Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Thai Prawn Curry

Eight years ago today, I took the opportunity of 'Leap Day' to propose to my husband.  As much as I may whine about him, he took the proposal in good humour and didn't immediately reach for his laptop (they didn't have iPads and iPhones back in the dark days) and book himself a one way ticket to Dar es Salaam.

I asked him this morning if, after nine years together, eight years since we got engaged, seven years of marriage, six pets, five cars, four foreign holidays (mini breaks don't count), three different residences, two lost loved ones (my grandma, his mum) and the birth of one child if he would still marry me if I was to propose today.  "That would be bigamy" he said.  I'm sure there's a joke in there, somewhere, but humour isn't me strong point.  Apparently people laugh at me, not with me.  Which is the kind of thing a husband can say to his wife after so long together, without fear of divorce.  Or at least in this house, he manages to get away with that.

He gets away with quite a bit.  Like the way he very rarely makes me a cuppa.  He drinks about twenty cups of coffee a day, but if I want one, I have to ask (sometimes via text!).  I don't get offered.  Or his little habit of how he points out something needs doing so I'll feel guilted into doing it to prove a point, rather than me telling him to just do it himself.  I do, however, draw the line at certain things (re-tiling the roof, laying a patio, cleaning the dogs' bottom glands) and pay people to do things.  If he could find a way to get me to pay him for making me a cuppa, trust me he would.

But tonight, in the spirit of recognising the eight-year anniversary (or is it two because of that whole leap year thing??), he kindly offered me a share of his gravy from his customary chicken-and-Uncle-Bens-Express-Tomato-Rice to go with my dinner.  Then he looked a bit closer.  "That's prawns, right?  You don't really have gravy with prawns, do you?"  At last.  He's learning!  There's hope for his culinary journey yet.

The recipe is from Good Food (again).  Quick, easy and tasty Wednesday night fodder.  I've never had a Thai red curry before so I'm unable to comment on its authenticity.  However, I will say that I found the tomatoes to be overpowering in their acidity and ended up adding a pinch of sugar and a teaspoon of fish sauce to the recipe to try to balance that out.  It was still lacking even after this so I gave it a good squish of lime juice too and, whilst it was tasty, who knows if it was really meant to taste like that?

Not sure Bisto would enhance the flavour...
I suppose to really understand the subtle flavourings, I would need to try it in a proper Thai restaurant.  Pre-baby, we used to frequent a little restaurant called The Thai Barn in Bradford-upon-Avon which does the most amazing Thai food.  Even the husband likes it.  I'm hoping that one day the 'rents might get round to coming down for the weekend and babysitting so the husband and I can finally get a night out together.

In fact, Thai food was another one of the inspirations for this challenge and I'm ashamed that it's taken me this long to try even the simplest of recipes.  One of the things that planted the seed of the idea was watching a challenge on Masterchef where the contestents were asked to make some dish or another with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.  I suddenly realised that whilst I could make a good stab at the main dish, I wouldn't have a clue how to make the sauce - instead relying all the time on Blue Dragon's Sweet Chilli Sauce with Kaffir Lime (I could bathe in that stuff).

So I'll be updating the list of recipes I want to try with a few Thai-inspired ideas and pondering how I'm going to learn what an authentic red curry tastes like in the meantime.  Watch this space.

If you want to try today's recipe, you can find it here.  Do read the comments below the recipe though, I think they really make the difference to the dish.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Updated: Nigella's Chocolate Fudge Cake

In just two short weeks, my little girl will turn two.  I realised this morning (with a touch of horror) that I have four different events to bake for.  Her actual birthday, cake to take to nursery for her last day in the baby room, cake for when my two neighbours pop round with their children for coffee and a cake for when the 'rents visit the weekend after her birthday.

I prefer 'Sausage' dog, myself
For her actual birthday, it's just me and her and the husband. The husband isn't really allowed cake, what with his diabetes, but in my world, birthdays should always be celebrated with cake.  And so I wanted to make something quite small that we can easily share and not have too many leftovers (although I'm sure my work colleagues would have done the honours on the remains).

Googling about for inspiration for her main cake, I happened across some adorable Sausage Dog cupcakes.  My cousin, the lovely @BridestockBride and Miss A are both doxie obsessives.  If you're a regular follower, you'll know that we have a doxie called Rolo and she's Miss A's best mate.  We also regularly make 'Rolo' shaped cookies and I've been spreading the doxie cookie cutter love amongst my Twitter friends - discovering the lovely @LaurenPrince (go and visit her blog when you're done here!) is also a fan.  If you want to know where to get your own doxie cutter from, then visit Cakes, Cookies and Craft Shop.

Anyway, the cupcake doxie appears to be just a line of ganache-topped cupcakes with biscuit ears and faces.  I'm going to use Dame Mary's cupcake recipe from 100 Cakes and Bakes (and the subject of last week's Weekly Bake Off challenge) and try out the Primrose Bakery Bourbon Biscuit recipe which was recommended to me by the lovely @HungrySquirrels (another fab blog to read) - because they are dachshund shaped!

With antennae made from rice noodles!
For the visit from the neighbours and their assorted toddlers, I'm going with further cupcakeage.  I still can't decide which to make although ladybirds are currently at the forefront of my mind.  I joined Pinterest today.  If you're not au fait with this, it's an online mood board website where you can post pictures of things that you like.  I love it as I often happen across pictures of things I'd love to have a go at baking and then forget where I saw the picture.  You just click a button on your browser's bookmark bar and it saves the pic to your Pinterest profile for posterity.  Love it.

Finally, for the main event, I'm hoping to make a dalmatian themed cake.  These are Miss A's second favourite dogs.  My poor spaniel will be jealous - but he doesn't like her unless she has food so he can't complain too much.  I want to make a fondant covered chocolate cake and, despite being a huge fan of Angela Nielsen's Ultimate Chocolate Cake, I felt the time was ripe to see if there are any other comparable (or better) recipes on the market.  Given that it's for such an important occasion, I wanted to road-test it first.

I asked Twitter and Twitter suggested Nigella's Guiness Cake.  Sounds amazing, but not really suitable for toddlers.  Flicking through my copy of Nigella Bites, I happened across her Chocolate Fudge Cake which sounds like it fits the bill.  Twitter confirmed this to be so and it's currently cooling in the kitchen, waiting to be iced.

So far, the experience has been worrying.  The recipe states to use two eight inch (20cm) sandwich pans.  I fear Ms Lawson's must be at least three inches deep as by the time I'd finished the batter, it was very evident that I would head for disaster using my little two inch deep pans.  I quickly fished out my 8 inch Christmas cake tin which is five inches deep.  Even this only had a gap of an inch at the top when the cake went into the oven.  At twenty minutes, I was on my knees in front of the cooker, praying to the High Priestess of Baking (Dame Mary) that it wouldn't overflow and leave me scraping burnt offerings off of my grill pan which I'd sensibly put underneath.

Thankfully, it rose a mere half inch out of the tin, leaving me with a cake that's even bigger than Nielsen's Ultimate Chocolate Cake.
Excuse the messy edge on the cake board please!

I am now off to finish off the icing.  It's taking an age to cool - I guess because it was in the oven for an hour and a half vs the fifty minutes recommended for the two-pan method.

And if it's a nay, then I'll be moving on to Lorraine Pascale's 'I Can't Believe You Made That Cake' next.

