Friday, April 29, 2011

A Royal Wedding Celebration with a Victoria Sponge

Wasn't it wonderful!!  I thought Kate's dress was a beauty, William looked every inch a future King and my British heart swelled with pride.  We started watching at 5.00am and I finally got my children to school by about 11am.  This is their heritage after all.  Now I think it's time to have a nice cup of tea and a piece of celebration Victoria Sponge.

This cake was of course named after Queen Victoria, but to tell you the truth, it can be a little dull and uninspiring (unlike her majesty!) so, just like Kate and Wills, this is an updated version of a Royal classic. A sort of Victoria sponge on turbo power.

You could of course put other fruit in here, blackberries with a blackberry preserve is especially nice.  Or how about peach slices with whipped cream?

I did just want to check in with everyone about "the dress"  I thought it was perfect, what did you think?

Here's what's needed for your celebration cake.

2 sticks of butter
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
Vanilla extract
2  1/4 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of buttermilk
Zest of a lemon
8 oz heavy cream
2 tablespoons of strawberry preserves
1 tablespoon of confectioner's sugar
Fresh berries
1 further tablespoon of confectioner's sugar for dusting.                   
Preheat the oven to350F                    
Butter and flour 2, 8 inch cake pans

Cream the butter and sugar and lemon zest (it smells wonderful)
until REALLY light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time.

Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.

Measure out the buttermilk and add the vanilla.

Add half the flour mixture, combine, then add the buttermilk, gently combine, then add the remaining flour, combine.

Pour the mixture into the cake pans and place in the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until rinsed and golden.

Remove from oven, leave for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cake rack to cool thoroughly.

Whip the cream, add the confectioners sugar and vanilla.  Gently stir in the fresh fruit.

Spread the strawberry preserve on the top of the bottom layer. Fill the cakes, sprinkle the top with a little confectioners sugar. 

Make a pot of tea, sit down with a large slice and watch re-runs of the Royal Wedding.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chicken Soup for my Soul!

I have to confess I've had quite a morning.  It started off full of promise, today was the start of spring cleaning! The weather is changing and I felt the need to cleanse the house, fling open the windows, let the fresh air in and sweep away the cobwebs.  That was my first mistake.  My second was starting in my teenage daughter's room.  As this is a primarily a food blog, I won't go into the grizzly details of what I found, I don't want to ruin your appetite. I ploughed my way through the wreckage until I was completely out of pep.

I knew what was called for, a restorative chicken soup.  Something that calms the nervous system after such a fright.  This is just the ticket. If you're considering any spring cleaning, I advise caution.

There is no need to stick absolutely to this recipe, I tend to use whatever vegetables need using up in the fridge. Today I had celery but very often I use leeks, sometimes a handful of watercress leaves are a nice addition at the end of cooking, or baby spinach leaves, whatever you have. 

Sometimes I add egg noodles to this soup, my children especially love this.  However, as I was trying hard not to think about my children today, I added a cup of cooked barley and it was wonderful.  Rice is always a good option too.

Here's what you will need to revive a weary body!

1 lb of cooked chicken
4-6 small new potatoes, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Gulg of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
32 oz of organic chicken broth
4 carrots, diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
chopped fresh herbs (whatever you happen to have, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano are all wonderful)
A couple of  handfuls of frozen peas
A handful of green beans, chopped
Salt and pepper

Extra fresh chopped herbs sprinkled before serving.

Pour the olive oil in a good sized sauce pan, add the finely chopped onions and saute until soft, add the minced garlic and continue to cook for 2 more minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the carrots, wash and dice the potatoes and add them to the pot. 

Pour in the chicken stock, seasoning and chopped herbs, bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer, partially covered.

Cook until the the potatoes are very nearly done.  Add the green beans and continue to cook all bright green and the potatoes are ready.

Take off the heat and add the frozen green beans.  Shred or chop the cooked chicken up into cubes and add to the soup.  Add another handful of herbs and some cooked noodles, rice or barley if using. 

