We tend to go through different little food fads in our house. A while ago it was home made pizzas, then it was a gazillion iterations of coconut based curries, and now we’re addicted to empanadas. Think of empanadas as delicious little spiced Cornish pasties. You’ll find them all over Latin America and Spain, stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. I tend to fill mine with a dry-ish version of my normal chilli mixture. If you want to go all technical and make proper Chilean empanadas de pino, you’ll need to add raisins, chopped boiled eggs and olives, which, as you can imagine is a stretch too far for the fussier ones in my family, so I stick to a spicy minced beef filling. The dough for these deliciously simple empanadas is fab: really easy to work with and really forgiving – no resting necessary.
As the parents of two young lads, one of the charities very close to our hearts is Centre Point, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity. Centre Point has recently launched a new fundraising initiative, The Big Broth. It’s a competition to find a new and exciting soup recipe. The winning recipe will be put into production by Yorkshire Provender this autumn with 20p from every pot sold going straight back into funding Centre Point’s work with the young homeless in London and other major UK cities. The competition closes very soon (end of this month) and they’re keen to get as many entries in as possible, so if you have a favourite soup recipe, please please take five minutes to enter the competition. It’s such a worthy cause. I’ve entered our new favourite, a slow cooked chicken leg soup which is deliciously warm and tasty, perfect for chilly days or to perk up anyone feeling under the weather.
You may remember a little while ago, I told you about my favourite little gadget, the Breville Blend Active Pro. It’s perfect for smoothies, purées and sauces because it’s small and neat, but I’ve often thought how nice it would be to have a bit of a bigger receptacle (is that the right word?) so I could use it for soups and stuff like that without having to haul out my enormous blender/liquidiser. Well, happy days are here, because there’s now a fab new Blend Active accessory pack which includes a whole bunch of attachments that allow it to do loads more stuff: whip cream, process larger amounts of food, grind herbs, and even juice fruit! Breville set me a little challenge to come up with a delicious hummus recipe using the Blend Active Pro and new accessory pack, and I had great fun playing with flavours. I think you’ll like this Moroccan spiced hummus with spiced roasted chickpeas – and I’m still thinking about ways to make it even more delicious (see notes at the end).
So did you know that Sunday was International Picnic Day? Luckily the weather was absolutely gorgeous so it was easy to get outside and do some alfresco snacking. Of course planning the perfect picnic really shouldn’t include limp sandwiches and sweaty salads – I think the key to an impressive picnic is to mix a few things you’ve made yourself with a selection of ready made bits and bobs, blurring the edges so nobody quite knows which is which. I’ve been trying out a few items from Tesco’s brand new Mediterranean-inspired Deli range, and they fit the bill perfectly: you can eat many of the items hot or cold, and there are loads of tasty little bits and pieces perfect for eating with your fingers.
Have you seen the new Cathedral City advert with David Jason? I love the ‘cheese rules’, especially the one about when the cheese gets too small to grate, you get to eat the last bit. That always happens in our house. Cathedral City asked us about our own ‘cheese rules’ and it immediately made me think of the bubbly bits left on the pan after making cheese on toast. We always fight over them, but clearly I win as I’m the cook. Talking of cheese on toast, here’s my version of Welsh rarebit – alcohol free and with the addition of a few herbs. It’s absolutely delicious and moreish and makes the perfect working from home lunch or easy supper:
Ages ago when I was on Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen at BBC Three Counties radio, a lovely lady called Polly had this delicious recipe for this fresh and crunchy winter slaw made with shredded sprouts that was such a lovely mix of textures and flavours: fresh and crunchy, spicy and sweet.
You’ll probably remember that back in the summer, The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the #thriftyorganic challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for a 100% organic one, all for £83, the average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four. We ate really well AND stayed on budget, and it made me really think about what we eat, and made me plan our meals properly as well. Eating organic on a budget really is possible!
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…
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.
So 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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):
Arabic Chicken Machboos (or biryani)*
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
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 :
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.
*Thanks to Nick Coffer for help with this recipe adaptation.
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
1/4 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.
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.
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