Sunday, 30 December 2007

Our Christmas Dinner (just the two of us)

Since we moved into our flat (3 years ago now) we have eaten Christmas dinner at my parents but then cooked our own dinner for two a few days later. Unfortunately I was working Thursday & Friday so didn't get a chance to do it until tonight. It was really nice, even if I have spent the majority of the day in the kitchen...

To start, we enjoyed some Champagne & Sloe Gin Cocktails We then enjoyed some simple tomato & basil bruschetta care of a Jamie Olive recipe - it was really delicious...
Followed by a traditional Christmas dinner: Turkey, The Best Ever Stuffing ™, pigs in blankets, roasted potatoes and parsnips (in goose fat, again) and some glazed carrots with caraway seeds. Of course we also had some gravy (the best I've made yet!) and my homemade cranberry sauce which was fantastic... the photo doesn't really do it justice as the battery went...For dessert I made Simon Rimmers Bounty Profiteroles. Need I say any more...
Hubby quite simply said that if we weren't already married, he'd ask me there & then after sampling this pudding (if only I'd have known that years ago ;o))

We finished off with an espresso made in our new espresso pot, the rest of the Moet and maybe a dash of Viognier.

Mmmmm. I love Christmas dinner.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

The post-Christmas review

What a mad few days! I really don't know where to begin.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and Santa brought you some nice gifts. He certainly stopped here as I am now overwhelmed by lots of glorious & mostly foodie presents. To mention, but a few, I am now the proud owner of Simon Rimmers the accidental vegetarian which I cant wait to use. I also have (having arrived today!) the Best-kept Secrets of the Women's Institute Jams, Pickles & Chutneys. I have a spoon rest, a new super-dooper set of scales, a years subscription to Delicous magazine, the very large & new Gordon Ramsey book and a beautiful Nigella cake stand in cream.

I also got my very own website which I will be moving to soon (I very much hope you'll join me there). All I can say for now is Hubby is a lovely and very talented man - I have a new logo already - we just need to work on the website layout & content. So keep your eyes peeled for that!

Food-wise, we enjoyed a fantastic (as usual) Christmas day dinner at my mum & dads. We had smoked salmon blini with avocado, mango & chilli salsa. It was really really nice. Hubby had a sausage (its a long term joke in our family) as he doesn't really like smoked salmon.

The main meal was Turkey with sausages, the-bestest-ever-stuffing (this is my favouritest part), roasted potatoes & roasted parsnips (in goose fat) so they were really crispy, carrots, sprouts (or for me, just one for tradition, I'm really not keen), bread sauce & cranberry sauce (i forgot to take mine, duh!).

Pudding was either Christmas pudding & brandy sauce or my mums triffle - loaded with sherry.

I will be making a smaller version of our feast, hopefully, at the weekend just for Hubby & I.

Oh, and our main present between ourselves was our lovely new digital SLR camera. My Gran was amused as I just took photos of anything that didn't move all day long! So here are some of our snaps...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

My First Christmas Cake - Part II (The Decorating)

Following this post a few weeks ago I have today finished decorating my first ever Christmas cake.

Decorating officially started yesterday when I marzipaned it:
And today I iced and decorated. I stupidly started before having any dinner as I under-estimated how long it would take.

I am quite proud of my first Christmas cake & my first ever iced cake with proper icing decorations but please do let me know what you think!!
I am just keeping my fingers crossed that it survives until Christmas day in the same condition and that it tastes ok! I'll report back next week!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Cranberry & Sloe Gin Sauce

The second part of my pre-Christmas cooking started yesterday with Cranberry & Sloe Gin Sauce - a recipe I found on The Cottage Smallholder.

You'll need:

300g cranberries
4 clementines - squeezed with some pulp
120g granulated white sugar
25ml Sloe Gin

Wash the cranberries thoroughly - taking out any soft fruit
Wash the clementines and then squeeze the juice out of them (i did this by hand quite easily)
Put the cranberries in a large pan together with the sugar and clementine juice and pulp - mix around
Turn the heat on under the pan to allow the mixture to come up to a simmer then taste for sweetness, adding extra sugar if you desire
Pop the lid on the pan and let it simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until all berries have burst and it resembles a jam type consistency
Take off the heat and stir in the sloe gin
Decant into warm sterilised jars

Ps: Just wanted to say a quick hello to anyone popping by here after following the C4 food website link :)

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Highlights from the Good Food Show Birmingham

As the title says, these are our highlights from our first Good Food Show:

Jamie Oliver in the Supertheatre

We were quite lucky with our seats - very central & not too far back considering the number of seats they cram in! Anyway, the show was great. Jamie was very funny & there was lots of crowd interaction. He made three dishes. The first was hot smoked salmon in the biscuit tin - the smell of the salmon cooking was really fabulous. He then went on to make a warm chicken Cesar salad which looked divine. To top this off he made a beef stroganoff with mushrooms with a little help from his mushroom hero Gennaro Contaldo.

