Friday, 29 November 2013

Sweet and salty nut crunch bars

Skip this page if you are trying to watch the calories in the countdown to Christmas. I certainly should be. I made this deliciously rich, indulgent chocolate bar to take to a friends house on Sunday.
The recipe is from 'Nigellas Kitchen' cookbook. Talking of Nigella, I'm hoping the latest scandal about her this week isn't true, though it will explain why she's always raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. A bad case of the munchies maybe?

Cuts into 24 small slices 
200g  dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
125g butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
250g salted peanuts
4 x 40 gr Crunchie bars
1 foil tray, approximately 30 x 20 x 5 cm or a springform 8" cake tin

In a saucepan, break up the chocolates into pieces and add the butter and golden syrup. Melt gently under low heat.
Tip the peanuts into a bowl and crush the Crunchie bars, letting the rubble falls into the nuts.
Take the melted chocolate mixture off the heat and stir in the peanuts and crushed Crunchie bars, then tip straight to the foil tray. Smooth the top of the mixture and put it in the fridge for about four hours before cutting into slices as desired.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Spiced prawn and coconut pilaf

I was fortunate enough to have all the ingredients for this meal I found on the BBC Goodfood website last night. It saved me an unwanted shopping trip. A bag of raw prawns in the freezer and a well stocked spice cupboard is a really good standby. Even better Steve cooked last night, he is a little slow on the chopping front, but I can handle that if he is happy to do the cooking.  A very flavoursome, reasonably easy to make meal. 

Serves 4
250g basmati rice, washed well
small piece fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 medium onion, finely sliced
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
300g raw prawns, peeled
handful flaked unsweetened coconut, to serve

Cook the rice according to pack instructions, then set aside. Put the ginger, garlic and tomatoes into a food processor, blend to make a paste, then set aside until you’re ready to cook.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add the whole spices. Once they sizzle, add the onion, frying over a medium heat for about 10 mins until soft. Add the ground spices and paste, then cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce has released the oil back into the pan. Add the prawns, then cook for a few mins until cooked through – the mixture should be quite dry and paste-like.
Stir the cooked rice into the pan to coat it well in the spices. Make sure the rice is heated through, then serve scattered with the coconut.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hairy Bikers mushroom, feta and tomato baked peppers

I can not praise this recipe enough. It was without a doubt one of the nicest meals I have cooked in a long time. I could tell when I was cooking up the filling that it was going to be good, as the smells were making my mouth water. This is NOT to be saved for those times when you need a recipe for a vegetarian guest. Although It would make a really lovely vegetarian dish on Christmas day, the nuts and bread crumbs with the mushrooms gave it a nut roast kind of feel. I'll be cooking it again this week with the rest of the goats cheese. All the ingredients are available from Aldi. An added bonus is the recipe is from 'The Hairy Dieters' cookbook and the meal has only 401 calories per serving. 

Serves 2
4 sun-dried tomatoes pieces in oil, drained well
2 tsp sunflower oil

175g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and diced
20g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
50g of dry white bread crumbs
½ small bunch of parsley (I did not have this)
1 tsp chilli flakes
100g feta cheese or soft goats cheese
2 smallish peppers, red or yellow

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºC, Roughly chop up the sundried tomatoes. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms over a high heat for 4 minutes.
Add the roughly chopped hazelnuts and fry for a further minute until the nuts are lightly toasted. Season with a good grind of black pepper and remove from the heat.
Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, breadcrumbs, parsley and chilli flakes until thoroughly combined. Break the cheese into small chunks and toss them through the stuffing lightly. Cut the peppers in half from top to bottom and carefully remove the seeds and membrane.
Place the peppers in a small foil lined roasting tin, cut side up, and fill each half with the mushroom and feta stuffing. Cover the surface of the stuffing with a small piece of foil. Bake for 25 minutes until tender, removing the foil for the last 10 minutes of the cooking time. Serve warm with a lightly dressed mixed salad. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

No fuss Christmas cake 2013

I can't believe it's coming up to that time of year again, so on a free day yesterday I decided to make my Christmas cake. Not that you need a full day to make this cake, it's so easy and quick to make. Have a head start and soak the fruit overnight and it will only take a few hours. Some of you may remember I posted the same recipe last year, some of you may have even made it. I know one friend who made it who didn't usually make one. I forgot to ask her what she thought of it. Jane M was it nice?
I just love the smell of christmas cakes baking in the oven. The whole house is filled with a fruity, christmasy aroma. Give this recipe a try if it's your first attempt at a Christmas cake. It's a really simple, there is no lengthy list of ingredients and it doesn't need to be made months in advance.

