M&S mini Christmas pudding cakes

Party food from Marks and Spencer

My children love our weird dinners (not).  The other night, we were testing Marks and Spencer’s new range of party food.  Their dinner was entirely made up of canapés, which although seems very posh, is actually quite strange.  The good news is, though, that the party food is REALLY good, so we didn’t mind at all.  And we thought it would be even better if you actually used it all as intended, y’know, for parties…

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Apple and red onion Christmas stuffing sausage rolls

Apple and red onion sausage roll small

If you’re looking for an easy Christmas eve supper, or something yummy to serve with drinks when you have guests, look no further than very simple to throw together sausage roll recipe.  The filling is my easy apple and red onion stuffing, which can be baked separately and served along with your turkey, but also makes a lovely, moist filling for pies and these easy sausage rolls.  So first, make the stuffing:

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 (or you can use the innards of sausages)

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

375g pack ready to roll puff pastry

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.

Now, grab a nice pack of all butter puff pastry (life’s too short to make your own, I find, although if you really want to, I’ve got a rough puff recipe here which isn’t too labour intensive).

Roll the puff pastry out to a nice big rectangle (you need the thickness to be about 1/2 cm), then squish your sausagemeat down the middle in a big fat sausage.

Now, brush the edges with beaten egg, then flap the first edge over the sausagemeat.  Brush that one with egg again, then fold over the second flap, so you’ve created one big, long sausage roll.  Turn that roll over so that the seam is at the bottom.  For a supper dish, it’s nice to keep it whole and slice at the table, but if you’re wanting individual bite-sized ones for a party, cut them now with a serrated edged knife, then score the top and brush with egg.

Bake at gas 4/180 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy.  If you’re cutting your sausage into individual pieces, they’ll only take about 20 minutes.

Easy canapés to serve with drinks for the Disreputable One’s big day

Me and the DaddySo my Disreputable Dad and his partner are planning a small wedding.  Sam, our very own Mad Professor, was absolutely delighted – and pretty gobsmacked it has to be said – when his Grandad asked him to be his best man, and the Dude, along with his cousin Jackson, is going to be an usher. The Dude is ridiculously excited about wearing a suit.  I’m slightly less excited about buying it.  Still, they both need new school shoes so I’m killing two birds with one stone there, at least.

As it’s a small wedding, and they’re just having a drinks reception with a few close friends and family, I offered to make some canapés.  We’re not talking about catering here, but just a few little bits and bobs to soak up the fizz.  One thing I absolutely hate is using bloody paper plates.  They’re ridiculous.  Not only are they impossible to hold along with a drink, as they start to droop, but they look pretty poo as well, so we decided to just hand around one bite things that people don’t need plates for.  Serving platters are equally horrible – I wanted ones that were nice looking AND eco-friendly, and eventually came across The Whole Leaf Co, who sell natural, compostable palm leaf platters - eminently better looking than those awful aluminium foil serving platters, and better for the environment too.

Now down to recipes.  The thing about canapés is that they need to be compact in size, but HUGE in flavour.  Your aim is to leave everyone wanting more after they’ve finished their little mouthful.  I also bought some little bamboo spoons to serve little single mouthfuls on: I’m thinking teeny portions of crab salad, tossed in lime juice and decorated with a single coriander leaf and maybe some dessert ones – a little blob of chocolate mousse dotted with cream and topped with a tiny shaving of chocolate.

When thinking about canapés, you need something with a sturdy base.  Here, I find that pastry is your friend.  Whether you buy ready made pastry cases, or spend a little time cutting out little circles of puff pastry, brushing them with butter and baking them in a muffin tin (easy peasy), you’re left with a hardy vessel ready to be filled with all manner of things that can be made ahead of time: simple prawn cocktail, easy guacamole, maybe topped with a little bacon and sour cream, goat’s cheese with tomato salsa and basil… all these are easy and quick.

Another sturdy base is bruschetta – a slice of baguette or similar, brushed with olive oil, rubbed with garlic (if you like) and lightly toasted or griddled.  These can be topped with the goat’s cheese mixture above, and also with tomato salad, proscuitto, broad bean hummus (or indeed regular hummus… all sorts of things.

