We tend to go through different little food fads in our house. A while ago it was home made pizzas, then it was a gazillion iterations of coconut based curries, and now we’re addicted to empanadas. Think of empanadas as delicious little spiced Cornish pasties. You’ll find them all over Latin America and Spain, stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. I tend to fill mine with a dry-ish version of my normal chilli mixture. If you want to go all technical and make proper Chilean empanadas de pino, you’ll need to add raisins, chopped boiled eggs and olives, which, as you can imagine is a stretch too far for the fussier ones in my family, so I stick to a spicy minced beef filling. The dough for these deliciously simple empanadas is fab: really easy to work with and really forgiving – no resting necessary.
I had some pastry left over after wildly overestimating the amount I was going to need for an apple tart, and decided to try my hand making some mini Bakewell tarts. I kid you not, these babies are delicious and were completely demolished in less than five minutes. If you want to go all Mr Kipling, feel free to slather them in really thick icing. I prefer just a drizzle and – of course – a cherry!
Breakfast on a weekday can be a bit of a rushed affair. I don’t generally even bother with breakfast, but if we do anything it will be a quick piece of toast or bowl of cereal. On the weekends, though, we really like to take our time and do a proper family late breakfast/brunch. Often this will be bacon and eggs or pancakes and syrup, but my absolute favourite is our vanilla French toast. The lovely chaps at Prestige sent me one of their fab Dura Forge square grill pans, so I thought it was about time I shared my recipe (it’s not a difficult one, but I have a certain way of doing it) and tried out my swanky new pan at the same time.
I love it when my birthday comes round and I get to make exactly the cake I want. I’ve been planning this chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel icing for a while as I’m a bit obsessed with everything salted caramel at the moment and knew I wanted to make this frosting (icing? I never know what to call it). You can buy the tins of caramel ready made now, which saves you boiling a tin of condensed milk for three hours the old fashioned way and risking first degree burns into the bargain. Take it easy when you’re salting the caramel icing. Start off with a little bit of salt and keep tasting until you get the required balance of sweet/savoury. Too little and it’s just caramel icing, but then too much and the whole cake will taste salty and yucky. This chocolate fudge cake recipe is SO easy – I’m not claiming it as my own, sadly, as I’m pretty sure I copied it down from a magazine years ago, but it’s one I make a lot and it always comes out soft, moist and delicious. I recommend using muscovado sugar as it has the proper, fudgy taste, but use whatever you have.
As the parents of two young lads, one of the charities very close to our hearts is Centre Point, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity. Centre Point has recently launched a new fundraising initiative, The Big Broth. It’s a competition to find a new and exciting soup recipe. The winning recipe will be put into production by Yorkshire Provender this autumn with 20p from every pot sold going straight back into funding Centre Point’s work with the young homeless in London and other major UK cities. The competition closes very soon (end of this month) and they’re keen to get as many entries in as possible, so if you have a favourite soup recipe, please please take five minutes to enter the competition. It’s such a worthy cause. I’ve entered our new favourite, a slow cooked chicken leg soup which is deliciously warm and tasty, perfect for chilly days or to perk up anyone feeling under the weather.
You know I absolutely love baking, and one of the recipes I’ve been trying to perfect for ages is for proper American style double chocolate muffins. American style muffins tend to be denser and less sweet than cupcakes, and I wanted to make ones that really erupt out of the case like the muffins you buy in bakeries in America. After a fair bit of twiddling, I’m pretty sure I’m there with this one. Oil definitely seems to work better than butter (no, me neither), and as usual with muffins, you need to remember the golden muffin rule: wet into dry and mix as little as you can possibly get away with to avoid developing the gluten (nobody wants a tough muffin). Don’t use huge muffin cases either – you want to fill the cases about 2/3 full so you get the proper volcano-erupting shape.