Verdict and photos will be posted tomorrow once the work mates have got their teeth into it.

Update 1st March 2012: Well my colleagues were really impressed with this one.  And when someone finally was brave enough to have the first slice, it went like wildfire.  I even got asked for the recipe.

However, and it's a pretty big however, I'm obviously getting really fussy in my cakeage because I really didn't like it.  It tasted just like a mediocre chocolate fudge cake that you'd get with squirty cream or cheap soft scoop ice cream in a chain pub.  Now there's nothing wrong with that kind of cake, necessarily.  But I don't aspire to bake cakes like that.  The icing was bland and too buttery for me.  The cake lacked a deep chocolate flavour.  Someone asked if it was cherry flavoured and I must confess even I got a hint of cherry once it was pointed out to me - but no fruit was harmed in the making of this cake.

So it's a crowd pleaser, but like always, I'm never part of the crowd.  So it's back to the drawing board with James Martin and Lorraine Pascale's chocolate cake recipes now in the running for birthday cake of the year (for Miss A!)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Lorraine Pascale's Chicken Satay

This is one of those things that I eat all the time and I've promised myself for years I'd learn how to make at home, but never have.  Thanks to a glut of chicken in the fridge and a severe bout of desperation over tonight's recipe of choice, I was grateful that the lovely Lorraine Pascale came to the rescue (again) with her Home Cooking Made Easy.

It's my dinner, not Christine Bleakley's legs
I'm still very much in love with the teriyaki chicken I made last week and was really wanting to make that again already; but that would've left me short of a new recipe trial for today so this was a good alternative.  Like all of the recipes in the book (or the ones I've tried so far), it's easy.

 My only gripe being that she tells you to use a regular frying pan and yet you'll have no chance of achieving recipe-book-perfection because the ones in the picture have quite clearly been cooked in a griddle pan.  I do own a griddle pan but it's a b*gger to clean and I always manage to set the smoke alarm off when I use it so thought that an even, rather than stripy, colouring to the chicken was sufficient.

The sauce itself was far thicker than the one in the book looked.  I used more liquid than recommended but still it was more of a paste than a dipping sauce.  The flavour was a bit too intense for my liking too, although this could be because I (for some reason) picked the sushi seasoning (a mix of Mirin and brown rice vinegar) out of the cupboard rather than plain Mirin or plain rice vinegar.  But it was well balanced meaning that you could taste the slight heat of the chilli and the pungent garlic without losing the salty-sweetness of the peanut butter.

I loved the touch of glazing the finished satay with a little honey.  Previously the skewers had looked a little insipid (like they do in the book, actually) but a quick bathe in some warmed honey and they were working a mahogony tan that Christine Bleakley would be jealous of.

I did have a Google around to see if I could find a link to the recipe.  No luck.  So you'll just have to make do with buying a copy of the book yourself if you want to try it yourself.  Seriously, it's worth the money.  Lorraine's recipes are the number one and two most viewed recipes on my blog.  I think it's about time I got some royalties for bigging the book up :)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Nigel Slater's Posh Cheese on Toast

If you're a regular reader, you may have figured that sometimes my husband drives me more than a little nuts with his 'discerning' tastes.  We're like chalk and cheese.  We argue about anything and everything.  But for some reason, after seven years of marriage and nearly nine years, we still manage to rub along together.

There are moments when I really love him.  One such recent moment was a couple of days before Christmas.  We'd not had the best time a few days before with lots of tantrum throwing (the adults this time, not Miss A) and rather unusually, I was permitted the choice of evening telly viewing (before 9pm and probably because there's no football two days before Christmas) so I decided on Nigel Slater's Simple Christmas.

The husband abhors cookery shows.  He despaired while I was on maternity leave as I was constantly Sky plussing back-to-back episodes of CDWM.  The only thing he will remotely tolerate is Celebrity Masterchef.  But it seems only the series when Lisa Faulkner was in it.  I'm sure that's something to do with her previous days as a lads mag starlet.

So I was mightily surprised when he seemed to be actually paying attention to Mr Slater.  And then came the moment when my heart burst with love for him.  You see Nigel was making 'Posh Cheese on Toast'.  It came out from under the grill all hot and bubbly with cheese that you knew would just stretch like soft elastic when you tried to separate bits of bread.  The toast, charred crisply around the edges.  'Do you think I'd like that?' asked the husband.

Call me mean, but I had to chuckle to myself.  The husband won't eat fish at the best of times.  He'll eat Birdseye fish fingers, but offer him a fish supper and he'll go for  steak and kidney pie and a battered sausage.  Even when we've been to Whitby, the home of fish and chips by the sea, he still had a pie and chips.  So despite having seen Nigel flake in a couple of mackerel fillets, he still assumed he might like this recipe.

Give me Cathedral City any day...
He also likes his toast barely brown.  In fact some days (bless him), I think I could just get away with giving him stale bread and telling him its toast.  We have a constant battle over the dial on the toaster with me preferring level five (just this side of charcoal) and him level one (barely warm).

So tonight was the night for me to try this.  Of course, I just made his Double Gloucester on toast first, left him to that and then nuked my own 'posh' cheese on toast a bit later.  And I'm sorry to say, I'm not a fan.  When I want cheese on toast, that is what I want.  Cheese.  And toast.  Not faffed with.  No Worcestershire sauce or anything faffy like that.  Just fat, gloopy, slightly toasted bits of cheese on thick white, burnt-around-the-edges toast.

Don't get me wrong.  I love a good Croque Monsieur or a Croque Madame.  I've never had Welsh Rarebit (*scoots off to add to the list of things to try*) but fish and cheese on toast?  I'll take a rain check next time.  I may have overdone the topping.  It seemed too little to share between two bits of bread, but slightly too much for one.  I couldn't taste the horseradish - but that was my bad for being a wimp and not wanting to overpower it.

I'm sure if I was on a day when I was really in the mood for fish then it might have worked for me.  Today was not one of those days.  And now I have to figure out what to do with the two remaining mackerel fillets currently stinking out my fridge.  Watch this space...

You can watch the video for this recipe here

Saturday, 25 February 2012

cranberry, pistachio and chocolate pots

Another blog marked as tbc....


I'll explain all tomorrow :-)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Fondant potatoes

Vegetarians, look away now!

I'm finally getting around to updating this post.  On this very day (the one the blog is for, not the day I'm finally getting to write the post), I was looking forward to staying over at my mum's for the night.  Her and my step dad were going out for the evening, I planned to put the child to bed and then make myself a really nice steak with fondant potatoes and then spend the evening by myself reading recipe books and channel-hopping.

Of course, nothing ever goes to plan.  The child was an angel all day.  She got ready for bed, said goodnight to the grandparents, I took her upstairs, put her in the travel cot and she promptly climbed out.

The travel cot is something we've used when staying at my mum's for the last two years and I was hoping to get at least one more stay out of it.  Sadly not.  Miss A is very tall for her age and really doesn't like going to bed.  Many parents will be shocked, but she's still got the sides on her cot bed at the moment as we've not gotten round to resolving all the inherent dangers in our house to allow us to even attempt to let her sleep in an open bed.  We live in a townhouse with stairs that aren't suited to baby gates so not only do we have to stop her getting downstairs in the night but we also have to worry about her getting upstairs.  Or in the bath.  Or climbing the cupboards in her room.