cuts in 24 slices
250g  each plump raisins and sultanas 
100g dried cranberries or blueberries (I always use cranberries)
200g natural glace cherries, halved 
200ml vanilla vodka (or normal vodka with 2 tbsp vanilla extract)
150g roasted Marcona almonds ( I use 150g pre-ground almonds)
200g  unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing 
200g unrefined dark muscovado sugar 
4 medium eggs, beaten 
100g  plain flour 

Put the raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries and cherries in a large bowl. Add the vodka and stir well. Cover and leave to soak for 2-3hr or overnight. 
Grease and line the base and sides of a 8in round tin with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 150ºC. If using whole almonds, put the almonds in a food processor and blend lightly until coarsely chopped. Tip out 75g and blend the remainder until ground. (no need for this step if you are using ground almonds from a packet).
Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with a handheld electric whisk for 2-3min until light and creamy. Gradually whisk in the beaten eggs, adding a little of the flour if the mixture starts to curdle. (mine often looks like it is starting to curdle) Stir in the ground and chopped nuts (or just add the bag of ground almonds) and flour. 
Tip the soaked fruit mixture into the bowl with any unabsorbed liqueur. Mix well, then spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for 3½ (check at 3 hours mine is usually done then) or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and wrap in a double thickness of foil until ready to decorate. Once baked you can boost the cakes vanilla flavour by dousing with extra vodka before wrapping it it and storing it.

Note: While the cake is baking I place a piece of grease proof paper on the top of the tin. Cut a hole the size of a 50p piece coin in the middle of it. This will help stop the top of the cake burning. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bacon and cauliflower pasta

What a great way to use up the cauliflower which had been in the fridge for a while. I made slightly more cheese sauce than the recipe stated, and as I didn't have Dijon mustard, used English mustard in it's place. This is another recipe from BBC Goodfood website and a great mid week dinner. 

Serves 4
200g streaky bacon
300g dried pasta
1 cauliflower, cut into large florets
25g butter
25g plain flour
300ml milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
140g cheddar, grated
1 soft wholemeal roll, whizzed to breadcrumbs
salad, to serve, (optional)

Heat the grill to high and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Grill the bacon slices for 5 mins or until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper and cut into small pieces.
Cook the pasta following pack instructions. Add the cauliflower to the pasta pan for the final 8 mins, so that it is just tender, then drain, reserving 2 tbsp of the cooking water.
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat, then stir in the flour and cook for a couple of mins. Gradually stir in the milk, mixing well between each addition. Bring to a simmer, then cook for a few mins until thickened. Season, add the mustard and half the grated cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.
Tip the pasta and cauliflower back into the pan along with the reserved cooking water. Stir through the cheese sauce and bacon, then transfer the mix to a baking dish. Mix together the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese, then sprinkle over the pasta. Cook for 5 mins under the grill until browned. Serve with a salad, if you like.

Note: I put the baking dish into the oven instead of under the grill. I cooked it for about 15 mins at 200ºC, until the breadcrumbs were nice and crispy.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Oriental Salmon traybake

A traybake recipe says to me effortless cooking. I feel that my meal recipes have been few and far between for the last few weeks, so here is a great one to get back into the swing of things. I found the recipe on the BBC Goodfood website. I used broccoli stems instead of a head of broccoli. The comments on the website suggest parboiling the broccoli first otherwise it will be undercooked. The stems however were really lovely cooked this way, tinged brown and crispy, very like crispy seaweed from Chinese restaurants. I sprinkled on a few dried chilli flakes for extra flavour.

serves 4
4 skin-on salmon fillets
1 head broccoli, broken into florets
juice ½ lemon, ½ lemon quartered
small bunch spring onions, sliced
2 tbsp soy sauce

Heat oven to 180C. Put the salmon in a large roasting tin, leaving space between each fillet.
Wash and drain the broccoli and, while still a little wet, arrange in the tray around the fillets. Pour the lemon juice over everything, then add the lemon quarters.
Top with half the spring onions, drizzle with a little olive oil and put in the oven for 14 mins. Remove from the oven, sprinkle everything with the soy, then return to the oven for 4 mins more until the salmon is cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining spring onions just before serving.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Roll out Brownie cookies

I came across these cookies whilst browsing through a blog I follow called 'Mondomulia'. Rachel was 14 a few weeks ago, and in a moment of lapse concentration I consented to her having a party with 24 girls at a local gymnastics centre. I think they wanted to feel like little people again. I made a big batch of these cookies to take with me. They were very easy to make, I put all the ingredients together in the food processor, which did the work for me. I want to try them again as my cookies didn't retain the shape of the precooked cookie, unlike the ones in the photos on Mondomulia. I may have had the oven too hot or the cookies too thin. Regardless of the shape they were delicious and disappeared off the plate like hot cakes. The blog is worth a look for the recipes and the photography, it puts mine to shame. 