This week, we had a very special delivery. I’m one of those really sad people who always gets excited when the postie knocks, and this week it was completely justified as we got cake in the post! I know! Meg Rivers is an artisan bakery from the Cotswolds who send all sorts of delicious goodies by post, and they very kindly sent me one of their fabulously retro cherry cakes. It’s deliciously moist, studded with glistening red glacé cherries and a lovely texture too. It’s one of the cakes that they send out as part of the Meg Rivers Cake Club (I mean, forget beauty boxes, I’d much rather get a monthly cake, wouldn’t you?), the perfect pressie and just in time for Mother’s Day too.
One of my biggest challenges is finding things to cook on those days where I’m just rushed off my feet. Often, especially if I’m working on something I’m really enjoying, the boys or Mr E will walk through the door and I’ll realise that I haven’t even had any lunch, let alone worked out what’s for tea. I think it’s really important to have a stock of a few store cupboard essentials that will enable you to quickly whip up a couple of simple, nutritious meals without thinking too hard about it. When Princes sent me the video (see below) for the Moroccan mackerel rice, I couldn’t wait to give it a go – it literally is ready in minutes, and it’s delicious too. I’ve found myself making it quite often for a quick and easy lunch, and we’ve experimented with several of the varieties (my favourite is still the mackerel fillets in a Moroccan style sauce with apricot purée though). The mackerel is skinless and boneless and available in some delicious sauces, so all you have to do is find some quick carbs and veggies to go with it, et voila. Princes also challenged me to come up with my own quick and easy dish using Princes Mackerel. This spiced vegetable, coconut and mackerel stew is warm and comforting and as it’s all made in one saucepan there’s minimal washing up too. I often make this when I’ve got leftover veggies to use up: it’s great with potato, broccoli and carrots too.
I never know how I feel about recipe boxes. I’ve had some good, and I’ve had some very, very bad (think teeny portions and an absolute ton of unnecessary packaging to get rid of). Recently Waitrose have joined the (dinner) party by launching their own recipe box delivery service. Cook Well from Waitrose delivers fresh, portioned ingredients straight to the door. All the meals are approved by a Waitrose nutritionist and most have at least two of your five fruit and veg a day. There’s quite a decent range of dishes, including a range of vegetarian and pescatarian recipes as well as meat options. Waitrose very kindly asked me if I’d like to give Cook Well a go, so I chose three dishes to try out. Here’s how I got on.
You may remember a little while ago, I told you about my favourite little gadget, the Breville Blend Active Pro. It’s perfect for smoothies, purées and sauces because it’s small and neat, but I’ve often thought how nice it would be to have a bit of a bigger receptacle (is that the right word?) so I could use it for soups and stuff like that without having to haul out my enormous blender/liquidiser. Well, happy days are here, because there’s now a fab new Blend Active accessory pack which includes a whole bunch of attachments that allow it to do loads more stuff: whip cream, process larger amounts of food, grind herbs, and even juice fruit! Breville set me a little challenge to come up with a delicious hummus recipe using the Blend Active Pro and new accessory pack, and I had great fun playing with flavours. I think you’ll like this Moroccan spiced hummus with spiced roasted chickpeas – and I’m still thinking about ways to make it even more delicious (see notes at the end).
What if I told you I’d got a recipe for the floofiest pancakes you’re every likely to make, AND that the secret behind them is cheaty, home-made buttermilk, AND that you can make them all in advance, keep them warm in the oven and they don’t even sink a teeny, tiny bit? I know, right? Feeling pretty smug right now. So, quick sciencey bit: buttermilk is more acidic than normal milk (it’s also thicker, making your batter less runny) so using buttermilk in your pancakes (and indeed scones or whatever) means that there’s more acid to react with the baking soda, therefore making more bubbles and making the pancakes lighter and fluffier. See? It’s not magic, it’s science. But I never remember to buy buttermilk, so I use the next best thing: normal milk soured with lemon juice and left at room temperature for a couple of minutes. It works in exactly the same way and will give you the perfect, fluffy pancakes. Want the recipe? Read on!