Steak and potatoes.  Good, hearty food.
Anyhow, knowing that my mother's house is a death trap for an unattended toddler at the best of times, I ended up taking her back downstairs with me whilst I attempted to cook my tea.

The recipe from potatorecipes.co.uk was an interesting one as for four large potatoes, it suggested only 75ml of stock.  I would've thought that you needed far more to poach even one fondant potato but with having to ensure the child didn't break twenty million different ornaments, pull the telly upon herself, fish in the cat litter tray, discover butchers machetes in the kitchen drawer, open the cupboard where the cat food and bleach lives etc etc, I didn't have time to find another recipe or advice.

In the end, the potatoes were okay if a bit burnt because the liquid just evaporated.  The steak was perfectly cooked because I didn't have the time to leave it in the pan too long and I even had time to savour it because my really fussy child decided that a medium-rare steak looked like a good thing to eat and she sat perfectly at the table and munched on a bit whilst I ate mine.  Sadly I didn't have the time or energy to cook any veggies to go with it.

As for recipe book reading, it didn't happen.  I was in bed by 8pm with a slumbering toddler taking up 5/6ths of a double bed so no chance of lights on for reading.

So veggies, I'm sorry for the picture of the potatoes with a huge steak, but if you're looking for a good recipe I'd try a different one.  In fact, next time I'm going to try the BBC Good Food Garlicky Fondant Potatoes, as recommended to me by the lovely @EversNanaJules.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Teriyaki Chicken

Bad things that happened today.

1) Things at work.  Must not blog about them.  Not that bad.  Don't want to get into trouble.  Not one of the best days I've had in the office (and not the worst either).  Compounded by my still present head cold and the feeling that my brain might just explode at any given point.  I kept smiling.  I hope nobody noticed.

2) I took the opportunity on getting home to attempt to gain some spare time later in the evening by cooking a batch of granola for the husband.  I didn't let Miss A help.  She exacted revenge by sneaking into the kitchen and whacking the oven temperature up from 130c to 220c.  I was only alerted to this as Tom in the Onion Van arrived with my weekly shop, thus giving me the option of leaving Miss A on the doorstep with a stranger to save the house from burning down or just smiling at Tom and pretending that I was meant to be burning things in my oven.

3) The husband took the little dog for a walk.  He opened the front door.  She slipped her lead and shot off.  The husband closed the front door, looked at me and announced 'The dog's escaped...'  After a frantic few minutes of dispatching the husband with instructions on places to look for a black sausage dog - who can outrun greyhounds and had a 30 second head start - in the pitch black, I wrestled the child into her coat and wellies, donned the closest pair of shoes to hand, shot out the door and stood on the street like a fishwife yelling 'Rolo' (this is the name of the dog, incidentally).  Our neighbour's front door opened and he informed me that the husband had located the dog five minutes previously and had taken her for a walk.  I smiled sweetly and thanked him.

4)  Making tea.  Brand new, 1kg packet of basmati rice.  Split.  Everywhere.  The smile started to waver.

And so here I am, hoping that in the next 29 or so minutes, nothing else will go wrong (I'm hoping to head to bed at 9.30pm).  It's 9.01pm as I type.

Sticky teriyaki chicken and rice
Obviously none of these are very big things.  Far worse things happen to people every day.  These are just a few of the little trivialities that are sent to try us.  What doesn't kill us is supposed to make us stronger.  We shouldn't sweat the small stuff.  And yet those things are the things that are likely to send me ever so slightly potty.  I can deal with big crises like a swan on a pond.  Little disasters, and I tend to inwardly melt down - sometimes with a few exterior cracks showing all is not well inside.

But the premise of this blog is what's keeping me ticking along.  The anchoring feeling that before midnight, every day without fail, I will both cook something I've never cooked before (or at least try a new version of a recipe) and have sat and written about it.  Somewhere between bad thing #2 and #4 I had another moment when I thought 'I can't be bothered to do this.  It's trivial.  What's the point?  Nobody would really care if I gave up this blog'.  But over 150 posts in, I would care if I didn't make it to post 366 (or 369 based on the days I've double-blogged).

The husband asked me what I'll do once I've gotten to September 26th, 2012 and I've finished this self-imposed mission.  I hadn't thought about that.  Suddenly I'll have time on my hands again.  The energy will have to be channelled elsewhere because this blog is really a coping mechanism to get me from one day to the next some times.  So if anyone has any bright ideas, please feel free to make suggestions.  I've got another 211 days to think up something else.

In the meantime, back to food and today's recipe.  A quick chicken dish from the lovely Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy.  Beginning to love this book.  I don't have quite the same affection for it as I do for Short and Sweet and Mexican Cooking Made Easy.  Those two I love for their indulgence.  This I love for it's simplicity.  It's kind of like a Marguerite Patten for the modern age. Every home should have a copy.

Both the husband and I had chicken and rice tonight.  His was the usual baked chicken with Uncle Ben's rice.  Mine was sticky, salty-sweet and tangy with ginger and garlic; against a huge pile of soft white rice.  And even though his was 'convenience' food, mine cooked from scratch was still far quicker.

Definitely a make again for me.


Serves 4



  • 65g Soy Sauce (why weigh this and then measure the Mirin in ml????)
  • 80ml Mirin 
  • 50g soft light brown sugar 
  • 3 or 4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into large cubes 
  • 1 x 2cm piece of fresh ginger grated (I used lazy ginger)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • A small bunch of Spring Onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • A handful of Sesame Seeds, dry toasted in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes


  1. Put the brown sugar, mirin and soy sauce into a bowl and mix. Put to one side.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and fry in hot oil for two minutes. 
  3. Add the ginger and garlic to the chicken and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the sugar / mirin / soy sauce mixture and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.
  5. Add the spring onions and cook for two minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, add the sesame seeds and serve with rice and a green salad



Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Artichoke, lemon & Parmesan pasta

Conveniently, the husband's working this evening so he's exempt from having to try anything new.  It's a win-win situation.  I don't have to get stressed trying to find a new recipe he'll try.  He gets to eat cheese on toast for tea.

So tonight I went for a quick store cupboard supper for one.  The recipe is a BBC Good Food one, which is fast becoming my resource of choice for a quick fix dinner.
Spot the artichokes

It got me wondering about store cupboard suppers and if I'd've ever considered making this dish if I'd not been on this mission.  The answer to that is no.  Partly because I probably never would've had artichokes in my cupboard before.  And in all honesty, if I wanted a quick supper, I'd just go for a bowl of plain pasta with butter, Parmesan and black pepper or a couple of beautifully poached eggs on toast.

This really tasty and simple supper - it literally has only one step to the recipe (although that's depending on how you want to lay the instructions out) - has got me thinking though, that I'll make more of an effort to make my lazy dinners tasty and interesting.  But only on nights when the husband isn't about for tea.  Which will be about once a year.

Serves 2


Ingredients

  • 150 spaghetti
  • 100g marinated artichoke hearts , drained and sliced
  • 1 lemon , juiced and zested
  • 25g Parmesan (or vegetarian alternative) , finely grated
  • ½ small bunch basil , shredded
  • olive oil
  1. Cook the spaghetti following pack instructions. Put the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl with 1 tbsp olive oil, season really well and mix. Drain the pasta, keep 2 tbsp of the cooking water, then toss everything together.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Aldo Zilli's Pancake Tagliolini

Two years ago, I was stuck home on my second day of maternity leave.  I'd gotten it into my head that if I worked up until 38 weeks, I'd give birth a day or two later and all would be well with the world.  I was so rotund on my last day that my work colleagues were convinced that I would end up giving birth whilst stuck in the rush hour traffic on the A38 and naming the baby Filton.

