I am increasingly becoming quite a fan of Nigella Lawson. No matter what people think of her silk clad midnight snacks there is no doubt that she is quite an inspiration and I’m sure her recipes have created many new foodies. By coincidence, her cookbook ‘Feast’ arrived today. I ordered it due to my growing curiosity about Nigella. The only other Nigella cookbook I have is her Christmas one but some how I felt I was missing out. I’ve had a quick flick though ‘Feast’ and I’m quite excited about getting into bed tonight to read more. Sad I know, but that is perfect bedtime reading for me.
The other reason I have become more interested in Nigella is of course is because I was been lucky enough to briefly meet her a couple of months ago when filming for Baking Mad. I’m also going to be hosting the Forever Nigella blog challenge in June run by Sarah who writes the fantastic Maison Cupcake blog which I am very excited about so watch this space for more details on that.
So for all these reasons I thought that featuring and reviewing one of her recipes on my blog would be very fitting.
This month Vanilla Frost is hosting Forever Nigella for Sarah and the theme is ‘spring’. So the other night I had a look through some online Nigella recipes and came across one for Red Prawn and Mango Curry. It was the addition of mango and the colourful ingredients that made it feel very springtime to me, and in my opinion a great curry recipe is worth it’s weight in gold so I thought I would give it a go.
I decided that I would review based on marks out of 10 for a few set criteria. Hopefully this will make it easier for you to quickly see what I thought of it.
The total cost of ingredients where I normally shop in Ocado was £17.56. Calculating the cost based on how much of each ingredient is used the cost was £10.74 and based on the dish serving 4 people it worked out at £2.69 per person. Cheaper than your average take away ruby, so pretty good value if you ask me.
Time required to make:
The prep took me about 30 mins, but most of this was peeling and chopping the butternut squash and mango. I did not have any sweet potato so I left it out, but peeling and chopping these would have added on an extra 5 mins the the prep I would say. If you are tight on time you can buy the sweet potato and squash in a prepared pack together and save yourself half the time I would say. The only other thing to mention is that in the recipe it suggests 15 mins cooking time for the squash and potato. Mine took about 40 mins to be soft enough.
Skill level needed:
This is a great recipe for beginners. After everything has been prepared it is really just a case of putting most if it in the saucepan and letting it simmer away whilst you get on with something else.
I like the instructions. They were easy to follow and nicely formatted on the webpage.
Visual appearance of completed dish:
I could not wait to tuck into this meal. Admittedly, I picked this recipe because I thought I would like it, but it really did look scrummy. This would be a great meal to serve friends and you could make it look even nicer by serving with a bit of mango chutney, cucumber raita (my favorite) and a naan or flatbread.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this curry. It is sweet and sour, spicy and salty and I love having flavour contradictions in the same dish. When you get mango, butternut squash and prawn in the same mouthful, it is really quite something. I was tempted to close my eyes and say, ‘Mmmmm….” but then that really would have been a bit too much like Nigella, so you will be pleased to hear I did not do this, and instead started up conversation with my husband as distraction. The level of heat and spice in this curry will be down to the red curry paste you use. I really like the Thai Taste range of pastes.
Overall, I think it is fair to say that I loved this recipe. I will certainly be making it again, and can’t wait to make it next time we have guests.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to bed to do you know what!
I am also going to enter this curry into Fabulicious Food’s Family Friendly Fridays blog event. There are some great recipes entered this month so hop over and take a look if you get the chance.
In the blurb about my blog you will see the words “for busy mums who want to use their creative side”. Well this post is written with that specifically in mind. Yesterday after picking my eldest from school, rushing home, giving all three their tea then dropping eldest at Rainbows, I had 40 whole minutes until I had to pick up. Wow, that is quite a chunk of time for someone like me. I did not want to waste it so I carefully considered what to do. There were lots chores that I could have done like fold the washing, tidy the bedrooms, order my food shop or make some calls but instead I decided to set myself a challenge, and see if I could bake something in that time. ‘Crazy” I hear you say! Yes, I might agree with you there, after all I did not list the obvious option of sitting down and having a cup of tea but once I had the challenge idea in my head, there was no going back, I had to do it.
