Leaf free and lovely: avocado, apetina cheese and pear salad

Ahhh summer is finally here.  The garden’s like a jungle, the washing basket is overflowing, but I don’t care – there’s a sun lounger in the garden and that’s where I’ll be if you need me.  Summer is also salad central, but I don’t know about you – I get a bit bored of leafy salads.  The Death Wish Child won’t touch them with a barge pole either, so I have to get a bit creative on the salad front: something fresh and lively, but without the leafy element.

Happily, then, Apetina has challenged me to create a leaf-free salad, and this one will do you very well.  We’re a bit addicted to Apetina (I used the classic cubes for this one), the slight saltiness goes well with the sweetness of the pear and the creaminess of the avocado.  Add in olives and cherry tomatoes and it’s a colourful, healthy summer delight. Here goes, then:

You will need:

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 lime, juiced

1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped

Handful of herbs: mint and oregano are perfect, chopped

Rapeseed oil

Apetina cheese

1 ripe avocado

Couple of handfuls of black olives

Small punnet of cherry tomatoes

1 pear (slightly under ripe is fine), cored and chopped

To prepare the salad:

Crush the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt and pop the resulting paste into a jug along with the lime juice, chopped red chilli, chopped herbs and a couple of big glugs of rapeseed oil.  Mix it all up and leave to one side.

Next, take your salad bowl and pop in the Apetina cheese, sliced avocado, black olives and cherry tomatoes.  Lastly add in the chopped pear, then quickly pour over the salad dressing and toss gently.

And that’s it!  Serve with crusty bread and a final sprinkling of fresh herbs. Delicious.

If you love this recipe, pop along to the Apetina recipe challenge on Facebook where every week Apetina will be featuring four salads and vote (for me, preferably, but hey, check out the others too).  You could win a picnic hamper or – on the final week – a BBQ.

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Viral video by ebuzzing

Turkey kebabs

Sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs

You might remember that I took part in a little challenge a while ago with Lean on Turkey, supporting our fantastic British turkey farmers, to create a turkey dish for a family of four for under a tenner.  The result was my Moroccan style turkey with Ras el Hanout.   This time, and happily for us it coincides with this gorgeous weather, my challenge is to cook a low fat, healthy turkey recipe, again costing under a tenner.  It has to feed a family of four and can’t be a roast dinner.

So I got my thinking cap on.  When I was in Florida (oh how you’re going to get fed up with me saying that), we had some amazing prawns that were both sticky, sweet and delightfully spicy.  So I had a fiddle and came up with these: lovely sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs.  We ate them with a fresh salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and olives, some crusty bread and that old summer favourite, potato salad – bit of a mish mash really, (some call if ‘fusion’) but it all came together really well and made for quite the most delicious al fresco supper.

Here’s how I did it.

For the sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs:

1 pack turkey breast steaks

1 red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

Squeeze of lime

In a pestle and mortar, squish the red chilli and the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt.  Make sure they’re completely mashed into a paste, then add the runny honey, soy, fish sauce and lime.

Cut the turkey breast steaks into slivers and drop them into the marinade.  Allow them to marinate for at least an hour.

Thread onto skewers or bamboo sticks (make sure you soak the sticks first to stop them catching fire) then grill for 10 – 15 minutes until cooked through, giving them a little baste every so often with the leftover marinade.

Serve with a fresh salad – anything you’ve got in the fridge/store cupboard will do: avocado, cherry tomatoes, olives, Feta, cucumber… Season, then toss with some rapeseed oil and a squeeze of lime.

For the potato salad, just boil the potatoes until tender and coat in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise.  I may or may not have added some spring onions here as well which I may or may not have left off my costing table below.  Ahem.

And the verdict on the kebabs?  AMAZING!  Clean plates all round.

The verdict on the salad? ‘What’s this green stuff?..  and ‘ugh, I hate olives’.

Ah well. You can’t win them all…

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk

Tenerife part 3: it’s all about the food: mojo, papas arugadas and flan

The afternoon we arrived at Bodegas Monje was utterly stunning. The sky was a shimmering turquoise and the rows of vines glowed emerald green, rolling down towards the sea. What a gorgeous place.

First up was a tour of the winery (meaning that we had to head into the gloom of the cellar… boooo.)  Still, I learned absolutely loads about wine making (the winery produce a stunning range of wines, mostly exported to the USA).

Next, it was upstairs to the rather beautiful cookery school, to get a crash course in Canarian cooking and test some of those stunning wines as well:

First on our menu was that Canarian staple (and my Disreputable Dad’s absolute favourite): papas arugadas (meaning literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’).  We had a bit of a laugh when we discovered that the type of spud used is ‘Quinegua’ – pronounce it in a Spanish accent and you’ll see exactly how it got its name: King Edward!


We watched as the small potatoes were barely covered with boiling water and an eye watering amount of sea salt was added (at least two handfuls, but don’t worry, the potatoes will only absorb as much as they need – we tested this theory).  The potatoes were then covered and boiled for about 20 minutes, depending on size.  When tender, they were then drained and returned to the heat where they were tossed and shaken until all the remaining water was gone and they took on their traditional wrinkly, dusty appearance.  Delicious.

Next we moved on to the sauces.  Traditionally, red mojo sauce is served with meat and green with fish.   We were on the green team (the green can be coriander, but is just as often parsley or a mixture of the two) and set to work.  Mojo is traditionally made entirely by hand in a pestle and mortar and takes LOADS of elbow grease.  I bet there aren’t many bingo wings to be seen on the island, what with all that pounding!

For Green Mojo

6 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

1 green pepper, deseeded and finely diced

One small (and very hot) green chilli

1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or parsley)

2 tsp cider vinegar

2 wine glasses of olive oil

First, crush the garlic with the salt, then slowly add in the green pepper, pounding until it’s all completely pulped.  Now add a tiny piece of the green chilli (to taste, but if they’re as hot as the ones on Tenerife, a teeny tiny square is all you need), then add in the coriander and keep pounding. When everything is completely pulped, add in the vinegar ad the oil.

We added a handful of crushed almonds and sultanas, which adds a little sweetness and thickens the sauce, but this is optional, as is an avocadeo, which adds a lovely creaminess.

For Red Mojo

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

1 red chilli (again, as much as you like, but a small piece if they’re the very hot fiery ones)

1 slice toasted bread

2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 wine glasses olive oil

1 tsp sweet paprika

Again with the red, the garlic is pounded with the salt before the other ingredients are added one by one, making sure they’re completely broken down before the next ingredient is added.  The toasted bread works as the thickener in the red mojo.  Both were absolutely delicious.  We ate the red mojo with some pulled pork and those gorgeous potatoes.

We also had a demonstration of how the locals eat Gofio, the baked corn flour from the mill we visited in La Orotava.  The Gofio is mixed with ground raisins and almonds, milk, a splash of water and local honey.  It’s worked into a firm dough and that’s it.  It’s eaten sliced with goats’ cheese, and maybe even some mojo sauce.  We were divided on the gofio but I thought it was really lovely.

I adored the food on Tenerife: the seafood was delicious and very fresh (the ‘wreckfish’ was delicious, but I’m struggling to find out whether this is just local to Tenerife, or if it’s called by another name elsewhere), and obviously we ate an enormous amount of flan (I suppose we would say creme caramel), delicious custardy slabs, sometimes served with the dark caramel sauce, or sometimes with other little drizzly sauces, but often just plain.

Muy delicioso!