Little did I know that it would actually take a further four weeks for her to put in an appearance.  Four very loooooong weeks.

I hate cleaning with a passion.  The husband spent most of my pregnancy not praying for the safe arrival of our unborn child, but that the nesting instinct would kick in.  The closest I got to nesting was watching back to back episodes of Location, Location, Location followed by A Place In The Sun and Come Dine With Me.  Interspersed with other foodie programmes.  I don't normally get to choose what's on the telly so this was my bit of self indulgence.

Amongst all this goggleboxing, I watched some programme or another where Aldo Zilli made Pancake Tagliolini.  I duly Googled the recipe and saved it to my favourites but I never got around to making it - until today.

In essence, it's just strips of pancake in orange sauce with some warm berry coulis and ice cream on the side.  It's very tasty.  But it's not really pancake day fayre - it's too poncey.  Pancake day is all about pancakes with lashings of lemon and sugar.  And nothing else.  Call me a 'Creature of Habit' or 'Old Skool' but pancake day is about proper pancakes.  And if I want something poncey, I'll go with Crepes au citron et sucre thank you very much.

Berry coulis
My favourite foodie destination (so far) is France because they cook perfect steaks, sell proper patisserie in service stations and make amazing pancakes.  As a child, I spent many summers in Brittany, home of the galette.  I haven't made them for a while, but we would regularly have galettes for dinner - stuffed with jambon, fromage, oeufs and champingnons.  Anywhere else in France, savoury pancakes are just regular pancakes with a savoury filling, but in Brittany, they are made from buckwheat flour which lends a beautiful, crisp, nutty flavour to the pancakes.  Sublime.

And if you're ever in London Town, and you love pancakes as much as I do, you should go to My Old Dutch  in Holborn - a favourite haunt of mine from my days working in the Big Smoke.  Here, you can get both sweet and savoury pancakes.  But not just any savoury pancakes.  How about Chicken Curry in your pancake?  Or Lamb Stew?  Or Marinated Artichokes, Sundried Tomatoes and Mozarella?  And their thirteen inch pudding pancakes served on beautiful Delft pottery plates are worth every calorie - and then some.

Multi-tasking
Anyhow, returning back to the pancake dish in hand, my only criticism of it was that the pancake batter was a little rubbery.  I guess this is so that it holds itself once cut into strips and then tossed about in the orange sauce.  It definitely wasn't a great pancake mix to eat as just pancakes.  I'm still on the search for the perfect pancake batter recipe.  Delia is not a contender and neither is Mr Zilli now.  Ah well, the research will be pretty tasty.

As I didn't have enough raspberries in, I made the coulis with a mix of strawberries and raspberries. It made for an interesting 'coulis' as it was more just warm, softened berries.  In my mind, a coulis is a sweetened, fruit puree but this one was warm and the seeds were left in.  And as I used strawberries, they didn't break up well enough, but it was really nice to have the contrasting texture with the raspberry sauce and the strawberry chunks against the soft pancake strips.

I served it all with a scoop of the strawberry meringue ice cream that I made with Miss A at the weekend.  Definitely a fun dinner party dish and great because you can prepare it all up front and just heat the sauces to serve.  Just on the right side of the 'I'll make it again' list.

Serves 4


For the pancakes:

  • 1 egg, medium size
  • 150 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 65 g plain flour


For the coulis:

  • 450 g fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 200 ml fresh orange juice
1. First make the pancakes. Break the egg into a jug and add the milk and half a tablespoon of oil and whisk together. 

2. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and gradually beat in the egg mixture to make a smooth batter. 

3. Heat a 17.5cm thick-based frying pan and wipe some of the oil all over the pan. Pour a quarter of the batter into the pan, swirling around to spread the batter. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the batter is set and golden on the base. 

4. Flip over and cook for a further 1-2 minutes. Place the pancake on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Repeat the process to make a further 3 pancakes. Thinly slice the pancakes in strips. 

5. For the coulis, place the raspberries in a saucepan with the brown sugar and simmer for 5 minutes until the raspberries break up to make a sauce. Set aside to cool. 

6. Meanwhile, place the caster sugar, butter and orange juice in a frying pan and heat gently until the sugar to dissolves then bring to the boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes until quite syrupy. 

7. Add the strips of pancake and stir into the sauce; cook for 1 minute. 



8. To serve, spoon the raspberry coulis onto 4 chilled serving plates and top with scoops of ice cream. Then spoon over the pancake tagliolini. Serve immediately.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Brandy Hot Toddy

Today, I've mostly been having a pity party for one.  I've had man flu.  And it's knocked me off my feet.  On top of that I have a husband who has 'real man flu' and a toddler with toddler flu so any chance of loafing around, resting and getting better was curtailed the minute the other two trumped me with their illnesses (even though I'm suffering the worst!)

The minute I get a cold, I get a chest infection, with a full-on sixty-a-day smokers cough (I've had one puff on a cigarette once in my thirty-something years) and sinus problems and for years, my beloved grandma used to dose me up with hot honey and lemon and glycerine.  I'm not sure it did anything, but there's something so comforting about that taste that to this day, I still drink it out of habit as soon as the first sniffle hits.  I don't even like honey, but it's all about the memory of being taken care of.

Ingredients. Finished product photo was boring!
Anyhoo, I had a rubbish night last night.  Both husband and child took it in turns to ensure I wasn't going to get any sleep.  I'm now running on empty for the sake of keeping up my daily missives (151 posts over 148 consecutive days - I've double-blogged three times).  Having been told by the chemist that they won't sell my husband any decent drugs - I only sent him for Sudafed for goodness sakes, but they acted like I'd sent him to ask for Crack and told me that I should just steam myself to oblivion  (I would if I had five minutes to myself once an hour!), I'm now testing a more traditional solution.

As my dear grandma would say, it's 'kill or cure'.  For someone who doesn't drink except for the odd sip on high days and holidays, I'm currently necking a brandy toddy.  I did try to eat today, but save for a Cadburys Flake (I had to beg the husband for this) everything tasted bland and made me feel a bit unwell so a drink for today's recipe was the only answer.  I was also recommended this course of action by the lovely @jboylie from Twitterville when I couldn't sleep at about 3am.  He's on to a winner here.  Thanks for the advice.  Hope you feel better soon!

Traditionally, a toddy is made from whisky, but all I had was some leftover brandy from the mincemeat I made at Christmas.  Thumbing through the hubby's copy of the Cocktail Bible, I happened across a recipe for a brandy toddy instead.  And it tastes pretty good.  I'm sure it's the honey, lemon and spices that mask the alcohol flavour.  I could quite get used to this alternative although my grandma would be horrified I'm turning to the bottle!

Not having a cinnamon stick (I used the last one at the weekend) I just went with grated nutmeg on the top which gave it a lovely wintry feel.

Definitely on the menu next time I get poorly!

Recipe - serves 1

  • 25ml brandy
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • half a lemon
  • small cinnamon stick
  • freshly grated nutmeg.