Stir well to combine and serve.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A very helpful Meatloaf

This is a very good natured meatloaf, it really takes all sorts of rough treatment and arrives on the kitchen table tasting delicious.  By rough treatment, I mean it can be half or fully assembled ahead of time, you can choose between beef or turkey and if you over cook it because you were doing the school run, it won't mind a bit. I over cooked this one by about 20 minutes but it was still devoured.  Pair it with mashed potatoes and green beans and there you have it!

I think the secret to this meatloaf is that it is slightly sweet, so of course it's exceptionally child friendly.  The caramelized onions help for a start and the glaze, made with ketchup, maple syrup and A1 Steak Sauce,  just tops it off (excuse the pun).  I would just add that if you are going the turkey route, I would give it a few extra shakes of the wrist when adding the steak sauce, it just gives it an extra "pep."

If you're lucky it will do a couple of meals, for which I believe every mother is grateful.

Here's what you'll need:

For the meatloaf
2 lbs of ground meat (beef or turkey)
2 onions
a good gulg of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 eggs
salt and pepper
a large handful of fresh chopped herbs (parsley, oregano or even sage would be good, or a combination)
1 tablespoon of  mustard
1/2 cup of dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of ketchup
3 tablespoons of A1 Steak Sauce

For the glaze
1/4 cup of ketchup
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 good dash of A1 Steak Sauce

Preheat the oven to 350F

In a saute pan warm the olive oil, add the onions on a medium to low heat and cook for about 8 minutes, add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are caramelized.  Remove from the heat to cool.

In a large bowl gently mix all the other meatloaf ingredients until combined.  Add the onions and garlic and combine.

Place the meatloaf mixture in a baking pan and shape into a loaf.  (You can refridgerate it at this point if you wish)

To make the glaze just whisk together the ingredients and spread over the top of the meatloaf.

Place in the oven for about an hour  or until completely cooked through.  The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees.

Remove from oven, let set for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a serving dish leaving behind any fatty juices that may have formed.

Serve with mashed potatoes, string beans are wonderful with this and of course LOTS of extra ketchup.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Berry Cheesecake

This is guaranteed to please, you can count on this cheesecake and quite honestly how many things in life can you say that about?  Not many.   I have to confess that this is not really my recipe, it started out from Ina Garten's "Family Style" cookbook and I have stayed close to the original.  If you don't yet own any Ina Garten cookbooks what are you waiting for?  Think of them as an investment with tremendous return, you will use them again and again. This crust is a little different and I've cut down on the sugar and eggs but basically it's her genius!  One of my daughters asked for this instead of a birthday cake.

You can change the topping to whatever fruit you love, any red jelly seems to work whether you're using strawberries, red currants or raspberries and I've also used blackcurrant jelly with blueberries which was wonderful. You could also try a combination of berries for a very berry cheesecake. Your choice.

Here's what you'll need:

1 1/4 cups of Graham Cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/3 cup of melted butter

2 lbs of cream cheese
1 1/4 cups of sugar
6 eggs
1/4 cup of sour cream
Zest and juice of a lemon
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Berries of your choice
1 cup of red currant jelly for red berries or blackcurrant jelly for blueberries, blackberries or blackcurrants

Heat the oven to 350 F. 

Make the graham cracker crust by following the directions on the package.  Bake for 8 minutes and allow to cool.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar together.

Add the eggs one at a time and scrape down after each.

Add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest and juice.  Mix to combine.

Pour onto the cooled graham cracker crust.

Place in the oven and after 15 minutes turn down to 225F.  Bake for approximately 1 1/4 hours.  Turn off the oven and leave for another 1/2 hour.  Remove from oven and leave to come to room temperature.  Then refridgerate.

When fully chilled, make the topping.

Melt the jelly in a pan and add the fruit, gently tossing so that it is all coated with the liquid.  Pour over the cheesecake and serve.

It's pure bliss!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chicken Piccata

I have a very soft spot for chicken piccata.  It was the first meal I ate when I arrived in the States to marry my husband.  We were to live in New York City and the night I finally arrived for good, we went to dinner at a lovely little Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side.  I ordered chicken piccata (which I had never had before) and thought it was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten.   I was in love, New York was amazing and I had my life ahead of me.  Chicken Piccata is VERY special!

