrupy.  Strain the liquid from the fruit and bottle.  I pop the gin-soused fruit into bags, and then into the freezer, to use in 'naughty' jams and chutneys later... anyhow, enjoy!
Cath xx

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Passing it on...

This is something of an old-time family classic for me, one that my Mum cooked when I was a child and that I, in turn, now cook for my brood.  I'm sure that my boys will one day pass it on to their own families.

In fact this recipe was originally passed on to my Mum. A teacher at the school where she worked as a newly-qualified teacher, a lady named Doris, unselfishly passed on several of her recipes. Now, years later, I pass it, and others, on to you now through this blog.  Part and parcel of a love of cooking is, often, the almost obsessive collecting of recipes, which inevitably leads to the sharing of the same.  I understand the (perhaps perceived) necessity for a business to keep a 'secret recipe', but I have no real idea where the benefit might lie for a home cook.  Sure, I eat things that I'd rather keep secret, but that tends to be my 'dirty little secret' foods; Bombay mix eaten with a chunk of mature cheddar, cream crackers with cheese spread and sweet chilli sauce and peanut butter-and-salad sandwiches.  But I digress...  This is my version of the genuine article, modified as it is with my preferred garam masala replacing the curry powder used in the original recipe.  You can also use some chili powder for a spicier edge; try both, and decide for yourself which you prefer.  It works well in the slow-cooker too, but do make sure you buy condensed mushroom soup, not the regular kind, or the sauce will be altogether too watery.

Quick Chick

4 roasted peppers (from a jar!), cut up roughly with scissors
6 chicken thigh fillets, halved if very large.
1 tsp mild chilli powder
295g can condensed mushroom soup

Put the pepper into the bottom of an ovenproof dish (or, indeed, in the slow-cooker).  Put the pieces of chicken into a plastic bag, add the chilli powder and give it a good shake about.  This is by far the easiest way, but if you prefer, put the chilli powder on a plate and roll the chicken in it.  Pour and scrape the soup over the top of the chicken, it won't look like enough, but slap it about with a spatula to get a bit of the soup over all the bits of chicken.  Cover the dish with foil and stick it in a 180°c oven for 45 minutes or so.  Do all this in the morning, if you're using the slow-cooker, forget about the foil, stick the lid on and leave it on LOW all day.  Serve with rice, though noodles are also a very acceptable side dish.
 Cath xx

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Slow Spuds

I haven't got a recipe for you today, but I do bear news of a bit of a fab discovery.  Did you know, if you have a slow-cooker, you can use it to bake potatoes?  Well, you can.  Granted, they come out more like jacket spuds that have been cooked in the microwave than the (still infinitely superior, to my mind) crisp-skinned and fluffy version baked in the oven BUT... this has changed my life.  With this 'in hand', as it were, I can come home knowing that supper will be on the table in less than 10 minutes; very handy when life takes over, as it so often does, especially when there are the children's social lives to manage, not to mention all the other commitments one rashly takes on.

First thing in the morning, prick your potatoes, pop them in the slow-cooker and stick the lid on - no water necessary - then, and this is the part I really like, you are free!  Go back to bed, go to work, go off out for the day and leave them to it.  They need about 10 hours on MEDIUM, or a little less on HIGH and, when it comes to suppertime, your potatoes will be ready; needing only the customary knob of butter and whatever filling(s) you and your fellow diners currently favour.  That'll be cheese for all of us, then; with baked beans added for the boys - big and small - of the household and a heap of coleslaw for me (and a spot for my little James as well, who never likes to feel that he might possibly be missing out on anything, bless him!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Confession Time

Tonight I broke one of my own golden rules and sat at the table with the family for dinner to eat a completely different meal to the rest of them.  My lovely hubby had decided, with the children, last night, to have turkey burgers and chips for supper this evening.  Not being the biggest fan of chips in the world, and having absolutely no interest whatsoever in a breaded turkey burger, we came to a decision that they would eat theirs and I would have something different, but that we would, at least, still all eat together at the same time

Scrambled eggs is, at a time like this, one of the easiest and quickest meals to put together and, luckily, is also one of my favorite things to eat.  Not a traditional supper dish, perhaps, but one that I find welcome at pretty much any time.

I'm not going to give you 'a recipe' for scrambled eggs, as they seem to be quite a personal thing; a real matter of taste, but I will tell you how I like mine.  I prefer scrambled eggs to be very soft and creamy.  The very firm, fluffed-up version one so often encounters is all very well, but when I make them at home,  I cook them like this.  Have the toast ready before you begin and keep it warm.  Heat a knob of unsalted butter in a small pan (non-stick, if at all possible, washing up the scrambled egg pot is a particular bête noire of mine!).  Crack 3 eggs into a jug and beat them with one teaspoonful of anchovy sauce or a little squeeze anchovy paste, in lieu of salt.  Tip the beaten eggs into the foaming butter in the pan and quickly give them a good stir.  Season with plenty of black pepper and continue to stir until the eggs are cooked, but not dry – they should be nice and oozy.  I like my scrambled eggs next to toast, not on it, but that's another of those personal things.  I would have to eat this many, many times before I even began to tire of it.  It really IS one of those things, I suppose...
Cath xx

Monday, 8 November 2010

In the Mood

So, what do you think of the new look?  Freshened things up a little, hasn't it?  I've been in that sort of mood today and , after redesigning the page this afternoon, I was entirely ready for some serious kitchen action.  I say serious, but, despite the loooong list of ingredients below, please know that I put this meal together tonight in little over half an hour.  All the ingredients, bar the meat, are standard storecupboard and 'fridge stock in my home, and I usually have some minced lamb in the freezer.

Frankly, I think that this dish is perfectly flavoursome without the lamb, but the males of the household prefer it with, so there we are.  Rice and lentils are a great combination anyhow and adding just a handful or so when cooking 'plain' rice gives a new dimension of texture and taste to an ordinary side dish. Lentils are a great, inexpensive source of protein and the children have loved them since they were very small.  One of their favourite weaning foods was this Cheesy Lentil Savoury.  Type 'lentils' into the search bar above to see more of my recipes using this often-underappreciated (in the West, at least) ingredient.

