Thursday, 25 October 2012

Cannibalistic kitchen capers

Tell your children you found an intruder in the house, cut off his fingers, gouged out his eyeballs... and that's what they're going to eat.

Hot dogs made to look like fingers with radish nails and ketchup blood
Dead man's hand

Dead Man's Fingers

Frankfurter sausages
Finger rolls (ha ha ha)
A radish or 2
Heat the frankfurters (microwave, or in a pan of boiling water), cut each roll in half and poke a hole in the non-cut end with the handle of a wooden spoon. Squirt in some ketchup and insert half a frankfurter. Cut a little bit off the end of the sausage to make a bed for the nail which you will have fashioned from a slice of radish.

Cakes iced in red and white to look like eyeballs with a chocolate button in the middle
Eyeball cakes

Eyeball cakes

I took 2 eggs and weighed them - 130g. I creamed together 130g sugar and 130g margarine, added the eggs, and folded in 130g self raising flour and a bit of vanilla extract. I baked them in bun tins for about 30 minutes at 180/gas until perfectly cake shaped and smelling delicious. Allow them to cool. Meanwhile, mix together some icing sugar and a little bit of hot water until you have a paste. Spread it on the cakes, draw veins with red writing icing and put a chocolate button in the middle.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Antidote to overpriced & underwhelming restaurant food

It's half term! Cooking has taken second place to entertaining the children, and we have been eating on the hoof: Rubbish food, mean portions, and dirty, shabby premises yesterday; clean with a great view today but a big slimy slab of institutional lasagne served with naked lettuce... It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth as well as a hole in the pocket.

By contrast, I made a generous (and distinctly lo-effort) dinner for all four of us tonight for £6.75 - meatballs and pasta - comprising 250g wholemeal spaghetti (50p) and 24 meatballs (£4.00) which I cooked and drained of fat before adding one jar of Dolmio sauce £1.75). I let them simmer for about an hour, before serving with 50g grated Grana Padano (50p). Best of all, when I went to the loo afterwards there was no alien urine on the seat!

You can make it a bit healthier by adding chopped fresh tomatoes and a clove or two of crushed garlic.

In a desperate bid to use up some more apples, I also made a

Toffee Apple Ginger Pudding

Ginger sponge on a toffee apple base
Ginger sponge on a toffee-apple base

Base layer:
4 apples, peeled and sliced
A small knob of butter
A teaspoon or 2 of lemon zest (completely optional)
5 tablespoons Carnation caramel/Dulce de Leche

Sponge topping:
100g margarine or butter
100g light brown sugar
2 eggs
100g self raising flour
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger

Pre-heat the oven to 190/gas 5. Place the apples, butter and a couple of tablespoons of water in a bowl and microwave for 2-5 minutes to soften. Add the lemon zest and caramel to them and spread in the base of an ovenproof dish. Beat sugar and margarine/butter together until light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, and fold in the flour and ginger. Spread over the apples and bake for about 40 minutes until the sponge is golden and well risen.

I didn't measure my apples as I already had a vat of cooked ones, but just spread them out in a generous layer on the bottom of the dish and stirred in the caramel. I usually use butter (favouring it as a more natural product), but used Stork today for speed and lightness of sponge.

Monday, 22 October 2012

More leftovers

Leftovers... Seems like I'm always using that word in my blogging. I am happy to waste money on all kinds of fripperies, but like to run a very tight ship (or fridge) in the kitchen. Today was rather a challenge, as I had half a pack of beef mince and a fillet of haddock to work with. A packet or jar of carefully blended seasoning or sauce can disguise a lot, but nothing can marry together a fish and a cow. On another shelf was the remains of yesterday's lunch, a chicken, leek and mushroom crumble, bought from the local farm shop. I balked inwardly at the price when I purchased it (£20), but it has now yielded 10 portions so really not bad at all.

The downside (or upside) was that we had savoury crumble followed by apple and blackberry crumble.   I have already given you the recipe, but to save you scrolling back, here it is again. It contains cholesterol-busting oats (as well as quite a lot of butter to redress the balance).

Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Blackberry and apple crumble in a bowl with a spoon
Blackberry and apple crumble

Whizz together 5oz butter and 6oz plain flour until they look like breadcrumbs, add 3oz sugar and 4oz oats and blitz for a few seconds until everything is combined. Spoon over the top of fruit and bake at 190 degrees/gas 5 until golden brown. This makes enough to serve six, but I usually eke it out for two crumbles. Put what you don't use first time into a container and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday afternoon tea

Lots of visitors this weekend but everyone's gone now. We've lit a fire, battened down the hatches and and are having a good old-fashioned Sunday tea, just like the ones we used to have in front of the children's drama on telly on Sunday nights. Do you remember them? - The Secret Garden and the Wolves of Willoughby Chase (which gave me a terror of wolves lasting well into adolescence).

Assemble some crumpets and muffins, toast them gently in the kitchen then finish them off on a toasting fork in the fire. Spread liberally with butter and Marmite, snarling warnings to the children about the dire consequences of getting either on the designer cushions. Add several cups of tea and some leftover

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Filling and Chocolate Buttercream Icing

Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling and chocolate buttercream icing
Before decoration

Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling and chocolate buttercream icing decorated with chocolate buttons and a candle
After decoration by 8 year olds

300g caster sugar
300g softened butter
6 eggs
225g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g cocoa powder, sieved

Vanilla buttercream filling:
250g icing sugar
80g softened butter
25ml milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

Chocolate buttercream icing:
125g icing sugar
60g softened butter
25g cocoa powder mixed with a little boiling water

Heat oven to 170/gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm tins. Cream butter and sugar together and beat in the eggs one by one.  Fold in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, divide between tins and bake for about 30-40 minutes until the sponge has risen and a cocktail stick comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

To make the icings, mix together the ingredients in a food mixer or using an electric whisk. Start very slowly and keep on going until light and fluffy.

I used Chocolate Buttons to decorate. The giant ones would have been better, and brown and white chocolate fingers are good to stick around the outside of the cake. Or you could go really retro and use a cake frill. Yes, you can still buy them!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Fishing for compliments

Fish is so quick and easy to cook, but my children moan like anything when presented with it in its non-battered, non-fingered natural state. So tonight we're having it in soup - more of a stew really -

Creamy Smoked Fish Chowder

Bowl of smoked fish chowder
Chow down

Get started by frying a large onion (finely chopped) with some bacon (also chopped). I used 4 thick rashers. When the onion is soft add some chunks of potato - new ones are best as they hold their shape and don't tend to fall apart (I used 7). Stir them around for a minute and then pour in a litre of cold water and half a vegetable stock cube. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 400g coarsely chopped smoked haddock and a salmon fillet, a handful of frozen peas and a more generous handful of frozen sweetcorn (or a small tin). Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Stir in some double cream, add salt and pepper and serve.

Banana Chocolate Muffins  

Bananas rotting in your fruit bowl? Transform them into 12 delicious muffins:

Several banana chocolate muffins in paper cases on a wire rack
Banana-chocolate muffins

2 ripe bananas, mashed
80g white/brown Chocolate Buttons
350g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
100g caster sugar
115g melted butter
2 eggs
300ml milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 200. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Whisk eggs, milk and melted butter together and fold into the dry ingredients, adding bananas and chocolate. Divide between 12 muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes, until golden. Best eaten warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bulging Greek pockets

Warm pitta bread stuffed with flash-fried lamb steaks or lamb burgers, oozing with houmous and tsatsiki, served with a crunchy carrot and peanut salad.

Lamb burger in pitta bread with tsatsiki and carrot salad
A kebab by any other name...

Carrot and Peanut Salad

Combine 4 grated medium size carrots with 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2tbsp olive or vegetable oil, a couple of drops of sesame oil and 80g peanuts.

To follow, we had sore-throat-slushy-smoothies, made by blending together some orange juice, pear juice, a squeeze of lime and a big handful of frozen strawberries.  The frozen fruit is essential for texture and temperature, but try using any combination of juice/tinned fruit/fresh fruit.

