Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Baked Potatoes and Roast Veggies

Apologies for the picture; I started eating before I had taken it! And anyway, I think it is more real to see what I actually cooked rather than a stylised version with napkins and old cutlery and stuff to create a mood. I mean, there is a beauty to that, an art, but sometimes it can put me off because the end product looks so perfect. I want my food to be accessible to everyone, especially me! (And now, I couldn't even upload the pic anyway!!)
Tonight, we had baked potatoes, with the ususal tuna/mayonnaise, baked beans, grated cheese combination for the children. But I had a lot of winter vegetables in the 'fridge which really needed eating, so I opted to do a kind of winter ratatouille. I saw this recipe years ago in a magazine and use it in times such as these. You can just throw in whatever you have lying around in the bottom of the 'fridge, and it tastes wholesome and gorgeous!

Winter Ratatouille (serves about 6 as a side-dish)

1 onion
half a butternut squash
2 carrots
1 parsnip
1 fennel bulb
1 small celeriac.......... all chopped
1 head of garlic
a good slug of olive oil
1 tin tomatoes
150ml veggie stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 190 degrees/Gas mk 5. Bung in the pricked baking potatoes.
Tip the chopped vegetables into a large roasting tin, add enough olive oil to coat all the pieces and add the whole garlic bulb. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and break them up. Add the stock, balsamic vinegar, season and mix.
Bake for a further 30 minutes or so, adding a little more liquid if they start to catch.

Serve with the baked potatoes. Yum!

We also had home-made 'trifles'. Make up raspberry jelly, add 5-6 raspberries to 4-6 glasses and pour the jelly over the top. Leave to set, then add some custard and whipped cream to the top.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Stir Fry and Rice Pudding.......

An unlikely combination, I admit, and sweet, scented rice pud really doesn't follow a mouthful of raw garlic......
So, it's Easter Holidays and, as usual, my boys are always hungry. Try as I might, I can't get them to eat the fruit that I'm told I should, so my house is now stuffed full of bread and bread products in the hope of stemming their appetites long enough for me to be able to cook something wholesome!
Today was stir-fry with lots of veggies. I love this recipe; so simple and so lovely. You will be cooking dinner in under 20 minutes - hurrah!
And rice pudding is always a great favourite in my house - wolfed down in seconds, after the hour and a half to cook! It's a great one, though, because it takes about 3 minutes to construct and then you can forget it.
Stir-Fry (serves 4 hungry bods)

1-2 tbs vegetable oil
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut into strips
5 spring onions, chopped
1 courgette, cut into matchsticks
150g mushrooms, sliced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 inch long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
1.5 tbs soy sauce
1.5 tbs sesame oil
4-5 noodle portions

Cook the noodles as per the packet, then drain and cover.
Heat a wok over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, make the dressing: mix the garlic, ginger , soy sauce and sesame oil together.
Add a tbs or so of vegetable oil to the wok. Add the carrots and stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the pepper, onions, courgette and cook for another 7-8 minutes or so. Add the mushrooms, cook for another 2-3 minutes. Finally, add half the dressing to the noodles and half to the vegetables.

Serve immediately.
(it always appears that chef's children eat everything they cook, making the rest of us feel wholly inadequate - but I'm more real! Only one of my three children will eat the vegetable part of this: the others only have the dressed noodles - so you're not the only one!)

Rice Pudding (serves 4-5 depending on how many hungry boys are present!)

150g pudding rice
75g sugar
750ml milk
fresh nutmeg

Heat the oven to 150 degrees/Gas mk2. Butter a 1 litre souffle dish or equivalent.
Put the rice and sugar in the dish and cover with the milk, poking the rice grains beneath the surface. Grate nutmeg all over the top and dot with pieces of butter.
Bake in the oven for an hour and a half until golden brown on the top.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Friends and Friands!