We also came across Gordon Ramsay, Rachel Allen, the Hairy Bikers, Angela Hartnett, Matt Skinner and Brian Turner.
We went on a wine masterclass - by mistake we booked one held by the Ian Harvey of the Birmingham Post Wine Club when we had wanted to go to the Matt Skinner one - but it turned out well & we tasted six South American wines. Hubby enjoyed this bit the most. I think he see's himself becoming a wine connoisseur.

Tasting highlights
These included a pork pattie care of Jimmy's Farm. Coming from a not-really-a-meat-eater I have to hold my hands up and say it was delicious. And thanks to Jules we may just have to order some from the online shop.

I also tasted a veggie pie & mash from Blenheim House - this was nice but the gravy was delicious. And we both had a 'Duo of rich Belgian truffle' which didn't last more than 60 seconds - hence the half eaten one in the photograph!
We sampled some of Walkers warm, freshly cooked crisps. You added you own toppings - salt, pepper, chilli & rosemary etc.

I've also found a soft spot for Sloe Gin. We will hopefully be purchasing some of this soon to make cranberry sauce.

It was also very nice to see Gordon & Macphail of Elgin at the show. The shop in Elgin is really lovely with a room dedicated to whisky and then a room full of wines and spirits and a third room with delicatessen type goods.

Overall it was a really lovely day out & we may have to go back another year.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Excuses, excuses, excuses

I can't believe it's nearly been two whole weeks since I last posted. Where is the time going?

We(*) have been quite busy recently though so if you'll allow me, I'm using that as my excuse. You see we moved into our two bedroom flat just over two and a half years ago. But until now it's really been a one bedroom flat with a spare room so full of junk you couldn't move in it. So we've emptied it, bought some carpet, have had a trip to Ikea, built some furniture, put pictures & blinds up and generally had a big clear out and have then (in a tidy manner, of course) have put back in what we need.

Its a really nice room now, even if I do say so myself. There is just one thing that's missing and that's a small 2 seater sofa. So another trip to Ikea is needed but we just need a vehicle bigger than out ickle C2.

(*) I say we but I'm sure Hubby will disagree. But seriously, nothing ever gets done with out a project manager/supervisor/general all round bossy boots ;)

Since making the christmas cake I have cooked, I just haven't had enough time to blog about it. So here is a little summary with pictures:

My first ever Toad In The Hole (Jamie recipe) - severed with the suggested red onion gravy it was delicious and I was very proud of my yorkshire pudding.
We followed this up with some Toffee Apple Crumble - in fact we've had this twice. Once made with normal eating apples and once with bramleys (rather than the 50/50 mix suggested by Simon Rimmer). We both much preferred the bramley only one as the sweet sauce is more than enough sugar to match the tangy bramleys.
I also turned this pile of chopped vegetables...
into one of our favourite soups - Lentil and Chestnut Soup
1 small onion
half leek
1 carrot
1 stick celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g red lentils
1.5 litres vegetable stock
225g cooked chestnuts

double cream to serve (optional & not really needed)

Finely chop the onion, leek, carrot and celery.
Heat the oil in the pan, add the chopped vegetables and let sweat until soft.
Add the lentils and stir, then add the stock.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the lentils are very soft (about 40 minutes).
Add the chestnuts and simmer for a further 20 minutes or so.
Liquidise (I used my hand blender) until smooth.
Sprinkle each full bowl of soup with parsley and lace with cream as required.

Consume with lots of crusty bread and butter.

Its truly delicious.

Whilst I've been AWOL we also had Children In Need day at work and that means one thing - cakes, cakes and more cakes. I made my cupcakes with pink & white icing with flowers and I also tried some vanilla shortbreads - they were ok but a little soft & not quite as nice as I'd expected. Here they are among some of the other cakes brought in by my colleagues...
And last, but not least. Here is a lovely sunrise we had the week before last.