I’m not discounting the more ‘ordinary’ party foods either.  Nothing beats a sausage roll (or seven) and I think it was Nigella who said that the cocktail sausage was the ultimate party food, and I agree.  I’m also toying with paté on tiny crackers, mini cheese and onion scones and maybe some bite sized crab cakes, served with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Oh and I’m making big towers of fairy cakes.  What? I love a fairy cake.

Still a while to go before I have to decide.  What’s your favourite party food?

Oh and PS, I’m off to Miami tomorrow with the lovely chaps at Royal Caribbean to hop on one of their fabulous cruise ships for a cruise around the Caribbean. So I’ll see you in a week. Play nice

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.

Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen on BBC Three Counties Radio. Eek!

So first of all, I have to be honest, I’ve said no to coming on this show A LOT.  Luckily for me, I think Nick could see through my thin veneer of nonchalance to the terrified wobbling jelly within and just kept on asking until I said yes.

Originally I was going to do the Christmas show, but then it was all change and suddenly it was this Saturday.  I was overcome with a mixture of excitement, nerves and a bustling, Womble-like determination to get everything perfect.  It didn’t help when Nick mentioned that I was going to be the main guest on the show (oh, no pressure then…) and needed to devise a three course menu to bring into the studio for us all to eat.  We chatted around different themes… three courses for under a tenner?  Versatile family dishes?  But then got lost in a conversation about how the sauce for one of the dishes I’d planned to do (a spicy lamb meatball dish) could be used for lamb shanks, bolognese, soup… and the theme was there before us: frugal food.  Luckily, I would be joined by fellow food enthusiast Christian Carden-Maund, who would be bringing a main course and a dessert, and the amazingly clever Charles Bennett from Hanslope wines in Buckinghamshire who would be matching wines to our dishes.

I cooked everything on the Friday (dishes are warmed up in the kitchen at the studio so it was fine to bring everything cold) and arrived, stupidly early at the BBC Three Counties studio in Luton on Saturday morning.

Nick was, as ever, cool as a cucumber (I’ve known him for ages through his food blog/vlog, My Daddy Cooks) and very reassuring, as was the lovely producer, Emma.  When Christian and Charles arrived I felt even better as they were lovely – really friendly and chatty, and before I knew it, we were live!

Although I think my first couple of sentences were a bit nervous-sounding, actually I soon forgot I was in the studio as the wine flowed and we tasted and chatted about the various dishes.  Weirdly, all that kept popping up in my head was that my Mum was listening and that I mustn’t let her down by burping or swearing or anything.  It’s fascinating to see behind the scenes, and actually was quite hilarious during the news or a song to have to sprint up the stairs to the kitchen Benny Hill stylee to warm up the dishes, plate them up and bring them back to the studio, then settle into your chair and joining in the chat again as though you’d never left!.

Christian was a brilliant choice to talk about leftovers as he’s something of a leftover guru.  The dish he bought was a fabulous chicken in a sherry cream sauce with mushrooms, which was accompanied by a gorgeous caramelised onion mash – made with potato skins!:

Christian’s dessert was just fabulous – and his own creation – I’m going to ask him to guest blog about the dessert for us because it really is a perfect centrepiece for Christmas: a zesty, light creamy citrus take on a classic tiramisu.  Check out the fabulous caramel basket:

Charles’ wine matches were clever and perfect.  He chose a beautiful organic Argentinian Torrontés wine called Cuma (Michel Torino) to go with my spiced butternut squash soup (inspired by my homie Laura’s gorgeous butternut squash soup).  The generous amount of chilli that I’d added had initially worried me, but matched with the sweetness of the squash and this amazingly rounded white wine, the whole thing was perfect.

For the spicy lamb meatballs, Charles chose this lovely Carmenere (I love Carmenere anyway – Tesco Finest do a great one):

and to match my fudgy chocolate brownie, he went with an amazing dessert wine, which, incidentally he would recommend as a perfect accompaniment to Christmas pudding:

We were also joined by my fellow foodie blogger and online friend, Ren Behan, who does a segment on the show every week. It was lovely to finally meet her in person (plus her apple cake was to die for – I snaffled a couple of slices).