Glass of strawberry and orange smoothie with straw

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

No sweat soup

Most soup recipes will tell you of the importance of sweating your vegetables to develop a deep, rich taste. But - shh, don't tell the children - rules are made to be broken and you can save precious minutes of prep time by simply putting some roughly chopped raw veg in a pan, adding water and a stock cube or 2 and boiling until everything is soft. Then blend and add something fattening like cream, cheese, bits of bacon etc.

Old cauliflower
From sad...
I have just made soup this way, using an old cauliflower, two onions, a clove of garlic, a potato, two stock cubes, and 50g Stilton - added at the end.

Cauliflower soup in a bowl with Stilton crumbled on top glad

This was eaten with yesterday's baguette.  To revive old bread (not sliced), run the loaf very quickly under cold water and put it in a hot oven for about 10 minutes.  Eat straight away.

Last night I spotted 4 pears in the fruit bowl that were 'on the turn'.  I peeled and sliced them, put them in an ovenproof dish, covered them with chocolate sponge mixture and baked for about 30 minutes at 170/ gas 4 until 'set' (see note below). Result - chocolate pear pudding, served hot with cream or cold in slices.  

Note: Don't wait for the middle bit to set or the sponge around the edges will be dry. The middle is therefore the best bit, kind of chocolate-saucy and rich.

Tin of Cadbury's Bournville cocoa powder
Chocolate sponge:
100g caster sugar
100g butter
2 eggs
75g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
25g cocoa powder

Cream the butter and sugar together and fold in the dry ingredients (you may need to sieve the cocoa powder).

Monday, 15 October 2012

Praise indeed

Extra children to feed today, so I made a big pizza. Our 8 year old guest told me it tasted like it had come from a shop - the highest form of praise!

Big pizza

I used my bread machine to make the base this morning and left the dough sitting in the mixer all day to prove. I made a sauce for the pizza by chopping 4 large tomatoes, putting them in a pan on a medium-high heat with a good slosh of olive oil, three crushed cloves of garlic, a squeeze of tomato puree and a teaspoon of honey. Cook for about 15 minutes until everything is mushy and sweet and garlicky. I whizzed it up in a blender for a minute and then spread it over the pizza base, topping with sliced mozzarella, ripped up pieces of ham and some bits of tinned pineapple chopped quite small.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. This served one hungry 12 year old, two 8 year olds, a toddler and a bit left over for the waitress.

silver spoon of golden syrup on wooden chopping board
Amber nectar - golden syrup

Last week I promised to share my recipe for perfect flapjacks. Not too gooey, not too earthy... try them and let me know what you think.

Perfect flapjacks

4oz butter
4oz sugar
3oz golden syrup (I love the classic tin, but it's much easier to use the plastic squeezy bottle)
8oz rolled oats

Heat oven to 180/gas 4. Melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup. Remove from heat, add the oats and mix. Turn into a greased 8" square tin, pat down gently and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Cut into squares soon after removing from oven but do not remove from the tin until cold. Better slightly under-cooked than over-cooked.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Instructions to my husband

I'm off for the weekend. Here's what I have planned for you to eat:

Tonight : Spaghetti Bolognese and flapjacks (serve the flapjacks for pudding, not on the side). The bolognese is in the slow cooker and the spaghetti is in a bowl in the fridge. To reheat it, boil a kettle of water and put the water and pasta in a pan until the water comes back to the boil (when it has bubbles on top). Get one of the children to grate some cheese.

spaghetti bolognese on a glass plate
This is spaghetti bolognese

flapjacks on a striped napkin
These are flapjacks

Saturday : A selection of ready made Chinese dishes from a leading supermarket (not just any old ready-made rubbish).

Sunday : Steak and onion pie from the local farm shop with broccoli and corn on the cob. Hint: The corn is the kind that comes packaged in leaves rather than see-through plastic. Located in the drawers in the fridge.

There are no raw meat products in the kitchen and there are plenty of refined carbs in the larder. Any questions, ask the kids!