  1. Place the honey in the bottom of a cup and squeeze in the lemon juice and add the brandy.
  2. Fill the mug to halfway with boiling water.  Add the cinnamon stick and leave to steep for five minutes (or not if you've run out like I did).
  3. Grate nutmeg over the top and enjoy.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Cherry Viennese Whirls

Viennese whirls are my all time favourite biscuit. My mum used to make them on special occasions and if we were really lucky, she'd make Vienniese fingers with the ends dipped in plan chocolate.


Many recipe books call them Melting Moments, with some having a slightly higher flour content so you can mould the dough into balls and then flatten them slightly with the tines of a fork. I prefer the pretty, piped method. 


Although I'm happy with my own method, I was intrigued by the pretty red-tinged ones that Mary-Anne made on the Great British Bake Off.  I have the book, but you can also find the recipe on Mary-Anne's own blog.


The effect is achieved by painting a stripe of red gel food colouring down the side of a piping bag. This is where disposable piping bags come into their own as gel colouring is a b*gger to wash off anything. I had to spread my Wilton gel with a knife as it was too shock to paint with but you can see from the picture that it worked well.


A lack of forward planning meant I was light on time (the child got up from her nap and was hanging off my leg demanding to cook something) so just made regular buttercream for the filling.  I paired it with my favourite cherry jam which is a Polish brand called Mirabel that you can get in Lidl.  We don't have a Lidl close by so I rely on pilfering jars from my mum's cupboard when I go home (or asking my grandad to pop in and stock up on it for me).  It really is the best jam.  English jam is okay on scones under a pile of clotted cream, but anything I bake that's sweet, I like to have a sharp or salty contrast with.  The Polish jams do just that.  Even the 'Extra' fruit jams from companies like St Dalfour and the very tasty French jams just can't compete with these.  It's worth a trip to Lidls just to buy some.
Pretty pink biccies


The overall biscuits were lovely and crumbly and melt in the mouth.  I'm sure this is from the cornflour.  I really should've popped in a pinch of salt to lift the flavour (I always forget this when I use unsalted butter).  However, because I'm a traditionalist, I do prefer my own recipe because they're just like my mum used to make (I can't remember the last time she made them - it's high time she did!) As for the funky red effect - I think I'm going to adopt that as my own from now on.


Having just checked out the recipe on Mary Anne's blog, I note that the oven temp she gives is 20c more than they tell you in the book.  Or, maybe I misread it which is why mine took ages to cook and didn't brown!  Ah well.  They tasted okay.


Sadlly the picture is a bit rubbish.  It was hurried due to Miss A needing my attention with her own cooking activity and I've just realised I missed getting the jam and cream into the shot.  They're now packed away in a box ready to proffer to my work colleagues tomorrow and are so fragile, I don't want to unpack them again.  You'll have to use your imaginations!



Ingredients:  
250g Plain flour
60g Cornflour
60g Icing sugar
250g Unsalted butter at room temp.
1 tsp Vanilla extract.


Red Gel Food colouring 


For the filling:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g butter
  • 25ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • Maribel Cherry Jam (or other jam of your choice)

  1. For the biscuits: Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and mix together until pale and fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla extract and mix in.
  3. Sift the flour and cornflour, add to the butter mixture and mix well until smooth.
  4. Now, if you want, you can add a line of food colouring to the inside of a piping bag, this will pimp the biscuits up, or you can have them plain. 
  5. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle.
  6. Pipe circles of the mixture onto a baking paper lined baking tray. Pipe a circle of about 3-3.5cm diameter finishing in the centre and lifting the nozzle to form a small peak. Place each swirl at least an inch apart. You should get about 30 biscuits from the mixture at this size.
  7. Place the trays of biscuits in the freezer for 15-20 mins. This will help them hold their shape when baked.
  8. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c Fan
  9. Bake the biscuits for about 12 minutes until pale golden and turning very slightly brown at the edges.
  10. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Be gentle with them.
  11. For the filling: Beat the butter, vanilla bean paste and icing sugar together until it resembles sand.  Slowly pour in just enough milk until the mixture begins to combine into a smooth paste.
  12. Beat until light and fluffy then put into a piping bag and use to sandwich the biscuits together with a dab of jam.
Updated 10th June 2012 @ 20:55

I've decided to enter this into the June 2012 Alphabakes Challenge hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker.  I'd love to do another 'V' recipe but I'm on holiday later in the month so am making do with an oldie, but a goodie.



Saturday, 18 February 2012

Strawberry Meringue Ice Cream

My sous chef
My daughter is currently going through an obsession with 'I Can Cook' on CBeebies.  Before, she'd just watch whatever was on, but now we have to rely on Sky Plussed episodes of the Fragrant Katie and her band of merry helpers.  I feel like I've done nothing this past week but watch 'I Can Cook' (I've only seen about three episodes, but it feels like a hundred).  So I figured that alongside the weekly ritual of making some small biscuits or cake, we'd give the Strawberry Meringue Ice Cream a go.

Of course, it not being strawberry season, we stumbled at the first block with the strawberry mashing.  Miss A was given a large bowl, four strawberries cut in half and the potato masher.  They just got chased and chased around the bowl until I turned my back to whip the cream.  Less than thirty seconds later, the bowl was nearly empty and I had a suspicious looking toddler with strawberry juice running down her chin.  As fussy as she is, my daughter adores her fruit.

Broken whisk :(
We ended up squishing the strawberries by hand.  An activity in hindsight that I wouldn't do again as once frozen, the lumps were very icy.

During this escapade, my expensive (well £11) dishwasher-proof, hard-anodized-saucepan-safe whisk decided to fall apart.  Not a happy mummy.  Still, the cream was just about whipped.

I'm not sure if I'm a fan of no-churn ice-creams or not.  I've made them before from a recipe on the Good Food website.  The first time I made it, it was okay.  The second time, using the exact same recipe, I found it greasy.  Today's effort was a little greasy, but the fruit and meringue helped detract from it.  It was a rich, easy recipe that did what it said on the tin.

In essence, it's really just frozen Eton Mess.  With the mood I was in this morning, it was lucky to make it to the freezer.  The recipe says to freeze it for two hours and then temper in the fridge for half an hour.  I found it was still soft enough to scoop after two hours without the need to temper.
Finished ice cream with Waitrose choc chunks

All in all, not bad.  For a quick, simple, faff free ice-cream, I'd probably do it again if I didn't have time to nip to our local farm shop for some.  But in lieu of an ice cream maker (I'd so love a proper CuisineArt one), the next best thing to proper home made has to be Marshfield Farm ice cream which is made just down the road from here.  I'm not sure where it's stocked nationwide, but if they sell it near you you so have to try it.  Especially my favourite - blackcurrants and clotted cream.  Slurp!

As for Miss A's opinion?  She absolutely steadfastly refused to touch it.  But she ate the rest of the strawberries :)

Recipe - serves 2 to 4 (or one!)


  • 125ml double cream
  • 2 heaped dessert spoons natural yogurt
  • 2 level dessert spoons icing sugar
  • 4 large strawberries
  • 1 meringue nest or 4 mini meringues
  1. Whip the cream then stir in the yogurt and icing sugar.
  2. Mash the strawberries and crush the meringue.  Swirl through the cream mixture.
  3. Pour into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least two hours.
  4. Temper in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving (although you may not need to do this step)


Friday, 17 February 2012

Dan Lepard's Cheese and Black Pepper Buttons

Idling around this morning, trying to decide what bread recipe to bake on Sunday, I happened across this recipe in my copy of Short and Sweet.  Given that it's a Dan Lepard recipe and I unashamedly worship at the alter of his culinary genius (it's about the eighth Lepard recipe I've tried in the course of this blog - I aspire to many more before the year ends in September), I knew it would be a winner.