All you need is:

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, no more than 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon of flour
salt and pepper
chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
1 tablespoon of butter
A good gulg of olive oil
2-3 lemons
3/4 - 1 cup of white wine
1/4 cup of organic chicken stock
1 tablespoon of cornflour
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of capers
Fresh herbs for garnish

On a large plate mix the flour, salt and pepper and chopped rosemary. 

Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saute pan.  When hot add the floured chicken breasts.  Brown well on both sides.

Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add the wine, stock, juice of the lemons and the lemons themselves and capers to the pan and bring to the boil.  Boil for a minute or so and then turn down to a simmer.

Mix the butter and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Add a tablespoon of the liquid and combine.  Pour this into the saute pan and stir until thoroughly combined.

Add the chicken breasts back to the pan until completely cooked through.

Transfer to a warm platter and sprinkle with chopped herbs and more lemon wedges.

This is wonderful served with a salad, green beans or of course spinach. You really need warm bread to sop up the lovely lemony juices too.

Poached Pears

There is something exquisitely luxurious about a poached pear.   The beautiful dark red wine soaked fruit surrounded by a rich, spice infused syrupy liquid.  An added bonus is that they make the house smell amazing when you're cooking them. 

There's really nothing to poaching a pear, just good ingredients and checking that you don't over cook them. It's that easy.  Some of my children like these (you can never please them all at once) and don't worry about the alcohol, it all cooks off in the process, they're not going to end up tiddly after consuming these.

A couple of years ago we were lucky enough to stay in a truly gorgeous hotel in London and every morning for breakfast they served poached pears, they were sublime.  This is my homage to them.

You will need:

1 bottle of fruity red wine
2 tablespoons of sugar
Zest of an orange and a lemon
4 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
5-6 medium sized Bosc pears, peeled with the stem left in place.

In a fairly heavy duty saucepan  add all the wine, sugar, citrus zest, cloves, cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. 

Split the vanilla pod down the middle, scrape out the seeds and add to the saucepan.

When the liquid has reached a boil add the pears, reduce to a simmer and cover.

Simmer for 30-40 minutes depending on how ripe the fruit is, until cooked through but not mushy. 

Check every ten minutes or so and turn the fruit so they infuse the beautiful color from the wine.

When cooked remove to a plate.  Bring the liquid in the saucepan to a boil and reduce until you have a rich syrup. 

Stand the pears up, sieve the liquid to catch the zest and cloves and then pour the syrup over the pears.

These are wonderful served on their own, with cream, ice-cream or with yogurt for breakfast.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Birthday Party Meatballs

It's birthday week here, yesterday we celebrated my lovely mother in law's and today it's my two eldest daughters (Irish twins).  My Kitchen Aid mixer is practically going up in smoke with an overload of birthday cakes.  I must say I'm a bit of a sentimentalist and tend to go a tad overboard with the celebrations, candles, balloons, cakes and wrapping paper, but birthdays are special don't you think? Especially when they're your children's! 

Meatballs, garlic bread and salad were requested yesterday, followed by chocolate birthday cake and ice cream.  Nothing fancy but these seriously hit the spot.

I  hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

Here's what you will need:

For the meatballs:
1 1/2lbs of lean ground beef
3/4 lbs of ground pork
1 egg
1 tablespoon of water
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of dried breadcrumbs
chopped fresh herbs (parsley or oregano are wonderful)
salt and pepper

For the sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Here's the major CHEAT, I used 2, 24oz jars of our favorite tomato sauce
salt and pepper
fresh chopped herbs

2, 14.5oz packages of Barilla Plus Spaghetti

In a large bowl gently mix all the ingredients for the meatballs until combined. 

Roll into good sized meatballs.
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and brown the meatballs, you will have to do this in a couple of batches. 

Remove the browned meatballs to a plate and cover.