A group of my friends and I have decided to make time to practise the lovely creative crafts we learn to do at various workshops. So, every month or so, we choose and evening to get together. Last night, we learnt how to weave willow with my lovely friend Nicky Rowling. She showed us how to make heart-shaped and circular wreaths, and lovely little spiral bird-feeders. I had such a lovely time, just being there, drinking coffee and creating lovely things using such an ancient skill.

I baked some friands for the occasion and they went down so well that I have given you the recipe. Friands are little almond cakes which are very popular in Australia to have with morning coffee, and they are little bites of heaven! Not only that, but they are VERY easy to make; no beating or creaming or folding - EASY!! I realised this morning that they are almost identical to French Madeleines, just subsitute vanilla essence for the lemon zest (easy to whip up in the morning while you are in the shower!).

Have fun!

Friands (Makes 6 big ones or about 12 smaller bites)

4 oz butter, melted
4 1/2 oz icing sugar
1 oz plain flour
3 oz ground almonds
3 medium eggwhites
grated zest of one lemon
3 oz blueberries or cubed apple or pieces of pear or plum

Heat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas Mk 6

Sift the flour and icing sugar and stir in the almonds. Whisk the eggs whites until floppy.
Tip into the dry ingredients along with the lemon zest, stir in the butter.

Grease the tins and pour in the batter. Sprinkle some pieces of fruit on the top and bake for about 18-20 minutes. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out and cool.
ps, turn your computer (or your head) around to view the picture the right way up!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


I love biscotti - sometimes called Cantuccini - those very dry, hard Italian biscuits that you have to dunk into dessert wine or a cup of tea or coffee otherwise you can break your teeth!

They are very easy to make and last an age in a tin, and my children love them! They also contain no fat, for what that's worth!

For me they conjure up sitting in an Italian piazza, watching the world go by, and savouring delicious coffee. On the other hand, my children just love to stuff them down without caring about dental bills......

(Makes about 20)

100g almonds
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
250g plain flour (Italian 'OO' flour is authentic)
225g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g pistachios (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/Gas Mk 5. Flour two baking trays.

Lightly beat the eggs and yolk with the vanilla, then sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. Pour in the egg mixture. Add the almonds and pistachios (you can use your imagination and add chocolate chips or walnuts or raisins, etc.) and mix to a very stiff dough.

Turn out on a floured surface and roll into a log shape. Cut in half and place the two halves on the centre of each of the baking trays and bake for 15 minutes.

Turn the oven down to 150 degrees/Gas Mk 2. Remove the biscotti from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Cut the logs into 1cm slices and place these flat on the baking trays. Return to the oven and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp.
Cool completely and store in an airtight jar.

What I have been cooking:

Last night I was organised, for once! With various after-school appointments, I actually had something ready in the oven when we all arrived home. My auntie Barb from the US gave me this recipe for Baked Ziti. Ziti is the equivalent of penne here, but I use any pasta shape that can hold some sauce.

Baked Ziti (Serves 6)

500g pasta
1 tub ricotta cheese (or Philadelphia)
1 egg
25-50g cheddar, grated
1 ball mozzarella, cubed
Tomato pasta sauce or Bolognaise sauce

Heat the oven to 200 degrees/Gas Mk 4. Cook the pasta as the instructions. Mix the ricotta, egg and seasoning in a large bowl. Drain the pasta when ready, tip into the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Tip the pasta sauce into a casserole dish. Pour half of the pasta on top and sprinkle with half the cheeses. Tip in the remaining pasta and top with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden.

Serve with fresh bread and a green salad. As my Aunt would say, 'Enjoy!'

Monday, 15 March 2010

Pancakes and Omlettes

Walked today from Dorking to Leith Hill - what a day for it! I think I may be a little sunburned! I had made some American pancakes for breakfast, so I took the left-overs for the girls. The recipe is below. If you are having them on a schoolday - yes, it is possible - measure out the ingredients the night before, mix the batter in the morning and put the pan on to heat while you are in the shower!