 Spiced Rice & Lentils with Lamb

2 tbsp oil (I use rapeseed)
2 x 1” pieces of cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf
3 cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly

3 cloves garlic, minced
5cm piece ginger, minced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper,
250g minced lamb (optional!)
175g red lentils
200g basmati rice
750ml  water

1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp  melted ghee or butter
1 tbsp lime juice (bottled, in my case)
Chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and briefly fry the cinnamon, cloves, bay and cardamom.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, then mix in the garlic, the ginger and the other spices.  Add the lamb, if using, to the pan and brown it well, then tip in the rice and lentils and add the water.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for15 minutes, until  the rice and lentils are tender.  Using a fork, stir in the garam masala, the melted ghee (or butter), the lime juice and plenty of parsley.  Serve with some sort of flatbreads (pitta, naan, chapati...) and some raita or natural yoghurt.
Cath xx

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Small Life, Big Happiness

I am a homebird. My house is my home and my escape; that is the way I like it, cosseted with family and friends.  When it is gloomy outside, damp and windy, when the light is grey and cold, I retreat ever more into what can be my little world of colour and comfort.  Not 'cocooning' in any sense, but most definitely 'nesting'...  Small pleasures are all the more appreciated at this time of year and, while I feel grateful for much in my life, sometimes the trivial things can be as life-affirming as the most important and significant people and events.

This afternoon, in front of a roaring fire, the children and I have been curled up on the sofa, snuggled under piles of blankets.  We watched The Sarah Jane Adventures, their very favourite program for a long time and, well-scripted as it is, I confess to loving it too, as well as the time I spend watching it with them in quiet contentment.  For a little afternoon snack, nothing could have been better, today, than a cup of tea (for me), a glass of milk apiece (for the children) and a chunk of tiffin.  Call it chocolate biscuit cake, call it fridge cake if you like, but it always has and always will be tiffin to me.  Not for me, however, the extravagant concoctions of amaretti or wafers, with cherries, nuts, ginger and marshmallows.  If you fancy something more along those lines, have a look at my recipe for Rocky Road.  Tiffin should be, to my mind at least, quite plain and unfancy; a no-frills treat if you will.


I prefer half-and-half milk and plain chocolate for the topping, but you may, obviously, do as you please

220g digestive biscuits
75g raisins
100g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp caster sugar
200g chocolate

Crush the biscuits finely and stir in the raisins.  Melt the butter, syrup, cocoa and sugar together and mix this into the biscuit crumbs.  Press into a 9" square tin.  Melt the chocolate and spread over the surface.  Chill until just firm, then mark into squares.  Chill until solid before breaking up the bars.  Put the kettle on and hold any errant, pleading children at arm's length until their bedrooms are tidy...

This doesn't keep well.  I mean, it can be stored in a box in the 'fridge just fine, but it doesn't generally hang around long enough to need that kind of treatment!
Cath xx

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Antipasto Antipasta?

The pairing of tuna and butter beans makes for a classic Italian antipasto, and a combination that I adore.  It also works well as a suppertime pasta dish and this is a simple recipe using mainly storecupboard ingredients, except for an onion, some parsley and a lemon (and if I can pick those up in our tiny, though fabulous, village post office then I'm sure no-one else will find too much of an excursion in them). As for the pasta, I am currently having a total linguine moment, so I used that tonight, but cavatappi and fusilli have worked equally well for me in the past.

Pasta with Tuna and Butter Beans

250g dried pasta (and see above)
200g can good-quality tuna in olive oil
1 small onion, halved and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
 can butter beans, drained and rinsed well.
chopped fresh parsley
grated zest of one lemon and a spritz of its juice
Cook the pasta.  Meanwhile, drain the tuna and reserve the oil.  Heat the oil in a heavy pan and fry the onion with the whole garlic cloves until the onion is very, very soft.  Tip in the butterbeans and turn in the oil until they are warmed through, then add the tuna to the pan with some parsley and the lemon zest.  Fold it all together carefully; try not to break the tuna up too much or the dish will lose its pleasing texture.  Drain the pasta (reserving some water from the pan) and toss it with the tuna-and-bean mixture, adding a little of the pasta water and a squeeze of lemon juice to bring the flavours and consistency together.  Please, no cheese...


We went to Pizza Express in the half-term holidays while we were on a shopping jaunt to Carmarthen and the children were freshly, as always, enamored of the famous dough balls with garlic butter.  Ever since, they have been regularly nagging me talking about them and finally I thought it was time I knocked up a home-style batch; driving to Carmarthen just for an order of dough balls would be extravagantly decadent in the extreme!

Dough Balls

450g strong white flour
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml warm water
 flour, fine semolina or cornmeal, to dust

garlic butter, to serve

Mix all the ingredients for the dough together and knead for 5 minutes.  Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.  Knock the dough down and knead for another 5 minutes.  Re-cover and leave for another 30 minutes or so.  Divide the dough into 16 and roll into balls.  Place on a floured baking sheet and dust them with a little bit of flour (or, even better, a little fine semolina or cornmeal/polenta flour).  Leave for 30 minutes until puffed up and then bake at 200°c for 15-20 minutes until tinged with gold.  Serve warm, with dishes of cool garlic butter on the side.  Dip the balls into the butter, or break them open and spread with the butter; your style, your choice.
Cath xx

Friday, 5 November 2010

Trés Bon-Fire

"Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot." Traditional.
Good old Bonfire Night was tonight, once again, let down by our Welsh weather.   Plaaning ahead, and rather than attempting any 'outside' jollity in the face of biting winds and lashing rain, we opted for a night in front of the fire. Indoors.

Food for Bonfire Night is a pretty easy piece, really; things along the lines of bean casseroles, sausages, chili, cheesy toast, baked potatoes and always, always, something really sweet and sticky to follow.  Tonight, and (voluntarily) housebound, I prepared a pot of chili and some rice for supper.  I also added, for later, a plate of my special Bonfire Hotdogs to munch while we watched a fireworks display on the television, before letting the children loose with a couple of dozen glowsticks in lieu of sparklers; a truly wonderful idea as it turns out; no buckets of water, no stress about potential injuries nor any (imagined?) need to constantly lecture the poor kids AND more gratification time than your average sparkler!