If you’d like to see more foodie photos from my trip, check out my Facebook page.

Red lentil and tomato stew (enhanced with some big fat sausages)

We LOVE lentils.  The texture is almost creamy, satisfying in that way that only a big dollop of mashed potatoes is usually satisfying, plus of course they have the added bonus of being VERY good for you and low fat too.  This recipe is one of our favourites – I often make double and blend the leftovers with stock the next day to make soup.  It’s best, though, served with some big, fat, meaty sausages: our favourites being the ones from Jimmy’s Farm.  Nommers.

You will need:

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2-3 carrots, diced

1 leek, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

150g red lentils

500ml chicken stock (or I often use leftover gravy from a roast dinner topped up with water)

Salt and pepper

So heat up the oil in a big saucepan and bung in the chopped onion, carrots and leek (any old veg will do, really).  Give them a little sprinkling of salt and a quick stir around then leave them on low for a good ten minutes to soften.  A little sprinkling of dried chilli flakes wouldn’t go amiss at this stage either.

After that you can just bung everything else in, really.  Leave it on low, pop a lid on and go and do something else for half an hour.  Oh and don’t forget to pop your big, fat sausages in to the oven – they’ll take about 30 minutes too, at 200 degrees/gas 6.

Check the seasoning and away you go.  I’ll warn you, it’s very moreish, so it’s best that you make double.


Healthy recipes: lentil and vegetable soup (remember, lentils are your friend)

So, after promising you a couple of healthy recipes, I then buggered off and promptly forgot all about them.  Sorry.

Anyhoo, here I am, back live and a week into my alcohol free month.  It’s going well.  It’s going really well.  I feel fab – and after the amazing facial, my skin’s feeling fab too.  I’m drinking much more water (Katy told me that your body often mistakes thirst for hunger) and one of the biggest changes for me has been lunch.  I’ve switched from a sandwich and a packet of crisps, to a bowl of soup, and it’s made an amazing difference.

Why switch to soup?

Well, firstly, if you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it.  You can pack it full of veggies (great for that half a butternut squash left in the fridge, or a half packet of green beans that got forgotten) and it’s really low fat.  If you’ve got leftover chicken or beef in the fridge, you can add that in too.  Do what I do and make a great big vat of the stuff and store it in the fridge so it’s easy to grab and stops that lunchtime dithering thing that can see you reaching for a lump of cheese and a box of crackers (or is that just me?).  And remember, lentils are your friend.

Why lentils?

Lentils are, and I don’t use this word lightly, a real superfood.  They’re full of fibre and loads of other fab stuff like iron and B vitamins and are great for providing that protein kick you need at lunchtime to see you through the day. They also have the advantage of being a great thickener, so if you’re trying to eat healthily they’re an excellent addition to soups and stews.  They absorb flavours really well and have a mild, almost nutty taste themselves.

Get colourful

A good rule of thumb when making soup is to make sure you have lots of different colours going in there.  Different coloured veg generally provide different vitamins and minerals, so bung in some carrots or butternut squash, then choose something green (freeze a bag of spinach so you can grab a handful) and maybe, say, a red onion too.  Here’s a quick recipe, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be making a different variety every time and you’ll never get bored.

Vary your seasoning

Think past salt and pepper.  Sweeter vegetables like parsnips and carrots go really well with a bit of earthy spice… tomatoes go well with chilli… have an experiment.

Lentil and vegetable soup

There are no hard and fast rules here.. add what you like and leave out what you don’t.

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

Variety of veg, peeled and chopped (three or four double handfuls should do it).  I used:

3 large carrots

1 large parsnip

1/2 butternut squash

1/2 bag watercress and rocket salad

Thick slice of savoy cabbage, chopped

2 litres chicken stock (or veg stock – cube is fine)

About 150 – 200g red lentils

So heat up the oil in a very large saucepan.  Add in the onion and fry until translucent.   If you’re adding spice, add it now – stir it around with the onions and oil until you can really smell it (I know that sounds weird, but it works).  Now, add in all your prepared veg, then pour over the stock.  Add in the lentils (use less if you prefer your soup thinner).  Simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender, then blitz with a stick blender.

Slow cooked leek and tomato pasta sauce: versatile and sneakily healthy

I’ve been writing on Ready for Ten recently (I would link to it but it’s not published yet – patience, grasshopper) about the age old dilemma of getting the kids to eat enough fruit and veg. I make this sauce a lot (I use it as soup as well) and although it’s got plenty of green veg in, it still looks like plain ol’ tomato which puts paid to ‘ewww – what’s that?’ – my most favourite dinnertime question. Plus, of course, there’s the satisfaction of getting one over on your kids, which is always a bonus.

Of course, even if your family will happily eat their five a day, it’s still a great tea-time all rounder.  You can:

  • add in other veg, increase the stock and serve as soup with some easy herby bread
  • tart it up with 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (put them in at the beginning) and some fried streaky bacon strips
  • add basil and pour over pan-fried meatballs
  • use in lasagnes and bolognese
  • stir into a pack of tortellini (spinach and ricotta is our favourite) and sprinkle with Parmesan
  • pour over chicken breasts, dot with torn pieces of mozzarella and bake in the oven

I could go on, but frankly I’m starting to bore myself, but you get the message: it’s incredibly versatile.  It has a lovely mellow sweet flavour too.  This quantity makes enough to cover pasta for four people and a portion for the freezer too.  Ninja costumes at the ready, then:

You will need:

1 large leek
1 large onion
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
1 tin good quality tomatoes (don’t use the cheapo ones, they’re too runny)
The same amount of stock (chicken, veg, bouillon, whatever)
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground pepper

So slice the leek lengthways and rinse under running water to remove any grit or mud. Chop finely.

Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan and pop in the leek. Finely chop the onion and add that in too. Sprinkle with the salt and then cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for a good ten minutes until everything is well softened.

Add in a tsp of sugar and the tinned tomatoes. Fill the tin once more with the stock (if I don’t have any home made I just pop in a stock cube and top it up with boiling water). Add in to the pan.

Now just cover and leave it for half an hour. This bit’s really important – everything needs to be really soft to get the texture right. After that, you can remove from the heat, blend with a stick blender and test the seasoning (add pepper or a touch more salt).  You’ll end up with a really gorgeous smooth sauce and – here’s the bonus – no hint of anything green in there.

I love a bit of stealth health.  Off you go, then, team…

How do I cook the turkey? English Mum’s easy peasy guide to Christmas dinner

Soooo here comes the big day!  There’s just the four of us this year, but whether you’re catering for 15 or it’s just you and your other half, the golden rule is the same as ever: Christmas day is a happy, family day.  Please don’t get stressed and fall apart.  Just think of it as a big roast dinner – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything.  My one recommendation is to take ten minutes to write a rough timetable somewhere, so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily work out your timings.  Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that.

And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water?  Nope.  It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.

As for prep, here’s my top tips:

Prepare in advance

Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance.  Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sizes and boil for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them).  Then just drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze on a tray before popping in a sealable freezer bag and freezing (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump).  On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from frozen.

With the veg, just peel and prepare all your carrots/sprouts/whatever and bung them in plastic bags.  Don’t freeze them as this will make them a bit soggy, but store them sealed in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop straight into the boiling water (or steam) on the day.

For the turkey

Again, do this the day before.  Don’t wally about washing the bloody thing in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria.  Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock), pluck out any stray feathers and get on with it.

I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas.

Add a few extras:

It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of  lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay, thyme or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.

