Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Weekly Bake Off - Farmhouse Victoria Sponge

Yesterday was a bit of a sucky day so to cheer myself up, I decided to participate in the Weekly Bake Off which I discovered by Twitter.  In a nutshell, the lovely @WeeklyBakeoff decided to bake her way through Mary Berry's 100 Cakes and Bakes and has invited her fellow tweeps to participate.  Every Monday, she selects a recipe.  People bake it and submit their pictures by the following Sunday for a bit of fun judging.

It sounds a little bit odd as the judge only gets to see the cakes and not actually taste them.  In fact, I was a guest judge for the Black Forest Gateau and it was really hard.  Firstly because they all looked great, but secondly because you have to look beyond the skill of the photographer and judge things like the balance of cake to filling and factor in any unusual twists in decoration.  There were only four entries the week I judged as it was the week before Christmas and it took me ages to make up my mind.  I pity whoever is judging now everyone's back to normal baking.

So on to the actual bake.  It was an interesting recipe.  When I first read it I decided not to try it as I'm not really a fan of orange or Victoria sponge, but I needed some baking therapy and a second perusal showed it to be a really really simple operation that I could perform whilst Miss A ate her tea.

You literally chuck everything into a bowl and mix it for two minutes on high before putting into prepared tins, baking it, making the buttercream filling whilst it's cooking, then it's just a case of cooling, filling and dredging with icing sugar.

Mine took more than the five minutes the instructions implied.  The recipe uses light muscovado and I'd let mine get damp so I spent ages trying to beat and grate it back into some semblance of sugar grains.  I then chose to beat it with the butter first to make sure that it was a smooth as possible.  I also increased the quantities because Berry uses a smaller tin for this cake, but helpfully, her standard Vicky is in a 20cm tin so I stole the ratios from there instead.

It made a lovely soft cake mixture and the muscovado meant it was less sweet than a regular white sponge.  It baked really well - especially given my trouble on Friday and the general issues I've been having with my new cooker.  One rather stupid schoolgirl error was that I forgot to butter the tins so the edges are a bit raggedy - but I think it adds to the farmhouse charm of the cake.

If you don't have hardened sugar, it really is simplicity in itself to make, bake and fill.

Vicky sponge with an orange marmalade and butter cream middle
I've yet to do a taste test of an actual piece as I'm taking it in to work tomorrow.  Having tried the components though, it's looking good for a non-orange cake, non-Vicky eater such as myself.   The bitterness of the marmalade works really well against the sticky-sweet buttercream.

For the record, I used Waitrose Essentials Seville Orange Marmalade which I love.  It's so cheap compared to other Seville marmalades which is great when you have to watch the pennies.  Was hoping to get some Sevilles to try my hand at marmalade making, but I fear I've missed the boat this year.  Although I understand you can buy pre-prepared oranges from Lakeland.  But that's just a bit cheaty isn't it?

In the spirit of the Bake Off, I am following the lead and not publishing the recipe.  The book is only £4 or so on Amazon and is definitely worth a buy, even if you don't want to join the competition.

However, as I'm in a sharing mood, I will share with you my mum's Vicky Sponge recipe which she drilled in to me as a child.  I can't remember exactly how old I was when I learned this recipe but it's one of those things I'll never forget.  The chocolate version characterises my childhood and always reminds me of the Michael Rosen poem 'Chocolate Cake'.  Rosen is probably best known as the illustrator of Roald Dahl books in the Eighties but wrote and illustrated many books and poems of his own.  If you love cake and have never heard this poem, go read it now!

For every lovely new cake recipe I bake, there is still nothing like my mum's chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream (made with margerine, not real butter - just doesn't taste right otherwise).  If she ever ever gets round to reading my blog and this post in particular, I hope she takes the hint that she should make one next time I visit.  It's one of those comforting things to cling to like my Grandma's roast chicken dinner or her sausage and potato bake.  No matter how bad things are, the chocolate cake can always raise a smile.  Hint....hint...

Recipe - fills two 8" (20cm) sandwich tins

For the cake

  • 9oz (250g) self raising flour
  • 6oz (175g) soft margerine
  • 6oz (175g) caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla essence

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180c/160 fan/Gas 4
  2. Grease the two tins with butter or lard and base-line with baking parchment
  3. Beat the margerine, sugar and vanilla essence until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat in the eggs one by one.  If it looks like it's starting to split, add in a tablespoon of flour (this is my tip!)
  5. Sift the flour into the bowl and mix gently until well combined.
  6. Divide between the two sandwich tin.  Wet your hand and use it to smooth the batter evenly around the tin.  Make a well in the middle of each tin, exposing the tin base.  This will ensure you don't get a bump in the middle of your cake.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool.
To make this a chocolate cake, replace 1oz (25g) of the flour with the same amount of sifted cocoa powder.

For the filling

  • 4oz (125g) icing sugar
  • 1.5oz (40g) margarine or slightly salted butter
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  • splash of milk (optional)
  • 4tbsp jam (raspberry or strawberry for a vanilla sponge; optional cherry for a chocolate sponge)
  • icing sugar for dusting.

  1. Beat together the icing sugar, margarine or butter and vanilla essence until smooth and creamy.  You may need to add a splash of milk if it's too dry.
  2. Use the jam (if using) and buttercream to sandwich the cooled cake. 
  3. Dust with icing sugar.

PS Mum, if you've read this, I hope you noticed I did the measurements in imperial first and then metric :)x

Monday, 30 January 2012

Chorizo and Chickpea Soup

Today was one of *those* days.  I've had worse.  I'm sure I'll have far worse in the future.  So perhaps disappointing is the best way to describe it.

I had intended to make cauliflower biryani tonight.  Before the cauliflower I bought the other day finally goes off.  But what with the pants day and the cold weather, as I drove home, all I could think about was a lovely warming bowl of something red that would give me the equivalent of a food hug and make the end of my day a little better.

Think dishwater with beans and chorizo in it...
This could have been something like gumbo or jambalaya; cream of tomato soup or chilli con carne; my staple larder vegetable sauce over pasta; Mr Bridestock's Chorizo and Butterbean Stew or even the Mixed Bean Chilli I tried back in November.  But no. I stupidly decided several months ago that it might be fun/interesting/challenging/educational/... to try a new recipe every day so bound by my own stupidity, I gave the Chorizo and Chickpea soup from BBC Good Food a whirl.

Nothing doing.  Despite it having a five-star rating after 60 reviews (my one star couldn't tip the balance), I have to say that this was another disappointing waste of ingredients.  The soup was watery and bland.  I should've figured this when the instructions amounted to 'Boil a tin of tomatoes with a tin of water and a stock cube'   I'm not a food snob, but having spent some time learning from all these recipes how to spice a dish like this, the appeal of tinned tomatoes and Knorr's finest is wearing off.

I even threw in some spices and a little touch of sugar to take away the nasty metallic tang of the tomatoes.  But nothing could save it.  It wasn't helped that I had Tiger Bread to eat it with.  Watery, metallic soup or a big doorstop of bread?  It's no wonder the scales resolutely refused to shift in a downwards direction over the past week, despite lots of running.

So to cheer myself up, I will not be cooking the biryani tomorrow.  Instead, I will be participating in the Weekly Bake Off and making Mary Berry's Farmhouse Victoria Sponge for my esteemed colleagues at my new work location.  Not that I'm trying to score brownie points with them or anything :)

If you want to see if this recipe does it for you, you can find it here.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Curried Potatoes (Aludam)

Continuing the recent theme of my mother not understanding my personal challenge of cooking something new every day for 366 days, this morning I sat down with her for a slightly more frank conversation about food.  Regular readers will know that my mum was a chef until she had me and so a lot of my basic skills have been picked up from her.  And perhaps a bit of natural talent with certain things too.

Before anyone starts nagging me for being an ungrateful daughter, me and my mum love each other dearly.  We just don't always see eye-to-eye.  Take, for example, me mentioning that I eat my breakfast at my desk. "God that irritates me" says my mother. "People stinking the office out with their porridge; they should just stop being so lazy and get up half an hour earlier and eat at home."  So any sympathy I would be looking for from her on how I get up at 4am three days a week to go running; before I drive 45 minutes to work to start by 7am; so I can hopefully get to spend some time with her precious grandchild at the end of a long and stressful day evaporated before I'd even opened my mouth to defend myself.