Pour off any excess fat in the pan, add chopped onion and saute gently for 4-5 minutes until soft and beginning to caramelize, add the garlic and saute for a further 2 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine all ingredients. 

Add the meatballs back in to the pan, bring to a simmer add the chopped herbs and cover until completely cooked through.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the directions on the packet.  Drain and pour into a HUGE bowl.

Pour over the meatballs and sauce, sprinkle with more chopped herbs and serve with a salad, garlic bread and LOTS of Parmesan.

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fish Cakes

Who doesn't love a good fish cake. I know a lot of people make them to use up left over fish, I make them simply because I LOVE fish cakes and think they make a wonderful low key supper.  I made these last night when my nine year old had a little friend for a sleep (wake!) over.  I thought I was going to be faced with mutiny and a demand for pizza, but no, they packed these away with gusto.

These were made with cod, I actually meant to use salmon but completely forgot once I was in the supermarket, but quite honestly any firm fleshed fish will do beautifully.  I use a combination of potatoes and sweet potatoes, which produces a lovely taste and color and of course provides a little extra nutrition.

Here's what you'll need:

1 1/2 lbs of cod
zest and juice of a lemon
1 bay leaf
2 cups of milk
salt and pepper
fresh parsley

4 medium potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
a knob of butter
1 egg
panko crumbs or dried bread crumbs
fresh parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of butter

To poach the fish simply lay it in a large dutch oven or stove proof dish, pour over the milk and add the lemon zest, juice, chopped parsley, bay leaf and salt and pepper. 

Put on the heat to low, cover and bring it to a simmer.  Let this simmer away gently and in no time the fish will be poached. I'm always amazed at how quickly this happens, about 10 mins or so, just keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile peel the sweet potato (I usually leave the skins on the regular potato - but as you wish), fill a saucepan with water and boil up the tatties.

When the fish is just cooked through transfer it to a dish, discard the bay leaf and pour the liquid into a freezer proof container and put into the freezer for future use.  Flake the fish into chunks, this is really a personal taste situation, my family likes big chunks of fish but if you prefer smaller just flake a little more aggressively.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain and mash adding the knob of butter.  Don't add any milk as you need the mixture fairly stiff.  Let cool a little and then add the fish, more chopped herbs and the beaten egg.  Stir the mixture gently to combine.

On a large plate pour out a couple of handfuls of the panko  or breadcrumbs.  Take a large tablespoon of fish mixture and roll it in the panko.

Melt the butter and oil in a large pan, when nice and hot add the panko covered fish cakes and fry until golden.  Transfer to a warm serving plate, sprinkle with more chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon.

These are wonderful served with ketchup or tartare sauce, either a salad, peas or buttered green beans would be lovely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Roast Chicken, an English Cottage and Bluebell Woods

Oh, England was beautiful, the countryside was in full flush of spring, baby bunnies, bird song, primroses, blossoms, bluebell woods, lambs and foals. I wanted to bottle it all up and bring it home.  My mum and I had a lovely time. 

I'm happy to say I unearthed many a culinary treasure while I was there which I'm looking forward to sharing.  One such find was my Grandmother's cookbook (first edition 1927) which holds some wonderful recipes that I can't wait to try out. 

Here's a picture of a little cottage I thought I might like to live in!

Isn't it pretty!  Just a quarter of it would do us fine.  Before we get down to roast chicken, I can't resist showing you the bluebell wood, sadly the sun wasn't actually shining, but this is England after all.

Yesterday I must admit I was having a little trouble remembering which side of the road to drive on and conked out with exhaustion by early evening.  I just about managed to crank out the old faithful roast chicken.  It's so dependable, even on auto pilot this makes me proud.

All you need is:
  • 1 good sized chicken (about 4lbs)
  • 3-4 lemons (zested and cut up into quarters)
  • 4-5 shallots or 3-4 medium onions (peeled and cut into quarters)
  • 1 bulb of garlic (unpeeled but with the top cut off)
  • a few gulgs of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • fresh herbs roughly chopped (rosemary, parsley, thyme or sage would be lovely)

Preheat the oven to 425F

Place all ingredients in a large roasting pan.  Rub the olive oil over the chicken, the top of the garlic bulb and shallots or onions if using.
Pour in the white wine and place in the oven.  Close the door and forget about it for  45 minutes.