For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley?  Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin.  Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper.

To stuff or not to stuff?:

I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it.  I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting.  If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.

Weighing and preparing:

Weigh your turkey and work out the cooking time.  Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it.  Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).

On the day:

I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning.  No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking.  Just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, then stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers.  If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.

Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes

Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes

Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top

Once your turkey is done (you can wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.

And because I ordered a turkey crown from James Whelan Butchers, I asked Pat Whelan to tell us how he cooks his gorgeous free-range turkey crowns:

Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.

Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.

To check if the turkey is cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.

For great roasties

You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy.  Just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen potatoes.  Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then whack in a nice hot oven.  The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).

Easy apple and red onion stuffing

(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):

1 tbsp butter

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)

225g pork sausage meat

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft.  Add the apple and cook until softened.  Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.  Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge.  On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).

Bringing it all together:

And that’s it.  You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras.  Add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy).  For sprouts, I just blanch them for a few minutes while I’m frying some streaky bacon in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then toss them in with the bacon before serving.  I also serve roast parsnips with honey and a ton of cranberry sauce, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.

If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world.  Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember it’s just dinner.

Slainte! xx

Easy paprika chicken with garlic roasted vegetable couscous

Easy peasy one, this.  Tomato sauce forms the basis of a large number of our meals as it’s one thing that everyone really likes.  I tend to buy the large jars of passata (sieved tomatoes) as de brevren are not over fond of lumps (insert your own joke here).  You can use this sauce for masses of other things, or keep the chicken, ditch the paprika, and just serve with rice or potatoes.  Oh and if you need more sauce, just bung in half a pint of chicken stock.

For the roasted veg, it goes without saying that you can use what you like.  The lovely Poppy’s Mum dropped in a few courgettes from her garden, so I added those.  Add in what you like, though.

For the roasted vegetable couscous:

1 aubergine

2 or 3 courgettes

2 or 3 onions

1 or 2 red peppers

Handful of small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

250g couscous

400ml chicken stock (or veg stock, if you’re preparing this for vegetarians)

To finish: chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon

First, then, just chop up the veg into evenly sized pieces (if you really want to, you can salt and drain the aubergine, but unless it’s a bit of a zeppelin, it shouldn’t be necessary).  Tumble them all onto a nice big baking tray and sprinkle over the garlic, salt, pepper and oil.

Bake at 180/gas 4 until they’re soft and starting to char slightly at the edges – about 30 minutes should do it.

While they’re roasting, make the chicken.

For the paprika chicken:

1 medium onion

1 pack free range chicken breasts, chopped into chunks

1 tsp paprika

1 large pinch ground cumin (pinch of dried chilli is quite nice too)

1/2 jar tomato passata (about 340g) – or just use a tin of tomatoes

Large pinch sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

So just dice the onion and fry in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil until it starts to become translucent.  Now add in the chicken and fry until there’s no raw bits visible and it’s all white.

Sprinkle over a large pinch of salt and the teaspoon of paprika.  Add the pinch of cumin (and chilli if using) and stir all together.

Now pour over the tomato passata and add the sugar.  Stir well, then pop on a lid and leave on a low heat and get on with the couscous.

Just measure the couscous out in a large heat-proof bowl, pour over the hot chicken stock, cover with a plate and set aside for at least 5 minutes or until you’re ready.

When you’re ready to eat, just fork through the couscous to fluff it up a bit, then throw all the roasted veg (and any juice) in.  Liven it up with a squeeze of lemon and scatter over the chopped mint.

Serve with the chicken and a cheeky dollop of hummus if it takes your fancy.  I’m a bit cross with myself because I forgot to get a shot of the finished article, but hey, I was busy stuffing my face.

Note: a veggie friend of mine, the lovely @MmeGuillotine on Twitter has suggested substituting Halloumi for the chicken if you’re a veggie – sounds perfect.

Indian spiced courgette fritters (pakoras)

One of my favourite recipe books is a very old and slightly crusty ‘Curry Club’ book called 250 Favourite Curries and Accompaniments that my Mum bought me years ago.  I was searching high and low for it earlier as I’m currently suffering from a glut of courgettes, and knew that I’d seen a recipe for spicy fritters in there.  But no, it was nowhere to be seen (it’s since turned up, obviously the ‘where the f*ck has that gone?’ gremlin has finished with it now).

Anyhoo, I had a rough idea what do so, along with the help of the BBC Good Food website, which had a similar recipe for courgette fritters (not quite right, the courgettes were sliced), pretty much worked out how to do them.  And here they are (with apologies to the people of Northern India, who will no doubt be shaking their heads at my terrible and not very authentic version of one of their best-loved spicy snacks.

You will need:

Several courgettes (of varying sizes and comically rude shapes, if they’re anything like mine)

1 red onion, halved and finely sliced

1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Large pinch salt

2 tsp curry powder (or you can make your own mix of the usual suspects: cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli, etc)

Chopped fresh coriander (big handful should do it)

150g self raising flour (or, to be more authentic, use half gram flour)*

Grate all the courgettes and place them in a sieve over a bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and leave for an hour or two.

You’ll be amazed at how much excess water they give up.  Discard the water and place the grated courgette into a bowl.

Add in the onion, chilli, salt, curry powder and coriander, break in the egg, then sprinkle over the flour.  Stir it all together as much as you can.

Now slowly add cold water, about a tablespoon at a time, until you’ve got a really thick paste (you’ll probably need around 100ml or so, but judge it by eye).

Leave this to one side while you heat up a wok or large saucepan with a good couple of inches of oil (groundnut is fine).  Once the oil is hot (for god’s sake be careful here) – you can test this by popping in a little bit of the batter and seeing if it sizzles – just drop in tablespoons of the batter and fry:

When the first side is a deep golden brown, flip them over in the oil and cook the other side:

Drain on kitchen paper and serve with a nice yoghurt and mint dip, or maybe some mango chutney.  Noms.

*Gram flour is made from ground chickpeas and also happens to be gluten free.  I didn’t have any, but I’m going to use it next time as I suspect it may give an even crisper result.

Turkey, stuffing and a very merry Christmas

Frosty (with his head back on)

So that’s it, then.  The big day is shortly upon us and I’m looking forward to a small family Christmas  at our new little house in Hertfordshire.

Wherever you are and whoever you’re with, I wish you all a wonderful, indulgent Christmas.

And as always, remember to chill out, have fun, stick on your glad rags, enjoy your precious loved ones, have a few cocktails, don’t shout at the children (or at least count to ten first), don’t worry about  your waistline, don’t drink and drive (I need you!), do give someone everyone you love a kiss under the mistletoe, say you love it even if you hate it, carry a hankie, say please and thank you, keep your hand on your ha’penny… and have a glass of champers on me.

Now, let me think what you might need:

Firstly, of course, you’ll need a really good festive cocktail recipe.  This little beauty was sent to me by naughty ol’ Maxi Cane.  It’s called ‘A Mouthful of Maxi':

1 regular spirit measure (35ml) of Peach Schnapps.

1 dash (15ml approx) of orange liqueur (Triple Sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier)

1 dash of Crème de Cassis liqueur (blackcurrant)

1 dash of Crème de Banane liqueur

200 – 250ml (depending on your taste) of cranberry juice

Shake well over crushed ice and take it easy – these babies are evil!

Now, if you can still stand up, to the dinner:

If you need any help with the turkey, just click here.