The requirements were quick, easy and something that the kids would like. Lots of scope there and after a rummage through my fridge and cupboards the decision was made. Little scones with feta, sundried tomato and caramelised balsamic onion. Sweet, salty and tangy all at the same time, making these just a little bit more sophisticated than your average savory scone. You might already know this about me, but I like to create mini sized food. In this case I think the small size makes the scones much more versatile. They are perfect for snack time, picnics (can’t wait now that the weather is improving) jazzing up your lunch and can even be made as little canapés served with chilli jam maybe? They freeze well and can be defrosted and warmed up in a jiffy by using the microwave.
Little scones with feta, sundried tomato and caramelised balsamic onion
Here’s what you will need:
- 200g self raising flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 40g/1 1/2 oz butter
- 100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) milk and a little bit extra for brushing the tops of the scones
- 6 sundried tomatoes
- 25g feta cheese
- 1 med onion chopped up finely
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Small scone cutter
- Greased baking tray
- Pastry brush (I use a silicone one and think they are fab)
Makes about 18 mini scones
So the big question now, is did I manage to make them in the 40 minutes? Well here is how I got on.
How to make:
Time: 40 mins
- First thing I did was to chop the onions up and I did this in my magimix as if I’m giving onion to the kids it has to be really small
- Then I put the chopped onion in a small saucepan with the olive oil and let it cook on a low heat for about 5 mins. I then turned the oven on to 220c/gas 7.
- After 5 mins, add the vinegar and sugar to your onions. Stir regularly and keep on a low heat
Time: 31 mins to go
- Now I put the sundried tomatoes and feta cheese in the magimix and whizzed for about 5 seconds, until a rough paste is made. I kept this to one side and started to make the scones
- In a big mixing bowl add the flour and butter. Mix together either by hand by rubbing through your fingertips, or in the mixer until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the tomato and feta paste along with the onions which should by now have had about 15 mins to cook in the saucepan and should be nice and soft and have absorbed the sugar and vinegar
Time: 22 mins to go
- Mix the dry ingredients in, and once combined slowly add the milk and mix until a soft dough is formed
- Take the dough out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly knead and then roll out. Make sure that the dough rolled out thickly (about 3 cm) as this is the secret to lovely high scones. Cut out the scones and place on the baking tray. Bring leftover bits of dough together and roll out again until all the dough is used up
Time: 13 mins to go
As soon as the scones came out, I turned off the oven, placed them onto a cooling rack and ran out the door to do the pick up. I did not have time for the washing up so left the kitchen like a bit of a bombsite.
However, most of it went in the dishwasher, and I had ‘ warm from the oven’ scones to munch on whilst I was doing it. Not so bad after all!
I’m hoping that anybody out there who feels they don’t have time to bake will be inspired by my ‘Crazy Scone Challenge’ and find 40 mins today or tomorrow to get stuck in and create a little something that has the potential to make your day as these little beauties certainly made mine.
These scones can also be entered into the Tea Time Treats blog challenge which is savory or sweet scones! This month the challenge is hosted by Karen from Lavender and Loveage and is shared with Kate from What Kate Baked.
Chilli is a regular feature in our household. It is quick and easy to make, everyone (yes everyone) in my family likes it, it is healthy and low fat, you can make a truck load in just about the same time as it takes to make a normal portion so perfect for when all the aunts and uncles come to stay, you can jazz it up by serving with a nice salad and some garlic bread, it can be made in advance and either kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen…and the list goes on. So why, I can hear you asking, am I messing about with something that is effectively a family dinner institution? Well, I guess the answer to that is quite simply that I love to put my own spin on recipes. This normally involves including more of what I like in a dish and creating an opportunity for myself to experiment with flavours. I have to admit, it is a bit scary at first, but now I pretty much do it all the time. The reward for being brave is creating a dish that you love which you might never have had otherwise. There are of course times when it does not go to plan, but after a few swear words and deep breaths, I’m normally able to put it down to experience and take it in my stride. I have every confidence that you will be able to do the same.
This recipe is the result of an afternoon of experimentation, and for want of a better expression, I think it has been a ‘roaring success’! It’s vegetarian, because I don’t eat meat. But fear not, I will also tell you how and where to add some meat because I know for some (my husband being one of them) chilli without meat is a crime.