Monday, 12 November 2007

My first Christmas cake

I will 'fess up now. I'm not a fan of Christmas cake but I really wanted to make one! So this weekend I jumped in the deep end...

The recipe - wow, there are so many to choose from! I ended up going with one from my mum's Good Housekeeping magazine - November 2007 - Christmas Cake with a Hint of Dark Chocolate

250g sultanas
250g raisins
125g Agen prunes, chopped
125g ready to eat Apricots, chopped
150ml Dark Rum + 1 tablespoon for feeding the cake (we used original Antiguan rum from our honeymoon)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
175g dark muscavado sugar
175g softened butter
4 medium eggs
125g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 level teaspoon cinnamon
75g Green & Black's Dark 85% chocolate, finely grated
100g lightly toasted flaked almonds

Greaseproof paper
Brown paper
8" tin

Start the night before you will make the cake
Put the rum and orange juice & zest in a large pan
Add the dried fruit and bring to the boil, then turn off the heat, cover and leave to soak overnight
The next day
Preheat the oven to 150 °c (130 °c fan)
Grease and double line the baking tin with greaseproof paper, allow it to stand proud at the top
In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light & fluffy - I used an electric hand mixer for about 5 minutesAdd the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture doesn't curdle (if it does add a little of the flour)
Gently fold in the flour, mixed spice & cinnamon
Next, fold in the chocolate and almond flakes
Lastly add the fruit and carefully mix through

Pour the mixture into the tin, taking care not to catch & pull the greaseproof paper off the sides of the tin
Level the surface of the cake
Wrap 2 layers of brown paper around the outside of the tin leaving a good inch above the top of the tin. Use the cotton to secure this.

Pop in the oven for 3 to 31/2 hours. Use a skewer to make sure the centre is cooked through.

Once cooked leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then take the cake out (leaving it in the greaseproof) and let it cool on a cake rack.
Once cold, wrap in clingfilm and then tinfoil and pop it in an airtight container.

After 2 weeks add the tablespoon of rum & re-wrap the cake. It will last for up to 3 months.

Saturday, 10 November 2007


Regular readers amongst you have probably noticed I don't cook or eat much red meat. I've never been a big fan partly because of the taste. But the worst part for me is the smell of cooking meat, especially the browning part. It turns my stomach. So at home I stick to chicken which I can just about deal with and fish when Mr C approves!

To cut this story short, I was leafing through Jamie's Italy earlier in the week and hit a small jackpot - tuna meatballs!

I made them last night and they were surprisingly pleasant. The cinnamon on the tuna was a great mix.

Le migliori polpette di tonna
(Serves 4)

For the tomato sauce
olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 x 400g tin plum tomatoes
red wine vinegar

For the meatballs
400g steak tuna
olive oil
55g pinenuts
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
handful chopped fresh parsley
100g stale breadcrumbs
55g Parmesan
2 eggs
juice of 1 lemon

Chop the tuna in 1" squares
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan
Add the tuna, cinnamon and pinenuts. Season with salt & pepper and cook until tuna has browned on all sides
Tip the tuna mixture into a big bowl and leave to cool for 5 minutes
Once cooled, add the other ingredients and using your hands mix together
Squeeze the mixture into small balls (slightly smaller than a golf ball)
Pop the meatballs on an oiled baking tray and leave them in the fridge for an hour
As soon as the meatballs go in the fridge, start the tomato sauce -

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft
Add the oregano, tomatoes and season with salt & pepper
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes
Then using a hand held blender liquidise until smooth
Taste for seasoning & add a dash of red wine vinegar if needed

Once out of the fridge, heat oil in the same frying pan as before and gently fry the meatballs until golden all over - be careful as my first batch crumbled away into lots of bits!

Serve with the tomato sauce and spaggetti

I made 1/2 the tuna amount but the full amount of tomato sauce and have frozen it for next time - or another pasta dish.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


Little cupcakes with buttercream frosting. Better after 20 minutes in the fridge to firm the frosting up.

But I'm sure that there is a better frosting out there somewhere... please let me know if you have any icing suggestions to help me out here!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

A big catch up...

This is my catch up post as I've been lazy! Over the last two weeks I have made a tomato curry, took my first (self-taught) lesson in sugar craft, made more soup (roasted tomato and pepper with tarragon) and made up a claire original butternut squash tart. So here goes...