Mmmm....cheese.  Only 100g mind you!
Cheese and butter with a hint of garlic and lashings of black pepper.  A little flour to bind it all together.  Pretty much a savoury version of shortbread.  And the most cheesy baked product I've ever tasted.  Forget your cheese straws and cheese scones.  These are now my number one savoury snack.

I am ashamed to say, that I've eaten rather a lot of these little beauties.  They are moreish to the point of being addictive.  In fact, I'm sure I read somewhere that there are chemicals in cheese that can make it as addictive as a Class A narcotic.  If so, these biscuits are a prime example of that manifestation.

Oddly shaped balls...
The flavour is really intense.  I did wonder at first why they were so small.  Now I know.  There's only so much cheese taste you can take in one hit without feeling ever so slightly queasy.  But it didn't stop me from coming back for seconds.  And thirds...

They're great on their own and would be the perfect addition to any buffet table.  They'd make a good accompaniment to soup or other starters and light snacks (my mind is devoid of examples right now).

Lepard points out that parmesan and Cheddar or Double Gloucester (which I used) are only optional and to try different flavour combinations.  I worry that I'd be disappointed if I started to play with the cheese element.  But I can see these being great flavoured with other things.  I'm thinking bashed up crispy pancetta or maybe some poppy or black onion seeds.  I'll have fun experimenting!

Rustic buttons
Making them is simplicity in itself.  You beat the soft butter with the seasoning, mix in the cheese and flour and work into a soft dough.  Refrigerate for 30 mins and then mould into tiny balls, flatten them with your hand for the rustic look or a spatula to get a nice even finish.  I tried both methods but got bored having to peel them back off of the spatula, so rustic won the day.

I'm sure as an alternative you could roll out the dough and stamp nice, even circles but the re-rolling required to use up all the dough would probably end with it being really soft and sticky, what with the ludicrously high fat content from all the cheese and butter.

Luckily, the recipe has also been previously published in the Guardian so you can find it here.  I highly recommend trying these out.  You won't be disappointed.  Just make sure you exercise more self restraint than I did.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Pineapple with chilli and lime

Long day today.  Up for a run at 4am. At my desk by 6.30am. Flagging by 7.30am. Third cup of coffee at 7.58am.  On a bit of a general whinge today.  I have a mentor at work.  He's a great sounding board, although sometimes I feel like I'm getting cheap (free) therapy at the same time.  I assuage my guilt by ensuring he regularly receives cake.

The plan for today's recipe went out of the window when I got home to find a poorly toddler.  Takeaway was ordered.  Dammit.  I still have a recipe to make and a blog to write.  And a pineapple that had been earmarked for the poorly toddler who won't eat.

Leiths Simple Food seemed to be the answer.  Pineapple.  Check.  Chilli.  Check.  Lime.  Check.  Stock syrup - two parts water to one part granulated sugar.  Bought to the boil, simmered for a couple of minutes.  Check.
Pretty colours

Add the chilli to the stock syrup mixture before boiling.  Peel and slice the pineapple.  Once the stock syrup is ready, pour over the pineapple and then grate the lime zest on top.  Done.

Blog - in progress (at this point of typing).

Pudding.  Eaten.  Verdict?  I think it would've been better warming the pineapple through in the syrup.  Wasn't a fan of the warm syrup and cold pineapple combination.  Would've been far better if it was all the same temperature.  Chilli and lime with pineapple.  Nice!  Very tropical.

Job done!  See you tomorrow!

PS: Picture won't upload.  Will update tomorrow although it's a bit of pineapple with green and red bits - nowt to get too excited about.  But I NEED SLEEP and can't wait for it to upload any longer.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Spaghetti with 'Spanish' flavours

This oddly named recipe is courtesy of BBC Good Food.  I don't really understand what's wrong with calling it Spaghetti with Chorizo and Peppers?  Because that's all it is in essence.

Life is busy with the candle being fully burnt at both ends.  I feel I barely have time to breathe some days with juggling a full time job, motherhood, wifehood, running and this cooking blog nonsense.  Tomorrow I'm having to get up at 4am to fit in a five mile run so I can still be at work by 7am, work til 5pm then home for another round of bedtime, dinner and blogging.  And they call this Women's Lib?  I guess thirty years ago (excluding the technological advantages) I wouldn't have been able to have the satisfaction of gradually trying a new recipe every day as the resources just wouldn't have been there.  I'm only in the privileged position to do this because I work full time.

Anyway, enough with the self pity.  To me, spaghetti should always be served alla ragu (or with a bit of Bol) or with rather tasty meatballs.  Failing that, it makes an excellent snack simply buttered with lashings of black pepper and parmesan.  You can keep your carbonara.  It just doesn't do it for me.

But as I'm running tomorrow, I wanted a quicky, tasty pasta dish to sustain me as I won't eat when I get up in the morning.  Or at least that's my excuse.  It's carb-loading, okay?

So I turned to BBC Good Food to help me make something out of the limited contents of my fridge and larder (two days to Ocado arrive and counting!).  And this was what I got.  A tasty pasta dish that was quick to make (and sadly even quicker to eat).  I used dried pasta.  I didn't have fresh parsley so used Garden Gourmet.  I think this is the one bit that could be improved on by using real herbs as you just didn't get those little parsley flavour spikes like you would with the real thing.

This will now be my new quick pasta dish of choice for evenings when I want to pack in the carbs but don't have hours to cook - and can't convince the hubby that it's good to have Spag Bol for the third time in under a week.  As for the flavours being Spanish?  Well it tasted of smoked paprika from the chorizo so I guess it can just about get away under the trades description act.  But only just.

You can find the recipe here

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Updated: Rhubarb and Almond Loaf

Here it is, Valentine's day.  And am I baking for my beloved? Am I heck!

My master plan was to do one of those Dine for a Tenner things (we're not posh enough to have a M&S out here in the sticks).  So all the hubby had to do was take plastic lids off of things, stick them in the oven and arrange them on a plate.

Unfortunately, my first mistake was to assume he wasn't even capable of making it to the shops to purchase said food.  I stocked up on Sunday.  Got home.  He got grumpy and then finally showed me the note in his iPhone reminding him to go out and forage for an M&S meal today (I'm still not quite sure what he would've done when he realised our closest branch is now in Bristol).  So he wanted nothing to do with unwrapping the food I got in Sainzlebobs.  He was happy enough to eat it and even happier to down the bottle of red by himself, but cooking it?  No way.

Pretty pink swirls in the batter
Anyhow, it meant that for once I got a vaguely decent meal without having to cook.  This of course then left me with the dilemma that I hadn't tried a new recipe today.  So my lucky lucky work colleagues are being treated again tomorrow with emergency cake, purely because of this now silly challenge I set myself.


I'd decided on either Melting Moments from the GBBO book (I adore Viennese Whirls and wanted to try the pretty red-tinged ones that Mary-Anne made) or the Hummingbird Bakery Rhubarb and Almond Loaf from Cake Days.  I offered my project manager the choice and he plumped for the rhubarb, citing that it will give him one of his five a day tomorrow.