Part of my motivation for this dish was in fact this months We Should Cocoa blog challenge set by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog. The theme is ‘savoury and vegetarian’, and as with all We should Cocoa challenges, chocolate must be included. I have got to say, this stumped me for quite a while, but then I remembered that special chocolate that had a whole TV series dedicated to it a couple of years back and which I have always wanted to try. A little bit of internet research later and I found out I was thinking of Willie’s Supreme Cacao. It’s 100% cacao and although it looks like chocolate, it is not something you want to eat raw. I tried!! The theory behind adding this to dishes, apart from it being cool, is that is adds a depth of flavour and chocolate compliments chilli beautifully. So the very special ingredient in this chilli is cacao, but for the sake of ease, lets call it chocolate! If you can’t get hold of Willie’s chocolate, some unsweetened cocoa powder will be a good alternative.
So go on, give this a go and impress everyone who will listen with your culinary knowledge (cacao, depth of flavour etc) and most importantly your willingness to try something a little bit different with splendid results.
What you will need:
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed,
- 1 tin of cannellini beans or leave this out and add a 500g pack of minced beef
- 1 tin of black beans (or kidney beans if you can’t get black)
- Half a medium pumpkin or 1 medium butternut squash cut into squares
- 200g chestnuts (I brought mine in a pack)
- 1 romano pepper chopped
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1 tsp of cumin seeds
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp of ground paprika
- 1 tsp of ground cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp of grated cacao or 2 tsp cocoa powder
- 1tsp chilli powder
- 1/2 pint of vegetable stock
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 350g of tomato passata (about half a bottle)
- Pinch of pepper for seasoning
How to make:
- Preheat you oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Put your cubes of pumpkin into a roasting tray, sprinkle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30-40 mins. I like to roast pumpkin for most dishes as it brings out the sweetness and flavour
- Put your onions and garlic in a large saucepan and start to cook gently with a bit of olive oil. Once soft, add the pepper. Then add all the spices apart from the chocolate and cook for a further 5 minutes
- Now add beans/meat and cook for 5-10 mins (more like 10 mins if you have meat)
- Now add chestnuts, chopped tomato and passata and cook for 10 mins
- Add the vegetable stock and season with pepper. Cook on a low heat for about 25-30 mins
- Towards the end of this cooking time, add the roasted pumpkin, and right at the end stir in the grated chocolate
- Serve with plain basmati rice
PS: Willie did not sponsor me to write this post
PPS: There are still a few places left for my very first Bake Club evening, so if you live in the Sevenoaks area take a look at my Bake Club post for more info on how to book.
Only a quick post for you this week folks. For those of you that don’t know I and heading down to London on Monday to take part in Channel 4’s programme, ‘Baking Mad with Eric Lanlard‘. Filming is going to take place in Eric’s cake shop, Cake Boy and I will be competing with two other bakers in a mini bake off to win a masterclass with Eric afterwards. The theme is cheesecake, so as you can imagine I have cheesecake coming out of my ears at the moment with all of the practicing I have been doing. I have finally decided on what sort of cheesecake I am going to bake and am now concentrating on the decoration. I’m very excited and nervous all rolled into one!
I will be blogging the chosen cheesecake recipe in a few weeks, but today the recipe is for a fig, shallot and blue cheese tart. I made this tart a week ago as we were hosting a family party at my house and although I was not catering completely (everyone was bringing something) I was keen to try out something new. The other thing to say is that I LOVE figs, LOVE blue cheese and LOVE sweetly cooked onion so I was confident that this would get the big thumbs up from me. These flavours just go so well together. Sweet fig and shallot, against the salty blue cheese brought together with cream and eggs. Superb! But before I give you the recipe I wanted to list why I think savoury tarts are so special and definitely worth making from time to time.
- They are a great winter supper cooked with a jacket potato and your choice of veg
- Fantastic summer lunch served with salad and garlic bread
- Versatile – eaten all year round
- You can make double and freeze one (very handy mid week)
- Great party food (mine did not last 2 mins)
- Perfect for experimentation depending on what is in season and what your preferences are
- Easy to make, especially if you use shop brought pastry which is perfectly acceptable and totally allowed
Now that you are all convinced that savoury tarts are a good thing to make, have a go at this. You wont be disappointed.
