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.
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.
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.
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.
I absolutely love the essential Waitrose range – we buy loads of the products, from store cupboard staples like tins of tomatoes and dried pasta, to keeping the fridge stocked with easy things for the boys to cook when they’re hungry: thin and crispy pizzas, filled pastas, as well as everyday items like ham, cheese, bread, fruit and veg. At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer in buying quality food, but that doesn’t mean I want to compromise on affordability or welfare (I especially like the fact that all Waitrose chicken is British and reared to Waitrose’ higher welfare standards. To show you quite how versatile the essential Waitrose range is, I’ve created this delicious Jamaican jerk chicken marinated with allspice, thyme, honey and lime and served with a sweet, refreshing caramelised pineapple salsa, made using essential Waitrose ingredients, giving the quality you’d expect from Waitrose at prices you really wouldn’t:
As a family, we’ve always used this blog as a bit of a recipe resource. If the boys are making brownies or a pasta bake, they’ll look up the recipe on here, and I love that they’ll always have that connection with home. With Charlie just about to go off to university (we’re going to Universal for Halloween Horror Nights – yay! – then he goes practically as soon as we get back – boo) I thought it would be nice to share a few of our family favourite recipes so that he (and any other student looking for decent, great-value recipes for sharing) would be able to recreate them when he’s away from home. I’m starting with this easy, step by step lasagne al forno. If I’m taking my time and making a lasagne at home, I’ll make the sauce with red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes (hit me up for the recipe, I’ve got a fab one), but there’s no shame in using a jar of tomato sauce, especially not when you’re in a hurry (or on a budget – a 500g jar of Tesco Bolognese pasta sauce is about 75p – also, look out for any that are on offer and stockpile them in a cupboard at home). Likewise with the cheese: Parmesan is lovely, but cheddar is cheaper.
This week I’m playing with The Snaffling Pig Co’s brand new Crackling Crumb – it’s the perfect way to add texture and crunch to loads of different dishes. I’ve already tackled a delicious, crunchy brunchy breakfast burger and a herby crumb-topped extra cheesy mac & cheese. In my final recipe, my crispy chicken with an Asian inspired noodle salad, the crackling crumb gives the chicken a delicious, crunchy coating, which is the perfect addition to this fresh veggie and noodle salad with a peanutty, Asian-inspired dressing. The hot dressing works really well on spiralised veg too, and the low carb crumb coating also works with fresh salmon or even crispy prawns. Yum!
You know me – any excuse to get into the kitchen and have a fiddle with a new product, so imagine my delight when the lovely chaps at The Snaffling Pig Co, makers of high quality, deliciously flavoured pork crackling products, got in touch about a great new product called Crackling Crumb. Essentially, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: delicious Snaffling Pig pork crackling, minus the seasoning, ground into a crumb so that it can be used to add a scrummy crunch to all sorts of meals and it recently won a Great Taste Award 2017 too. I’m devoting this week to all things crunchy and crumby, starting with my delicious crunchy brunchy breakfast burger. Plus I’ve got a range of The Snaffling Pig Co products to give away!
I love cooking with pork medallions. They’re so easy as there’s no trimming or waste, and they cook so quickly too. I tend to pop them in my shopping basket as they’re a bit of a family favourite and make a nice change from chicken (we eat far too much chicken). They’re ready in about 20 minutes, so they’re ideal for healthy, tasty midweek meals. My preferred cooking method is to pan fry them, just enough to get a lovely golden colour on them, then cover them in something yummy and oven bake. Often this is just a layer of sliced fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, a few herbs and plenty of seasoning, but this glaze is soooo good, it’s our new favourite. I serve these honey and mustard glazed pork medallions with a sweet mash of butternut squash and sweet potato, with a little fresh thyme.
Our lovely neighbours are complete barbecue fanatics. As soon as there’s even a hint of nice weather, the most delicious smells start wafting through from their garden, making me really want a barbecue. I think the thing that’s holding us back is the thought of buying a big, expensive barbecue and then never using it, so last week we went out and bought one of those really cute, cheap little bucket barbecues to have a try without spending too much money. The lovely chaps at Very Lazy had, coincidentally, sent me a couple of their handy jars so I thought I’d start simply with a few sausages and a tasty maple and ginger barbecue chicken, using the Very Lazy jars of chopped ginger and chopped red chillies .
- Staying overnight at the airport, BLOC Hotel Gatwick May 22, 2018
- Weekend wishlist: the perfect holiday capsule wardrobe with M&S May 19, 2018
- Breaded baked barbecue cauliflower May 17, 2018
- Why I’m pondering becoming a pescatarian May 15, 2018
- Weekend wishlist: 10 ways to live a more sustainable life May 12, 2018