 'Bonfire' Hotdogs

These are great for bigger gatherings or parties on a budget, as the treatment you give the sausages somehow manages to make even cheap bangers taste a whole lot better than they really ought to.  Good sausages can be transformed into an almost-gourmet trea; great for barbecues or even for eating cold as part of a 'posh picnic'.

8 thick pork sausages
8 rashers streaky bacon
4 tbsp barbecue sauce (e.g. HP)
finger rolls, to serve

Skin the sausages.  This is easily done by scoring lightly along the length of each sausage, then peeling away the skin and it really makes a difference, trust me!  Wrap each sausage in a rasher of streaky bacon, then place on an oiled rack over a baking tin.  Brush each sausage, quite liberally, with barbecue sauce.  Bake at a low temperature (130°c fan, 150°c conventional ovn for 30-40 minutes until well cooked.  Slip the sausages into top-sliced finger rolls and return to a very low (i.e. as low as possible) oven to keep warm and crisp the buns slightly in the meantime.
Cath xx

Thursday, 4 November 2010


 I may have pointed out before, just once or twice, how much pie means to the members of this household.  I am always greeted with smiles, and shortly thereafter blissful munching, when I bring a pie to the dinner table.  This is my version of a classic chicken pie; no frills really, but easy to make and lip-smackingly rewarding to eat. Adding suet to the pastry makes for a gorgeously flaky, almost melting texture.  I have all but stopped glazing pies with egg-wash; dusting the pastry with flour instead makes for the pie-crust of my husband's dreams, soaking up, as it does, the chickeny juices and his beloved Henderson's Relish.

Old-Fashioned Chicken Pie

350g plain flour
90g suet
85g butter, diced
cold water, to bind pastry
400g chicken thigh meat, diced
1 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 sausages, skinned
100ml chicken stock
1 tsp cornflour, slaked with 1 tbsp water

Make the pastry. Rub the suet and butter into the flour, season it well and bind it with some cold water.  This is made much, much easier if you can just bung it all in the processor and whizz, but no matter if not.  Roll out the pastry and line a pie dish.  trim the excess and roll out a lid for your pie.

Toss the chicken in the flour, then mix this with the chopped onion.  Squidge the sausagemeat together with a handful or so of fresh breadcrumbs, divide the mixture into six and roll each into a small ball.  Put the floured chicken, onion and sausagemeat balls into the pastry-lined dish.  Mix the sock and the slaked cornflour together and pour this liquid evenly over the ingredients in the dish.  Top with the reserved pastry lid, crimp the edges and dust lightly with flour.  Bake at 180°c for  25 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 150°c and cook for a further hour. 

Serve with a (preferably green and leafy) vegetable of your choice, tonight we had some simple steamed-and-buttered cabbage.  Perfect plus.

Cath xx

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Delicious Autumn

"Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.  Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits."  ~ The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
Autumn.  It may be  cold and dark (and, for us in West Wales at least, misty and extremely damp), but it does have its plus points.  Roaring open fires, hot chocolate, snuggly sweaters and beautiful colours on the trees.  All these, and cooking lovely, warming casseroles like this one.  It truly is food to warm your heart and soul.  Even more so when it comes with a baked potato; crunchy-skinned without, fluffy and buttered within,  on the side... just pop your pricked spuds in the 160°c oven as you begin to prepare the casserole and everything will be, perfectly, ready at the same time.

Casseroled Pork Chops with Cider and Mustard

4 pork chops, bone in
2 tbsp dripping or butter
1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 eating apples, cored and cut into wedges
500ml cider
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp water
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley

Melt the fat in a large, deep pan which has a lid.  When it is hot, quickly brown the pork chops, then remove them to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan and fry until soft and golden.  Pour in the cider and add the mustard and slaked cornflour, stirring well to combine everything, before adding the apple pieces and returning the chops to the pan.  Cover and bring to the boil.  Transfer the pan to a 160°c oven for an hour, then check the seasoning and correct it to your liking.  Stir in the parsley and serve with baked potatoes.
Cath xx

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Insolence of Youth

My baby is four, how did that happen?  Four! How very rude of him to keep growing up... Yes, it's JD's birthday and as usual I am finding it a little harder to cope with than his elder brother's progression in age.

He, on the other hand, is having a whale of a time.  From the early morning wake-up call, through the tearing of paper, punctuated with gasps and cries of "I've always been wishing for a [insert name of relevant gift here]....", through lunch and the blowing out of all four candles at once!

Ah, yes, the cake... always a pleasure to make a lovely cake for my boys' birthdays.  Though I don't believe that anyone should ever feel guilty about buying birthday cakes from the supermarket, or paying a bakery to make one, I get a lot of enjoyment from decorating the children's cakes to match their latest interests or passions and see it, in a way, as another gift; one given with special love and time from Mummy...

As we are very much all about dinosaurs at the moment, this volcano cake seemed appropriate.  Two ordinary chocolate sponge cakes; one made in a pudding basin and the other in my tarte tartin tin.  Iced with chocolate buttercream and sprinkled with grated plain chocolate and a little dessicated coconut, dyed black with food-colouring paste (just mix 1/4 tsp paste with 1/2 tsp or so of water and mix in the coconut to colour it.  Spread on foil to air-dry a little before using).  The 'molten lava' streaming down the sides is actually melted white chocolate with a little orange colour paste stirred in (Sugarflair's Tangerine/Apricot, if you're interested).  Spooned into the top crater and running gloopily down the sides, it looks rather good, I think.  The 'magma'-filled recess also made a good spot to place the candles, the chocolate achoring them steadily.  A good result all round, I feel!

Cath xx

In the interests of honesty and transparency, I feel that I should confess that, actually, I messed up the first attempt at the basin cake, by cooking it at too high a temperature for too short a time.  So we had a kind of melting-middle chocolate sponge with cream for pudding on Sunday.  As Homer (Simpson, this time) might well have said "Mmmmmm.... unexpected pudding".