And in an interesting spooky turn of events, I was twittering away with my good twitter chum @DickyBundock and it turned out that we were both making exactly the same cake today.  Small world!  And to make things seem even more spooky, out of all the recipes she could have chosen, our lovely twitter buddy @KateSelwood1 also picked a Hummingbird recipe today.  If you're on Twitter, give them both a follow.  They are both lovely tweeps - if a little uncontrollable at times ;o)xx

It's an interesting bake.  The compote is very runny.  Whether it's because of the type of rhubarb that I used or something, but I was expecting slightly firmer chunks.  It's also far paler than the rhubarb in the book (although I expect the picture has been photoshopped) so I have a feeling when I cut into it, it won't have the lovely pink marbled effect which will be a shame.

Ready to feed the hoardes
There was a lot of leftover compote as well.  Which isn't a problem as I love it on my porridge in the morning.  I even used more than the recipe said and still had loads left.  I gave a tiny taster to the child and now 'RooBAH' is Miss A's favourite fruit.  Or is it a vegetable?

Judging the cooking time was also hard because with the rhubarb swirled through the middle, trying to tell whether the skewer is damp from uncooked cake mix or just because it's hit the rhubarb motherlode proved difficult.  Even after an hour and fifteen minutes (20% more cooking time) it still had a soggy bottom.  As pretty as the swirled effect is, next time, I'd consider putting a small layer of just cake mix in the bottom of the tin before swirling the rhubarb through the rest in the hope that the bottom was a bit more stable.

The sponge tastes really great with the cinnamon and ginger giving it a lovely spicy note, but I have a feeling that this will detract from the taste of the ground almonds in the batter and the almonds sprinkled on the top.  Of course, this is the problem with large cakes.  You can't taste test them in advance if proffering them as a psuedo-gift to someone.

So I await my project manager's feedback.  I have my personal development review coming up next Monday so I will be interested to see if my baking skills have improved this past year.  Oh and whether I'm any good at what I'm paid to do too.  There's a fair bit riding on this cake so wish me luck!

Update: 15th Feb 2012 - well I was disappointed when I cut into the cake.  Nary a trace of pink, unlike the (probably over photoshopped) picture in the book.  Wondering if it's because the rhubarb is early season forced rhubarb?

I did read another blog about this loaf where the baker faced the same problem with the lack of pink inside. She suggested adding red food colouring to the rhubarb next time.  I don't think I'd go that far personally.  Would rather have a natural looking cake with pale colours than one that looks like it's dripping blood :)

It also wasn't tart enough for me so next time I'd reduce the sugar in the compote, but that's personal taste.

Saying that, my project manager said he really liked it.  I'm rubbish at taking compliments and blustered on about how I was unhappy with it and he said 'well I'm a man who just likes cake, I'm not fussy so what would I know?'  I think he's afraid that if he ever disses one of my cakes I won't ever bring another one in....

Recipe

2lb loaf tin, greased and dusted with flour

Ingredients:

for the stewed rhubarb
  1. 5 long stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 2cm pieces
  2. 70g sugar
  3. 20g butter
  • Place the rhubarb together with the sugar and butter in a large saucepan, add 50ml water and cook on a medium heat until the rhubarb is soft. Set aside and let cool. 
for the cake
  • 190g butter, softened
  • 140g plain flour
  • 190g sugar
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 25ml milk
  • 50g flaked almonds
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C Fan) 325°F or Gas mark 4.
  2. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and cream with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well incorporated. Scrape down the sides after each addition to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, almonds, ginger and cinnamon together.
  5. Add half of this mixture to the batter and mix well until combined.  Add half the milk and mix until well combined.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Swirl 100g of the rhubarb through the batter.
  7. Pour into the prepared tin.
  8. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and bake for about 50-60 minutes.
  9. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out the cake on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Greek-Style Calamari

Today's recipe comes from a book called EatWellLiveWell with Gluten Intolerance which I bought from Holland and Barrett.  A few years back, the husband went to one of those Chinese herbalist places and they decided his general malaise was best treated with a really expensive cocktail of stewed forest floor sweepings.  Which smelt and tasted disgusting.  On top of that he should follow a wheat-, dairy-, tomato- and taste-free diet.
The stuffing

I spent weeks trying to perfect bread that lasted more than thirty minutes before going rock hard and didn't crumble the minute you tried to cut it.  We were introduced to the single gluten-free delight of Black Farmer sausages.  And I bought several recipe books on the subject, all of which are much thumbed but never used because the husband won't entertain anything containing pulses, fish, or vegetables and if there was a chicken dish he might eat, he'd only eat it with two slices of real bread which kind of defeated the object.

So in the original spirit of this blog, I decided I should at least try a few of the recipes myself.  The first being the afore-mentioned calamari.

Now I've only ever eaten my calamari deep fried and usually with a huge pile of aioli on the side.  One of my favourite tapas dishes.  Along with patatas bravas.  And the Spanish equivalent of Melanzane Parmiagana.  And those little meatball things.  And tortilla.  And mini paellas.  Okay, okay, I love tapas already!  Anyhow, this appealed as it was something different with squid.

Squid always reminds me of my first proper date with the husband.  The first time I spent the evening with him, he cooked for me at home (chicken dusted in flour and chargrilled chicken spice then fried served with pasta tossed in pesto; no pudding) because he spun me a line about how it was nicer we could sit in and talk to each other rather than sharing a restaurant with loads of other people.  In hindsight, I now reckon this is because he's 'discerning' in what he eats.

The next night, we went out to an Italian in Richmond-upon-Thames.  I ordered calamari for my starter.  It never occurred to me that the then boyfriend-to-be would baulk at the idea.  Nor that I too would end up baulking at my starter.  Because this was the first time I'd been served whole baby calamari.  Tentacles, eyeballs and all.  Deep-fried with a pile of garlicky aioli on the side.  I wanted to throw up.  Or at the very least hide them in my handbag.  But of course, wanting to make a good impression with the posh Tory Boy-type (or so I thought) who was wining and dining me in Richmond, I soldiered on and ate every last rubbery one.

The finished calamari (scuse the crap in the background!)
Months later when it had become increasingly evident that the husband has a limited palate, I broached the subject of the calamari.  "I couldn't believe you ate those" said he. "I nearly didn't ask you on a third date because I thought you were some strange freak for eating squid brains.  I wanted to throw up"  Ah, the things we do for love!

Anyhow, Ocado (or Waitrose - can't remember which) sell frozen squid tubes which I figured was more convenient than having to faff around and go to the fish mongers.  I'm not sure whether it was the cooking or the freezing of said squid that made it a little rubbery.  Or if it was just a rubbery squid in the first place.  But it has a weird and very firm texture that I didn't really warm to.  I've had 'regular' calamari with the same texture before and often wondered if it was the cooking method or that some calamari are just tougher than others.  Like how you sometimes get a tough bit of chicken or beef, no matter how carefully you cook it.

As for the filling, it was pretty tasteless.  The recipe didn't mention seasoning the stuffing or the sauce with salt and pepper.  It really needed it.  The delicate apricot flavour was overpowered by the rich tomato sauce.  In fact, the stuffing was completely devoid of taste if eaten with the sauce, but alone, the delicate herbs, onions and pine nuts came through.  The lemon zest and apricot still didn't.