Apparently, I have no self control either because my mum, who leaves home at 7am after getting up at 5.15 (why, why, why???) and eating her breakfast at 6am, is perfectly able to get through an entire morning of work and not eat anything else until 1pm.  If I eat at 6am, I'm hungry again by 9am.

We meandered on to talking about cook books and food.  I was shocked to discover that she reckons she only owns three cookery books.   Having spent the rest of the day thinking about that statement, I know it's not entirely true.  But if we're talking about ones published in the last twenty years, then the figure is probably quite accurate.

She mentioned she has never cooked anything from any of them aside from the "Hairy Bikers Stollen Doorstop" that she made for Christmas.  "That's exactly why I'm doing this" I said.  "I own over fifty recipe books and whilst the spines are well-cracked, most of them are pristine inside"  I then asked why she's never cooked from them.  The answer included phrases such as "I can't be bothered after a long day at work" and "I can't be bothered at the weekend after I've baked all my bread and rolls for the week" and when I mentioned some of the really easy, healthy and tasty recipes I've tried of late she decried the lack of meat in my diet "I was bought up when you always had meat for every meal and despite it being so expensive, I refuse to believe that a meal is a meal without meat" (she's only 57!!) and then ticked off a long list of things she won't eat including beans (except green ones), pulses, sun-dried tomatoes, anything sweet with meat.....  And she calls me fussy!

It saddened me in a way.  I always had this idea in my head that she enjoyed cooking.  But it seems like she finds it a chore, which is sad when she used to do this for her job.  Then again, I'm sure analysing business practices doesn't have much appeal outside of the workplace.  I suggested she try just one new recipe a week for a year.  "No time"  "One a month then?"  "Can't be bothered.  You won't persuade me".  So I gave up.

Then I realised that despite over the past year, she's tried lots of the things I've made. The summer berry drizzle cake which I packed with the glut of raspberries from my garden last year; the healthy mac and cheese from a few weeks back; the Hummingbird Lemon loaf which is a staple in my cake repertoire when we have visitors; she made some funky baked salmon dish with Hellman's that she'd found a recipe for somewhere or another for tea on Friday night; and she's talking about trying the Lorraine Pascale Fish Cakes I made the other day.  And the whole weekly bread baking ritual.  She only started doing that regularly when I started baking my own bread last year.  Stubborn as a mule, my Gran would've said.  Lovely with it too though.  I'll wear her down one day.  And I've already told her that churros will be on the menu next time we visit.

So in a fit of feeling sorry for her Hairy Bikers' Cookbook which was almost condemned to the bin after the stollen disaster, I copied out a few recipes from there to add to this challenge.  The first of which, I tried tonight.  Having been stuffed to the gills at lunchtime with a turkey roast and the best apple and summer fruit crumble I've ever eaten (she's still got it!), I wanted a light-ish dish I could try this evening.  I'm still trying to find something to wean the husband off of his need to have Sharwoods microwave pouches of Saag Aloo with his Mary Berry's chicken tikka and Dan Lepard Naan Breads and failing miserably.  Until today with this tasty little curry.

Not being able to find the green chilli I knew was lurking in the fridge somewhere, I used a Scotch Bonnet instead.  Thankfully, because I reduced the quantity, I didn't scald my mouth-lining whilst eating it.  However.  Beware.  The book doesn't warn you that when you first add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli to the smoky hot pan that a) it spits everywhere and you're liable to pick up a war-wound or too if you're stood too close and b) it's likely to scald the lining of your lungs with the hot, pungent, spice it adds to the air in the immediate vicinity.  I sounded like a sixty-a-day-woodbine-smoker by the time I finally got the tomatoes into the pan.  But it was worth it.  A definite keeper dish that I will make for the husband next time I do tikka.  I'll just need to scale back the chilli for him as he's not into hot stuff (goodness knows why he married me then ;o)) but I think that it will hold it's own just as well with less heat.

From the Hairy Bikers 'Mum Knows Best' (I'll admit that sometimes she does - just not on the breakfast at work issue)

Serves 10

  • 2kg white potatoes, peeled
  • 200g white onions, peeled and sliced
  • 50g fresh green chillies, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 50g fresh root ginger
  • 50g fresh coriander
  • 150ml rapeseed oil, for frying
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 100g tomato passata
  • salt and pepper

Cut the potatoes into small dice (about 1cm) and boil in lightly salted water until partly cooked.  mix the sliced onions with the green chillies.  peel and finely dice the garlic and ginger then add them to the onion and chilli mix.  Was and chop the fresh coriander.

Heat the oil in a large pan until a blue haze appears.  Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli mixture.  Fry for a few minutes then add all the remaining spices, tomato passata and a pinch of slat.  Fry for a further five minutes.  Add the potatoes and saute until all the ingredients have combined and the potato is cooked.  Adjust the seasoning to taste and garnish with some fresh coriander.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Hearty Paella

This weekend has seen me visiting the Mothership.  I phoned her up in the week and said 'I'd like to cook paella on Saturday night please?' 'Why?' asks the Mothership. 'For my blog.  I've only ever eaten paella at La Tasca (more on this shortly) so I figured I'd make it for tea for everyone.' Cue confused silence.

Paella with the world's most giant lemon wedges
'It's for my blog, the 366 recipe challenge.  You know the one I explained to you when we came to stay in November and I asked you to let me make a pie so I could learn how to make decent shortcrust.'  'What challenge?' 'The one where I cook something new every day for a year.  I'm four months in now.' 'Oh I don't have time to read about it.  Who's doing this challenge?' 'Just me.  I decided to challenge myself because it's not like I have anything better to occupy myself with' (said with a heavy hint of irony).  Further bemused silence.

I gave up trying to explain the challenge and justify myself.  I then went for the angle of it being nice having someone else cook tea for a change and I think this appeased her slightly.

So why, I hear you ask, have I only ever eaten paella in La Tasca?  Well I've been to some amazing tapas restaurants in London; a favourite being the one in Spittalfields Market.  But we spent so much time sampling all the different types of tapas that we never got round to a proper main course.  At weekends, visiting Borough or Camden markets, I saw some amazing paella on offer by street vendors.  But when you're accompanied by someone who is 'discerning' in what he eats there was no chance of eating something so amazing.  And the one day I managed to get to Southwark Cathedral by myself on a half-day from work; they guy with the paella wasn't there.  Ever since then I've been meaning to try making it myself but life just got in the way.  Until today.

After perusing several different interpretations, I went for Lorraine Pascale's recipe from Home Cooking Made Easy.  I've enjoyed several meals from this book since I got it for Christmas and felt it was as good a place to start as any.  It seemed pretty simple and one of the plus points for me was that it didn't have mussels in it.

Don't get me wrong.  I love mussels.  They just don't love me.  I've eaten them five or six times in my life and every single time, I've ended up acquainting myself with the bathroom ceramics.  Once or twice would be unlucky.  This many times leads me to believe that I possibly have some weird allergy.

Of course, despite knowing this, on the way out this morning, my mother piped up with 'Oh I'm really looking forward to having mussels in the paella tonight'.  Cue inward groans from me.  Sadly, I couldn't find any fresh ones in shell for that characteristic look, so I settled for some fresh, mixed seafood (prawns, squid, mussels) and some tail on king  prawns.  I was also suprised that this recipe uses chicken breast as I believe the more traditional recipes use whole chicken thighs.  But not wanting to do anything too removed from the recipe, I did as instructed.

The overall result was pleasing.  I used white Merlot instead of sherry.  I wish there had been more direction on the measurement of smoked paprika because I personally felt it could've done with some more.  A small test bit tasted okay, but a whole bowlful tasted nice, but slightly lacking.  If (or when) I make it again, I'd use double the chorizo, more squid and if I was making it for other people, I'd use shell-on mussels.  I might also throw in some thinly sliced red and green pepper too.  Not sure how authentic that is.  I also found that I needed to add about another 200ml stock as after five minutes, all the liquid had been absorbed.  But that may just be the rice that I had.

Best of all was that for once, everyone had the same thing for dinner.  Well except for Miss A who had hers avec jus d'orange (food stirred into her juice cup before consumption!) There were no sulky faces and much to my dismay, everyone wanted seconds - I was hoping to polish off the rest myself!