Remember, once the turkey’s cooked it’ll sit happily for at least an hour, covered in foil and tucked snugly under a couple of teatowels, while you cook the roasties, etc.

If you don’t like Christmas pudding, I can heartily recommend my chocolate fondants, and finally, if you need stuffing (ahem), then you can’t do better than my easy peasy apple and red onion stuffing (serves 4-6, double up as necessary):

1 tbsp butter

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 dessert apple, peeled and finely chopped

225g pork sausage meat

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

1  Preheat the oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5.  Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft.  Add the apple and cook until softened.  Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

2  Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.  Stir until well combined.  You can put a little in the neck end of the turkey (I’m not a fan of stuffing the main cavity – I think it stops the hot air circulating), or squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish and bake for 25 minutes.

Off you trot, then.  Big hugs, even bigger wet kisses and lots of love


And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’





Step by step cheese sauce – comedy cauliflower optional

(c) Englishmum.com

So one of my happier experiments in the garden were these little beauties.  They did have a name, but I’ve bloody forgotten now, although I’m sure Poppy’s Mum or GrowUp, my gardening gurus, will let me know in due course.  Yesterday, then, we decided to pick one and test it out. 

‘Ooh’, said #1, ‘cauliflower cheese!’. 

‘Yum’, said I. 

‘Bleurgh’, said the other two. 

There’s no pleasing some people.

Here, then, are step by step guidelines to making your own creamy, cheesy sauce.  What you do with it is entirely up to you: stir it through pasta and bake for easy mac and cheese, use it to layer through your lasagne, pile it on thick toast and grill it…. frankly, you can smother yourself in it from head to toe if you like… be my guest.  Anyhoo, digressing.  Here she blows, then:

Firstly, make the cheese sauce:

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp plain flour

About 200g random cheese: I used Wexford Cheddar and Parmesan

400ml milk (ish)

Salt and pepper

Okay, so I know this is all sounding a bit random, but honestly it’s pretty hard to get this wrong.  Just melt a nice big tablespoon of butter in a saucepan on a low heat:

(c) Englishmum.com

Then whop in your tablespoon of plain flour.  Keep stirring over a low heat while you ‘cook out’ the flour and make a nice smooth paste (or ‘roux’ if you’re feeling a bit cheffy):

(c) Englishmum.com

Now slowly mix in the milk, stirring all the time.  As it bubbles, the mixture will thicken.  If it’s too thick, add a little more milk.  Season with a little salt and pepper (purists use white pepper so there’s no black bits) and that’s your basic white sauce.  To make it into a cheese sauce, just chop up and add in some random cheese:

(c) Englishmum.com

I used Cheddar and Parmigiano, but you can use whatever takes your fancy.  Red Leicester makes it a pretty colour, and blue cheese makes a ridiculously good sauce for steak or pasta.  Word of advice, here, people, courtesy as usual of English Grandma: don’t grate the cheese – you’ll end up with a big clump that takes ages to melt – chunks melt far easier (I’m a mine of useless information, me).

Now, for cauliflower cheese, blanch your comedy vegetable by plunging into some boiling, salted water until just tender:

(c) Englishmum.com

…pop into an ovenproof dish, pour over your cheesy sauce of choice, top with a little more grated cheese, and bake in the oven at good ol’ 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until golden and bubbling:

(c) Englishmum.com

Serve with some big, fat spicy sausages, or a roast dinner, or just on its own as an easy supper.  If you’re going for the full body masque, though, go steady on the pepper.

Spicy (or not spicy) lentil dhal

Lentils small

So the ongoing battle here at English Towers is between the chilli lovers and the not-so-chilli lovers.  Hubby and #1 would have us eating amounts of chilli that, frankly, would have normal people running madly around in circles, flapping their arms and making choo choo noises with steam coming out of their ears, whereas me and the small, accident-prone version can only handle a gentle amount of spice.  Pizza making is always contentious with the chilli monsters wanting whole slices of red chilli on theirs, and curries, frankly are a minefield.  This dhal, then, has had several incarnations – starting from the 2 tsp crushed chilli version that was truly, ridiculously, spasm-inducingly hot, to this version which is gently warming with a nice hit at the back of the throat.  But hey, if you’re a chilli thug, whop in the whole 2 tsp and warn the family to take a step back – it’s got a kick like a very cross mule:

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 scant tsp dried chilli (or 2 heaped tsp if you’re a chilli monster)

2 tbsp oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp grated ginger (I keep mine in the freezer and grate it from frozen)

750ml chicken stock

200g red split lentils

1 tsp garam masala

So firstly, take a dry frying pan, put it on a low heat and put in the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and the dried chilli.  Let it toast very gently, stirring constantly, just until you see the very first bit of popping and your nose is filled with lovely toasty spicy smells.  Watch it carefully as it burns easily (oh and feel free to go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at my immaculately clean hob – I’d just spent half an hour removing the remnants of the rice which boiled over just to piss me off): 

(c) Englishmum.com

Bung the toasted spices into the pestle and mortar and grind them into a powder.  If you can’t be arsed with this bit (which makes an excellent dinner party showing off display), just use the mustard seeds as they are and use ground cumin, coriander and chilli instead.  It tastes just as nice (shhh).

(c) Englishmum.com

Now, take a heavy-based pan and pour in the 2 tbsp oil.  Bung in the sliced onion, sprinkle with the salt and fry gently until softened.  Now add in the spice blend along with the turmeric, sugar and grated ginger, stirring well until it’s all pasty and combined.

Pour in the chicken stock and add in the red lentils.  Bung a lid on and leave to cook for about 20 minutes by which stage the lentils will be soft and fragrant.  Stir in the garam masala and taste for seasoning.

(c) Englishmum.com

Serve with some easy cheaty flatbreads, or for a more substantial meal you can add the tandoori chicken and some basmati rice too.  Some nice raita made with plain yoghurt, grated cucumber and a handful of chopped fresh mint wouldn’t go amiss either.

This is another healthy recipe (blimey, that’s two in a row) and the veg quota can be easily oomphed up with, say, a couple of handfuls of spinach (I buy those bags of baby spinach and bung them straight in the freezer) or some chopped tomato.  I did it the other day with some roasted butternut squash and it was very nice indeed.  Just go steady with the chilli if you don’t want your guests doing the locomotion around the garden (whoop whoop!).

Butternut squash and chickpea curry

Butternut squash curry

Righto, then, following swiftly on from the butternut squash risotto, here’s another curry that is used in so many different guises here at English Towers, I’m struggling to know which photos to use.  As you know, I’m a big fan of butternut squash, so here’s the basic recipe used with squash, but it’s equally good made with potatoes or cauliflower:

1 butternut squash, peeled and deseeded, cut into chunks (mine weighed about 700g)

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp dried chilli (or 1 tsp fresh chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped for extra zing)

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp grated ginger (I grate mine straight from the freezer)

200ml chicken stock

1 tsp garam masala (don’t put this in until the end though)

1 tin chickpeas

Fresh coriander, roughly chopped

So heat the oil in a pan until very hot.  Add the onion along with all the spices (not the garam masala, this is more of a seasoning and should be added at the end).   I’m a bit random with the spices – I think this is roughly what I use, but I’ll see the Cumin seeds in with the spices and think ‘ooh, I’ll bung a few of them in’.  Still it always tastes okay…


When the onion starts to turn brown, add the chicken stock (or veg stock, obviously), and the chunks of squash (or potato or whatever), stir around and cover.  Turn the heat down low and leave the squash to soften for around 15 minutes.