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A state of cake-like readinesss

Sorry about the long break between posts but life has been a touch manic of late and I've found myself relying heavily on old favourites rather than developing any new ideas.  I'm glad to see some of you keeping up with me on my new Facebook page too, so thanks - write on the wall or post on the discussion board...

I also had my first baby's SIXTH birthday to contend with - where does the time go?  He was still only a toddler when I started this blog; I remember writing affectionately about the Mr Bump cake I made for his third birthday.  How times change, though, and this year we are ALL about Doctor Who; a T.A.R.D.I.S. cake it had to be! Somehow fittingly, I have never been as proud of a cake I've made and decorated since the aforementioned Mr Bump, so that slightly softened what feels like quite a major blow, in some ways.  He seems, quite suddenly, so grown-up!

I have been a good little Distracted Housewife today and I have made my Christmas cake!  My usual recipe, though slightly fiddled with... Rum & Ginger Fruitcake this year; with dark rum replacing the brandy and the quantity of ginger upped (with 2 tsp dried and 2cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated).  The cake is now wrapped up tightly in double greaseproof and foil and safely tucked away in my big cake box until just before Christmas.  I'll feed it with an extra tot of rum once or twice (!) before the big day but apart from that it can sit, emanating domestic smugness until I decorate it... now I've just got to think how, which is invariably the hardest part for me! Ideas gratefully received...

Cath xx

Friday, 10 September 2010

Fakin' Bacon

OK, so it's only just barely a recipe, but it is very useful especially if, like me you do your supermarket shopping after school and then get home needing to prepare supper.  These mushrooms are super quick to prepare; if you use the soya bacon chips I specify, it takes less than five minutes to get it all ready and then you can just bung the dish in the oven.

The other rather amusing(well, to me anyway!) thing is that this dish can be serve to vegetarians as the 'bacon-flavour' soya chips are 'suitable for vegetarians'. If you know a veggie who (rather oddly, in my opinion) wants to eat something bacon-flavour, then this could be just the ticket. Obviously you could replace the soya chips with real bacon if you're somehow 'spooked' by them, just grill until very crisp and crumble or chop when cool.  I rather love them and have mentioned this before, plus anything that saves a bit of time is always welcome in my kitchen...

Cheesy Baked Mushrooms

500g white mushrooms
about 10 tbsp BAC~Os
fresh parsley, finely chopped
150g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
black pepper

Grease an ovenproof dish, which will just take the mushrooms in one layer, with a very little oil.  Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and - don't waste them - set them aside to use in another recipe (I'm planning to add them to a veggie lasagne I'll make later this week).  Lay the mushrooms, hollow-side up in the dish and add a good pinch of BAC~Os to each mushroom 'cup'.  Scatter chopped parsley over all the mushrooms and cover with the grated cheese.  Season with pepper.  Bake at 180°cfor 20 minutes.  All you need to go with are some nice bread rolls and a green salad.

Cath xx

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

'Banging' Nachos

Nacho platters are becoming a big favourite with us, midweek, for a fast, slightly 'treaty' supper that doesn't break the bank (and see my recipe for Loaded Beef & Bean Nachos as well).  They are also a great way to get children to eat more pulses and vegetables.  I prefer to make my own tortilla 'chips' for these; I feel that the method I give here makes for a more filling base to the plate than a bag of bought tortilla chips provides, plus you can avoid all the extra added salt of the commercially fried chips.  Just take some corn or flour tortillas, cut each disc into six wedges and spread out on lightly oiled baking sheets.  Bake at 200°c for 5 minutes, then turn them and return to the oven for another five minutes.  You can make these in advance and keep them in a tin if you like, but  they aren't a great deal of effort even if you do everything for this meal just before you eat it.  

Making this sauce by mixing spices and herbs with a drained can of chopped tomatoes was something of a revelation for me when I first tried it out (necessity being the mother of invention, as they say) and I share it with you now. It gives you a lovely thick, spicy sauce just perfect for nacho-type dishes or just as a dipping sauce; no need to shell out for long-life jars of incredibly salty, yet suspiciously sweet, 'salsa' ever again!

Sausage Nacho Platter

6 flour tortillas, cut and baked as above
6 sausages
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp mild chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
400g can mixed beans, drained

100g sweetcorn, defrosted if frozen
4 fat spring onions, chopped
1 small red pepper, diced
150g Edam, grated

Skin the sausages and divide each into three.  Heat some cooking oil in a non-stick pan and fry the sausage pieces until well cooked through (about 3 minutes a side).  Meanwhile, drain the excess juice from the tomatoes, discard it and mix the chili powder, cumin and oregano in with the tomato chunks.

Spread the tortilla chips out across a very large plate, then top with the beans and the sweetcorn.  Scatter over the red pepper dice and the chopped spring onion.  Nestle the sausage 'nuggets' atop the vegetables, then dollop and drizzle the spicy tomato mixture all around the surface.  Cover everything with the grated Edam and pop the plate in a hot oven until everything is covered in molten, oozing cheese.  Serve with a crisp green salad on the side.
Cath xx

Monday, 6 September 2010

Quick & Mix

I love homemade bread, don't you?  Still a little warm, dunked in soup or topped with lashings of butter and, just maybe, some cheese?  I crave good bread and this recipe means that I can satisfy that need easily, pretty much whenever I feel like it.  You really do need a mixer or processor to really appreciate the speed, but you can take the 'scenic route' with a bowl, wooden spoon and your hands and just take a little longer about it.  You can use a full 750g of white flour for your dough if you like, but I prefer some wholemeal in there too; it somehow makes the bread taste even more homemade!

Easy Mixer Rolls

500g strong white flour
250g strong wholemeal flour2 tsp salt
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
450ml warm water
a little milk
seeds, to top, if liked

Rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the salt and then the yeast.  Mix in the water, then knead until the dough is soft and smooth.  Cover the bowl and leave to rise for 30 minutes.  Divde the dough into 12, roll each into a ball and place side-by-side, slighly spaced apart, in a roasting tin.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with seeds, if you like (I usually use poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds separately, see picture; sometimes I mix some mustard seeds in with the poppy seeds too).  Bake at 200°c for 15 minutes, remove to  rack and cool slightly before serving.