This evening, I couldn't think what to cook for dinner. Then I spied the pack of 15 eggs hanging around near the cooker - aha - omelettes! My children love omelettes (what a strange word now I have typed it twice....) and we sometimes have them for brekkie. Tonight, I gave them the option of plain (with salt for Jolie), cheese (her friend Neva), ham (Barney) and fried onions (Jake). I had a sort of Spanish affair with onions, peppers and left-over potatoes. Delicious. Apologies for the picture; I forgot until I was halfway through!

Omelette (serves one)

3 eggs, lightly beaten
knob of butter

Heat a small frying-pan over a medium heat. Add a knob of butter and wait for it to stop sizzling. Add the eggs all at once. Leave for a minute or two, then pull the cooked underneath gently aside so the runny eggs fill the space left in the pan. Repeat until there is not much left running on the surface. Season with salt and pepper.
Now, purists will have you gently slide a palette knife under one side and flip it over, with runny egg inside, which does continue cooking for a while.
But I don't like runny egg AT ALL, so I leave it to cook longer, and sometimes finish it off under the grill.

You can add, grated cheese, chopped ham, herbs, fry some onion before adding the eggs, cooked sliced potatoes, the list goes on.

Breakfast Pancakes (serves 4 hungry people!)

200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
milk to mix (about 200ml)

Put a frying pan on a medium heat.
Measure the flour, baking powder and sugar into a large bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla and mix with enough milk to make a very stiff batter. You want it so that it only just drops off a spoon. Add some butter to the pan, then table-spoonfuls of the batter. Wait until bubbles appear on the surface before flipping them over.
Eat with maple or agave syrup and butter. Americans eat these with crispy bacon too.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Cupcakes and Birthdays

For my birthday this year, I fancied coffee and cakes at my house with my lovely friends. And so it was this morning!

I have been looking at the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and decided on the Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes. I substituted frozen raspberries from my garden instead and they worked just as well, if not better because the tart raspberries cut through the sweetness of the icing. Hope they will sell more books because I have printed the recipe here!
I have got to say that my lovely friend, Paula, baked a carrot cake and some brownies for me, which went down just as quickly!! Thanks Paula!

Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins Makes 12

Heat the oven to 170 degrees/Gas mk 4

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, soft

Whizz or beat all these until combined and a sandy texture.

0.5 tsp vanilla essence
120ml whole milk
1 egg

Whizz or beat again until well mixed.

Divide 12 chopped strawberries or 36 raspberries between 12 muffin cases. Spoon the cake mixture on top and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely.

For the icing, whizz together:
300g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter
125g cream cheese

Spread over each cake. Crush 6 digestive biscuits to crumbs and sprinkle over the top.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Filo Spinach Pie......

Hmmm, what's in my 'fridge? A packet of filo pastry which should be eaten this week, some fresh spinach and a tub of ricotta cheese! I confess that I fancied a Spanakopita-type of dish sometime this week, so I had the ingredients. But, you could knock up something just as delicious with some de-frosted puff pastry, some frozen spinach and a pack of Philadelphia cheese. Spanakopita is a lovely Greek dish; great for vegetarians as it is quite substantial.

Using spinach always sounds like hard work, but I have discovered that all you need to do to 'wilt' it (or partially cook it) is to put it into a colander and pour a kettle-full of boiling water over the top. just give it a squeeze to get rid of as much water as possible and then chop. Be careful; it retains its heat for a long time!

My version of Spanakopita (Serves 6-8)

This recipe took me about 20 minutes to make!

1 pack of filo pastry (or puff pastry)
2 leeks, chopped
350g of fresh spinach, wilted and roughly chopped
1 tub of ricotta
60g grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
a grating of nutmeg
2 eggs

Some olive oil for brushing

Heat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mk 4. Brush a roasting tin with oil.
Cook the leeks in a little oil until soft. Combine the leeks, spinach, ricotta, cheddar, seasoning, nutmeg and eggs.
Open the filo pastry and unroll the sheets, then cover them with a damp cloth. They dry out really quickly and then become brittle. Take two sheets and brush the top sheet all over with oil. Place in the roasting tin with the ends hanging over the edge. Take another two sheets, brush with oil and place in the tin, the other way round.
Tip the mixture on to the pastry in a sausage shape. Fold over the sides to make a parcel, then flip the parcel over, so the seam is underneath and make sure the surface is oiled all over.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until crisp and golden.