Then take the pan out of the oven and baste making sure all the lemons and onions are covered in the juices.  Put back in the oven for another 1/2 hour or until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear.

Take out of the oven, transfer the chicken, shallots and lemons to a warm serving plate, skim off the fat from the juices and and pour remaining juices over the chicken.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.  Carve and enjoy with crusty bread to sop up the juices and a salad.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'm off across the Pond!

Tonight I'm off "over the pond" and I'm leaving them ALL behind for an entire week! 

It's time I visited my mum.  I'm SO looking forward to catching up on all things British and especially indulging in a little Royal Wedding fever.  I fully intend to buy as much wedding paraphernalia as I can possibly get my hands on, I just can't wait for Kate and William's big day!

I'll be back blogging in a week,

See you soon and until then,
Happy Cooking and Happy Blogging!

Mary x

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chicken Fajitas

  • These are a family favorite, quick and easy to make, they can be adjusted to even the pickiest eaters palate. I usually serve these with bowls of salsa, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, guacamole and shredded lettuce. I orginally got the idea from Jamie Oliver's book, "Jamie's Rood Revolution" which I LOVE. I've changed the seasonings a little and also suggest you try this with steak instead of chicken, or even a firm fleshed fish such as cod. As Jamie would probably say, "wicked!"
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  • Juice and zest of a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of Harissa spice
  • 1 minced clove of garlic
  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 - 1 1/2 lbs of chicken tenders
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 orange peppers
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of a lemon
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro
  • soft tacos
  • Heat the oven to 275 F
  • Make the marinade by whisking together the mustard, salt and pepper, lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, harissa spice and olive oil. Pour into a gallon sized zip lock bag and add the chicken tenders. Leave to marinate for an hour or overnight if you're organized.
  • Heat a griddle pan (or a regular frying pan will be fine), don't add any oil as it will smoke!
  • Add the chicken and brown, adding the vegetables a few minutes later. Squeeze lemon juice and chopped herbs over the everything as it cooks. If the chicken cooks through before the vegetables, just remove it to a serving dish and cover.

  • Place the tacos on a baking tray and pop into the oven to warm through.
  • Serve the chicken and vegetables on a platter, squeeze more lemon juice over them, sprinkle a tablespoon of chopped herbs and allow everyone to build there own fajitas.
  • Which are your favorite fajitas?
  • Chicken?
  • Fish?
  • Steak?

Friday, April 8, 2011


The first really amazing homemade lasagna I ever ate was made by my future (at the time) mother in law.  It really was wonderful, as in fact is she! Really!  This is hands down the favorite family supper, there is no wrinkling of noses or pushing around the plate with this.  It's gobbled up at lightning speed. 

I used to make it with bechamel sauce, but it was a bit of a fiddle and the ricotta is SO good and takes a fraction of the time.  I tend to cram as many vegetables in the sauce as possible, they get lost in all the delicious sauce so my children don't really notice them.

  • 1 box of NO BOIL lasagna (this makes ALL the difference when you're trying to finish this before the school run)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of fresh herbs (oregano or parsley would be lovely)
  • 1 - 1 1/2 lbs of minced beef
  • 1, 24 oz can of tomatoes
  • 1 -2 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • salt and pepper
  • 1, 14 oz carton of ricotta cheese (or fresh if you can get it or make it!)
  • 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs, chopped
  • nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

  • Heat 2 tablespoons or so of olive oil in a large Dutch oven, add the onions and saute for 5 minutes on medium to low heat, add the carrots, celery, garlic and parsley and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

  • Add the minced beef and brown thoroughly, pour off the excess fat.

  • Add the canned tomatoes, stir in the tomato paste to thicken and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes.

  • Meanwhile prepare the ricotta mixture.  Add the carton of ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, chopped herbs, salt and pepper to a bowl and gently mix.