When I’m cooking for the family, my intention is always to nourish (I know, I’m just so new age). I want to choose foods that will fill our bodies full of good things, so that kind of excludes all the delicious stuff like cakes and biscuits, right? Well, maybe, but sometimes you just really need a biscuit with your cup of tea, so I started to think about creating a little sweet treat that still has some good stuff in it. Oats are so good for you: a great source of fibre as well as lots of important vitamins and minerals, and oat bran is high in protein (although if the taste of bran is too ‘knit your own yoghurt’ for you, feel free to replace it with wholemeal or rye flour instead). I’ve tried to keep the butter to a minimum by adding banana (but hey, I’m a fan of full-fat dairy) and they’re not too heavy on the sugar either, so if you’re desperate for a sweet treat, why not reach for one of these cookies instead of that packet of biscuits? If you’re calorie counting they come in at about 120 kcal each which isn’t bad for a nice, fat cookie. I’m not going to go so far as to say they’re healthy, but let’s call them healthier oat and cranberry cookies instead.
Picture the scene: it’s Friday night, we’ve both had a hectic week and we’re slumped, finally, in front of the TV, bra off (me), joggers on (him), and both boys out with friends. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to head out to dinner together, just the two of us. We discuss options and various restaurants we quite fancy, but it would mean getting dressed and putting make up on and driving/taxis and whatever and there’s a good film we both fancy on the telly, and delicious wine in the rack. What to do? We don’t have the luxury of many takeaways that deliver here, plus that option can be expensive (and frankly not always great), and although I love to cook, sometimes the thought of getting creative in the kitchen when I just want to chat and sip wine with Jim while we catch up after a busy week means I’d love an easier, but still delicious alternative. This week we’ve been trying The Supper Club range, a collection of premium luxury ready meals new to Sainsbury’s, so we popped the Red Thai Chicken Curry in the oven instead.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I know many people will be thinking about booking a restaurant table for a romantic dinner for two. I do know, though, that going out on Valentine’s Day isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Restaurants are extra busy and there’s too much pressure to be ‘romantic’ while everyone’s looking, too! Plus, Mr E and I have been together for about a gazillion years, so I think the need to impress me has long gone. Still, I want to cook a gorgeous dinner for him, and I’ve been looking at the new M&S food to order products, where you can find some interesting cuts of meat that you’d normally have to order from your butcher, plus some great ideas for reluctant cooks, plus of course, delicious desserts.
One of the challenges that many students seem to face when they first move away from home is finding inspiration for decent, cheap meals. It’s not just inspiration that’s the problem either: obviously they’ve got a limited budget and they’re probably not used to supermarket shopping either (let alone on a budget), so they’re overwhelmed with the price and choice of food and end up sticking to the same two or three things that they know how to cook (or blowing a week’s budget on Domino’s then eating beans on toast at the end of the month). I promised Charlie I’d start to write up a few simple, quick and – most importantly – healthy recipes that he can refer to, so I came up this easy veggie lentil chilli for him, but honestly, we liked this one so much I’ve been making it about once a week. I serve it with brown rice and top with a handful of salad, sour cream or avocado. It’s also delicious served with sausages (veggie or otherwise). Read more
If you’ve ever looked at recipes on Pinterest, you’re bound to have seen those ‘three ingredient brownies’ recipes that use just chocolate spread, eggs and flour, right? I keep meaning to have a go at cooking them, I mean they look like they work, don’t they? And then a lovely friend of mine gave me the heads up about Jim Jams – a chocolate spread with 83% less sugar than Nutella, and I thought – wait, then that would be three ingredient brownies with a fraction of the sugar, and well, being January and all about the healthier choices, I gave them a go.
- Deliciously simple empanadas April 26, 2018
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida April 24, 2018
- Weekend wishlist: chic dressing for sunny days April 21, 2018
- News: Virgin Holidays and North America’s first dolphin sanctuary April 19, 2018
- Discovering the Caribbean on board Viking Sea April 17, 2018