Tomato Curry - it turned out ok but definitely needed more sauce to it...
I made the curry on a Friday night & I will add the recipe when I can lay my hands on it. It was tasty just a bit too dry.

Cake Art - this is something I hope to play with more over the coming months. I'd really like to be a able to bake and decorate some really nice cakes. Anyway this was my first attempt at icing sugar paste and making flowers...
And the final product... (they did taste good!)

Next on my list of accomplishments is another soup (sorry if I'm getting boring here, but it's that time of year). This time it was Slow-roasted tomato and red pepper soup - it was really tasty & we have 2 servings in the freezer...

Serves 4
4 Red Peppers, halved lengthways & deseeded
3 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1kg vine tomatoes
2 garlic bulbs - halved horizontally
1 medium red onion, chopped
400ml vegetable stock, hot
1 tbspn sundried tomato paste
1 tbspn chopped fresh tarragon

Serving suggestion - toasted baguette with a slightly melted topping of Crottin de Chavignol AOC (Goats Cheese)

Preheat oven to 200 °c
Put peppers in a roasting tin & drizzle with 1 tbspn oil
Put tomatoes and garlic in another roasting tin, drizzle 1 tbspn oil & season
Put peppers on top shelf of oven with tomatoes & garlic underneath - roast for 30 minutes
Transfer the peppers to a plastic bag, seal & leave for a few minutes to allow the skins to peel off
Heat remaining oil in a large pan, add onion and gently fry for 5 minutes
Squeeze in the roasted garlic and add the tomatoes
Discard the pepper skins & add the flesh to the pan
Add the stock, sundried tomato paste and tarragon - bring to the boil & then reduce the heat

We served with crusty bread & butter.
The tarragon added a creamy sort of taste - it really was very nice. Possibly one of my favourite tomato soups.

Lastly we have my original Butternut Squash Tart... based on Simon Rimmers Feta & Spinach Free-form pie in Septembers Delicious Magazine. I made it to use up the left over butternut squash from the soup the other day.

Serves 4
1/2 packet of filo pastry
3 tbspn melted butter
1 butternut squash
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
100g feta
5 shallots, cut into quarters
3 tbsn balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 °c
Cut the butternut squash into about 8 large chunks (spooning out the seeds)
Place the pieces of squash on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil & sprinkle over the rosemary + a pinch of salt
Roast the squash for 45 minutes then take it out & leave it to cool down
Once cool, scoop of the flesh & cut into smaller sized chunks
Mix the butternut squash with 2/3 feta cheese, season with pepper
Meanwhile 1tbspn melt the butter in a small saucepan & add the shallots
Once the shallots are glossy and starting to warm through add the sugar
Leave for 2 minutes but keep an eye on them and mix them about
Throw in 2 tbspn of balsamic & keep the shallot pieces moving until the balsamic has thickened to a glossy coating
Put the shallot pieces in with the main mixture & add the last tbspn of balsamic vinegar. Put to one side.
Heat up 2 tbspn butter
Using a loose bottom cake tin - firstly brush the tin with melted butter, then add a layer of filo pastry brushing on butter in between each layer
Add the butternut squash mixture & crumble the remaining feta over the top.
Lift the overhanging pastry on top of the tart & scrunch it up
Cook for 20-25 minutes

Monday, 29 October 2007

Another Butternut Squash Soup

Today it was dark when we got home. How depressing.

To cheer us up I made the Pumpkin Soup from the November Sainsbury magazine - a recipe by Tana Ramsay. The recipe says that you can you use any squash so we picked up two butternut squashes - I think all the pumpkins must have gone to good homes in time for Halloween.

Serves 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
10g butter
2kg (4lb 8oz) squash of your choice - diced
3 sprigs rosemary
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock

optional - 2 Parmesan rinds

Heat oil & butter in large pan
Add garlic & rosemary
Add the squash and let it cook for a few minutes until the squash starts to colour
(If you are adding the Parmesan rind pop it in at this stage and let it melt a little bit)
Add stock & a pinch of salt
Let everything simmer for 25 minutes - the squash will be soft
Cool slightly then remove the stalks from the rosemary and the Parmesan rind
Using a liquidiser or hand held blender blend until smooth
Warm the soup back up & serve with crusty bread
I have to hold my hands up & say I ended up making half the quantity above, cutting a raw butternut squash is blumin' hard work!

Now I need to find a recipe that calls for roasted squash - I think I've seen one with feta cheese lying around here somewhere...