You can also use this dough to bake a loaf (in a 2lb tin or formed into a round on a baking sheet) at the same temperature for 35 minutes.  My other favourite thing to do with this quick dough is my Fake Foccacia.  For this, you need to pat the dough into the bottom of an 8"/20cm sandwich tin and, withe your fingers, poke indentations all over the surface.  Dabble the loaf with olive oil (garlic-infused, if you have it) and sprinkle with freshy chopped rosemary or thyme.  Bake for 30 minutes and cool slightly in the tin before removing it to a rack to finish cooling.
Cath xx

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Weekend Cook

While cooking during the week has its rewards and is a worthwhile occupation, it can be fraught; keeping the family happy, the cook composed and the suicide hour as peaceful as is reasonably possible.  Weekdays find me looking for shortcuts, quick solutions and recipes for the all-important slow-cooker.

Weekends are another matter, though.  I am rarely more at peace with myself than pootling around in my little kitchen at the weekend; baking for the week ahead, preparing bits and bobs in advance for the week's meals and just generally idling hours away planning lovely meals...

Saturday night was pie night for us and, while I would usually make a pie like this with leftover roast, or otherwise cooked, chicken, his one was a scratch pie from start to finish.  Poached chicken has such a beautiful succulence in a pie and the liquid provides a tasty sauce with little work.

Chicken & Leek Pie

Obviously you could use leftover cooked chicken, as detailed above and just steam the leeks while you make the sauce with a pint of stronger chicken stock (and I would recommend the Knorr Stock Pot stock gel if you have no homemade stuff to hand)

4 chicken breast fillets
60ml dry vermouth
3 leeks, trimmed and sliced thickly
light chicken stock or water, to cover
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 dried whole chilli pepper
40g butter
40g flour
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry

Put the leeks and chicken breasts into a large saucepan and pour over the vermouth.  Pour the stock or water into the pan and add the peppercorns, bay leaves and chilli.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Remove the chicken and leeks from the pan with a slotted spoon and strain the liquid into a jug.  Pour the liquid back into the clean pan and boil it, reducing it to a pint.  Leave the liquid to cool.  Chunk or slice the chicken breasts as you like and put them, and the leeks, into a pie dish.  Put the butter and flour into a saucepan with the poaching liquid and bring to the boil, whisking continuously.  Turn the heat down and simmer, still whisking, until the sauce has thickened.  Pour this into the dish and gently mix to coat the other ingredients.  Top the dish with the puff pastry and bake at 180°c for 30-45 minutes until the pastry is cooked and everything has had chance to heat through completely.

This weekend has been boosted by my acquisition of Kitchen, the lovely new offering from Nigella Lawson.  Filled with all sorts of good things and the sort of perceptive, evocative writing she is so well-known for, I have been sofa-bound, armed with this book, whenever time allows.

Today, I decided to try out a few of the recipes; the Everyday Brownies (p.217) and the Crustless Pizza (p.26) and the Ham Hocks in Cider (p.368).  The brownies were very popular with the children, being more 'cakey' and considerably less opulent than my usual Fabulous Chocolate Brownies.  The pizza was a delicious kind of  'Yorkshire Pudding' pizza and went down very well with all of us at lunchtime.

Ham Hocks in Cider are now simmering on the stovetop in readiness for our supper this evening.  Happily, the ingredients are things that I generally have in the house (apart from the fennel seeds, so I left those out and added a couple of bay leaves instead).  Two large hocks cost only £3.00 from the butcher yesterday, so hardly extravagant.  To that end, I plan to serve the hocks with extravagantly buttery mashed potatoes and, I think, the last of the purple sprouting...

Cath xx

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Our friendly door-to-door fish man brought, among other things, some river cobbler round on his van this week.  I'd never tried this fish before, only knowing that it had been implicated in a couple of Trading Standards cases where it was being sold as cod by unscrupulous fish-and-chip shop owners.  If it can pass for cod while being more sustainable and therefore less culinarily unethical , I'm interested...but then, I love a bit of controversy, me!

While I love a good fish pie, it can be a bit of a production for a simple weeknight supper.  These little jackets are a time-and-stress friendly option; always welcome on the first day back at school! 

Fish Pie Jackets

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and pricked
2 fillets firm white fish (and see above)
200g spinach, washed
50g parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes.  I bake them for 90 minutes in a 160°c oven.  Meanwhile, poach the fish in enough milk to just cover it.  I do this in the microwave for speed; one of the few things that I do use the popty ping for.  Just make sure that it's in a covered dish!  Put the spinach into a large bowl.  When the potatoes are ready, halve them and scoop out the cooked potato into the bowl on top of the spinach; the heat from the spuds will wilt the leaves.  Mash the potato and spinach together, the add the fish, flaking it and folding it in carefully.  Add as much of the poaching milk as you need, to make a nice soft 'mash' consistency and then season the mixture (mainly with pepper, don't forget that the parmesan is salty too!).  Fill the potato shells with the fish mixture and sprinkle with the grated cheese.  Put the jackets on a baking tray and bake at 200°c for 20 minutes to heat through and crisp up.

I serve these with sweetcorn as an extra 'fish pie' ingredient and very good it is too!

Cath xx

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Oh, me and my paella...

On my birthday earlier this month, finding the queue at the Cadbury shop untenable, I sneakily visited the Professional Cookware Company shop at the designer outlet 'village' in Bridgend.  How chuffed was I, to find a gorgeous paella pan for £6.00; half price from the usual £12.00.  We have had several variations on the paella so far, starting off with the pork, chorizo and spinach version from Moro: the cookbook.  The most surprising part has been how effortless it is, nothing too taxing is ALWAYS my kitchen motto!

Gaining confidence in the process has been swift; I concocted a version with added black pudding last weekend, but tonight I truly did myself proud and I really had to share this one with you.  I suspect that you don't really need a proper paella pan for this; I'm sure a decent, deep, non-stick frying pan would do.

