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.
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.
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).
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
I really enjoy writing this round-up post – traditionally my last one before Christmas. I probably say more or less the same thing every year (don’t panic! It’s just a big roast dinner), but as usual, remember that it’s your Christmas too. Grab a few willing helpers to make some Christmas cookies, or whip up some of my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate and have a little prep-party on Christmas Eve (it’s amazing how much you can get done the night before). Need a little inspiration? Read on for my top tips and recipes for Christmas dinner and beyond: fresh ideas, old favourites and more!
One of my favourite things about Christmas is entertaining. I’m never happier than when there are guests at our table, and the house is filled with the sounds of chinking glasses and chatter. I was delighted, then, when Waitrose asked me to share one of my favourite recipes for easy Christmas entertaining. In our house, we traditionally invite friends and family over for dinner on Boxing Day. It’s a great way to relax and unwind after the big day, and I tend to make a huge ‘Boxing Day pie’ using leftover turkey and ham, then just serve it simply with mashed potato and steamed veg. Of course, you don’t have to wait until Boxing Day – this pie is just as delicious using chicken instead of turkey, and it can be made well in advance and kept in the fridge ready to pop into the oven. Here’s how to make my festive pie:
I’ve been writing about cooking Christmas dinner on this blog for ten years, can you believe that? When you’re thinking about cooking Christmas dinner (or indeed lunch) for everyone, it can seem a bit daunting, but I always say that it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and if you think about it like that, and make sure you’re really well prepared, it’s a piece of cake. The lovely team at Crisp ‘n Dry (remember I worked with them when they sponsored RNLI Fish Suppers?) have asked me to share my top tips and cook a little practice Christmas dinner – a ‘Crisp ‘n Dry run’ if you will – geddit?!), to show you that with a little love (and Crisp ‘n Dry), your ordinary Christmas dinner can really become the ultimate festive feast. Here are my top five tips for planning the perfect Christmas dinner.
I absolutely adore making a roast dinner on a Sunday, but another favourite of ours is this delicious slow cooked beef and red wine stew with dumplings. Sunday dinners can sometimes be quite labour intensive, but this one is so easy: once you’ve done a quick bit of browning off, the whole thing goes back in the oven until you add the dumplings, and then you’re basically on the home stretch. I love to add some fresh (or dried) herbs to the dumplings, and serve it with either piles of creamy mash, or one of our new favourites, these delicious, sage scented sweet potatoes. I prefer to use veggie suet in my dumplings as it gives a much lighter, fluffier texture than if you use butter, but of course feel free to use whatever you like. This stew also makes the perfect filling for a pie too. Perfect for a chilly autumn evening.
Finally there’s a chill in the air and even a touch of frost on the ground! Autumn weekends for me mean roast dinners and especially roast lamb. Of course, mint goes perfectly with lamb, as does anything a little sweet, and this slow roasted lamb shoulder with a sticky mint glaze – a little twist on my slow roasted lamb in sloe gin – uses mint jelly to create a delicious, sticky coating to make sweet, meltingly soft, falling-apart, no carving required, slow roasted lamb. Look out for jars labelled apple and mint jelly or just mint jelly (not mint sauce) in the supermarket. You can make your own (my Mum would be the expert here – I’ll have to ask her) but it involves straining, and frankly I feel life’s a bit short to tackle anything that involves muslin on a weekend. For the potatoes, use a whole bulb of garlic and just press on it gently with the heel of your hand to separate the cloves. Discard the very papery bits but don’t bother peeling them. I like to use large baking potatoes for my roasties. Allow one per person plus a couple of extra if you’re big eaters like my fellas.
Last week I was in San Diego (I know! I’ve got loads to tell you about it – coming very soon), and one of the meals we all completely loved was a visit to Galaxy Taco in La Jolla. San Diego is really close to the border with the Baja Californian Peninsula, so it makes sense that a lot of the cuisine has a Mexican influence. I loved my beef taco but had massive food envy for the crispy fish tacos that a couple of the others had ordered. The fish has a Baja spiced crispy coating and is served on soft tacos with a zingy tomato salsa laced with green chilli and heavenly fresh guacamole. I decided to recreate the dish for the boys when I got home and this is the result – I’m sure it’s not 100% authentic – especially the spicing, but it tastes pretty good! If you read my last post, you’ll know that Crisp ‘n Dry are supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper fundraising event this weekend and I thought that a whole bunch of these yummy Baja fish tacos with fresh tomato salsa and guacamole on the side would be perfect if you’re joining in (more of that on my creamy fish pie recipe here).
Many of you will know that Mr E is a helicopter pilot. For many years, he flew helicopters over the North Sea, based in Aberdeen and because of that, we’re always huge supporters of the RNLI whose crews work tirelessly to rescue people and save so many lives (including those of 12 oil workers and two pilots who ditched in their helicopter about 30 miles off the Aberdeen coast in 2012). Did you know that 2016 RNLI lifeboats rescued 8,643 people? And they do all that good work with the majority of funding coming just from voluntary contributions. When Crisp ‘n Dry contacted me to tell me that they’re supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper campaign, I was happy to join in and I’ve got two delicious recipes for you if you want to host your own fish supper, including this yummy, creamy fish pie with sweet potato mash, plus a delicious crispy Baja fish taco recipe coming on Saturday.
As Charlie goes off to university very soon (sob), and as we all know, being a student means living on a pretty limited budget. I want to make sure that he has loads of recipes that he can refer to here so that he can make himself a few decent meals without resorting to expensive takeaways. For a Friday night treat, is there anything better than pizza? It’s horrendously expensive to buy, but incredibly easy – and much cheaper – to make at home. Step forward my favourite essential Waitrose range which stocks all the products you need at great prices (and great welfare standards) without compromising on quality. Charlie loves halloumi, so I’ve created this pizza especially for him, piled high with all the ingredients he likes: here’s how to make my halloumi, olive and mint pizzas at home:
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