  • 2 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 100g chorizo, sliced into rounds
  • 4 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 12 big shell on prawns
  • 300g mixed seafood (mussels, prawns, squid rings, scallops etc)
  • 300g arborio paella rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 400ml good chicken stock (I used 600ml in the end)
  • 225ml dry sherry or dry white wine
  • 4 spring onions, sliced into 1/2 cm chunks
  • 150g frozen peas
  • handful flat leaf parsley
  • lemon wedges
  • salt & pepper

  1. Heat oil in a frying pan, cube & season chicken and start to brown in frying pan
  2. Add chorizo and fry for a couple of minutes
  3. Add chopped garlic and paprika and fry for a further minute
  4. Pour in 150ml of sherry or wine and bring to the boil
  5. Add 300g of arborio rice
  6. Pour in 400ml of chicken stock and bring back to the boil then turn the heat down to a simmer for approx 30 mins.  Add a lid to the pan half way through, about 15 mins (Lorraine's Tip: if you dont have a lid that fits cover with a baking tray)
  7. In a second pan heat some more oil and add the spring onions, then toss in the whole prawns & fry for about 3 minutes
  8. Add the peas and the remaining alcohol and boil off for a couple of mins
  9. Now combine the prawns, seafood, onions & peas into the pan with the chicken, chorizo & rice
  10. Season with salt and pepper and stir through, then leave, don’t worry if some of the rice sticks to the pan, the Spanish appreciate this ‘Socorrat’ as the best bit!
  11. Garnish with roughly chopped fresh parsley and lemon wedges and serve in the pan

Friday, 27 January 2012

Hokey Pokey Cupcakes (or not!)

Well today's blog is to document a disaster.  My oldest friend recently gave birth to my third god-child and so Miss A and I are off on the long trek home this weekend to visit them.  In truth, it's not really a long trek; it just takes about as much planning as a military assault as any parent of a toddler will know.  There's the stair gate; booster seat; the buggy; her toy pram; a million changes of clothes; food (my mother doesn't have porridge, cheerios or peanut butter); assorted stuffed toys which won't be the right ones when it comes to bed time.  The list is endless.  And then we'll get there and I'll realise I've packed no clothes for me and forgotten my phone charger.

I'd had high hopes when I dragged myself out of bed at stupid o'clock this morning.  I'd had a rubbish night's sleeps thanks to a pulled back muscle from yesterday.  Caused not by my run but by trying to do the zip up on a dress.  Seriously, can someone design a better way to do up dresses???  But all this was going to be made better by some cupcakes based on Mary Berry's Hokey Pokey cake recipe.

Hokey Pokey cake is an offering from New Zealand.  Basically a coffee flavoured sponge, spiked with chopped walnuts.  Then sandwiched with coffee butter cream and topped with more butter cream and walnut praline.  Coffee cake is my favourite cake and it's one of those cakes that rarely fails to please when bought from a coffee shop.  My friend's hubby loves my coffee cake.  I should've stuck with my old faithful recipe but thought I'd give Dame Mary's cake a go instead.

I wanted to make it as cupcakes as my friend's son has a nut allergy so, I omitted the walnuts from the sponge and thought I could decorate half with coffee and chocolate and then keep back some others for home and decorate them with the walnut praline.

Chuffed with myself for my organisational skills, I even used a tip I picked up over Christmas from Junior  Bake Off about how to neatly fill cupcake cases - by using a piping bag.  They went into the oven and this is where I came unstuck.  For they mushroomed up and overflowed.

No problem, thought I.  I'll just turn them into coffee cake pops.  Something I'd been wanting to have a go at for ages; but I never have any spare sponge to do so and it seems such a waste to make sponge just to crush it up.  But then I broke one open and it tasted horribly greasy.  So they are binward-bound.

What did I do wrong?  I think it's me and baking powder.  The recipe called for 225g of self-raising flour. Having none, I followed the instructions on my tub of baking powder that I needed four level teaspoonsful to turn plain to self-raising.  I should've known better as last time I tried this method with my favourite chocolate cake recipe, it overflowed its tin and welded itself to the bottom of my oven.

And my new oven and it's random cooking of baked goods doesn't help either.  I have a feeling the temperature wasn't right as they took ages to set.  Really must buy an oven thermometer to get the proper measure of what's going on.  Cake after cake after cake in that oven just never cooks as per the recipe.

Lesson learned.  Back to the drawing board for another day.  Shall have to wait until this recipe comes up in the Weekly Bake Off and give it another go!

If you want to see how they should've looked, take a gander at this blog I found about how to make them properly.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Crispy Italian Turkey

Life is hectic at the moment.  Been mainlining coffee and diet coke ever since finishing my run at 5.30am.  The candle is being burnt at both ends and slap bang in the middle too.  Having been up since 3.30am, this blog will be really brief.  Well brief for me.

After exactly four months and 126 blogs, I've reached a plateau where my interest in food is starting to wane a little.  I honestly could take it or leave it.  I nearly forgot to eat breakfast.  I took an hour to scarf down a brownie this afternoon.  When I got home I came close to not even bothering with a new recipe and blog.

Lousy perspective. Tiny potatoes and large turkey steak :)
Goodness knows where today's recipe has come from.  I wanted something that the husband would like (still not had feedback yet), something simple and tasty. I read so many recipes to find this one that when it came time to cook it, I couldn't remember where on earth I'd found it.  Maybe on Good Food, maybe in Mary Berry, maybe in Leith's Simple Cookery.  All I know was that it was categorised as quick and easy.  And it was.

It probably came from the Leith's book, which I was a bit disappointed with.  I was hoping it would be all about learning to cook from scratch, but it's just a posh version of Delia's 'How To Cheat...'  That said, the rather frazzled mummy/business analyst/wife/wannabe half-marathoner in me really appreciated the quick cook, easy result of this meal.  Although I did have to make saute potatoes to appease the husband for having to try something new.

If I'm honest, I probably could've made this recipe up myself.  In fact maybe I did.  Maybe I dreamt it which is why I can't remember where I found the recipe.  I hope I'm not starting to lose the plot!

This would hopefully also make a really good toddler tea.  We made great strides tonight with Miss A, a self-professed pasta- and fruit-only child scoffed five meatballs in tomato sauce.  Progress!  I can't remember when she last ate meat.

Anyhow, this is how I did it.

Serves 4

  • 4 turkey breast steaks, about 1.5cm thick
  • 4 tbsps basil and tomato pasta sauce
  • 4 slices cheddar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 75g seasoned flour
  • 100g breadcrumbs (I used panko, but you could make your own)

  1. Put the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in three separate shallow bowls.
  2. Taking one turkey breast at a time, dip first into the flour, shake to remove the excess flour; dip into the egg until completely covered and finally place in the bowl of breadcrumbs, only covering the bottom side.
  3. Put the turkey steak on a baking tray and repeat the process with the other steaks.
  4. Place a spoonful of pasta sauce on top of each piece of turkey and cover with cheese.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the top of the turkey breasts until completely covered.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 mins.
  7. Preheat the oven to 200C/180 fan/400f then bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Serve with saute potatoes and veg or salad

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Balmoral Chicken with Neep and Tattie Rosti

Having singularly failed to cook something Chinese themed on Monday and something with peanut butter yesterday - apparently it was National Peanut Butter Day, but I have a feeling this was an American celebration and us Brits used it as an excuse to jump on the bandwagon and scoff lots of peanut butter - I felt I should really make up for it today and do something Scottish-themed for Burns Night.

I tweeted my lovely Twitter chum Alison, aka @hungrysquirrels and she very kindly furnished me with not only a recipe for Balmoral Chicken, but also a recipe for Neeps, Tatties and Whisky gravy.  I duly hopped off to Sainsburys with the child last night but after a tantrum in the cafe over coffee (me) and a tantrum over bananas (her),  I managed to forget bacon, whisky and cream.  Thinking cap on and determined to break my haggis-virginity, I restyled it with a modern, Wiltshire twist.  More of that later.