Stir in the butternut squash chunks

Now stir in the drained chickpeas.  Leave to cook for five more minutes, then stir in the garam masala, sprinkle with the coriander and serve.

This basic spice mix is really versatile.  Leave out the squash and bung in a tin of tomatoes and a couple of handfuls of baby spinach, plus a can of any old pulses, or substitute dried lentils instead of the chickpeas (add at the same time as the squash, plus 100ml more water), or any other canned beans or pulses (or just leave them out and serve as a plain vegetable curry).  Here’s one I made with borlotti beans (I know, a weird Indian/Italian mixture, but hey, it tasted nice and I didn’t have any chickpeas):

Butternut squash and borlotti bean curry

There you have it.  On the subject of curries, anyone else have any favourites recipes?

A Curiously clever combination: butternut squash risotto and NZ wines

Grub's up!

I love butternut squash.  I love its sweetness, its softness, and its beautiful orangey colour.  I love risotto too, and the combination of both of them is one of my favourite meals.  I happened to mention to the lovely Matt, fellow blogger and ‘Wine Evangelist’ (I love that title) at Curious Wines that I was going to knock up a butternut squash risotto and he very kindly offered to send me a couple of wines to taste with it.  ‘I can’t taste wine’, was my initial reaction, but with the promise of help and tasting notes, I felt much better.  Was I in?  Too bloody right I was.

#1’s homecoming from bleeding his Grandparents dry in England seemed a good enough time for a little celebration, so I put the vino on ice and set about making the butternut risotto: 

1 butternut squash

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

7 or 8 sage leaves, finely chopped


1 onion, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)

2 litres chicken stock

Parmesan, grated, and some for serving 

So preheat the oven to 200/gas 6.  Peel and deseed the squash and cut into cubes.  Spread the pieces out on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over about half of the finely chopped sage leaves:

Drizzle the chunks with oil and sprinkle with sage

Roast for about 30  mins or until soft and slightly caramelised.  You can do this in advance and allow the squash to cool, if you like:

Caramelised roasted sagey butternut squash

For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:

Chicken stock

Grab a heavy based pan, put it on a low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter.  Glug in some olive oil (about 2 tbsp should do it), then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (try my trick of adding a pinch of caster sugar to stop it browning too quickly).  Then add in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Add half the squash and the finely chopped sage.  Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it.

Now add in the rest of the squash and stir in the rest of the sage (the smell is amazing).  Turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, and a handful of grated parmesan, put the lid on and leave it to sit until you’re ready to serve.  Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan, and serve:

Risotto, and a nice hunk of Parmigiano

Now to the wine.  Our first contender was the Waipara Springs Premo Dry Riesling 2006 (€12.99 from Curious Wines), and wow did this baby surprise me.  I think the last time I tried Riesling it was some medium German shocker (you can read all about what Curious Wines’ Mike has to say about Riesling here), but this was amazing – so zingy it was almost fizzy on your tongue.  We’re no wine buffs, but could actually taste something citrusy, (#1 had a sip and reckoned he could taste grapefruit – and do you know what?  It was actually on the tasting notes – he’s far too young to be this good) and the crisp, acidity was a perfect foil for the creamy sweetness of the risotto.  Yum.

Onto the next one, then.  Next up was the Tussock Pinot Gris 2007 (€14.99 from Curious Wines).  You can read Matt’s notes about Pinot Gris here.  This was a different kettle of fish.  You could see instantly that it was much darker in colour, and for those of you who might find the Waipara Springs a little too sharp, this was much softer and really, really pleasant, although still retaining a crispness that again complemented the risotto perfectly.  Try as we might, though, our dodgy palettes couldn’t make out the promised pear/apple notes – but I think that was our fault rather than the wine –  and there was a lingering aftertaste that I can’t describe (help, Matt!) but that was absolutely delicious.  Although this was lovely with food, we could well imagine polishing this one off whilst tucked up on the sofa in front of Lie to Me.

Sadly, after finishing two bottles of wine between us, I can’t read many of my notes and lost one of the pieces of paper, but the Waipara Springs definitely came in the winner with an impressive score of 16/20.  So that’s it, then, my first ever wine tasting.  I’d like to thank Mike and Matt for their patience, copious notes, encouragement… and the free wine, oh and for the slightly giggly game of poker that followed.  Bless you.

Now whose turn is it to wash up?

Sunbathing, salsa and the garden luge. With cackling.

So it’s bank hols here in the Republic and yesterday dawned the most beautiful, hot sunny day.  There’s nothing quite like a sunny day in Ireland.  Not only is it very unusual and therefore all the more welcome, but the whole greenness of the place gives it an almost luminous, lime green glow.   The kids started off mucking about spraying each other with water guns, then hubby disappeared to the shop and came back with industrial strength rolls of bin bags to create the garden waterslide from hell.  Here’s Hubby, #1, #2 and Little C (Lou was far too dainty for hurling herself downhill on a bit of plastic) having fun.  Apologies for the hideous cackling, but what you couldn’t see, just out of shot, was that they all crashed into the side of the garage at the end of the trip (oh and check Hubby’s ‘argh!  incoming!’).  Oh and sorry about shooting directly into the sun.  I don’t think I’ll be entering it at Cannes this year.  Enjoy though.


We had lamb-burgers for lunch, made with minced lamb, breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, cumin, mustard seed, salt and pepper, with a lovely salsa that hubby made out of the lovely frondy fennel in the garden, plus chilli, pineapple, tomato, greek basil and spring onion.  Summer on a plate:


 Bert enjoyed the bank holiday too.  Hubby has mowed another beautiful heart in one of the front lawns for me which is now full of wild flowers:


and happens to make a rather nice sunbathing spot too:

Bert sunbathing

Mind you, when you have a comfy child to lean on, you can sunbathe just about anywhere:

Bert sunbathe 2

We rounded the day off with hotdogs and a bonfire, with a bit of guitar playing and a sing song.  Ah, I hope the summer lasts.

Chicken and asparagus risotto


Ah, Mother’s Day.  A day for eating cremated bacon sandwiches whilst smiling broadly and going ‘mmm, delicious!’, drinking the half-cup of dodgy tea that was delivered to your bedside whilst secretly worrying how long it’s going to take you to remove the other half that’s been slopped up the stairs, and being the recipient of approximately fifteen hardly squeezes and twenty five sloppy kisses every five minutes.  I love it.  I got some beautiful flowers, some pink and blue furry (yup, furry), sparkly cards, a lovely set of aromatherapy smellies and a chocolate fondue as well.  I made teeny meringues to dip in the chocky and a lubly day was had by all.

In other news, the Death Wish Child seems to have recovered well from his recent face-first encounter with the tarmac at school (teeth through top lip – ouch), and his subsequent head-butting of someone else’s knee in a footie match.   Deciding, then, that he might like some comfort food, I whipped up a little risotto.  I like making risotto.  There’s something really therapeutic about standing at the stove stirring – it makes me feel all efficient and homely (that’s a first):

2 pints chicken stock (cubey stuff is fine)

2 chicken breasts (free range, natch)

50g butter/slosh of olive oil

1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (carnaroli or arborio are easily available)

Handful of frozen peas

Bunch of asparagus

Parmesan cheese to taste

So make up your stock (or if you’re really efficient, reheat your home-made stuff), and pop the chicken breasts in to poach – you can add some herbs or an onion or whatever too, if you like.  Grab a heavy based pan, put if on a low heat and melt the butter.  Glug in some olive oil, then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (little tip here – a pinch of sugar will stop it browning).  Then bung in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Stir the rice until glossy

Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  I tend to leave the chicken breasts wallowing in the stock until I’ve nearly used it all, which means they get at least 20 minutes’ poaching.  Take them out and shred them, then add them to the risotto along with your frozen peas.  Meanwhile, get another saucepan going with some boiling salted water to blanch your asparagus.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it. 