Chicken & Chorizo Paella with Purple Sprouting Broccoli

cooking oil (your choice)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chicken breast fillets, cut into scraps 
1 tsp smoked paprika
80g chorizo, diced
250g paella rice
800ml chicken stock, hot
100g purple sprouting broccoli, in 2cm lengths

Heat the oil and fry the onion until soft and golden.  Add the chicken and the garlic and continue to cook until the chicken is well sealed and the garlic is fragrant in the pan.  Stir in the paprika and add the chorizo and the rice.  Pour in the chicken stock and turn the heat down to a simmer.  Leave the pan alone; stirring at this point makes the rice 'claggy', trust me!  Cook for 10 minutes, then tip the chopped purple sprouting onto the surface of the rice and leave for a further 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover  with foil and leave for a further five minutes. Remove the foil, fold everything together with a fork and serve, not without a hint of smugness.
Cath xx

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Colourful Cookery

Sometimes, changing just one thing can make something rather dull into something really rather fabulous.  On a shopping trip last week, the children and I popped into the local heath food store to buy some spices.  While we were there, we spotted this gorgeous-looking lumaconi (meaning: snail's shells) pasta.  Unable to resist any sort of novelty, we just had to bring some home...

This red-and-white pasta bake is something I have made for the children before,  but trust me, it has finally achieved greatness and become all that it can be with the introduction of the new pasta; the sauces pool inside them, still remaining pleasantly separate and allow the surface to crisp beautifully.

 Red-and-White Pasta Bake

I usually have keep tomato sauce in the freezer in 500g portions, but you could just as easily use 400-500g's worth of some ready-made stuff.

300g lumaconi
500g tomato sauce
25g butter
25g plain flour
1 tsp mustard powder
3/4 pint milk
40g Red Leicester Cheese, grated
80g Cheddar cheese, grated

Boil the pasta in lots of salted water until just al dente.  Meanwhile, put the flour, mustard powder and butter into a saucepan with the milk and bring to the boil, whisking continuously.  When the sauce has thickened, stir in half the Cheddar cheese and set the pan aside.  Mix the rest of the Cheddar and the Red Leicester together.  Drain the pasta into a colander and transfer it to an ovenproof dish (the pasta should, ideally, sit in one layer).  Pour the tomato sauce unevenly over the pasta, leaving some areas bare, filling some of the hollows and not others, etc.  Repeat with the cheese sauce; you should have a pleasant 'patchwork pasta' effect (or something like that, anyway!).  Scatter the mixed cheeses over and bake in a 180°c oven for 20-30 minutes, until the surface is crisp and browned.

The great thing about a pasta bake like this is that you can assemble it, up until the point of baking and then either pop it in the fridge for the next day, or even freeze it.  In that case, I suggest lining the ovenproof dish with a large piece of heavy-duty kitchen foil.  Once, cool, overwrap the food and pop it all in the freezer (only if your dish is freezer-safe; most are, but do check!).  Then, once the food is frozen solid, you can slip the food out of the dish with no difficulty and transfer the foil-wrapped parcel to a big ol' freezer bag.
Cath xx

Monday, 23 August 2010

Back with a Biryani

The summer holiday is almost over and, once again, we find ourselves asking "what summer?".  Apart from the odd nice day here and there, we have been disappointed again.  Yah boo sucks to the weather!  We did, thankfully, have a good day for my little brother's wedding at the beginning of August and we've managed to make a few nice memories but still, I'm sure the summer was better, hotter and longer when I was younger... or is that just the rose-tinted memories of childhood?

Meals, for us, have taken a decidedly exotic turn  over the last few weeks, I think in lieu of the BBQ-and-Pimm's summer of my dreams, I sat, salivating, over cookbooks and planning how to cook away the pain.  We have done Mexican, Spanish, Middle-Eastern and all those beautifully-spiced and fully flavoured cuisines.  I keep returning, though, to the flavours of Indian cooking and, after a veritable curry banquret at the weekend (when a very dear friend was visiting us), we had a large cache of cooked basmati in the fridge.  This, therefore, took about 20 minutes all in, which is heroically fast, judging by my standards at the moment!

Chicken Biryani

2 tbsp oil (I use rapeseed for cooking)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
small knob fresh ginger root, grated
2 tbsp garam masala
'knife tip' of cayenne pepper 
1 chicken breast fillet, cut up into small pieces
150g purple sprouting broccoli, chopped
300-400g cooked basmati rice
small handful flaked almonds
small handful sultanas

Heat the oil and fry the onion until golden.  Add the chicken, garlic, ginger and spices and fry until the chicken is sealed, then add the chopped purple sprouting and 50ml water. Cook, stirring often, until the broccoli wilts and softens, then tip the rice, almonds and sultanas into the pan and mix thoroughly to coat everything in the spicy, oily, juices.  Cover the pan tightgly with foil and remove from the heat for 5 minutes.  Serve with raita and Indian pickles.
Cath xx

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Homemade Pâté Heaven - It's Easy, I Promise!

Pâté is one of those things that, if you love it, you really love it.  I really like making my own, homemade, pâté, it can be just what I want it to be. That being said, however, I am quite 'conservative' about how my pâté should taste; I like a good livery flavour and not too many extra (for which read extraneous) flavours.  I would much rather eat a small portion of a good, simple pâté like this one than have twice the amount of strange, ersatz pâté, with odd things added to it.  This seems especially to be a problem in the run-up to Christmas, but the supermarkets especially (though independent butchers are not totally immune; I have seen some very odd things in my time) do seem keen to push pâté on us as a 'luxury' food, studded with all manner of fruits and striated with bizarre, and jarring, vegetable purées.  No matter, though, once you taste this you will always want the good stuff...

Really Easy Chicken Liver Pâté

I use GIA's Garlic Purée in my pâté, because I like it to be as smooth as possible.  You can, of course, substitute a minced clove of fresh garlic.