There is also one of these:

bowl containing fresh fruit

Spaghetti Bolognese

I made the spaghetti Bolognese by combining a 500g pack of lean mince, a chopped onion, half a chopped red pepper and a crushed clove of garlic in a pan and cooking until the mince was brown, bashing out any lumps along the way. I then added half a tin of chopped tomatoes that had been languishing in the fridge, about a quarter of a tin of kidney beans in chilli sauce (unorthodox, I know, but they needed using up too), a 500g jar of Dolmio original sauce, a third of the Dolmio jar of water and an Oxo cube. I let it come to the boil and tipped it into a slow cooker, where it will cook on high for about 3 hours, before being turned off and neglected for another 6 hours.

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

5 minute prawns

Not minute as in tiny, but minute as in 60 seconds!

Chilli prawns

For two people: Put an ounce of butter and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over a medium-high heat, and add half a finely chopped red chilli (or more, according to taste) and 2 cloves of garlic. Let them cook for about a minute - don't let the garlic go brown - and add a pound or so of uncooked, peeled prawns.  When they start to turn pink pour in half a glass of white wine, bring everything back to the boil and cook for about 2 minutes. Serve in warmed bowls with the juices poured over and plenty of your favourite bread. Garnish with finely chopped parsley or coriander.

two prawns arranged to form a heart shape on ice
Love at first bite

We finished off last night's Apple Bakewell Tart for pudding.  Yum yum bubblegum.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Foolproof paella and cheat's Bakewell Tart

There's nothing we like better than a plate of stodgy rice. Today I am going to make the king of rice dishes, but in a family-friendly way. Paella. You do need to stand over it stirring, but the steam will be very good for your skin.

sack of Spanish paella rice
St Thomas, patron saint of paella?


Chicken thighs (I used 3)
An onion
A red pepper
A couple of rashers of bacon, chopped up
A clove of garlic, crushed
Some chorizo (I used about 6 thin slices)
Half a stock cube
Some hot water
Risotto rice (or any rice if you don't have it)
Frozen peas
Chilli powder

I started by trimming the fat off the thighs (not mine, alas), cutting them into chunks and frying them in a little olive oil. While that's happening chop up the onion and red pepper quite small. Remove the browned chicken from the pan and add the onion and pepper. Fry them gently, adding the bacon, garlic and chorizo when they are soft. Pour in about 180g rice and stir well. Add hot water, about a teacup at a time, stirring and waiting for it to be absorbed before each addition. Drop in half a chicken or veg stock cube and stir well to dissolve it. Add some paprika and chilli powder to taste - start with about ¼ teaspoon of each. When the rice is nearly cooked put the chicken back in the pan and add a handful of frozen peas and the prawns. Stir well and keep cooking for another few minutes until the prawns are pink. Serve with wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

I made some apple jam the other day, and slightly overcooked it so it tastes like Tarte Tatin. There was a bit left over in the pan and I was wondering what to do with it. My solution: Apple Bakewell Tart. It's rich, almondy, and incredibly quick if you use ready-made pastry.

slice of bakewell tart on wooden chopping board with silver fork
Apple Bakewell Tart

(Apple) Bakewell Tart

I used a packet of ready-made shortcrust pastry (Marie's Pate Brisee, which is also rolled)
2 eggs
100g sugar
100g butter
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract
About 180g jam

Heat oven to 200/gas 6 and line a 9" tin with the pastry and spread the base with jam. Melt the butter. Mix together the eggs, ground almonds, sugar and almond extract. Add the melted butter and mix well, before pouring it into the tin. Put it in the oven for about 30 minutes until the top is brown and the filling is gently set. Dust with icing sugar.

I had never used ready-made shortcrust pastry before, but this was rather good. Amazingly, it hardly shrank at all, and was pre-rolled nice and thin. It has a good crisp texture around the sides when cooked, but is a little bit tough on the bottom. Thank you, Marie!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Something fishy

So there I was, a middle-aged woman in a raincoat in a convenience store, buying one tin of tuna. That's all. If I had seen that woman I would have assumed she was buying it for her cat, poor dear. But I wasn't - I was buying it for my daughter's 'Tuna Tuesday' sandwich. It's all fish tonight. The rest of us will be having fish-finger sandwiches as I have been too busy eating food and writing about it today to actually cook any.