Losing my haggis virginity at the tender age of *ahem* thirty-something was an interesting experience.  We spent many family holidays in Scotland when I was a child.  During my teenage years, we even stayed with relatives of my first stepfather and they had the kind of diet that us English rather blindly assume is the norm in Scotland.  Full fried breakfast every morning with links (normal sausages), puce coloured Scottish sausage, black pudding and slicing haggis.  If they were feeling healthy, breakfast was a choice of sausage or haggis with fried egg in a morning roll.  I lived on chocolate porridge for two weeks.

But as I'm supposed to be trying different things, I figured I had to go the whole sheeps-innard and try the real thing.  Normally, I would've wigged-out and just gone for the veggie version, but Alison's recipe was for haggis wrapped in chicken, which in turn was wrapped in bacon and baked.  It seemed to me the right balance of trying something new and not quite diving in at the deep end.

So I set about creating my take on this dish.  The original recipe is here.  I replaced the bacon with some prosciutto and with the absence of the cream required for the neeps and tatties recipe, I decided to make a rosti instead.  Just a touch of butter was required for this, so it kept the calories in check.

Spot the spare 'neep'
I didn't have the requisite hours to labour over the dish and was also doing my usual trick of cooking two separate dinners and making everyone's lunches for tomorrow all in the space of thirty minutes, so in my haste, my rosti fell to bits when I turned it over.  It probably would've browned more if I'd not been so stingy with the butter.  But the combination of the potato and the turnip was really pleasant.  I'd chosen not to put any onion in because I've never eaten turnips before either and wanted to distinguish the flavour from the potato.  It was kind of like eating nicely fried potato and swede.  Save for it not being yellow, in my book, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference in a blind taste test.

As for the haggis - well it was interesting.  Wrapped inside the chicken, it was almost just like a random type of tasty stuffing.  It was a little soft for my liking and I know if I'd just had the haggis by itself, I wouldn't have finished it.  But the flavours were lovely and the chicken stayed lovely and moist.

Trouble is now, my freezer has 460g of sliced haggis in it.  So I've now got to hop around and see what else I can find to do with it.  Or if I leave it long enough, my dogs will be in for a treat!

Anyway a huge thanks to Ali for encouraging me to try haggis.  I will definitely make this again if I'm cooking on Burns night for people who aren't quite so 'discerning' in what they eat (if you're a regular follower, this is the politically correct way I will now try to refer to my husbands 'delicate' palate)

This is my take on Balmoral Chicken, which comes in at just shy of 500 cals per portion, including the rosti.

Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breasts, approx 150g each
  • 4 slices prosciutto or 6 rashers of bacon (bacon increases the calorie count)
  • 85g haggis
  • 100g potato, parboiled and grated
  • 100g turnip, parboiled and grated
  • 15g butter
  1. Make a slit along the thick part of each chicken breast.  Divide the haggis into two and mould each piece into a sausage shape.  Tuck the haggis into the slit in the chicken.
  2. Wrap each chicken breast tightly with the prosciutto or bacon.  Secure with cocktail sticks if necessary.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, to make the rosti, combine the grated potato and haggis in a bowl and season to taste.  Divide the mixture in half and shape into flat discs.
  5. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat until it foams.  Carefully place one of the rosti discs into the pan and cook until browned.  Carefully turn the rosti over and cook until brown.  Keep warm and repeat with the other rosti.
  6. To serve, put a rosti on each of the serving plates.  Slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal and arrange on top of the rosti.  Serve with vegetables and gravy.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad

Despite my constant derision of my husband for being fussy, I must confess that I too am a creature of habit.  Especially when it comes to lunch in the working week.  Years ago, when I was working in London, I'd eat the same Boots Shapers bacon and mushroom pasta five days a week.  When they stopped making it, I switched to peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  

I moved jobs.  We alternated between two sandwich shops.  Despite the huge selection, I would always have Coronation Chicken from one shop and a toasted Spinach Fiorentina Ciabatta from the other.  Another job change (and an impending wedding) saw lunch became jacket potatoes with tuna and a pile of cucumber on the side.  Something I generally stick to at my current job too.

Lots of healthiness
But now, I've been seconded to one of our other sites, I'm in crisis.  They don't have a canteen.  It's in the back end of beyond, with the only hint of civilisation being the family of ducks that inhabit the litle pond outside the front door.

Up until now, I've stuck to buying my lunch because with a full time job, a toddler and having to cook three different dinners and pack two other lunches on a daily basis, I really can't be faffed to make my own lunch once all that's out of the way.  So, my options are to cadge a lift to the local bakery and buy some overpriced, tasteless sandwich and resist their tempting sausage rolls and cakes (tried this once, never again) or to drive to the local motorway services and pay for an overpriced tasteless sandwich from Costa - but get a decent coffee whilst I'm at it.  Or make my own lunch.

Hmmm…  Well in the spirit of trying new things, I had a leaf through some recipe books this morning and found a recipe in the 'Diabetes Cookbook' by Bridget Jones (no, not 'The Bridget Jones') which fitted the bill.  My mum bought me this book as the hubby has Type 2 Diabetes but I would have an uphill battle to get him to eat anything out of it other than what's in the cake section.  But it's got some lovely, healthy recipes in it that fit right in with dieting.

Ready for work. Ate the rest straight from the bowl!
I've adapted it a little as it has tomatoes in it and as you may well know from my missive about Chilli Jam from Sunday, I have issues with tomato innards.  So I plumped for sun-dried tomatoes instead.  

Although it was originally intended for tomorrow and Thursday's lunch, I ended up scoffing the second portion for tea tonight.  Have a feeling this will be my regular lunch now while I'm on secondment.  Unless anyone starts a regular Costa run….

Recipe - serves 2
  • 1 can tuna chunks in brine, drained (I used this to keep the calorie and fat content down)
  • 50g sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped
  • 400g  tin of cannellini beans, drained
  • 75g fine green beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 red onion, finely sliced

For the dressing
  • 1 dsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 dsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • juice of half a lemon (I used lime, but found it a bit too sweet in the end)
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Lightly cook the green beans in boiling salted water until tender (approx five minutes).  Cool under running water to help retain their colour.
  2. Whisk the ingredients for the dressing together in a small bowl.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
  3. Combine all the salad ingredients with the dressing and serve.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Chorizo Hash

As an analyst, the six P's are part of my mantra.  Piss Poor Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  Unfortunately, I fell foul of this yesterday when I realised too late that Chinese New Year was today and not next Monday.  Ooops!

With a busy day on the first day of a new secondment, there was no time to stop by the supermarket to pick up the veg I needed to make the dumplings I'd hastily researched last night so I had to abandon the plan and went with the Chorizo Hash I'd previously planned instead.

I feel a little guilty about this recipe.  Yesterday I was looking for a recipe for chocolate and beetroot cake and happened across a blog by a food writer who openly derided people like me who regularly turn to the internet for recipes.  He believes that the only recipes worth making are those that have been tried and tweaked and enhanced and tested and tweaked again to perfect them.  He finds things like the quick and easy recipes peddled by certain websites anathema.

Posh sausage, egg and chips
Well lucky him.  I'd love to live a life where I had nothing better to do all day than sit around perfecting recipes.  Instead, like so many other people, I juggle life's responsibilities and still take pride in the fact that I cook (nearly) from scratch every night - save for the odd night when the husband yanks my chain and dispatches me off to buy him a takeaway.  Even if it is a quick and easy recipe.

So tonight's effort was a variation on the husband's dinner.  He had sausage, egg and chips.  I had chorizo hash with poached eggs.  I originally happened across the recipe in Olive Magazine but this is a hybrid of several I've found - mostly based on the ingredients I had to hand.

Simple and tasty - although I'm sure it would've tasted even better if I'd fried the potatoes in oil rather than low fat spray and had fried eggs instead of poached - which I managed to drop whilst trying to balance on the top of the mound of potato and sausage, hence the rubbish picture.

On the subject of poached eggs, check out the fab Kitchen Bitching blog for advice on how to poach the perfect egg.