Makes abut 36 cookies
375g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
225g lightly salted butter, softened
300g sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g unsweetened cocoa

Whisk the sifted flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in a mixer. Gradually add the flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least one hour or overnight.
Preheat oven at 175 ºC. Roll out the cookie dough on a floured counter. Cut the cookies out and brush extra deposits of flour off the top (although the flour will disappear once baked). Work quickly as the dough becomes sticky as it warms up.
Bake the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (depending how thick your cookies are) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Instead of party bags I made the girls a vanilla cupcake from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, iced with Vanilla frosting. There were appreciative sounds all around. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Nespresso coffee machine

The promise of a good coffee is one of the things I jump or should I say crawl out of bed for in the morning. I'm incredibly fussy when it comes to coffee, and object to paying for a cup of hot milk with just a taste of coffee. We bought a Nespresso machine about 4 years ago, and have been enjoying wonderful coffee at home since.  The capsules are around 30p each, not much considering how much you pay for a coffee when you go out to a cafe. I can assure you the coffee is every bit as nice, if not better than a lot of coffee places. I have always just ordered two types of capsules, a strong decaffinated one,(Decaffeinato Intenso) and a strong caffeinated one, (Arpeggio), both which make a wonderful cappuccino/latte or a full flavoured espresso. There is a wide choice of strengths and flavours to choose from, but I just make it simple, decaff or caffeinated. The top of the coffee has the wonderful crema, just like the best coffee machines. The secret is to stop the water going through the capsule after the first strong hit of the coffee. The first coffee coming out will be dark and strong, anything after that will be weaker and bitter. Of course the milk is important too and a good milk frother is essential. I bought a great one in Aldi last year, it heats the milk and froths it to the perfect consistency. They stocked them again this year, at the slightly more expensive price of £17.99.
There is a large range of Nespresso machines on the market now, some basic like mine, some much more fancier looking, some with milk frothers. On checking the John Lewis website the identical one to mine is £70 at the moment, this includes a gift certificate for £40 to purchase the nespresso capsules. Infact all the machines have this offer on at the moment. The more expensive the machine the more money towards the coffee. I think that having to order the coffee capsules on line may put people off, but the ordering process is quick and easy. The deliveries usually arrive the next day even on the free delivery option. 
So if you are struggling for Christmas presents this year and have a coffee lover in the midst, this gadget may be your answer.

Note: I am not being paid to advertise Nespresso machine, just spreading the good word.

John Lewis website

Nespresso coffee and machines

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Coq au Vin

This is the first photo I have used on my blog which isn't my own. The photo is a shot from 'Delicious Magazine'. My own picture of this meal didn't do justice to the dish. This wonderful traditional French dish, needs little introduction, it's just one of the perfect casseroles. There are hundreds of recipes for Coq au Vin, but I chose the Delia one, from the 'Complete Illustrated Cookery Course' book. It didn't disappoint as a meal for our friends in half term. My recipe did not include celery and carrots as shown on the photo, but these vegetables could be added at the start of cooking.

Serves 4
8 pieces of chicken, or a 2.5 kg chicken jointed (I used chicken thighs)
725 ml red wine
25g butter
1 rounded tablespoon of butter and 1 level tablespoon of flour, combined to make a smooth paste
1 tbsp of oil
225g unsmoked streaky bacon
16 button onions
2 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
225g dark gilled mushrooms
salt and freshly milled black pepper
chopped fresh parsley to ganish (optional)

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken joints, skin side down, until they are nicely golden; then turn them and colour the other side. You may have to do this in three or four batches – don't overcrowd the pan. Remove the joints from the pan with a draining spoon, and place them in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the joints to be arranged in one layer yet deep enough so that they can be completely covered with liquid later.
Now de-rind and cut the bacon into fairly small cubes, brown them also in the frying pan and add them to the chicken, then finally brown the onions a little and add them too. Next place the crushed cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces, season with freshly milled pepper and just a little salt, and pop in a couple of bay leaves. Pour in the wine, put a lid on the pot and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of the cooking, add the mushrooms and stir them into the liquid.
Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place them on a warmed serving dish and keep warm. (Discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.) Now bring the liquid to a fast boil and reduce it by about one third. Next, add the butter and flour paste to the liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened, then serve the chicken with the sauce poured over. If you like, sprinkle some chopped parsley over the chicken and make it look pretty.