Now turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, put the lid on and leave it to sit while you blanch the asparagus for about 6 to 8 minutes (add the heads last so they don’t get soggy).  When just tender, drain and reserve.

Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan and the asparagus.  Of course this is nice with the asparagus incorporated into the risotto, but with #2 being ill already, I don’t want to scare him any further by serving him up anything green that isn’t a frozen pea.


Sunday lunch: roast lamb, layered potatoes and rice pudding

Hubby's dindins - already smothered with mint sauce

Sunday lunch, then, and even though I say so myself, this one was rather a cracker.  Given a unanimous 10/10 (unheard of in our house) and with the added bonus of being one of the easiest too.  First up then is the main course:

Roast lamb with creamy layered potatoes

½ leg lamb (about 1kg)

1 kg potatoes

50g butter

300ml milk or cream

So for the lamb, just preheat the oven at about 180/gas 4, rub all over with a generous slug of olive oil ( a clove or two of smooshed garlic wouldn’t go amiss here either – or a handful of rosemary if you have it) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Now just bung it in the oven and forget about it for about an hour and a half .  For a whole leg, or a joint any larger than a kg, allow 1 hour per kg, plus ½ hour for well done meat (I know, I know, but I just can’t prefer not to eat my lamb pink – sorry and all that).

Remove from the oven and reserve somewhere warm, covered in foil.  Place the roasting tin on the hob, add a dessertspoon of plain flour and whisk all the juices in with the flour.  Now, add 500ml stock, transfer to a saucepan and let it bubble away gently until you’re ready to eat.  Oh, and season to taste.

For the potatoes (I hesitate to call them Dauphinoise – I think they’re probably more cheesey), peel and weigh them, then slice thinly (aim for about 5mm slices, but don’t amputate your fingers trying):

Mind those fingers!

Butter an ovenproof dish, then arrange the slices into a thick layer on the bottom of the dish.  Dot with butter and season generously with salt and pepper:

Layer up the potatoes, season and dot with butter

… then continue with the next layer, again dotting with butter and seasoning well.  Continue until you’ve used up all the potatoes.  Pour over the milk or cream (or combination of both, or even chicken stock if you’re off diary), dot with the remaining butter, season well and cover.  Stick into the oven next to the lamb.  It should be ready at about the same time (an hour and a half).  If it’s not quite there, remove the lid and continue to bake while the lamb is resting.

Now for English Mum’s Mum’s creamy rice pudding (hmm, might have to work on that title):

Pudding rice

100g pudding rice

800 ml milk

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

To cook on the hob (I had no room left in my oven):  mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat down low and let the rice pudding simmer very gently for about an hour.  Don’t cover it, and do watch it.  Mine boiled over all over my hob and caused an almighty mess.  I really must get myself a diffuser.  We have bottled gas that comes rocketing out like nobody’s business and it’s difficult to get a really low heat.

Me Ma’s original recipe calls for all the ingredients to be placed in a buttered ovenproof dish and cooked in a low oven for a couple of hours.  It’s honestly much nicer this way, although you have to stir the skin in occasionally (sorry there, skin haters).

Serve with fruit compote (I used frozen berries warmed up with a tbsp sugar and a big slug of blackcurrant liqueur) or a big dollop of raspberry jam. 

Rice pud and boozy berries.  Yum.

This is really nice made with coconut milk as well (thank you, Bill Granger!).  Just as a matter of interest – this amount serves 4, but we could easily have eaten double.  If you’re greedy sods like us then I suggest you double up.

There you have it.  Now retire to your sofa with a fat greyhound and the Sunday papers, while your willing, full-up peasants do the washing up.  Bliss.

Parmesan chicken

Parmesan chicken: nuggetesque

So I sometimes think my little carpet monsters don’t know when they’ve got it good.  Take last week: #2 went out shopping with D-next-door and seriously, dearest reader, you’d think he’d won the flipping lottery:

‘D gets curly fries!  And chicken nuggets!  And spicy wedges!  And we walked straight past the fruit and veg without buying anything!!  And we got chocolate fingers!’, all said in the breathless manner usually reserved only for conversations about Slash and Rooney.

‘But hang on’, says I, bristling somewhat, ‘you get lovely, fresh home-cooked food every day!’

‘Yes, but Lou and Little C get to eat curly fries!  And nuggets from the freezer.  Not like your ones’.

See what I have to put up with?  D-next-door of course thinks all this is hilarious, but actually (with plenty of nagging coaching from me and Mrs Lovely) he doesn’t do too badly, and recently cooked leeks, LEEKS, I tell you.  He was darned pleased with himself too.   Anyhoo, digressing.  So right, I thought, I’ll cook him nuggets and wedges, if that’s what he wants.  I’ll just do them my way:

4 chicken breasts

2 slices stale bread (or crusts, whatever)

The nice heel bit left over from the parmesan (or a 2″ chunk)

1 egg

Splash of milk

Olive oil


Chilli powder

So first, preheat your oven to 200/gas 6 and cut the potatoes in half, then cut each half into three or four wedge shapes.  Bung them into a pan of salted water and bring them to the boil.

Meanwhile, cut each of your chicken breasts into three or four pieces.  Whizz the bread and parmesan together in the food processor until they’re crumby, then add a generous pinch of salt and a good grinding of  pepper.  Whisk up the egg with a splosh of milk and dunk each piece of chicken first in the egg, then toss in the cheesy breadcrumby stuff.

Drizzle some oil on a baking tray and put your coated chicken pieces on it.  Drain the now-boiling potatoes, and spread them onto a second baking sheet.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of chilli.  Bung both trays in the oven and leave for 20-30 mins until both your potatoes and chicken are golden brown.  The timing will of course depend on how big the pieces of chicken and potato are.  You might have to put one to the bottom of the oven or whatever – you know the drill.

Serve with a nice green salad, or some buttered frozen peas and some sweet chilli sauce.  Or mayo.  Or both.  Bung it on the table and pretend it’s Captain Birdseye’s.  *Tsk*

Bubble and squeak: step by step

All this talk of recession has done me no end of good, y’know.  For one thing, I’m trying to use up all the stuff we had left over in the freezer since Christmas (I’m down to two massive bags of frozen prawns and the kids are sick of them, but needs must, eh.  Green Thai prawn curry anyone?).  And I’ve hardly been out shopping at all, save for a couple of trips for school essentials and the invitations for the blessing.  The rest of the time I’ve stayed in as I’m too terrified of allowing my inner splurger to come to the fore.  I’m even recycling in the kitchen.  For instance, the other day I made this bubble and squeak for Hubby (he had a sudden urge.  For bubble and squeak, you animals) with some sprouts I had hanging around in the fridge.  Now before you start, I know that a lot of people can’t stomach sprouts.  But this is a really nice way to eat them.  Think of them as teeny, tightly packed cabbages, if you will.  If you really can’t do it, then cabbage, or broccoli or anything remotely green can be bunged in with the leftover mash.  Here goes, then:

Leftover mashed potato

Leftover green stuff (or fresh, simmered until tender)

1 egg, beaten

50g breadcrumbs

So just cook your sprouts or cabbage or whatever until just cooked (if it’s broccoli, put the stems in first otherwise the tops will be mushed).   