2 x 227g cartons of frozen chicken livers, defrosted and drained

200g butter
2 tbsp double cream
2 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp garlic purée (and see above)

Heat a frying pan and melt the butter.  Fry the chicken livers until well browned, the put everything from the pan into the food processor, with all the other ingredients.  Whizz to form a smooth purée, then pour and scrape into ramekins or one larger serving dish.  Chill the pâté until set, and until needed.  Serve with hot toast, warm rolls and, for my preference, a dish of cocktail gherkins (or cornichons, if you must) to provide tang and crunch.
Cath xx

Friday, 30 July 2010

Choccy Roccy

Generally speaking, I have much more of a 'savoury' tooth than a 'sweet' one.  I will always reach for celery, olives, cheese or nuts without even considering chocolates; I eschew the biscuit tin for a handful of my best-beloved Bombay Mix.  That being said, Rocky Road' is one of the few sweet treats that I really can't resist... So easy to make, and great for the children to help with too, my version gets a nice little kick from the ginger and is just how I like it; more 'rock' than 'choc'.  OK, it's very far from being a health food, but it's a lovely treat.  Cut into slices to serve with cups of tea or as a quick, no-effort pud, chop it up roughly to scatter over ice-cream or just break off a chunk for an instant sugar-fix...

Rocky Road

200g milk chocolate
200g plain chocolate
knob of butter
8 'pink wafer' biscuits, roughly broken up
12 glacé cherries, halved
12 marshmallows, quartered
2 tbsp glacé ginger, finely chopped
100g pistachio nuts, shelled
*hundreds and thousands, to decorate*

Melt both types of chocolate together with the butter.  Stir in all the other ingredients and mix really well to coat everything in chocolate.  Pour and scrape into a lightly oiled baking tin (whether you use a small one, for 'deep', or a larger one for 'shallow' Rocky, is up to you.  Scatter over some hundreds-and-thousands 'for pretty', if you like, then pop the whole assembly into the 'fridge.  Chill it until set, then cut, or break, it up as you like.  Enjoy!
Cath xx

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Get a Bead on This..!

Not a great deal to tell you today, but look!  Look! Look at what I made!!  I went to an informal jewellery workshop this morning and in less than 2 hours, turned out this little beauty; the ideal bracelet for so many of my favourite outfits.  I find myself wearing a lot of green lately, so this will happily not be one of those items that is just perfect with one outfit but, unfortunately, only the one, i.e. it doesn't really go with anything else.  Such items are rarely good buys, and just make me feel (a) cross with myself for not wearing them more often and (b) bitter that I *wasted* money when I could have had something more versatile.  Not this baby,  I suspect that this will barely be off my arm for a looooooong time...
Cath  xx

Monday, 26 July 2010

Comforting Food. Again.

OK, Back to it.  This is what I cooked tonight, making use of the contents of the 'fridge... After using it as an accompaniment for my Fruity Spiced Chicken last night, I had loads of leftover brown rice sitting in a box, waiting to be used, so that had to go somewhere.  Rootling around in the depths of my brain, I decided that it would be just the ticket for a vegetarian 'baked rice' recipe.  So I dug some garlic butter out of the freezer (I always make masses at a time and freeze it in portions to use, not only for more garlic bread, but also in more general cooking),  and got to thinking about mushrooms and what sort of binding sauce would be good.  Obviously, you can just use regular butter and add in a few cloves of minced garlic when you fry the 'shrooms, then add some chopped herbs to the dish later, but the ready-homemade-and-frozen garlic butter plan is, I beseech you, truly the way forward.

Cheesy Mushroom Rice

700g cooked brown rice
50g garlic butter (with herbs, if possible)
400g mushrooms
40g butter
40g plain flour
1 tsp English mustard powder
500ml milk
200g Cheddar cheese

Melt the garlic butter in a large frying pan and cook the mushrooms until very brown and what I call 'squeaky'; there should be no liquid left in the pan at all and you will know just what I mean when the mushrooms, almost, seem to squeak  Meanwhile, make an all-in-one white sauce by putting the butter, flour, mustard powder and milk into a saucepan and, whisking continuously, bring it all to the boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer briefly, then remove from the heat.  Add half the grated cheese and stir well until it has melted into the sauce completely.  Put the cooked rice into an oven dish, add the mushrooms and mix the cheese sauce in thoroughly.  Top with the remaining cheese and bake at 200°c for 30 minutes or so, until the top is somewhat crisp.

It was really, really nice - I cannot sufficiently explain how much I wanted to eat, well, ALL OF IT.  This one is definitely a keeper...
Cath xx

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Trying Things Out

I haven't felt very inspired, blog-wise, recently.  I'm still cooking, of course, and have tried out a few new things.  Some of them worked (peanut-butter fairy cakes, courgette pizza, adding some of my green sauce to a béchamel) and some of them need more work (soca, homemade wasabi peas, risotto in the slow-cooker).  I still take my photos, and I do plan to write about them but, somehow, I just don't 'get around to it'.  I want to do this, I really do, I just don't seem to have the motivation at the moment, or know where to go with the blog to make it more appealing to you; frankly I don't even know if there even is a 'you' or if I'm just typing to myself, which is a worry.  Is anyone out there? Please drop me a comment and tell me what you think, I feel a bit lost for words (and that is very unlike me)
Cath xx

Monday, 19 July 2010

Pin It!

I have recently discovered a new favourite thing; Pinterest!  This funky site allows you to collect together all the inspirational and wantable bits and bobs from all over your web-i-verse and 'pin' them onto a virtual m oodboard of your own making.  A great way to avoid the long lists of 'favourite' pages, bookmarked only because you like one or two of the pictures.

My pinboard is full of beautiful things; tasty things; witty things and a lot of typographic art that makes me smile... I can also view other ;inboards for a jolt of colour and whimsy when I feel like some surfing-time... Roll on over and see for yourselves.  What will you pin?
Cath xx

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Going Green

This is a lovely little thing I came up with during one of my 'kitchen pootling' sessions, just playing about with things from the 'fridge and the cupboards, seeing what happens... Hugely successful in this case, this green sauce is divine with plain steamed vegetables; with new potatoes; with grilled meats (especially lamb, my goodness!) and, as we had it tonight, with fish (mackerel, filleted and fried in a knob of butter).  It has quite a summery feeling to it, but is thankfully not inherently reliant on good weather, as so many 'BBQ' favourites can be. While this is what we call it at home, I'm aware that it (maybe) doesn't sound terribly appetising, so I've tried very hard to think of a more poetic-sounding name, but I can't, so as 'green sauce' it must stay.  You do need a blender or a food processor for this recipe.