Recipe - Serves 2

  • 300g baby new potatoes -  halved (or quartered depending on size)
  • 150g cooking chorizo - diced
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 eggs

  1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender.  Drain.
  2. Saute the potatoes in a little oil until browned and crispy.  Remove and set to one side.
  3. Saute the red onion in a little oil until soft and lightly browned.  Add the chorizo and fry for a couple of minutes.  Return the potatoes to the pan to warm through.
  4. Meanwhile, poach the eggs.
  5. Divide the hash between two plates and top each with a poached egg.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Tiger Rolls

I adore Tiger Bread.  I have been known on occasion to go to the supermarket, buy a loaf of it, peel off the crust and stuff my face (whilst sitting in the car in the car park) and then bring the rest home and use it to make breadcrumbs.  This is, a rare occurrence.  Partly because I would prefer it to be slathered in butter first.  And only when I've for some reason not eaten for hours on end.  Honest guv!

My mum always used to have it when I went to stay with her until I got her back into baking her own bread when Miss A was first weaned.  And then, when we visited, it was just boring old home baked white or granary.  Nice as it is, everyone needs a little 'GROWL' in their life every now and again.
Sunlit rolls

Last time I visited, Mum had made her own Tiger Bread.  It tasted right, but wasn't scaly like you get from the supermarket.  She said she'd had a trial run the previous weekend and it had worked well but for some reason, this particular one didn't crack properly.

The recipe had come from the interweb but I forgot to ask where from.  All I knew was that you mixed a paste, brushed it on top of the proved loaf and then baked as normal.

So, the other day I was idly blog-hopping and happened across a post by Mary-Anne Boermans from the Great British Bake Off.  I follow all three of the finalists from the last series on Twitter (@wotchers, @joannewheatley and @hollybellmummy) and they're all really lovely ladies and full of advice.  The list of recipes I want to try from them would probably keep me busy for the rest of this blog-run.

It seemed like the perfect thing to go with the Chilli Jam from yesterday.  And a real treat with some nice strong Cheddar after the seven-mile hilly run I had planned for this morning.  Trouble is as I write, having consumed one already, the rest are busy taunting me from the kitchen and whispering how lovely they'd be with a huge pile of crispy-edged smoked bacon, lashings of butter and a good dollop of the Chilli Jam. Divine!

The recipe is a doddle.  It's just a basic white bread recipe with the special topping which is a combination of yeast, oil, sugar, salt, water and rice flour (this is important - don't use ground rice; although I've also seen a recipe that uses cornflour).  Boermans helpfully tells you the consistency that you're looking for with the topping.  Using the ratio she used, mine seemed too doughy so I thinned it down with some more water.  I also found that I had too much and could've gotten away with half the amount.  Whilst they were baking, I was a little worried that the crackle effect wouldn't work but they came out perfectly.

I had intended to make a loaf, but figured that I'd get  more crust for my bread if I went with rolls.  It also meant that they were nicely portioned and I wouldn't just cutting off slice after slice as I would with a normal loaf.  Or rather picking off the outside and leaving the middle.

Lunch! A very posh ploughmans.
The finished result was so good that the husband wouldn't believe I'd not nipped out to the shop and bought them (he was only convinced when he twigged Miss A was still in her pyjamas).

One thing that was lacking though was the taste that the shop-bought Tiger Loaf has.  There's something unique about that flavour that I always associate with Tiger Bread.  My mum's bread had that flavour so when I eventually got round to speaking to her about it, she informed me that her recipe used toasted sesame oil in the topping whereas the Boermans recipe doesn't specify what kind of oil to use.  With that knowledge, I could see how it would change the taste and I'd probably take that option next time.

All in all, a bit of fun and something I would definitely do again in the future if I wanted to show off if I had guests or when we provide lunch to clients at the photography studio;  not something for every weekend although the husband thoroughly approved of them so I have a feeling I'll be making them again soon.

The recipe can be found on Mary-Anne's blog which is worth a visit for all the other lovely things she bakes.  My adaptation is below.

PS: Don't be fooled by the perspective in the picture of my lunch.  The rolls are HUGE!

Recipe - Makes 8 (adapted from Time To Cook Online by Mary-Anne Boermans)

Basic White Bread Dough

  • 600g strong white bread flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet easy-blend yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp oil (sunflower, olive etc)
  • 400ml warm water (I always use 2 parts chilled to 1 part boiling)

  1. Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the water and oil.  Combine to make a smooth dough then turn out onto a lightly floured board, lightly oil your hands and knead for 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook and knead the dough with this for five minutes.
  2. Leave the bread to rise for an hour.  In the meantime, mix the ingredients for the topping.

Tiger Bread Paste

  • 80 ml warm water
  • 80g rice flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet easy blend yeast
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil - essential if you like the Tiger Bread 'flavour' otherwise plain oil is fine
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • Bowl
  • Soft baking brush – silicon for preference.
  • 2 baking trays

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and leave to rise.

Shaping the rolls

  • When the dough is ready, tip it onto a floured surface and gently pat down.
  • Cut into 8 even pieces.
  • Shape each piece into a roll and lay on baking sheets to rise. Best to use 2 sheets than try and squash all eight rolls onto one.
  • After the rolls have been proving for 15-20 minutes, stir the paste vigorously and then brush lightly over the rolls. The paste will have the consistency of thick, pouring cream. NB Be careful you don’t deflate the rolls as you brush the paste onto them.  Also – the thicker the layer of paste, the larger the ‘scales’ on the finished bread.
  • Leave the rolls to rise for a further 15-20 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C (180°C Fan) and then bake for 15 minutes. NB Turn the baking sheets around after 10 minutes, to get an even colouring.  (I found my rolls needed a higher temperature to get nicely brown but this may just be my cooker)
  • Leave to cool on wire racks.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Chilli Jam

I'm obviously starting to lose my marbles.  Quite clearly a full time job, motherhood, helping my husband run his business, being owned by two dogs, training for a half marathon and trying a new recipe every day - and blogging about it - is clearly taking its toll.  Or maybe this is just the start of the slow slide into senility.  After all, according to Ian Beale, you stop being young at 35.  Someone shoot me now! 

Last night I was mildly mortified to find out that someone had been eagle-eyed enough to spot a typo on my blog post.  The lovely Sadia aka @bakingelements (find her blog here) tweeted me for my poor spelling of 'juice'.  I leapt to my defence, wittering on that I was obviously influenced by the lovely Miss A's constant demands for 'owinge jice pwease Mama'.  In fact, it was just sloppy, slovenly spelling.  Something I abhor.

Don't get me started on txt spk.  It drives me potty.  I'd rather send three text messages than skip characters.  I love Twitter, but honestly, the amount of time I waste agonising over which words and bits of punctuation to remove to hit the 140 character limit.  I've even embarrassed my mother in a posh restaurant by getting a red felt tip out of my handbag (this was back when I was training to be an English teacher - I'm now an analyst, a very telling profession) and circling all the typos on the menu then writing something along the lines of 'B minus - could do better' before replacing it in the stack of menus that had been put on our table.

Spices going into the muslin
And to top yesterday off, hoping for a decent night's sleep and a lie in (if you can call staying in bed till 7am a lie in!), I woke in a panic at 11.45pm, thoroughly convinced it was Sunday night and I'd not left Miss A's clothes and other paraphernalia out for nursery.  I then spent twenty minutes rushing round the house on tiptoe finding clothes, locating shoes, packing her lunchbox and trying not to yelp when I stood on random pieces of post-Christmas plastic detritus that got missed in the bedtime clearing up session.  Returning to bed, I snuggled down, only to jolt awake twenty minutes later with the realisation that it was in fact still only Saturday morning.

Which brings me neatly on (okay it's a tenuous link!) to today's recipe.  I'm made Thomasina Miers' Chilli Jam from Mexican Cooking Made Easy.  The full recipe sees it served with lamb chops, but it sounded so amazing that I decided to make it to go with the Tiger Bread I'm going to make tomorrow.  Cold cuts, cheese, chilli jam and fresh bread.  Perfect after the seven mile run I have planned for the morning.

And here comes the tenuous link.  I had to retake the picture of the ingredients seven times as I kept forgetting things on the recipe list.  And it's not even that good a picture after all the reattempts.  The photo-pro I live with would be horrified.  If only he'd get me a kitchen built next to his studio, I'd have gorgeous pictures :o).  And still I missed putting the sugar into the frame!  Hey-ho.