My fish-finger recipe for success is:

Use 4 fingers per round, grilled
Get the best bread you can - something doughy but substantial
Use plenty of ketchup in place of butter
Assemble and serve as quickly as possible

You could, of course, butter the bread, use mayo, salad cream or tartare sauce instead of ketchup. I would love to hear what you think works best.

Pudding: Creme caramel served in a fluted plastic container

No fruit, no veg.

dachshund puppy in hot dog bun

Well spotted! It's a hotdog, not a fish-finger sandwich.  Thank you, Debbie, for sharing.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Freaky chicken breasts

Hey, well-known-supermarket, when did you start selling chicken breasts in packs of 3? Have scientists secretly bred a 3-breasted bird? It's very inconvenient for the nuclear family.

Roast chicken with creamed leeks

Tonight we are eating roast chicken breast, creamed leeks, carrots and corn on the cob. You can do most of that without my help, but if you've never had creamed leeks before I'll talk you through it.

I used 3 medium leeks, a good size knob of butter, a tablespoon of flour and some milk (any kind). Put the butter and finely sliced leeks into a pan and cook slowly until bright green and tender:

leeks cooking in a pan with wooden spoon

Keep the heat low-medium, add the flour and stir well. Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, until it boils and the mixtures thickens to your desired consistency. You can also add some grated cheese if you have a bit that needs using up.

This will be enough to liven up what would otherwise be a dreary meal. Your family will be so delighted with the cheerful combination of bright green, yellow and orange on their plate that they will eat it all, without complaint (no guarantees).

For pudding, tempt them with some fruit served with a dip made of creme fraiche and maple syrup.

Fresh fruit with maple-syrup cream

Simply mix together some creme fraiche and maple syrup until it is nice and sweet, and serve in individual ramekins with a plate of cut up fruit. Put it back in the fridge to chill if you have time.

That's Monday done.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Largeing it

With a large (but forgiving) audience for lunch today, I decided to cook a big cottage pie and an apple traybake.

half eaten cottage pie in a dish
No shepherds were harmed in the making of this meal

Cottage pie

At about 7 this morning I put 2 chopped onions, a kilo of lean steak mince, 4 chopped carrots, 3
tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, an Oxo cube and one glass of water in the slow cooker on 'high'. I gave it a stir about an hour in to break up the mince a bit, but left it alone after that. At 11.30 I ladled most of it out into a big dish. The mince was a bit clumpy, but so well cooked by this time that a pat with the back of the ladle broke it up nicely. I added 10 mashed (small-medium) potatoes and a handful of grated cheese, before putting it into the oven for 40 minutes, until the top was light brown and the mince was bubbling up from under the potatoes. Served with easy-frozen-peas-y.

Bonus: There was enough mince left over to use as the base for another meal next week.

Apple Traybake

3 large cooking apples
juice of half a lemon
8oz butter, softened
10oz caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
12oz self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
demerara sugar to sprinkle on top

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Grease and line a baking tin measuring approx 27 x 20cm. Peel and slice the apples finely and pour the lemon juice over them. Meanwhile, place the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder in a large bowl and mix until smooth. Spread half the mixture in the tin, top with half of the apples, and repeat. You could add handful of blackberries if you have them. Either way, sprinkle over some demerara sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Serve hot or warm, with something cold and creamy.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Sausage dogs

dachshund wearing hot dog costume
Hot dog

Celebrate the end of another week with something very simple for dinner - no cutlery needed.

Hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob

I knew I would be late home tonight, so cooked some sausages earlier and left them to cool.
They were easily re-heated in the microwave, inserted into buns and drowned in ketchup.

The accompanying corn on the cob was also cooked earlier on - and left in the pan to cool.  To heat it up, put a lid on the pan and bring the water to the boil for a minute or so; drain. Smear it with butter and add salt & pepper.