For all the recipes from the show, you can download the factsheet here

Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen is live every Saturday on BBC Three Counties Radio. Thanks so much to Nick for inviting me and to Emma for being so lovely xx

If you want to listen to the show on BBC iPlayer, here’s the link 

An Arabian evening: lemon and mint cocktails, hummus and Arabic Chicken Machboos

Lemon and mint cocktail

On our amazing trip to Dubai, we were served a refreshing drink made of lemon and mint.  I got quite addicted and since coming home have found myself drinking it a lot, with the addition of a slightly less traditional little ‘freshener’ of gin.  Oh it makes all the difference.  Those little minxes at British Mummy Bloggers challenged me to vlog a summer recipe, so I cheated and did this cocktail instead.  Here’s a still from our ‘shoot':

To whip up the cocktail, you’ll need

2 lemons

1 large bunch of mint

1 tablespoon sugar

Large jug of ice

Large slug of gin

So first, squeeze the lemons into the blender.  Try to get as much pulp in there as possible.  Then add in the mint, removing the stalks so you don’t get any woody bits in there.  Add in the sugar and the ice.  Whizz for a LONG time.  Until your ears are ringing and you can’t bear it any more should just about do it.  Finally throw in the gin.  Whizz again just to mix.  Serve immediately.  But hey, just sip okay?  This one’s a bit of a killer.

Of course, if you serve it in one of these luscious Urban Bar glasses, it’ll taste much better:

Quick and easy home made hummus

Obviously to complement your zingy cocktail, you’ll need yummy nibbles.  Hummus is quick and easy and served everywhere in Dubai.  You can keep a tin of chickpeas in the cupboard for when you want to whip up a quick bowl of dippy doo.  Add in a handful of chopped mint or coriander for freshness:

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of salt

2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

Handful of chopped mint or coriander

Paprika to garnish

So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture.  If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water.  Stir in the herbs and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil, with crispy toasted pitta breads, breadsticks or some crunchy veg for dipping.

On our trip, we visited the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a talk and lunch.  Our food was amazing:

Dubai 101

For an easy main course, look no further than this Arabic staple, Machboos.  It’s made everywhere in the UAE and is very similar to a chicken biryani or paella  (most people think this dish originates from India, but our generous hosts in Dubai claimed it as their own!).  The original is made with chicken pieces and dried limes, or loomi, which are difficult to get here so I’ve left them out  (if you find them, add two and make sure you pierce them first – apparently they explode).   Here they are at the spice market (front right):

Dubai 088
Here’s my very simple version that makes for easy entertaining:

Arabic Chicken Machboos (or biryani)*

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

Generous couple of pinches of salt

1 squeeze (say 2 tsp) tomato purée

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

1 or 2 bay leaves

4 chicken breasts,sliced into thin slivers, or leftover roast chicken, shredded

1 litre chicken stock

400g Basmati rice, well rinsed

Pinch of saffron

To garnish: fried onions, handful cashew nuts, handful sultanas and a handful of fresh coriander

So heat your oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage.  Add in the spices (not the saffron) and cook gently until they give off  their lovely aromas.  Throw in the chicken and fry gently (you might have to add a bit more oil here) until it begins to brown.

Take out the bay leaves and add in the chicken stock, rice, saffron and dried limes (if using).  Stir well and cover.  Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender.  Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside.  I know it sounds funny but you can tell when the rice is done as it starts to make a kind of ‘crackling’ noise!  Fork it through and then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve.

In Dubai, our gorgeous biryani was served with a garnish of onions, fried to the point where they were almost crispy, cooked with some cashew nuts and a handful of raisins.  Delicious.  We also ate from enormous platters of grilled fish called Safi, a really memorable meal.  To the right is the Machboos and to the left is a really interesting spicy chicken ‘mousse’ called Madrouba :

Dubai 100

Mint tea

I’m currently lusting after Denby’s newest collaboration with Monsoon: ‘Cosmic’ – a paisley print in ‘deep blue, teal, mauve and lime’.  I want it all.  I keep smashing my Denby Reflex, so I’m trying to persuade the hubster into a new collection.  This is classic Denby quality with beautiful embellishment. What’s not to love?  This teapot would be perfect for serving some refreshing mint tea in the garden after your deliciously scented Arabic meal:

And finally, for your entertainment, here’s me getting into the spirit of things and trying on the national dress (I’m on the right *cough*).  Yeah, go on, laugh it up.

Dubai 104

*Thanks to Nick Coffer for help with this recipe adaptation.