Tomato innards *shudder*
I've mentioned before that I don't actually like tomatoes.  There's just something fundamentally wrong in my eyes with the slimy bit in the middle, but I'm gradually learning to love them in other ways besides in a pasta sauce or courtesy of Heinz.  I had an amazing semi-dried tomato and green bean salad at work the other day.  Something I'd love to try to replicate one day.  They even give me the creeps when the slimy stuff comes out when I have the misfortune to cut them up.  And despite the copious amounts of tomatoes that went into this, the end result is well worth having to chop up pounds of the things.  

This jam, like all of the recipes I've tried from this book, is amazing.  I have a bit of a girl crush on Thomasina.  Or at least her food.  I'd love to live in her house and eat amazing food like this day after day.    I tasted a bit on a cracker with a sliver of cheese and I was in absolute heaven.  When I decanted it into the jar, I had to fend off Miss A who mistook it for real jam and actually ate something with vegetables in it.  She didn't even mind the spicy kick.  Much.  I could've licked the pan clean - but restrained myself.

Finished Jam
Really, you do have to try this.  It is just so darned tasty.  That said, I only had 900g of tomato thanks to Ocado but halved all the other ingredients, so I have a feeling the taste is a little more intense than it would've been had I been bothered to correctly scale it down.  Maths is not my strong point.

I was intending to stop by Allington Farm Shop and buy some lamb cutlets to complete the recipe, but I'm not sure the jam will last that long once I get at the bread and cheese tomorrow.  I got about 400g from my 900g of tomatoes.  Initially I wasn't too bothered as I didn't want to be left with gallons of the stuff if I didn't like it.  I'm now regretting this faux pas and considering growing my own tomatoes this summer just so I can make enough to bathe in.  I like it that much.  And on that subject, I really must create a page for things I'd make again.  This is one of them - and surprisingly, number one so far!

You can find the recipe online here, but I do urge you to buy the book.  It's RRP is £20 but it's on Amazon for £12.40 at the time of writing.

And do check back tomorrow when I will hopefully have a better picture of the finished jam accompanying some lovely Tiger Bread.  Growl!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Falafel wraps

They say that women marry men like their fathers.  I won't tell you what exactly I think of my own father as I value the polite company that I keep in the virtual world.  However, I grew up living with my grandparents.  My grandfather was my dad in all intents and purposes other than in name.  I married a man just like him.

They both tell awful jokes.  Over and over and over again.  They both micro-manage their money and can tell you to the penny exactly how much is (or isn't) in their bank account at any given time.  They both eat to live.  I've mentioned before how I had to twist my grandad's arm to let us have spaghetti bolognaise for tea when I was little and how he considers Pink Lady apples an unnecessary luxury.

Throughout my teenage years, my grandma tried to introduce a little exoticness into the family diet.  Paprika sausages, kidneys turbigo, and fajitas but you could tell that my grandad only ate it because he was bought up to be polite.  I don't think he really enjoyed it.

But despite his unadventurous palate, he bought my gran a set of Readers Digest cookery books.  I remember her leafing through them and saying 'Ooh this might be nice' and being met with a look that said something along the lines of 'Faggots and peas will be fine, thanks'.  I don't think she ever cooked anything from them.

Falafel with minted yogurt
For years, my grandad has been trying to get me to bring them all home.  I finally selected a couple a few weeks back and finally, today, got round to choosing something from one of them to cook.  Certainly nothing that I could ever see the husband or my grandad eating unless they were bound to a chair and blindfolded whilst suffering Chinese water torture and having bamboo shoots shoved under their nails.  But I know my grandma would've loved this recipe had she had the opportunity to try it.

It's a low fat version of the Middle Eastern delicacy and so baked rather than fried.  I often buy falafel from Waitrose or Sainsburys but this is the first time I've ever made my own.  The recipe works as a whole, but I wouldn't use this one to make falafel if they were to be eaten alone - I often eat them straight from the packet.  Despite the delicate spicing, I felt they needed a touch of salt in the mixture to bring out the flavour (I taste-tested prior to cooking).  I'm sure the salt was omitted as it's supposed to be a healthy recipe - seasoning is often a personal thing.

The mixture was also soft and the falafel were very fragile.  They had to be turned really carefully during cooking and lifted carefully off the tray before serving.  But once wrapped in a flour torilla, and with the minted yogurt the flavour vastly improved.  I chose to not put tomatoes in my wrap - I need the ones in the fridge or Chilli Jam tomorrow and I don't really like them raw.  A pleasant and healthy lunch but I'm sure there are better recipes out there.

Recipe from Readers Digest Light Bites and Lunches

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • good pinch of cayenne pepper
  • good pinch of turmeric
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 4 large pitta breads or wraps
  • 1/2 cos lettuce or 1 heart of romaine, shredded
  • 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 8 tbsp plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.  Lightly grease a baking tray.  Put all of the ingredients except  the carrot and coriander in a food processor and blend until quite smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the carrot and coriander.
  2. Shape the mixture into 16 flat, round patties about 3cm across and place them on the baking tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and lightly brown, turning them over halfway through the cooking time.
  3. Warm the the pitta or wraps and fill with the shredded lettuce and tomatoes.  Divide the falafels among them.  Mix the yogurt and mint, season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle over the falafels.  Serve hot.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Runner bean & prosciutto pasta

Like a schmuck, I took one look at my husband's crestfallen face when I announced that he was getting last night's Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya for tea and hot-footed it out the door to the chippie for him.  But because I'm still trying to be good and even though it was a running day and I resisted and changed my plans for my recipe of the day.

I was going to make a plum croute out of the plums that the child snuck into her shopping basket at Sainsburys on Tuesday night but instead, plumped for the Runner Bean and Prosciutto pasta I happened across on Good Food the other day when looking for a way to use up the prosciutto I bought for Christmas that never got used.

I must confess, I'm starting to rely on the Good Food website a little too much for this blog.  But it's so easy.  Rather than having to leaf through twenty different cookbooks to find what to do with the contents of my fridge, I just type a few words in the box and back comes the suggestion.  As mitigation, I do subscribe to the magazine and would leaf through the old issues in the same manner I do with my cookbooks, if only the husband didn't insist on throwing old magazines away.

Bacon, beans and pasta.  Mmmm....bacon!!
Anyhoo, this is a really simple supper to make after a hectic day in the office and something I will cook again on one of those days when I've been up since the crack of sparrow-fart.   The first few bites were disappointingly bland.  After all, pasta with creme fraiche, runner beans (not the tastiest of vegetables) and lashings of black pepper is hardly going to set the world on fire.

But then comes the lovely, salty, bacony bite of the crispy prosciutto.  Class.  It works perfectly against the bland background.  I think the only change I would make would be to make my prosciutto pieces smaller next time - either before cooking or by bashing them up once they are cooked - to spread them more evenly throughout the pasta.  I note the recipe mentions pouring over the pan juices.  There were none in my pan so maybe the presence of some would've balanced the blandness of the pasta versus the saltiness of the prosciutto out more.  It might be because I only used a tiny bit of oil for frying to keep the calorie content down.  Will try a bit more next time.

And I can highly recommend it with the crunchy bits from the bottom of the chip packet on the side.  Hubby refuses to eat anything crunchy which is my favourite bit.  No wonder we rub along okay even though we're often at polar opposites of opinion.  Just call us Jack and Mrs Spratt (although I can't stand fatty meat!!)

Recipe - Serves 2

  • 175g tagliatelle (I used spaghetti)
  • 200g runner beans , trimmed and cut into short lengths
  • 3 slices prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 rounded tbsp half-fat crème fraîche

  1. Cook the tagliatelle in a large pan of boiling, salted water according to pack instructions. Four mins before the end of the cooking time, add the runner beans.
  2. Meanwhile, cut each slice of prosciutto into 5-6 pieces. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the ham, then fry quickly until crisp. Drain the pasta and return to the pan with the crème fraîche, prosciutto, pan juices and plenty of black pepper, tossing everything together until the pasta is well coated.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya


As Gregg would say "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this."  These people have obviously never had to cook for my husband.  Seriously, he is the fussiest person on this planet.  His motto is "I know what I like and I like what I know" and I should have realised at the start of this blog, the chances of changing much in the way of his eating habits.