Yesterday I promised a recipe for chocolate croissant pudding. Dark, rich and gooey with a kick - perfect for cold nights, but only for over 18s:

Chocolate Croissant Pudding

4 croissants
100g good quality dark chocolate
142ml carton cream
300ml milk
4 tablespoons brandy
100g caster sugar
85g butter
pinch of cinnamon
3 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 180/gas 4 and grease a 2 pint dish. Cut the croissants into strips with scissors and place them in the dish. Melt the chocolate, cream, milk, brandy, sugar, butter and cinnamon together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Get another (large) bowl, break the eggs into it and whisk, then pour in the chocolate mixture, whisking until everything is amalgamated. Pour this over the the croissant strips, press them down gently, leave for 10 minutes (if you can), and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is crunchy and the middle is gooey. Let it cool for about 10 minutes and dust with icing sugar if you want to show off.  Or just serve straight away - with cream.

hot dog with two sausages on a red and yellow napkin
Hot dogs

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Egging you on...

Did you know it's British Egg Week? I've lost track of whether they're good for you (Omega 3), bad for you (cholesterol), or indeed whether they came before or after the chicken. If in doubt, stick to Creme Eggs. They are, however, amazingly versatile in sweet and savoury dishes, from gooey chocolate mousse to crisp meringues and fluffy souffl├ęs. Here's a couple of easy eggy ideas for today:

brown egg in a nest
Don't put them all in one basket

Frittata (basic model)

One or two onions
Bacon or lardons
New potatoes
Eggs (5-8)
Cheese - any kind, from grated Cheddar to sliced goat's cheese

Also consider adding: shelled broad beans, peas, herbs (especially basil), chorizo...

Cook the onions slowly in a frying pan until they are transparent and sweet, adding the bacon about halfway through. Meanwhile, cook a handful of new potatoes and whisk together the eggs. Grate or slice your cheese. Cut the cooked potatoes into chunks and add them to the bacon and onion, stirring to help them absorb the flavours. Pre-heat the grill. Then pour the eggs into the pan and cook on a low-medium heat until nearly set underneath but still runny on top. Put the cheese on top and stick the pan under the grill until the cheese is melted and just beginning to brown (any longer and you risk over-cooking, resulting in a tasty-but-rubbery end product).

I think this gets better as it cools, so leave it for a few minutes or a few hours at room temperature before slicing into wedges and serving with: baked beans (for undiscerning palates), a green salad, tomatoes, salsa...

Bread and Butter Pudding

8 medium slices bread
2 eggs
425ml whole milk
nutmeg - optional
50g sultanas/any dried fruit optional

Butter the bread and cut into triangles. Grease a dish (with butter) and add a layer of bread triangles.  Sprinkle with some of the sugar and dried fruit, repeating until everything is used up. Whisk the eggs and a generous pinch of nutmeg into the milk and pour into the dish, pressing the bread down gently to absorb the liquid. Bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the mixture is set.

Eat with cream, custard, ice cream, fruit compote, chocolate sauce, sliced bananas, anything. My best ever bread-and-butter pudding features croissants, chocolate and brandy. But that's for another day.

Yesterday's fajitas

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Finger-lickin'-chicken fajitas

At the risk of turning into my ex-boyfriend's mother, who cooked the same meals on a 
seven day rotation, I often cook fajitas on Wednesdays as both children are home from school at a reasonable time and we all love them. So, no culinary compromises today, and you could even enlist their help with avocado-mashing, cheese grating, and pudding.  

cockerel in a garden setting
Take one chicken...

Finger-lickin' chicken fajitas

Chicken (thigh fillets, trimmed of fat, are our preference)
An onion or 2
Red pepper
Fajita seasoning 
Flour tortillas

Sour cream
Grated cheese
Guacamole (easily made with a soft avocado mushed up with half a clove of crushed garlic, some lime juice and salt)

Chop onions and pepper and fry over a medium heat until soft. Remove from pan, turn up the heat, add a splosh of oil and fry the chicken which you have cut into strips. Add about a tablespoon of fajita seasoning and mix well. When the chicken is nearly done tip the onions and peppers back into the pan and mix again. I serve a little heap of this on a tortilla and let everyone help themselves to the accompaniments. 

Back to mothers-in-law... Mine is (in)famous for her outlandish culinary creations but here's one which is definitely worth sharing. No baking required - but it's dangerously more-ish.