Green Sauce

I use a  vegetable peeler to peel away the strings from the celery, then cut it into chunks.

1 stick celery (and see above)
handful parsley
handful mint
1 tsp capers, rinsed
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
60ml olive oil
60ml rapeseed or sunflower oil
1 egg yolk

Put everything, bar the egg yolk, in the blender.  Whizz until a slightly creamy, smooth-looking sauce is formed, then add the egg yolk and blend again. Season with salt and pepper to taste, pour into a bowl and chill until needed.  Stir before serving, as the oil will separate slightly on keeping.

Cath xx

UPDATE: Just the other night I made a simple béchamel sauce for a pasta bake with salami and courgettes and, finding I hadn't made quite enough sauce, whisked in the remaining green sauce to increase the volume a little. Result? Totally divine  In fact, this may now be one of the bet uses for my little green goddess! x

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


This is rather more fiddly than a lot of my midweek suppers, I'll grant you, but cannelloni al forno is lovely and I'm so won over to using these supermarket packets of 'fresh' lasagne sheets; it really is tiresome making one's own pasta whenever one wants to make cannelloni and the dried tubes you sometimes see for sale are, nine times out of ten, irreparably damaged by the time you get them home from the shop.  It's also, actually, quite nice sometimes to feel that you are doing a bit of 'real' cooking in the middle of the boring, workaday week; it seems to bring that expansive, weekend feeling even to a drizzly Tuesday evening.

Cannelloni al Forno with Tuna

1 onion, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
400g can tuna, drained
300g spinach, wilted and chopped
pack of 10 'fresh' lasagne sheets
500g carton passata
100g mozzarella, grated
 50g parmesan, grated

Heat some oil in a frying pan and soften the onion and celery together.  Stir in the tuna and the spinach and heat through.  Remove from the heat.  Put spoonfuls of the mixture onto each of the lasagne sheets and roll up from the longer side, making a 'tube', filled with the tuna mixture.  Place these 'tubes', in turn, in an ovenproof dish then, when all 10 are done, pour over the passata and scatter over the cheeses.  Bake for about half an hour in a 180°c oven.  Let it cool in the dish a littlew before you serve it, otherwise you'll be faced with tuna alla napalm!  Enjoy with salad, you could even add some garlic bread if you want a little more kitchen pootling to do...

Cath xx

Monday, 12 July 2010

Summer Lovin'

I just adore this sort of meal in the summer months; simple to throw together in the suicide hour, but not sacrificing anything for that.  It's really tasty, full of flavours that suggest the season, without being too obviously contrived.  I also love this for using only things that anyone might have in store at any time; the only thing might be the fresh basil, for which you could easily substitute a tablespoonful of pesto, let down with a little extra olive oil, stirred in at the same point in the recipe.  Similarly I use chipolatas, because my butcher sells beautiful ones, but you can (obviously) use whatever you prefer; just please bear in mind the meat content of sausages and look out for ones with a high percentage - some can be terrifying low in meat content, once you look at the label.

Summery Sausage Traybake

4-6 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, halved and sliced thickly
10 chipolatas
8 new potatoes, quartered
4 tomatoes, quartered
handful fresh basil, torn (and see above)

Pour the olive oil into a roasting tin and add the onions, sausages and potatoes, mixing well to coat everything.  Cook in a 180°c oven for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes to the tin, toss well and return to the oven to cook for a further 30 minutes.  Stir in the torn basil (or the oil-and-pesto substitute mentioned above) and cook just 5 minutes more.  Serve straight from the tin at table, you need nothing else at all (though a glass of red does go down beautifully with it, if you insist).

Cath xx

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Viva los Nachos!

Did you know that Nachos have been around since 1943? Or that October 21 is the International Day of the Nacho? Or, even, that they were first created for a group of U.S. Army wives who turned up at a restaurant in Mexico just after closing time?  Well, just maybe those hungry ladies should be considered the patron saints of unexpected guests, because the Nachos Especiales (Nacho’s special dish) that Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya hurriedly created for them that day started a huge culinary wave that continues across the world today.  Anaya’s Mexican original was a simple dish of tortillas with pickled jalapeños and shredded cheese, but thanks to U.S. appetites, we have since become more accustomed to the delights of 'Loaded Nachos', with a multitude of delicious things piled onto the humble tortilla chips that lie beneath. 

You can, of course, use a bag of bought tortilla chips to make Nacho dishes, but I quite like to make this easy version in the oven to cut down on the fat and salt inherent in the dish.  Just take some corn tortillas (they are usually sold in packs of 8), cut into wedges and spread out on lightly oiled baking sheets.  Bake at 200°c for 5 minutes, then turn them and return to the oven for another five minutes.  You can make these in advance and keep them in a tin if you like; I normally do them during the day, at some point, for supper in the evening.

Loaded Nachos with Beef and Beans 

I have recently found some fab mixed beans for this, labelled 'Mexican Bean Salad', which are a mix of pinto, haricot, red kidney and black turtle beans, but any can of beans will do.

350g Tortilla chips (and see above)
1red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp mild chili powder
250g beef mince
400g can mixed beans (and see above) 
fresh parsley, chopped
2 or 3 tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
150g Edam, grated

Heat a little oil in a large pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic and spice, stir well, then add the beef to the pan, Brown it really well until it is completely cooked, then mix in the bean salad and heat through. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Spread the tortilla chips out across a very large plate, then top with the beef-and-bean mixture.  Scatter the tomato dice over, then cover it all with grated cheese.  I find Edam best for Nachos, really, because it melts in a way I like without too much oiliness.  The cheese flavour is prominent, without becoming overpowering,  but feel free to substitute Cheddar, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack or whatever you fancy. Nachos are such a moveable feast!  Flash the plates under the grill to melt the cheese and serve with sour cream or natural yoghurt.  I like to serve  pickled jalapeños, though I leave them on the side as I'm the only one who goes there.  Similarly, you could add other side dishes; some salsa; even a dish of guacamole, or some of my avocado dip if you really want to push the boat out....
Cath xx


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