Step by step chicken stock, chicken soup and herby cheesy bread

Friday was a roast chicken kind of day. We lazed around, watched the Royal Wedding (which incidentally, I thought I’d feel really ‘meh’ about, but loved every minute and even had a bit of a blub – wasn’t she divine?) and did very little.

Our dinner was a chicken, roasted with a ‘lemon up its bum’ (won’t make a page in my recipe book, admittedly, but it’s a family favourite) and some local new season potatoes and simple veggies. Afterwards, we sat chatting at the table, picking at the leftover chicken with our fingers. ‘This is my favourite way to eat chicken’, said the Mad Professor. I have to agree.

Of course, the very best thing about chicken is that you get to make chicken soup the next day. I’m a bit of a random soup maker, so there could be anything in there – parsnips… potatoes…  a handful or two of lentils… leftover bacon… whatever takes my fancy. Generally, though, my method is the same.

For the basic stock:

First, pick over the chicken – you’ll be surprised how much meat you can still get off, even when you think it’s nearly finished. With the carcass on a board, have a bowl and a large stock pot in front of you. As you pick, place the nice bits of chicken in the bowl, and any dodgy bits or skin in the pot. When you’ve finished, chuck the rest of the carcass in the pot, cover generously with water (anything up to 2L really) and then bung in your flavourings, popping the bowl of choice chicken back into the fridge.


Depending on your personal preference, and what you’ve got leftover, this could be a couple of onions, a couple of carrots, a few peppercorns, parsley stalks, bay leaves, garlic… Pop in a generous pinch of sea salt, but don’t go mad, you can adjust this later.

Then just boil it up – leave it for as long as you want as the flavours will just intensify – I’ll often leave it bubbling away for a couple of hours.

Now just cool and strain. I can’t bear to throw away anything remotely edible like the carrots, onions, etc, but of course you can. At this stage you can freeze the stock, or carry on and make soup.

To make soup:

Pop in a couple of carrots, parsnips, leeks… (again, whatever you have) and then add a couple of handfuls of lentils – this thickens it up nicely. Leave it to simmer and get on with the bread…

Cheesy herby bread:

225g self raising flour

50g butter

110g strong cheddar, grated

Couple tbsp chopped herbs – whatever you have – I often just use dried mixed herbs

1 egg

200ml milk

Of course these wedges are really more like scones, but they’re so easy to make and go perfectly with soup.

Put the flour into a large bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, then rub in the butter just like you would for, say, a crumble, until it looks breadcrumby. Grate the cheese and stir into the flour mixture with a fork until well blended (you don’t want big lumps of cheese) and add in the herbs. Then measure out your milk in a jug, add the egg and whisk until combined. Pour slowly into the floury cheesy mixture, mixing until it just comes together and makes a soft dough. You can reserve any leftover egg/milk mixture to brush onto the top before baking.

Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a gentle knead just until it comes together in a nice ball. Flatten it out until it’s about 2″ thick and vaguely circular and then just divide it into six or eight wedges. Brush with the leftover milky mixture and bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Lastly, blend up the soup and add back in the nice bits of chicken, stirring to warm them through well. Serve with some yummy herby cheesy bread, and feel all smug and self-sufficient.

Oh, and remember if you’re a food blogger – it’s best to take the picture before they eat the food.

The soup swap: Erica’s French onion soup with cheese crostini

So last week I was lucky enough to receive a rather lovely parcel from British Onions.  There were onions, naturally, tons of onions, but there were also some very unusual extras:

So what to make with all these lovely onions?  Well, one of my favourite recipes is my lovely friend Erica’s French onion soup (don’t let the name fool you, it may be a French recipe, but it’s British onions all the way!).  I make it all the time, varying the cheese on the crostini with everything from lovely Irish Glebe Brehan to good old Wexford Cheddar (I live up the road from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, so I get plenty of variety).

In order to wangle this soup recipe off Erica, I had to swap one of my own (oh, she strikes a hard bargain).  I’ve gone for my ever-useful fragrant chicken soup.  If you want to sneak a peak, head over to Erica’s blog, LittleMummy.com.