Then I went mad and baked some biscotti and some little cakes for the children! Phew!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Busy busy!

A spring picture to brighten your day!

I have been rushed off my feet since half-term (when my children didn't seem to stop bickering), SOOOOO tired, and with no time in the day it seems! Are days getting shorter or something?
Anyway, I find it hard to be inspired cooking-wise during times like these and I struggle to get enough veg into myself, let alone everyone else!

So, what have I been cooking? Try these store-cupboard easy meals:

Beans on Toast
Always a winner! Nutritious and filling, we serve it with a knob of butter on the top and some grated cheese on the side. And I always want a cup of tea to go with it!

Sausages and chips
Easy peasy to make your own oven chips. Take about one large potato per person, peel (I don't always) and slice into chips. Dry in a tea-towel and toss in some oil and seasoning, and a little paprika and bake at 200 degrees for about 35 minutes. I always like to maximise the use of the oven so I often roast some butternut squash, wedges of onion and sweet potato slices.
The sausages you can cook in the oven at the same time, according to the label on the packet.
Tonight we had tuna steaks and chips, with a green salad and some fried onions, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes.

Toasted Cheese Sandwiches
Try the toaster pockets from Lakeland. Butter both sides of the bread, then fill with grated cheese, ham, pickle, mango chutney, and whatever else you like - brie and cranberry sauce perhaps. Costa does a tuna melt and I have perfected the taste: tuna with mayonnaise, a small amount of grated onion, some grated cheddar and some mozzarella, and seasoning.
Slide the sandwiches into the pockets and toast for about 2 minutes until oozing with cheese and golden brown.

Have fun!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Muffins and other musings....

I am so disappointed when recipes don't turn out right, and there are a lot of books out there with recipes that just don't work. My cookbook is full of recipes that DO work, and I would welcome comments from you if the recipes in this blog don't work for you for any reason. As you can see, I take photos to show you what everything should look like, and to prove that they do work!!
I tried some carrot cake muffins today from Nigella's book, 'Domestic Goddess'. I really like the way she writes and a lot of her recipes are great, but I knew this wasn't going to work because the mixture just wasn't moist enough. Now, I am an obsessive baker, so I knew what was wrong, but I decided to bake them anyway to see what happened. Lo and behold, they didn't level out in the cases because the mixture was too stiff, but people trying that for the first time would be put off baking muffins - what a SHAME!!

Too much information????

Here is a recipe that ALWAYS works and is DELICIOUS!!!!!! It is from a wonderful book called, 'The Planet Organic Cookbook' by Renee Elliot and Eric Treuille, the proprietors of the organic supermarket and eatery of the same name. Check them out

Blueberry Yoghurt Muffins (Makes 12)

300g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt (don't leave this out)
2 eggs, beaten
175g light brown sugar
250ml plain yoghurt
125ml melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
175g blueberries

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mk 5.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Mix the eggs, sugar, yoghurt, butter and vanilla in a second bowl and beat until well blended. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture with the blueberries and fold gently until just combined. Do not overmix. The mixture SHOULD NOT BE SMOOTH. Divide between 12 muffin cases.
Bake until risen and golden, 15-17 minutes.
Leave in the tin for 5 minutes before removing. Serve while still warm.

These are great because they are just as good the next day, and freeze brilliantly. Try them for breakfast!

Banana Cinnamon (you HAVE to try these!!!!!!)
Replace the blueberries with 2 diced bananas and 2 tsp cinnamon.
Lemon Pear
Replace the blueberries with 2 diced pears and zest of 1 lemon.