Sprouts: yum

Now gather your other stuff together:

Mash, mould, dip, then dunk

Drain the veg and mash it in with the potatoes, seasoning well and then forming the mixture into little patties.  It’s probably best here, if you have time, to pop them in the fridge for half an hour or so.  It makes them easier to work with. 

Dunk in the egg

Dunk the little buggers in the beaten egg, then toss them in the breadcrumbs – all of the time building the amount of eggy breadcrumby goo on your fingers to epic proportions.  Then just heat up some oil or butter in a frying pan and fry until golden.

Fry the patties in a little butter or olive oil

Serve with a nice, runny egg on top (I know this one looks a bit cremated, but Hubby’s got a thing about eggs being well done on the outside and runny in the middle.  Quite tricky I can tell you) and even a few rashers of crispy bacon.  Serve hot with a nice green salad and Bob’s your auntie: a nice healthy meal on the cheap. 

Serve with a runny egg

English Mum’s trouble free surgically enhanced turkey

Golden rule first then.  Christmas day is is a happy, family day.  If you’re cooking, don’t stress about it, just think of it as a big roast dinner.  It’s just a roast and some veg.  I mean, open any food magazine or cookbook and there’ll be a different way to cook your turkey on every one – timetables for this, that and the other and enough information to turn you several different colours of panic.  I read a magazine recently where the instructions for cooking a 5kg bird were as follows:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Lift foil and add 200ml water.  Roast for one hour.  Reduce oven to 180 degrees.  Add another 200ml water.  Roast for one hour 45 minutes.  Remove foil.  Add 100ml water.  Remove bacon.  Put oven temp back up to 200 degrees.  Roast for further 50 minutes.

Now I’m sorry, but this is waaaay too much effort.  As if the humble housewife doesn’t have enough to contend with on Christmas day without fannying about with the oven temperature every ten minutes.  Anyhoo, because you’re my beloved readers and I lub you, I’ve done the research for you, and here is the absolute, gospel, simple, perfect and most importantly easy way to cook your turkey.  Firstly, here are the perfect cooking times according to the British Turkey information website (no, it really exists):

Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes

Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes

Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top

As for prep, here are a load of helpful don’t bothers:

DON’T BOTHER messing with veg and potatoes, etc.  Get them all prepared beforehand and keep them in bags in the fridge ready to plop straight into boiling water.  Boil the potatoes in advance for about ten minutes, bash them about a bit, open freeze them on a tray in the freezer, then bag them up and store in the freezer.  On the day, they can go straight from frozen into the hot duck fat (or whatever you’re using).

DON’T BOTHER washing the bloody thing in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria.  Just take the giblets out (use to make stock), pluck out any stray feathers and get on with it.

DON’T BOTHER stuffing it if you don’t want to – I don’t stuff the bird, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it.  I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting.  I do surgically enhance its bosom a bit (see below).  If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking. 

DON’T BOTHER giving yourself unnecessary work on Christmas day.  Do it all on Christmas Eve (before you’ve had too many beers):

  1. Take your turkey, cut up a couple of lemons, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a nice bunch of bay or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.    Take a load of sausagemeat from your butcher (just ask him to bag you up some of the sausagemeat he usually uses for his sausages), then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the sausagemeat all over the breast under the skin in about an inch thick layer.  This will keep the turkey breast nice and moist, and you get to eat it afterwards too.  Result.  Then just smooth the breast back down (you can take this opportunity to give it a bit of surgical breast enhancement – everyone needs a little help).  You might need to secure the end with a skewer.  Rub it all over with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cover with streaky bacon. 
  2. Weigh your bird and work out the cooking time.  Write it down somewhere while you’re still sober.
  3. Cover the bird with a huge sheet of turkey foil (make a fold in it so the air can circulate), then just leave it somewhere cool until you need it.  Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).

And that’s it.  Seriously.  On Christmas day, just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, then stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180 for fan ovens) and go and have a glass of champers.  Take the foil off for the last half hour and then you can take it out and it’ll sit happily for up to an hour while you sort out your roasties and stuff.  If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry as it has its little sausagemeat breast enlargement.  Oh and sláinte!


Any more information you might need, like defrosting times or what have you, can be found on the British Turkey website

Gardening news, steaks, potato wedges and rhubarb crumble

So I’ve had ups and downs with my first year of vegetable patch ownership.  For example, the sweet peas went completely mental but didn’t give me a single bloody flower, the pumpkins, coriander and basil all died (too cold? we didn’t really have any sunshine) and the cucumber covered the whole plot in huge leaves and spidery tentrils, but no cucumbers (well how was I to know it was a climber).  On the upside, there are two or three courgettes ready to go, the dwarf french beans have given us a sizeable crop; the fennel, parsley, mint and thyme are all huge and the carrots are surviving .  In the greenhouse, the tomatoes have been fruiting like wild things, but all the fruit is green and the weather is definitely on the turn here (our morning walk was both rainy AND cold – Bert was not impressed).  The aubergine has a tiny fruit but again it might all be too late.

The rhubarb absolutely excelled itself, growing to triffid-like proportions while I scoured local garden centres for one of those terracotta things to ‘force it’.  My kitchen gardening guru, Mr Titchmarsh, says that by the end of summer, the rhubarb will be too tough to eat, but ours has been amazing.  Sunday, then, saw us tucking into the biggest, juiciest steaks ever, complete with home grown french beans, garlic-roasted butternut squash and some very pleasant home made potato wedges  (four or five medium sized potatoes, cut in half, then into four wedges lengthways, blanched in boiling salted water for ten minutes, then tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and baked in a 200 degree oven until golden brown and crispy), followed by a huge rhubarb crumble with cream.


For the crumble, then:

Four or five big fat stems of rhubarb

Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)

Sugar for sprinkling

6 oz plain flour

Generous teaspoon ground ginger

4 oz butter

4 oz sugar

1 oz porridge oats

Handful of sliced almonds

So preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  I’ve been poaching my rhubarb first as I’ve been freezing some of it, so weigh out your ingredients, then, and wash the rhubarb, chopping into inch-long chunks.  Pop them in a saucepan with your splosh of apple juice and a generous amount of sugar (to taste, but remember it’s sour!).  Let the rhubarb poach gently with a lid on until it’s just tender but not mushy.  Mine took about ten minutes. 

Meanwhile, rub your butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in your ginger, sugar and porridge oats.  Spoon the rhubarb into an oven-proof dish, cover it with the crumble mixture and finally, sprinkle over the sliced almonds.  All you’re doing is cooking the top so it should only take about 15 minutes to come out all golden and bubbling. 

There you have it, then: good, fresh food, quickly prepared and happily scoffed.  I had the leftovers with yoghurt for breakfast then next day too.  Mr Atkins wouldn’t like it but hey, them’s the breaks.

C’s vegetable soup

So I often get emails asking after Little C and Lou.  D battles cheerfully on, holding down a full time job as well as combining Mum/Dad duties at home.  It’s now, unbelievably, nearly two months since their Mum died and with the added childcare pressures of the summer holidays, it’s a wonder he doesn’t spontaneously combust.