  • To assemble the lasagna you need to find a nice large dish (about 10x3x13).  Layer the ingredients as follows, meat, then a layer of pasta, then a layer of sauce.  Continue with this until the ingredients are used up, finishing with a layer of sauce.

  • Sprinkle a further tablespoon or two over the top of the lasagna, cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven for 50 minutes.  Remove from oven, take off the aluminum foil and put back in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes to brown.

  • Serve with a nice fresh salad and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

American Pancakes, British Drop Scones

    • These scrumptious little yummies where a huge favorite as a child. Now my children love them. In England they're known as drop scones and were always made for birthday parties. I still love them hot off the skillet with butter and jam, but they are equally good dripping with maple syrup. If you want you can add a few pieces of fruit to the batter when you spoon it onto the skillet. Blueberries, thinly sliced apple or banana are good options, or if you really want to push the boat out, chocolate chips.

    • Over the years I have become quite an expert on girls sleepover parties (not that they sleep - at all). The morning after these all night festivities I usually find a weary group of girls in the kitchen still in their pj's consuming large quantities of these.

      • 1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
      • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
      • pinch of salt
      • 1/4 cup sugar (I use sucanant but regular white sugar is fine)
      • zest of a lemon
      • 2 eggs
      • 1/2 cup of milk
      • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

      • Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl.

      • Pour the milk into a measuring jug and add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat to combine.

      • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine gently. Don't over mix.

      • Heat a skillet with a tablespoon of butter or oil until quite hot. Spoon out large tablespoons of the mixture onto the hot skillet. The heat should be turned to medium. Let cook for a few minutes until browned and then gently turn over to brown the other side. Make sure the pancakes/scones are cooked through.

      • Remove to a serving platter and enjoy with maple syrup or butter and jam, depending on what side of the Atlantic you want to be on.

    Macaroni and Cheese

    When I presented a roast chicken dinner the other night, my thirteen year old exclaimed, "Oh honestly Mum, can't we have a proper dinner like other families, why can't we have macaroni and cheese?" Well, I must say I was a little taken aback, then I wondered why I was making life so hard for myself, after all what's wrong with a bit of mac and cheese? I'll tell you what's wrong with it, as soon as you've made it, it's gone. They descend on this like vultures, I was lucky to get a photo before it was seized upon. In fact you should probably double the recipe.
    • 1 box of dried pasta, I know elbows are traditional, but spirals or penne seem to work fine.
    • 3 tablespoon of unsalted butter
    • 1/3 cup of all purpose flour
    • 3 1/2 - 4 cups of milk
    • 6 oz of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
    • 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
    • pepper
    • nutmeg
    • 3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
    • 2 oz of sharp cheddar cheese
    • 1 tablespoon of Parmesan
    • Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta and cook until almost done, it will continue to cook under the broiler.
    • Pour 4 cups of milk into a measuring jug and warm this in the microwave.
    • Melt the butter in a pan with the heat turned to medium. When the butter has melted add the flour and stir. Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, be patient. Add the nutmeg and the mustard. When you have added 3 1/2 cups, add the grated cheese and stir until melted.
    • By this time you should have a smooth sauce that coats the back of a wooden spoon. If too thick, add another 1/2 cup or so of milk. Check the seasonings.
    • When the pasta is almost cooked drain and pour into a baking dish. If using a 14 oz box of pasta, you may not need all of it, box up the excess pasta and put in the fridge for a quick snack with some pasta sauce later - a hungry teenager will definitely go for this. Pour the sauce over the rest of the pasta and combine.
    • Mix the breadcrumbs, cheddar and parmesan cheese in a bowl, you may want to add a grinding of pepper to off set the saltiness of the cheese. Sprinkle over the pasta and cheese sauce. Put under the broiler, watching carefully until it is golden brown and bubbly.
    • Attempt to let it rest for 10 minutes to set up, otherwise move aside before the stampede knocks you over.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Beef Stew

    It's always a wonderful feeling to know you're ahead of the game. Beef stew enables you to feel just this. Make a batch on Sunday and you're set until Tuesday, in fact it gets even better the next day AND freezes well. It's wonderful comfort food that nourishes the soul, one really can't ask a lot more. Even though there are potatoes in the stew my children still like mashed potatoes on the side or if I'm feeling particularly indulgent I'll make garlic bread for them to sop up the juices.