Rice Crispie Toffee Crunch

4oz butter
4oz toffees
4oz marshmallows
5oz Rice Crispies 

Melt butter, toffee and marshmallows together in a pan, slowly. Add Rice Crispies and stir well. Put into a greased tin and cut up when cool and set. Can be topped with melted chocolate of your choice, but I think this is gilding the lily. Here's one I made earlier this year for the jubilee celebrations:

rice crispie cake decorated with union jack flag

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tuna Tuesday

Somehow Tuesdays have become known as Tuna Tuesdays in this house.  Not that we're obsessed with food or anything! Owing to logistics, child 1 will be having a meal on the move today.  It will include her favourite, a tuna sandwich - half a can of tuna in spring water drained and mashed with salad cream.  No butter, crusts off.

The rest of us will be having pasta with last week's tomato and red pepper sauce.  I will stir in a generous lump of Quark to make it a creamy-but-still-low-fat sauce, and smother it with Grana Padano cheese.  I might stir the remains of the tin of tuna in - lovely if you like cat food!

Pudding will be an unashamedly easy 'Apple Fluff' (like apple fool, but easier).  Stew some apples, puree them in a blender.  Mix together one third apple and two thirds Ambrosia custard.

Apples in a wheelbarrow
Add caption

This (above) is the beginning of our apple harvest. There will be a lot more about apples, including a recipe for apple jam as soon as I have tested it.

You can get through quite a lot of apples if you have a juicer. We have a basic model that cost about £40, but it works pretty well. Add a bit of peeled root ginger and/or some carrots. My children think it's a real treat - as good as the fresh juices in Wagamama. Praise indeed.

Going back to salad cream in sandwiches, I have to commend and recommend M&S' egg, salad cream and tomato sandwich. Simply delicious.

Monday, 1 October 2012

50 Shades of Gravy

I'm not sure my son's comment "Mmm, nutritious" was a ringing endorsement of the meal put in front of him tonight, but he ate it all.

Lamb steaks with garlic mash and real gravy

Lamb steaks, garlic mash, carrots, spring greens and gravy  - from start to table in 30 minutes (exactly).  Here's how:

Peel potatoes (about 1 per person) and get them on to boil.  Add a garlic clove.  Peel and chop carrots and get them on to a low heat.  Deal with spring greens (I discarded a few outer leaves and cut the rest into noodle-width ribbons) and put them in a steamer over the potatoes.

Place the lamb steaks in a freezer bag, 2 at a time, side by side.  Batter them on both sides with a rolling pin until they are thinner.  This tenderises the meat and makes it quicker to cook.  Turn the oven on low and put some plates in it.  Fry the lamb in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil until it is cooked to your liking.

While that's happening, drain and mash potatoes with butter and a bit of cream or milk and plenty of s&p, and put the pan lid on.  Keep the spring greens in the steamer if they are cooked or if not, put them over the carrots.  Crumble half an Oxo cube into a mug of hot water.

Take the cooked steaks out of the pan and put them on a warm plate in the now-warm oven.  Add a good knob of butter to the frying pan, let it melt and add about a tablespoon of plain flour.  Stir vigorously and add the Oxo-water gradually until it looks like gravy!  If it tastes too salty, dilute it with some cooking water from the carrots.  Tell the family that the lumps are bits of meat!

Bowl of scraped out chocolate brownie mixture with spatula
Yesterday's chocolate orange brownies - from bowl to plate

Chocolate orange brownie

I can smugly report that Monday got off to a good start, despite the darkness and lashing rain. Why?  rice pudding for breakfast.

Rice pudding

The 11 pints of milk which had accrued in the fridge needed using up so I made a giant rice pudding.  You can cook it in a low oven or (as I did) in a slow cooker on 'medium' for about four hours.

Place 1.5 litres milk (mine was skimmed), 200g pudding rice, 80g sugar and about half a teaspoon nutmeg into the cooker, put the lid on and enjoy the smell.  It will solidify quite alarmingly as it cools, but can be brought back to life later on in a saucepan over a low heat with a splash of milk. Excellent with jam (or maple syrup).

Top marks to Edward, aged 7, who suggested bathing in the milk as a good way of using it up!