For the onion soup, you’ll need:

A variety of onions (Erica adds leek as well, which gives a lovely texture): I use 4 or 5 depending on their size: red/white/shallots, whatever you have

3 cloves garlic

1.5 – 2 litres beef stock (depending on how many you’re cooking for)

A couple of fresh Sage leaves (or a large pinch of dried)

For the crostini you’ll need:

French bread (a little stale is best – Ciabatta or sourdough work well too)

Mature Cheddar (or any cheese that melts nicely)

Worcestershire Sauce

So for the soup:

Soften the onions really slowly on a low heat with a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil.  Erica warns that you mustn’t let the onions ‘catch’ on the pan and brown.  ‘You want a soft ball of onions that’s almost mush’.

Add the sage and beef stock and simmer for half an hour. Season to taste.

For the crostini:

Slice the bread thickly, rub with olive oil and either toast on a griddle or bake in the oven.  Cover with cheese and grill.

Serve the cheesey crostinis in the soup with a twist of black pepper and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce (I got some old-fashioned Mushroom Ketchup in my kit from British Onions – it works really well in this recipe too).

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?

Cheese Bread Wedges

What is it about Heinz tinned soups?  They’re actually pretty disgusting – I mean, how do they get that gelatinous texture?  It doesn’t bear thinking about.  And the mushroom flavour, which is #1’s preferred choice, is frankly revolting.  Too creamy, oddly grey in colour and, well, mushrooms don’t really taste like that, do they.  And then there’s the tomato flavour.  It’s bloody orange, for goodness sake.  If there’s a power cut you could just crack one open and bingo – you’d all be able to see by the luminous orange glow emanating from the tin.  But hey, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, sometimes only a tin of soup will do (I favour Baxter’s curried vegetable and lentil one personally) and I often whip up these little beauties, which are actually more scone than bread, to dunk in a revoltingly bad mannered way, into the bowl.

8 oz self raising flour

1 1/2 oz butter

4 oz cheese

1 egg

1/4 pint milk

So put your flour into a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, then rub in the butter just like you would for, say, a crumble or whatever until it looks breadcrumby.  Grate the cheese and stir into the flour mixture with a fork until well blended (you don’t want big lumps of cheese).  Then measure out your milk in a jug, add the egg and whisk until combined.  Pour slowly into the floury cheesy mixture, mixing until it just comes together and makes a soft dough.  You can reserve any leftover egg/milk mixture to brush onto the top before baking.

So tip it out and give it a gentle knead just until it comes together in a nice ball.  Flatten it out until it’s about 2″ thick and vaguely circular and then just divide it into six or eight wedges.  Brush with the leftover milky mixture and bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Eat warm with your weirdly gelatinous soup, or with a nice salad, or with cheese and pickle…mmmmmmm…

By the way, if you’re having a posh dinner party, these are amazing made with, say, half and half cheddar and parmesan and a sprinkle of chopped rosemary, or with snipped chives and a teaspoon of mustard, or any other flavourings you can think of.  Chopped sundried tomato and fresh basil would be lovely with a fresh tomato salad.  Much easier than baking bread rolls and with a lovely soft texture.

Yummy baguette fillings (or party food)

So me Ma’s visit all passed in a happy blur. Oh, apart from the bit when Bertie disgraced himself by eating her knitting needles- sorry Ma. Oh, and that other bit where Bertie disgraced himself by hopping into her bed and frightening her silly when she returned from a nocturnal trip to the loo – sorry again Ma. And yesterday I found myself dropping her at the airport again.

Still, no point dwelling on the negatives so I took myself off to the Pavilions in Swords. It’s not huge, but I like it because of TK Maxx. What an excellent shop. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel in the mood for trying stuff on (I was eating a Creme Egg at the time – ’tis amazing the amount of men that stare at you when you’re trying to get the last bit of gooey stuff out of the bottom of the egg) because there are all sorts of other rubbish to rummage about in: kitchen stuff, books, cushions, you name it. I came away with a lovely lime green Le Creuset jug, a Typhoon vintage pink pie dish, a pink enamel storage tin and a very handy stainless steel strainer (small enough holes to keep at least some of my rice from ending up in the sink), plus change from thirty Euro. Not bad eh? I dropped into Dunnes on the way back and got some of their nice frozen prawns and their free range chicken (well done Dunnes – excellent selection!!) along with some baguettes. Hubby’s mate, J, is still staying (Bertie’s biscuit pusher) and I thought I’d do a couple of nice things that we can bung into the baguettes with some rocket. First up will be the yummy little chicken cakes that I always do (heaven with some nice sweet chilli sauce and SO easy, and also I’ll do some tamarind prawns:

Chicken Cakes

Couple of raw chicken breasts or prawns (must be raw or you’ll get a big wet mess)
1 medium red chilli, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large spring onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp Coriander leaves, chopped
Pinch of salt

So basically, whiz all the ingredients in a blender. I reserve the cornflour until last so you can see how thick it is – it’s amazing how it differs between batches – you need it thick enough to stay together in hot oil. So you can either make patties or just dollop tablespoons of the mixture into a half inch of hot oil until golden. This works just as well with prawns when you can also spread it onto toast, press on some sesame seeds and fry until the prawns are pink and the sesame seeds lightly tanned.

Tamarind Prawns

1 pack prawns, defrosted, or fresh ones if you’re that lucky – the bigger the better
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Juice of ½ lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar or honey
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp tamarind paste

So pop the prawns into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients so that they marinate for a while, then bung them straight into a hot wok until they’re pink and gorgeous and the sauce is reduced and sticky. Heaven sprinkled with sliced spring onion on noodles, rice, or just wodged into a baguette with some mayo a la English Towers. Excuse me while I wipe my drool from the keyboard

Tamarind Chicken Noodles

So you’ll like this one. Hubby, being a bit weird, can’t eat pasta at all – makes him gag, apparently (oh the drama). But he loves noodles, which as far as I’m concerned are exactly the same as pasta so I just substitute one for the other. When he comes home late from work I often put some noodles on as they’re quick and knock this chicken up, or sometimes I just do the chicken and mix it with a supermarket bag of leaves. I’ve messed about with it an awful lot but I reckon it’s just right now and last time I made it I managed to remember to write it down. Oh, and regarding the tamarind, give it a go. I had baked sea bass with tamarind in a Thai restaurant and really loved it so I bought a little jar and I’m quite addicted now. It’s an odd, sweet/sour sort of flavour, but really tastes nice in this:

1 pack fine egg noodles
2 chicken breasts or some leftover chicken, shredded
1 pack Pak Choi, sliced and washed (can be gritty)
Couple of spring onions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped, or 1 tsp chilli flakes
Juice of ½ lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce (Nam Pla)
1 tbsp brown sugar or honey
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp tamarind paste

So slice up a couple of chicken breasts into strips, mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl and add the chicken, turning it over so it’s all combined. Leave to one side while you boil a saucepan of water, salt it and bung in your noodles.

Heat a wok or large saucepan and throw in the chicken together with all the marinade (it’s got oil in so you shouldn’t need any more) and the spring onions. Stir fry until the chicken’s cooked, it doesn’t take long. Add your chopped Pak Choi near the end – this really needs to just be warmed through, it’s horrible if it’s soggy – and toss together.

Drain your noodles and tip them into the wok, mixing them all in with the chicken and the sauce. Serve sprinkled with chopped salted peanuts and some coriander.

By the way, if you want to make this more like chicken noodle soup, boil the noodles in 1 litre of made-up chicken stock, cook the chicken separately, then add it all in to the noodles at the end. Spoon into bowls and eat it making shameless slurping noises in front of the telly.

Fragrant Chicken Soup

Seeing as our favourite Sunday lunch of all time is roast lemon chicken, I feel we’re somewhat wasteful with the leftovers as generally I’m too squeamish (or too knackered after the whole Sunday lunch palaver) to bother about picking over the considerable remains of 2kg of chicken, and it just goes in the bin. This Sunday, then, I made a mental note to save the chicken, and spent a mind-numbing half hour picking off each and every little bit of leftover meat. I probably had a good cereal bowl full after I was done (and Bertie got all the icky bits, lucky boy). Here, then, is the soup I made on Monday lunchtime, which we ate for supper (or tea or whatever) along with some of Rachel Allen’s Honey Brown Bread, which is dead easy to make and a very nice way to while away a rainy Cavan afternoon. I’m calling it ‘fragrant’ rather than ‘curried’ as I’m feeling all creative and artistic following the bread-making, and anyway it sounds better.