    As far as greens are concerned you could add some frozen peas, but my nine year old loves green beans doused in butter and lemon with this. I can't say I disagree. I once started cooking this and found I'd run out of red wine (gasp) but found a bottle of bear lurking at the back of the fridge. I used half of it instead of the vino and it worked a treat, producing more of an Irish stew feel as opposed to a Boeuf Bourguingnon. I hope you enjoy this.

    • 1 1/2 lbs of lean stewing beef
    • 1 tablespoon of all purpose flour
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 tablespoon of minced rosemary
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
    • 4 sticks of celery, chopped
    • 4 parsnips, peeled and chopped
    • 4 medium potatoes, washed and quartered, skins left on
    • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley
    • 1 good sized sprig of rosemary
    • 1/2 cup of red wine
    • 3 1/2 cups of organic beef stock
    • 2 tablespoon of tomato puree
    • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
    • 1 tablespoon of butter
    • Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Combine 2 tablespoon of all purpose flour, minced rosemary, salt and pepper in a large zip lock bag. Add the beef cubes and shake until the beef is lightly covered in the flour mixture.

          • In a large Dutch oven heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the beef, do this in batches as you don't want to overcrowd the pan.

          • When all the meat is browned, set aside on a large plate or bowl, covered with aluminium foil. Add the onion to the pan and gently saute on a medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and all the other chopped vegetables. Saute for another 5 minutes, mixing the ingredients gently.

          • Add the browned meat and any juices that have collected to the vegetables. Add the red wine, beef stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil and then turn off heat, cover with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. The meat is done when VERY tender.

          • Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter. Put the Dutch oven on the stove and simmer gently. Mix the tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of cornstarch into a paste. Add a tablespoon of the simmering sauce to the paste and stir until combined. Add this to the pan and gently stir until the sauce has thickened.

          • Place the meat and vegetables back into the pan and gently mix. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

          Monday, April 4, 2011

          Red Quinoa Salad

          If you would like to serve yourself up a plate of health, look no further. Quinoa is almost the perfect food. Most of the world's quinoa comes from Peru and Bolivia and it's chock full of everything that's good for you. It's a very clever whole grain as it is a complete protein source although it's a plant. This means when your teenage daughter informs you she has become a vegetarian, you don't have to panic about lack of protein, just pull out the quinoa. Hold on, it gets better, it's gluten-free, a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorous AND is high in magnesium and iron. Oh, I almost forgot, it's delicious.
          • 1 cup of quinoa
          • juice and zest of 1 lemon
          • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
          • 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
          • salt and pepper
          • 1 orange pepper, diced
          • 1 yellow pepper, diced
          • 1/2 an English cucumber, diced
          • 1/2 cup of cranberries
          • 4 - 6 0z of feta cheese
          • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
          • 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds (optional)
          • salt and pepper

          • Cook quinoa according to the package directions, drain and pour into a large bowl.

          • Toast the sliced almonds in a dry pan on medium heat. Set aside to cool.
          • Make a dressing using the juice and zest of the lemon, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and olive oil. Whisk together and pour over the cooked quinoa.

          • Chop the vegetables and add them to the qunioa along with the feta cheese and toasted almonds if using.

          • Squeeze a little more lemon juice over the salad before serving.

          Enjoy by itself or as an accompaniment to chicken or fish.