Wednesday night is traditionally Chicken and Rice night.  It has been for the eight years I've known my husband.  Religiously.  Save for the very rare holidays abroad, I never have a problem with what to cook the husband for tea on Wednesdays.  One baked chicken breast, sprinkled with Schwarz Chargrilled Chicken spice; a packet of Uncle Ben's Express Mushroom or Tomato Rice; Bisto Instant Gravy; two slices of wholemeal bread with Flora.

Very red dinner.  Real, warming food for winter.
So once this was underway, I started my own dinner of Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya.  This was the most popular recipe on BBC Good Food last year.  I wanted something simple and quick, yet tasty and filling.  Big flavour, no fuss.  I tried something similar from BBC Good Food last year - a Spanish Rice and Chicken One Pot - but that lacked seasoning so I was interested to see if this had the big flavours the other one was lacking.

I was surprised that this recipe didn't use the third item in the Holy Trinity of Southern cooking - celery.  Luckily I didn't have any in the fridge so I didn't have to worry that that was what would cause the dish to be lacking - if it was;  I also would've used green peppers to give a bit of a contrast to all the redness.  But the flavouring in this case was great.  I think using the pre-bought spice mix probably helped this one along.  All in all, a really simple, tasty dish.  Once the chicken and veggies were fried, I was able to wander off and leave it to cook rather than watching it like a hawk.  The only difference to the actual recipe was that I used Basmati rice which cooked in fifteen minutes, whereas the recipe used long grain and suggested it would take 25 minutes.

For once, I managed to serve both meals at the same time.  The husband doesn't like spicy and every time I sneak chorizo into something he picks it up and examines it like it's some kind of foreign body that's fallen into his dinner accidentally.  He questions what it is and then eats it, looking like a child being forced to eat greens.  So this one was just a meal for me; not one I ever planned to share with him.  I sit down and the conversation went something a bit like this:

Husband "What's that?"
Me "Jambalaya"
Husband "It's chicken and rice.  Why haven't I got that? It looks really nice"
Me "Because you wouldn't like it"
Husband "I think I'd like it"
Me "I'll cook it for you tomorrow"
Husband "But I might not feel like it tomorrow.  What do I normally have on Thursdays?"

At this point, I lost the will to live.  The answer is "something non-chicken; usually sausages"  What to do?  Test this dish on him?  Leave it til next Wednesday and risk upsetting the boat by cooking something different on Chicken and Rice night?  Or hope against hope, we might extend his list of meals he'll eat from eleven to twelve?  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Tastiest Black Bean Tostadas

Sometimes a recipe is spoiled by the quality of ingredients and I have a feeling that this one was let down by mine.  The recipe today is from Thomasina Miers' Great Mexican Food Made Easy.  She's got some amazing fillings for tacos and wraps and I love that you can play around with how you present said fillings.

Like this one.  If I was being true to the recipe I'd've made my own little tostadas from scratch.  Instead, I made a tortilla bowl by baking a flour tortilla over the top of an upturned cup and filled it with the black beans and other goodies.

As Miers says in the book, the black beans are tasty however I reserve judgement as to whether or not they are the tastiest ever as I have nothing to compare this statement too.  But I think they were spoiled by the accompaniments that Miers suggested.  This, however, is down to circumstance and choices rather than the recipe itself.

Like when I made the Clementine Mojito Loaf at the weekend.  It was nice, but I think the flavour of the clementines I had detracted a little from the loaf's flavour potential.  Sometimes you just can't skimp.
The beans are in there somewhere...under the giant avocado...

In the case of this recipe though, I had a ginormous and rather expensive avocado from Ocado.  I didn't want a ginormous avocado.  I just wanted a lovely, small, perfectly ripe Hass avocado.  But they were out of stock.  So in their wisdom they decided I required an avocado that would feed a small nation.  It's called the 'Ocado Very Big Avocado'.  They should rename it to the 'Ocado Very Tasteless Avocado'.  Seriously it took bland to a whole new level.

Maybe mashed up in guacamole with loads of spices or something, it would be a great base to a dish.  But  as part of a salad it was bland, bland, bland.  Add to this the very sheepy-tasting Feta that I had from Sainsburys - I'm very fussy when it comes to Feta and it frustrates me that the same brand can vary in flavour from week to week - and in all, the overall dish was disappointing to the point that I didn't even finish it.

The beans were great and I can highly recommend them.  I forgot the salsa (senior moment so it'll be used in sandwiches for tomorrow) so that may have helped out.  Overall this recipe is, like all of the Miers recipes I've tried so far, potentially packed with amazing tastes on so many levels.  Just so long as you can be sure of the quality of your ingredients.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with three-quarters of the behemoth avocado that is still loitering in my fridge.  Am wondering how unfussy my spaniel really is...

A quick Google for the recipe reveals it to have been published in the good old Daily Fail.  Guess that saves me typing it out :)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Edamame And Chilli Dip

If you were expecting chatty, confessional or culinary mastery tonight, I'm afraid you're going to be sorely disappointed.  My day began at ridiculous o'clock.  It seemed to disappear pretty quickly and when I finally arrived home at crazy past darkness o'clock the thought of James Martin's warm chicken liver and chorizo salad seriously did not appeal.  In fact food did not appeal period.

The only thing I could hear calling me (other than a toddler who has been starved of mummy-love) was my lovely M&S Jersey Modal Bedding.  But a challenge is a challenge is a rod for my own back.  I had food to make.  This was supposed to be lunch one day this week, but I've now had to jig the menu plans around so that I a) don't expire from exhaustion and manage to be up for a run at 4.30am and b) actually eat something.

Just a wee snackage
So Good Food's Edamame and Chilli dip won the day for its simplicity.  Although I struggled with the making of this, it actually tasted really nice and fresh and light.  Perfect for a summers day.  Or a freezing cold night in the middle of January when you have already cooked two other different dinners (after a 12 hour work day plus commute) and really can't be arsed.  Do excuse my French, but I'm about to nod off over my keyboard.

The recipe suggests using frozen beans.  I only had fresh so I followed the packet instructions.  After double the amount of boiling they were still pretty crunchy so I just blitzed them anyway.  My blender, however, is rubbish with anything that is remotely solid and refused to give me anything other than a rustic looking pile of sludge.

Chopping veggies was as unappealing as it was dangerous for a tired person.  (I'd also been awake most of the night thanks to endo pain - but that's a whole other story).  So I tore up a flour tortilla, sprinkled it with olive oil, lime zest, sea salt and paprika and made some little crispy dipping things to go with it.

Very nice.  Lighter and healthier tasting than guacamole.  And although my dip wasn't as green as the one in the BBC Good Food picture, I liked that it wasn't all smooth and slimy.  This, however, isn't really a real meal for a normal person.  If I'd taken this for my lunch, I'd've been riffling through my colleague's drawer of goodies by 1pm for a naughty snack.  More of a TV snack or a dip to present amongst a buffet table groaning with other filling goodies.

One to keep for summer entertaining me thinks.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Mike's Clementine and Basil Mojito Loaf

When I started this blog, my intention was to make use of all the recipe books that adorn my bookshelves and whose spines have barely been cracked.  I've stuck to this in part, although I've also acquired several new ones which I've also been using.  But during these past few months, I've also happened across an amazing number of food blogs which have given me even more recipes to lust after.

One of my favourites is Mikes Baking.  And today I've tried his Clementine and Basil Mojito Loaf which he created as part of January's citrus blog hop.  I still don't quite get what a blog hop is all about.  But there are lots of citrus-based recipes popping up all over Blogsville so I'm guessing that it's all about sharing favourite citrus recipes.

Anyhoo, this recipe appealed to me because back last year I furnished my work colleagues with some Mojito cupcakes.  Although they were a little reticent when I mentioned they contained fresh mint, whenever anyone brings up the subject of baking, these cupcakes always get rave reviews.

I've promised my chief cheerleader that I'd make the aforementioned clementine and basil loaf this weekend.  As soon as I said basil, he eyeballed me nervously so the cake has a lot to live up to.

Having baked it this afternoon, it smells absolutely amazing.  Every time I open my fridge now, I'm immediately transported off into memories of summer from the open packet of Waitrose basil.