Happily, Little C and Lou are cheerful, muck-in with everybody kind of chaps, so it’s no hardship to have an extra couple of smalls about during the hols.  There are obviously stumbling blocks (I for one feel very weird if I ever have to tell them off), but D also has a lot of support from his wonderful family, so nobody ever feels overwhelmed.  One problem I do have is with food.  Little C, like #2, is not a big eater, and finding something that everyone will eat can sometimes be a struggle.  I’d never be one to force kiddies to eat stuff they don’t like, but I’m not going to let them eat Nutella sandwiches, either.  Happily, with her usual forward planning and attention to detail, C left behind a folder of recipes; everything from how to make mashed potato to how to roast a joint is explained perfectly and, sitting in D’s kitchen the other day flicking through them, I noticed this little beauty.  And do you know what?  It was hoovered up by everyone – even the veg-phobic Little C.

1 tbsp olive oil

2 litres stock

1 onion

1 celery stalk

2 carrots

1/2 swede

1 parsnip

Handful frozen peas

Couple of handfuls red lentils

So heat your olive oil in a large heavy based pan, and chuck in your chopped onion and celery, sprinkle with salt, then fry gently until translucent.  Then add your stock (either defrosted chicken stock, or made with cubes – whatever), and finally chuck in all your chopped vegetables and the lentils.  Bring to the boil and let it bubble away for a good half hour or more until all the veggies are soft.

Whizz in the blender until completely smooth and serve with plenty of warm cheese bread

Good ol’ C, eh?

Hubby’s Evil Chilli Couscous

So last night we all sat down for a nice family meal to celebrate the end of term/prizes/the promise of good reports to come (#2 looked slightly green at the mention of those), etc.  I made little meatballs with my lamb kebab mixture, which I baked in the oven, along with some of #1’s famous tomato sauce.

Hubby, generally a stranger to the kitchen (unless there’s scrambling of eggs or anything to do with chillis) contributed this exceptionally good couscous recipe (well, come on, couscous is hardly cooking, to be fair).

8oz couscous

1/2 pint chicken stock

4 tbs olive oil

1 tbs sultanas (or very finely chopped dried apricots would be good, I think)

Couple of sliced spring onions

1 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tbs chopped mint

4 tbs good olive oil

2 small finger chillis, deseeded and finely chopped (Hubby used 6 and we’re still breathing fire)

Salt and pepper to season

So once your meatballs (or whatever you’re eating this with) are nearly cooked, put the couscous in a bowl along with the sultanas and pour over the hot stock.  Stir, then cover the bowl with cling film or a plate or somethng and leave for five minutes.  Meanwhile, heat your oil in a pan and bung in your very finely chopped chillis.  Swirl around so that the chillis release their oil, then you can turn it off.  After five minutes, when the couscous has absorbed the stock and the sultanas are all plump and lubly, fork the couscous through to fluff it up and pour over your chilli oil.  Add the chopped herbs and spring onions, season to taste and if you want to go mad, serve with a little sprinkling of chopped pistachios. 

Enjoy.  Oh, and an added bonus is that you get lovely minty burps afterwards.  See, not only do I provide you with lubly recipes, but you get fragrant indigestion into the bargain.

Roast beef with garlic roasted butternut squash

So yesterday, then.  I knew J and C were coming to lunch so I popped down to the nice butcher’s on Saturday to get an enormous leg of lamb (I appreciate I have plenty next door, but they’re all still attached and somewhat fluffy).  Oh dear.  The horror stories I read in the paper about lamb legs selling for 50 euro a pop due to Easter being so early were neither confirmed nor denied as they were totally sold out.  No amount of eyelash fluttering and shameless flirting could persuade him to produce any contraband, so I had to settle for a nice joint of beef.  I have to say it was a very nice joint of beef (so it should have been for 25 quid), so I went away mildly happy, already dreaming of rubbing it with olive oil and crushed pepper.

I know you probably already know how to cook roast beef, but here’s my version, which I obviously believe to be far superior:

For the beef:

1 enormous half a cow (mine was 4lb!)

Olive oil

Handful of peppercorns, crushed

Sea salt

So first weigh your monster and calculate your cooking time.  I prefer slow-roasting (at about 180 degrees) and none of my family are fond of pink meat, so I opt for well done.  I would say as a general rule that a boneless beef joint would take about 30 mins per pound plus another 30.  If you, unlike me, don’t sacrifice your likes for that of your family and would prefer your meat pink in the middle then omit the extra half hour I suppose.  To double check, stick something metal like a carving fork right into the centre of your beef while you count to ten.  If you can hold the end without giving yourself third degree burns, it’s pretty likely that your beef with have a pink middle. 

So drizzle your baking tray with a little oil, then plonk in your beef joint.  Drizzle over more oil and sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper.  Then just set the timer and forget it.  If, like me, you’ve a pain in the bum friend who’s not particularly keen on big slabs of meat (and cheats at Easter Egg hunting), you’d do well to try this butternut squash recipe, which is dead easy and tastes yum:

1 butternut squash

4 or 5 fat cloves garlic

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds, pop the garlic into the little scooped out bits, and generously drizzle with oil.  Season well, then when your beef is cooked, remove it to rest covered in foil, whack up the oven to 230 degrees, and cook for about 45 minutes.  This is quite handy because it’s about the same time as your Yorkshire puddings and roasties will take (see batter recipe here).

So by this time Jen and C had arrived and Hubby and I had hidden all the eggs, sweeties and stuff around the garden.  C from next door made a guest appearance to start the proceedings off, but because Jen’s such a bloody cheat, she’s already been round the garden for a recce and knew where half the stuff was.  Cue Jen rushing around the garden like the pied piper, followed by a little line of children with rapidly expanding goody bags.  Tsk.  Some people just don’t play fair.  Anyway, after all this rushing around, we were ready for our roast dinner, and finished it off with a cinnamon apple crumble, the recipe for which I will divulge next time I can be arsed.

Oh, and I should also mention that while we were all zonked, groaning and full-up on the sofa, Bert nipped upstairs and helped himself to #2’s goody bag, wrappers and all.

Saturday supper: black pudding with buttered cabbage

 1 pack of new potatoes

1 white cabbage

1 good quality Irish black pudding

Frozen peas

Vegetable stock

Okay so I know some people are repulsed by it, but here in Ireland they do the best black pudding ever.  If you hate the idea of the stuff, do me a favour and just try it before you totally write it off.  It’s lovely stuff.  Otherwise replace it in this recipe with some fat good quality herby sausages, sliced thickly at an angle. 

So get some new potatoes on to boil in some salted water.  I cut them in quarters so they cook quickly.  In another pan, put just an inch or so of water in the bottom and add a slug of liquid stock or a vegetable stock cube (or use home made vegetable stock if you’re a real smarty pants), along with some salt and pepper.  Sling in a couple of handfuls of frozen peas and let it come up to the boil. 

When your potatoes are nearly done, slice your beautiful black pudding into big fat circles and lay them on a baking sheet under the grill.  They should only take four or five minutes to cook, depending on the size of the pud.  Shred your cabbage and add it to the boiling stock and peas with a big knob of butter, then put a lid on for five or ten minutes until it’s tender.

Serve the new potatoes, peas and cabbage in a big, gorgeous pile with the slices of pudding on top.  If you reserve the cabbagey stock, reduce it a bit and whisk in a bit of cream it makes quite a nice light sauce.  I’m not allowed to do this as Hubby doesn’t ‘do’ creamy sauces.  But if you’re in the mood, a nice runny poached egg on top definitely hits the spot.  Oh, and just an aside: this is such a surprisingly nice supper that even my picky eater, #2, woofed this down, cabbage and all.