          Saturday, April 2, 2011

          Fish Pie

          As I was wandering around the supermarket AGAIN today, a beautiful piece of cod caught my eye. Well, it would you see, cod is a very British fish, it loves the cold waters of the North Sea. I remember it well, lovingly wrapped in a thick crispy batter accompanied with chips (fries), drenched in malt vinegar and about 1/2 lb of salt. Fish and Chips - a British favorite. I couldn't quite bring myself to deep fry this lovely, glistening beauty (and any cardiologist would thank me), so I went for the next best thing, fish pie. As with Shepherd's Pie, I truly believe that peas and ketchup are an absolute essential with this dish.
          • 1 1/2 lbs of firm fleshed fish, such as cod, haddock, salmon
          • 1/2 lb of shelled cleaned shrimp
          • 3 1/2 cups of milk
          • 1/4 cup of cream
          • 1/4 cup of white wine
          • 2 bay leaves
          • salt and pepper
          • zest and juice of a lemon
          • 3 tablespoons of butter
          • 1/3 cup of all purpose flour
          • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
          • 1 generous tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
          • 4-5 medium potatoes, washed and peeled and quartered
          • 2 tablespoons of butter
          • 2 oz of grated cheddar cheese
          • scant 1/4 cup of milk
          • salt and pepper
          • Put a large pot of water on to boil, prepare your potatoes and pop them in the pot. Cook for approximately 15 - 20 minutes until soft. Drain, add the butter, cheese, milk and seasoning. Mash and set aside.
          • Place the fish in a large pan so that it can fit in one layer. Pour over the milk, cream, wine, add the zest and juice of the lemon, bay leaves, salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.
          • Place the pan on the stove top and turn the heat to medium, once the liquid is simmering turn it down to low. Cook for approximately 10- 15 minutes or until the fish is almost cooked through. Add the shrimp and cook for a further 5 minutes or so until the shrimp and fish are cooked.
          • Gently transfer the fish and the shrimp to an ovenproof casserole dish (about 10 x 8 x 2 1/2). Break the fish into large chunks. Cover while you make the sauce.
          • Pour the poaching liquid into a measuring jug to use for the sauce.
          • In a medium pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter, when fully melted add 1/3 cup of flour and stir vigorously, slowly add the poaching liquid about a tablespoon at a time until you have used about 3 cups. You should have a lovely smooth sauce that thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. If it is too thick add more liquid. If you find you have liquid leftover, don't worry, pour it into a freezer proof container, mark it "fish stock for chowder" and put it in the freezer. We will get to "chowder" another day - yum).
          • Pour the sauce over the fish and shrimp and gently mix, being careful not to break the fish up too much.
          • Spoon over the mashed potato, fully sealing the edges and top with the potato. Make a pretty pattern on the potato with a fork and pop under the broiler until golden brown.
          • Let the fish pie "sit" after it comes out from under the broiler for about 10 minutes so it firms up nicely and then serve with peas and ketchup.

          Friday, April 1, 2011

          Apple and Almond Pie, Cake, Crumble!

          This delicious treat has a bit of a split personality. It can't quite make up it's mind whether it's a pie, a cake or a crumble. Of course you could substitute all sorts of lovely fruit mixtures. Berries are always a winner (blackberries are my preference), perhaps a few pears, cherries would work, especially because of the ground almonds in the cake batter, or some apricots might be rather nice. Whatever takes your fancy.

          • 1 stick of unsalted butter
          • 3/4 cup of sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the fruit
          • 2 eggs
          • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
          • 1/4 cup of sour cream
          • 3/4 cup of all purpose flour
          • 1/4 cup of ground almonds
          • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
          • pinch of salt
          • 5-6 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
          • zest and juice of a lemon
          • vanilla extract

          • Heat the oven to 350F

          • Peel, core and slice the apples, put them in a large bowl with a tablespoon of sugar, the juice of a lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let this rest while you're making the cake batter.
          • Cream the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy

          • Add the lemon zest (this smells wonderful)

          • Add the eggs one at a time, stop and scrape down the bowl after each addition.

          • Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix until combined

          • Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt and mix gently until combined.

          • Pour the fruit into a glass pie dish (9.5 inch) and cover with the cake batter. Seal around the edges with the batter. Sprinkle a few sliced almonds on top and put it in the oven for approximately 40 - 50 minutes. The cake is done when risen and golden brown.

          • This is delicious hot or cold, but I must say, warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream isn't half bad!