The cake itself was pretty easy to make, however I did encounter problems with zesting my clementines.  I'm not sure if it's a problem with all clementines (I had the same problem when I was trying out Jamie Oliver's Clementine Curd), but the skins are so thin and just break.  First I tried my zester on my cannoli cutter.  Then I tried zester on my box grater.  This was a bit better but the zest just got trapped around the grater holes (which is why I never use it for any citrus).  In the end, I just chopped up a few bits of peel really finely, but I'm a little worried that the pith will affect the flavour.

The rise of my cake was a little uneven with a huge peak in the middle and it being a little flatter than I would've liked at the ends.  This is probably just my new oven.  Normally I'd try to create a dip in the middle before cooking to balance it out, but the batter was a little too loose for this.

And with a slopey cake, there was a bit too much syrup as a lot of it ran from the peak and pooled in the corners.  I have yet to see how moist it made the middle but I'm not cutting it right up until tomorrow.  It was good to not have to boil the syrup to infinity but personally I found it a little to sweet for my taste.  I'll definitely make this again but I would probably add some lime to the juice - or maybe my clementines were a bit too sweet.

As for the rum.  Wow.  Wouldn't want to eat too much of this before driving just in case I bumped (figuratively) into the Fuzz.  I don't hold my alcohol too well :)

The final verdict and pictures will be in tomorrow when the gannets I work with, but I urge you to try this summery cake in the depths of winter.  Different is good.  Chocolate cake is so last year!

In the meantime, check out the recipe and gorgeous photography here.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Dan Lepard's Bagels

Finished bagels
For as long as I can remember, all my daydreams have revolved around food and cooking.  Whatever the topic, there's always a lavish picnic or dinner involved somewhere.  And whilst other people might stress over the minutiae of how they're dressed or the weather, I always worry about whether the meal I'm presenting goes together.  Can I really have chocolate mousse after a rich creamy main?  Despite it being a daydream, I can obsess for hours on such a trivial point.

One day, I'd like some of these foodie fantasies to become reality and spend some time travelling with someone who loves food more than I do.  Recent trips have been with my live-to-eat husband or my grandfather who grew up on rationing and still considers buying pink lady apples the height of culinary excess.  So when I went to New York with my grandad back in 2008, he was quite happy to frequent chain restaurants (Applebees, Starbucks and the like) so aside from me treating him to dinner at the Waldorf (where he ate steak and chips), we might as well have just gone to Brizzle for the week and frequented McDonalds and TGIs.

Knobbly balls
I was hoping that we might at least get to have a real bagel slathered with cream cheese and lox from a Nu Yoik street vendor but no such chance.  Bagels are a regular staple in my non-diet diet and I will only buy ones that are 'baked in store' (yeah, right) rather than the horrible New York Bagels that are loaded with preservatives but until today I've never tried a real fresh bagel straight from the oven.  And after a very long wait for brunch, I can happily say that this is something else I'll never buy from a shop again.

All week, I've been trying to memorise Dan Lepard's recipe.  It's pretty simple.  Just flour, salt, sugar, yeast, some water and then some brown sugar or malt extract for the boiling stage.  It does, however, involve a lot of faffy kneading.  Lepard is a great advocate of not kneading bread endlessly for ten minutes, but instead, doing three or four lots of ten second kneads with a resting gap (for the dough!) in between.  Mine took a bit longer because rather than sitting down with the coffee and papers during the gaps, I had to deal with various toddler crises that arose.
Lumpy looking bagels

The dough itself is very stiff and dry at the start but loosened nicely with the oil that it picked up during kneading.  I was a little disappointed that I couldn't get my dough balls to be perfectly smooth when I portioned them out.  Nor does the recipe tell you how big to make the holes in the middle of the bagels or how big the bagels should be stretched to.  I didn't want to stretch them too thinly in case they fell apart in the water, but figured that a whole the size of a 50p piece would do so that it wouldn't all meld back into one solid 'roll' shape during the baking process.

Something else that struck me is that the technique in Short and Sweet is markedly different in timing to another Lepard bagel recipe that was published on the Guadian website.  In short and sweet, the bagel dough is divided into ten and you are instructed to leave them in the boiling water for 30-60 seconds before turning them over for another 30-60 seconds.  Quite a big time bracket. Yet in the Guardian recipe it states no more than five seconds each side.  Here the dough has been divided into just six pieces.  Confused.com.  So I left mine for 20 seconds each.  Thankfully they didn't dissolve into a soggy mess at the bottom of the pan.

Into the pot of boiling water with malt extract
Into the oven for just twenty minutes.  They were already beautifully golden after 15.  I was surprised as I've had real trouble getting cakes to brown since I've had my new oven and was expecting insipid looking bagels so was really pleased with the results.  I assume the malt extract dip gave them a helping hand.

The resulting bagels were crispy on the outside and hot and chewy in the middle.  Agian I was chuffed because having read the Guardian recipe several times, I failed to notice the recipe in Short and Sweet uses white wine vinegar until it was too late.  I'll try this next time to see what difference it makes.

Having skipped breakfast in order to savour these, by midday I was ravenous.  I made scrambled eggs with chives and smoked salmon as a treat.  The child decided that she didn't want her own lunch and so came and perched on my lap and stole my bagel.  Hoping (or more praying) she wouldn't like it, she's now found her new favourite food and proceeded to wolf down the whole thing.  Luckily, I'd given into temptation whilst making the eggs and stolen one from the plate to wolf down myself.  Seriously, there's nothing like it.  They're so easy - if a bit time consuming - that you'll never want to eat shop-bought again.

Another great recipe from the great Mr Lepard.  The link to the one on the Guardian website is here. The one in Short and Sweet is very similar, the quantities are a quarter more and Lepard adds 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Red lentil, chickpea & chilli soup

Today I have learned to never try to bargain with someone who doesn't yet understand the concept of bargaining.  You see I only work a half day on Friday and so Friday afternoon nap time has always been earmarked for a flurry of housework activities before the weekend.  There is zero chance of trying to do anything whilst Miss A is awake as even the eagle eyes in the back of my head are not good enough to keep her out of mischief if I should attempt to flick a duster at anything.

The list of tasks for this afternoon's nap time included - make lentil and chickpea soup, make granola, dust, tidy, put on the washing, change the beds, do the ironing and watch Stella (the Sky 1 program, not a can of beer).  Miss A had other ideas.  Even a walk before nap time hadn't tired her out.

So I stupidly said 'If you go and do some reading quietly, you can have a piece of cake for your snack in half an hour.'  Cue tantrum because she wanted cake there and then.  It wasn't just any cake, but the banana and lime streusel cake she helped me make yesterday for the husband's birthday.  She hadn't yet had a piece and had been apparently eyeing up the cake tin all morning wondering when she might get some.

Of course, to a 21 month old, an offer of cake means NOW.  Not in five minutes.  Or even two.  It means mummy is going to whip out a plate from behind her back with the cake cut into small squares for immediate consumption.  Mummy didn't deliver.  Cue tantrum.

And on it went.  I left the room and ten minutes later, silence.  Or at least I thought it was silence.  Dusters got flicked, soup and granola hastily made, soup got eaten, beds made, ironing done.  Husband appears.  "She's been awake the entire time" he informs me.  I venture into the nursery.  She's managed to shake half a litre of water out of her non-drip, non-spill cup all over her bed, her floor and herself.  She looks up hopefully and says 'Cake!'  Not a question, a demand.

There are chickpeas in there, somewhere.
I'll blog about the cake over the weekend.  It's the most lovely, softest banana cake I've ever had the pleasure to eat.  Once the child had eaten a slice, she announced 'More cake.'  And every time I asked any food-related questions for the rest of the day, or any question come to that, the request was for more cake.

Even the offer of some soup was turned down with a request for cake.  It must be that good!

As for the soup.  Well I bought lentils yonks ago when I was trying to encourage Miss A's palate.  I made a lentil ragu from Good Food Mag and I hated it.  There was something just so wrong with the texture of it in my personal opinion.  The lentils had been hanging round in the cupboard ever since goading me into doing something with them.  And so I did.

I wasn't expecting much from the soup but it was really tasty and as a bonus for someone still on the healthy eating thing (I lapsed yesterday with the husband's birthday takeaway), it was really filling and it's really low in fat.  I thought this would be a one-off make whilst it was cooking, but I'm surprised to say I will make it again.  And actually go and buy more lentils one day!

It's another Good Food recipe which you can find here.
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