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Breakfast Eggs

It may be the onset of Autumn but for the last few weekends I've been hankering after a Sunday morning breakfast of eggs. So far we've had boiled, poached and today we had Oeufs en Cocotte.

Last weeks poached egg were two of the best poached eggs I've cooked. We invested in these contraptions a few weeks ago & they do help the egg stay together - but it confuses me just how you get the egg in the holder & then in the water without the whites running through the holes?!
Last week I kind of positioned the holder on the side of the pan, cracked the egg & in the midst of throwing the shell down, I gently maneuvered the holder to the bottom of the pan. Anyway, the result, as I say was not too bad. the only problem was we only had a white loaf (albeit organic) in the freezer...
Today I tried to make Oeufs en Cocotte from Nigella Express. Basically you butter a ramekin & crack your egg into it. Sprinkle with salt & add a tablespoon of double cream. You then pop the ramekins in a dish & top up half way with water - pop in the oven for 15 minutes at 190 °c and you get this (sorry the photo does it no justice at all and it's blurry) -
Yes it was ok, too salty & next time I don't think it needs the cream. Nigella suggest 1/4 teaspoon of truffle oil on top before cooking but she does serve hers for a starter!! However with a few soldiers dipped in it went down with a nice cup of Yorkshire tea.

We may try it again without the cream - but I'm still in search of the perfect way of cooking an egg to achieve a really dippy yolk but cooked white.

However next week we may just have to have a bacon buttie after reading Wendy's post this morning!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Dinner to watch rugby by...

One of my brothers is quite superstitious when it comes to watching sport and the Rugby World Cup was no different. I mean, this time around once he'd watched England win he had to do the same thing the next time they were playing - just for good luck. Whilst his luck ran out last night, I hope it wasn't because of my cooking.

This years rituals included eating dinner at our parents house, drinking wine from the home of the opposition and sitting in the same seat. My parents were away this weekend but that didn't stop us all piling round there for food & drink before sitting down to enjoy the match.

I had offered to cook - but then I realised it would be for 6 people, including my brothers who prefer their meat. I don't eat much meat & really cant bear the smell of red meat cooking so I opted for a cheeky Cornbread Topped Vegetarian Chilli served with homemade Guacamole, Sour Cream & Grated Cheese.

The recipe I took from Nigella's book Feast.
Serves 10 (0r 6 hungry peeps + leftovers for freezing)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red peppers, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cardamon pods, crushed
300g red lentils
2 x 400g chopped tomatoes
750ml water
2 x 400g kidney beans
4 tablespoons tomato ketchup
4 tablespoons tomato puree
1 tablespoon cocoa

1. In a VERY large pan - heat oil & fry onion, garlic and pepper until soft
2. Throw in the spices - chilli, coriander, cumin and cardamon pods. Stir
3. Add lentils. Stir
4. Next, add the other ingredients - water, tomatoes, kidney beans, ketchup, tomato puree & cocoa.
5. Bring this mixture to the boil and simmer (with lid on) for 45 minutes - though check & stir regularly.
6. At this point you can proceed to cook or pop it in the fridge until your ready for the next stage (or cool it down and freeze it). It was at this point I packed everything up & took it to my parents house to finish.

Cornbread Topping
3/4 teaspoon salt
325g Cornmeal (I used ground corn as this was the nearest we could find - in Sainsburys)
3 tablespoons plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
375ml buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
75g cheese

7. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl - salt, cornmeal, plain flour, baking powder & cinnamon
8. In a jug, whisk the wet ingredients - milk, oil, eggs & honey
9. Throw the liquid into the dry mixture & whisk to a batter NB. mine was more like a thick dough, maybe caused by measuring problems, but it worked.
10. Put you chilli mixture in a large dish (Nigella suggests 23cm x 32cm with a 7.5cm height)
11. Pour (or scoop) the batter on top of the chilli
12. Top with grated cheese.

Cook for 25 minutes at 220°c

Serve with guacamole, grated cheese & sour cream.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo in the rush to get warm food on the table. I do have a photo of the left overs though!
For pudding a quickly made some Passion Fruit Creme Brulee's - a recipe from Delias website which can be found by clicking here.

The before cooking stage:
And the readyto eat stage:
Unfortunately England played well but couldn't manage a win against those pesky Sarf Africans - nevermind. Maybe in another 4 years ;)