This one is probably something that if I was a fan of squid, I'd experiment with.  But it didn't even make my world tremble enough to make me want to try it again.  I wish my world had been rocked.

Recipe - Serves 4

1kg cleaned squid tubes

Stuffing

  • 2tsp olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 250g cold, cooked basmati rice
  • 4tbsp pine nuts
  • 4tbsp finely chopped dried apricots
  • 2tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten


Sauce

  • 400g tinned tomatoes (the recipe uses fresh but this is too faffy for a school night for me)
  • 2tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3tbsp good-quality red wine
  • 1tbsp chopped oregano



  1. Preheat the oven to 160c.  To make the stuffing, mix together all of the stuffing ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Wash the squid tubes and pat dry inside and out with paper towels.   Three-quarters fill each squid tube with the stuffing.  Secure the ends with toothpicks or skewers.  Place in a single layer in a casserole dish.
  3. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan.  Add the onion and garlic and cook over a low heat for two minutes or until the onion is soft.  Ad the tomatoes, wine and oregano and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for ten minutes.  I would advise seasoning to taste with a tsp of brown sugar and salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Pour the hot sauce over the squid, cover and bake for 20 minutes or until tender.  Remove the toothpicks before cutting into thick slices for serving.  Spoon the sauce over the top just before serving.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Updated: Weekly Bake Off Apple and Almond Dessert Cake

After saying I wasn't playing earlier this week, I decided to make a last minute entry into the Weekly Bake Off.  The main reason being that because I was a complete and utter numpty on Friday night when I was making marmalade and used up an entire bag of caster sugar, and then didn't replace it when I went to Sainslebob's this morning, I couldn't make the rhubarb and almond loaf I'd planned for today.  My work colleagues will be disappointed tomorrow!

So how did I manage to make a cake without sugar?  Well mes amis, I made today's entry with Xylitol.  And very nice it was too.  What's Xylitol, I hear you cry?  Well it sounds like some nasty chemical sweetner, but in fact it's a natural sugar substitute, extracted from the skins of fruit and vegetables.  It is used in many 'sugar free' products and is a marketed as a good alternative 'sweetener for those with diabetes and hyperglycemia'.

It has a lower Glycemic Index (GI) than regular sugar, coming at 13 for Xylitol vs 60-65 for standard sugar meaning the familiar cake sugar rush is more subdued.  It also has roughly one-third less calories than normal sugar, making it a good option for dieters.

I'd been aware of its use in things like sugar-free gum and mints, but never realised that it was a totally natural product until I read about it being used in cakes on the BBC Good Food website the other day.

The husband is diabetic and has the world's sweetest tooth.  Sweet stuff causes him all manner of problems which is why my work colleagues are treated to my baked goodies so often.  So I decided to buy some Xylitol and give it a go.

It's not cheap at £2.79 for 225g - enough for one large cake because you literally substitute it gram for gram with sugar.  I've tried baking with fruit sugar before with mixed results so I was naturally a little sceptical for this cake, but in the spirit of trying new things, I went ahead.

Low GI cake :)
And I was really pleased with the final cake.  It rose just like it should - it was helpful to see the other bake off entries to confirm I had a comparable rise.  As for taste, I found the cake a little sweet but that could just be the way everyone else's cakes are anyway.  I would've liked my apples a little tarter - but you can't control that in a cake.

All in all, a pretty good cake.  Not sure how it would be cold, but it's great slightly warm with creme fraiche or ice cream.  Just the thing to have after a big fat Sunday roast dinner - but in our house, it came after the usual chicken tikka.

Not had the husband's verdict yet.  He announced earlier, in total seriousness, that the rice krispie cakes that I'd made with Miss A this afternoon were far nicer than any other cakes I've ever made.  Miss A wasn't even round at the time so it wasn't like he was paying her a compliment.  Whilst I have a soft spot for krispie cakes, there really is no accounting for some people's tastes.  Another reason why my work colleagues often get cake - they're so complimentary.

Another good bake - but then it's from Dame Mary Berry so why wouldn't it be??

Updated - 13th Feb 2012 - Just a side note on the xylitol thing.  Apparently (I now have proof of this) it can cause a bit of belly-aching if consumed in large-ish quantities.  This only happens in a small percentage of people and apparently disappears over time after the body becomes used to it.  The husband was absolutely fine on that score so it's obviously just me.

It's also not good for dogs and can cause hypoglycemia in them so make sure you don't leave your cake where your four-legged friends can partake of a slice or several.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Updated: Skinny Peanut Butter and Banana Bars

You win some, you lose some.  And for me, this recipe is definitely a lose.  A couple of weeks ago I was in conversation with another blogger about writing a guest series of posts.  The series had to have a theme to it and I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and what my first recipe would be.

Doing a bit of idle research a little later, I happened across this recipe which I hoped would be an inspiration for my first post.  I had really been looking forward to giving it a go but days turned into weeks and suddenly nearly a month has passed without me making it.

Today, however, despite the husband insisting on an impromptu shopping trip (I'm rubbish at shopping in company), I still found time to finally whip up a batch of these healthy little treats.

And I wish I hadn't bothered.  The ingredient list had it all.  Nuts, oats, honey (I substitued maple syrup), brown sugar, spices, rice krispies, peanut butter, chocolate.  And still less than 150 cals per piece.  Bargain.

Ugly blighters didn't photograph well...
I even got a kick out of using my finally procured set of measuring cups - I hate American recipes the way they measure everything in cups.  Is it a tightly packed cup or a loose cup?  I know it's a throw back to the days before scales were invented.  But seriously?  With baking being such a precision art, surely in this day and age you would think that scales would be the order of the day.  But thanks to Sainsburys, I have my own set of cups, thus opening up a whole new world of recipes to me.

The end result had a disappointingly soggy bottom.  I know not why.  I followed the recipe.  It said they'd be moist and chewy.  Which they were.  But the bottoms are resolutely banana-soggy.  I don't see the point of the puffed rice as the sog from the bananas has obliterated it.

I think it's something that I might become accustomed to if I ever get my sorry backside back on the diet wagon (severe relapse into piggy-hood this week in response to a ridiculous bout of endometriosis pain - won't go near the scales for at least two weeks now!)

I was looking for a healthy snack.  I think I'd rather stick the component parts (minus the egg whites) into a little tub and just eat them as they come rather than all mushed up and cooked together.  Instead, I shall just stick with my rather over-priced little Graze snack pots that arrive through my door on a weekly basis.  I've now fallen in love with the giant plain chocolate buttons that ocassionaly find their way through my letter box.  There's something rather decadent about eating chocolate in amongst all the healthy snacks that they send you.  And not that I've been paid for this, but if you use this code (2DF7LP8D), you can get a free Graze box from them.

If you do want to give the recipe a go, then you can find it here.

Personally, I'd rather stick with the Guilt Free Brownies.

Update 13th Feb 2012 - well after dissing these little bars, I did a 9.5 mile run yesterday morning.  Came in, the child was awake so after a quick shower and change, I got up and into a round of making everyone breakfast, whilst slowly expiring from lack of carbs myself.  So I picked up one of these and honestly, it is the best post-run food ever!  Exactly what the doctor ordered with the combination of carbs and fast and slow release sugars and protein (bananas, peanut butter, brown sugar etc).  Going to try to refine the recipe and maybe drop the bananas as I wasn't a fan of the strong banana taste.  They're down, but definitely not out!
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