Fragrant Chicken Soup with Lentils

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 tsp Garam Masala or curry powder would do I guess
1 bowl cooked chicken, shredded
2 chicken stock cubes crumbled into 1 litre boiling water
1 carrot, finely chopped
Couple of large handfuls of lentils

So heat your oil in a nice heavy saucepan or Le Creuset casserole if you’re that loaded (I want a pink one please, Santa). Finely chop your onion and add to the pan along with a generous sprinkling of salt to stop them browning too much. When they’re slightly softened and translucent add the spring onions. Then sprinkle over the Garam Masala and stir well. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and make up the stock. Add this to the saucepan and then bung in your chicken, carrots and lentils (I used green), plus any other leftover veg you might have floating around.

Cover your soup and leave it to simmer away gently on a low heat until the vegetables are soft and the lentils cooked (nothing worse than chewing on an undercooked lentil) and your whole kitchen is steamy and fragrant. Season to taste, sprinkle on a final flourish of chopped coriander, then trough with mountains of brown bread. Yurrrrmmm.

Kind of Chinese

We had a right laugh yesterday. C&J came to dinner and I decided to rustle up a dodgy approximation of a Chinese meal. Actually, it went really well and although not particularly authentic, it tasted okay. I had that last-minute flap when everything suddenly either became ready or needed doing at the last minute, but that’s the beauty of having friends round, because they either don’t care, or they’re too polite to say anything. Either way you’re on to a winner.

So, quick menu (recipes at the bottom):

Five Spice Chilli Cashews
Teriyaki Chicken
Sweet and Sour Chicken Skewers
Red Thai Curry Prawns
Chinese vegetables in oyster sauce

I also did some steamed rice (supposed to be with lemongrass but they didn’t have any in Tesco), and I also planned to do a noodle dish with spring onion and chilli, but in typical ‘doh!’ fashion, found them still in the fridge after dinner. Ah well. We teamed it with a nice, chilled bottle of Chenin Blanc, then J brought along an absolutely to die for cinnamon crumble cake and a chocolate one too for my poor, chocolate addicted children, and we spent rather too long afterwards indulging in a lovely bottle of Hardy’s Crest Cabernet Shiraz and playing mad games on the Wii (still think it’s a stupid name).

So, for the Five Spice Chilli Cashew Nuts (just a little appetiser): heat 300g cashew nuts in a dry pan for 1-2 minutes until toasted. Sprinkle over 1/2 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder (actually, I found some Thai seven-spice powder which was really nice), 1 tbsp salt (omit if you’re using the salted kind) and 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, stir for another 30 seconds and Robert’s your Uncle.

For the Teriyaki Chicken, which turned out to be particularly good and very easy, I nicked the idea for the Teriyaki sauce recipe off another one for Crispy Duck Teriyaki Noodle Salad from Ashbell McElveen, who did it on UKTV Food, but then (as usual) bastardised it to my own liking. Basically you just bung 8 tbsp of Teriyaki Sauce (Kikkoman do a good one) in a bowl with 4 tbsp soy sauce and a tbsp Sesame Oil (the recipe calls for 6 tbsp but I was making a healthy version), plus 2 tbsp clear honey, the juice of a lime, one fat garlic clove (grated) and an inch piece of ginger, also grated. Put in your fillets of raw chicken and leave to marinate for a couple of hours. Finally, just grill the chicken pieces until cooked through, basting them with the marinade a couple of times during cooking (obviously don’t serve the marinade uncooked – Salmonella Teriyaki is never going to be a winner).

For the chicken skewers, I just threaded chunks of chicken breast onto pre-soaked wooden skewers, grilled them then served them with the wonderful Ching He Huang’s Sweet and Sour Sauce

For the Thai Red Prawn Curry, I used my Thai Green Prawn Curry recipe but added a sliced red chilli and substituted the red curry paste for the green one.

And finally, for the Chinese vegetables, just chop a couple of Pak Choi and a head of Chinese Leaf, then quickly cook them in the wok with a splash of boiling water (so they basically steam) until just tender, then drain and at the last minute stir in a tbsp of Oyster Sauce. Yum.

There you are, that should keep you busy. Needless to say, when J&C left, Hubby and I were in such a good mood (oh, the joy – adult company that doesn’t include each other!) we ended up carrying on drinking. Sore heads all round today then.