This recipe was inspired from one I found on the BBC Good Food website, but I have made a few subtle but noticeable changes.
What you will need:
175g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
150g unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp salt
400g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
few springs of fresh thyme
dash of olive and a small knob of butter
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
200ml crème fraiche
200ml double cream
140g blue cheese (your choice)
3-4 fresh figs, cut in half
A 20-23cm tart tin, greased
How to make:
I’m going to explain how I make my pastry in the food processor. You can of course make it by hand, (or buy it) but this is so easy. In fact, I would argue that it is much less effort than getting out the house and going to the shop…or maybe that is just me with 3 kids in tow.
1. Put the flour, salt and butter into the food processor and mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix until a soft smooth dough is formed. Wrap in cling film and put into the fridge for at least half an hour. This pastry can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen so a good one to make in advance.
2. Put the butter and olive oil in the saucepan, then add the shallots and thyme and start cooking on a low heat. After about 5 mins add the balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 10 mins stirring regularly until soft
3. Preheat you oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface, transfer to the tart tin, gently press the sides of the pastry into the tin, (to prevent it folding over in the oven) prick the base with a fork and blind bake with baking balls on top of greaseproof paper for 15 mins
4. Mix the eggs and cream in a large bowl, season and add the blue cheese. Once cooled add your shallot mixture and stir together.
5. Once pastry is blind baked, take out of the oven and turn oven down to 170c/325f/gas 3. Remove baking balls and greaseproof paper, then pour in your filling. Place your cut figs, inside up around the tart. Cook in the oven for about 50 mins – 1 hour until it as started to brown. It should still have a bit of a wobble when you take it out. It will continue to set as it cools.
PS: I also did a review of some Valentines Chocs this week. Worth a read if you fancy putting some chocolates on your wish list for 14th Feb.
I’m an old romantic at heart. My husband and I literally met by bumping into each other on the street. It was fate that he got off the bus just as I was walking past with my pal, and for our eyes to meet. It could of easily been a ‘sliding doors’ scenario as a minute later and we would have been heading off in different directions, lost in the crowds having never seen each other. Obviously, I’m so glad it wasn’t, as 13 years later we have been married for nearly 7 years and have 3 wonderful children.
Our household is a pretty busy place as our children are still young and as a result I think it is easy to forgot the romance when real life gets in the way. My husband and I are like ships in the night sometimes. He works long hours and as a result so do I. It can be a struggle to find time for one another when we are both exhausted at the end of the day, but its so important. This is why I try and do something special every year for Valentines. I’m not a fan of the commercial side of Valentines day so it won’t be anything big or costly. Just a little token of love.
This year there was no doubt that anything I do for Valentines was going to be homemade. After making 6 Christmas hampers and being a self confessed baking addict, it was also going to be edible. It had to be unique but also useful. Cupcakes look pretty but were just not going to cut it, I’d make 12, he’d eat 1 and then have a sandwich! Same with most other treats. Then the idea of a valentines packed lunch came to me. At the moment my husband buys his lunch spending far too much on a dry sandwiches, but he has no incentive to make his lunch and I don’t have time ordinarily either. A packed lunch made with love would be perfect. I spent quite a while working out what I would make him. A number of criteria had to be met including portability, deliciousness and thoughtfulness. Below is what I came up with. I hope it inspires you to do the same for your partner or for someone you care about this valentines.
For all the recipes I am giving you enough to make more than just one packed lunch. No point going to all that effort if you can’t enjoy some of it too. You could even invite a friend over for lunch on the day you make it all to join in with the enjoyment and impress by pretending that this is the sort of lunch you eat every day!
You can be as creative as you like in packaging it all up. A ribbon and a tag would be a nice finish I think.
Blood orange, walnut and goats cheese salad with avocado hearts
This salad uses ingredients that I love and means you can justify buying lots of blood oranges which are amazing but only in season now for a short few weeks.
What you will need:
- packet of ruby gem lettuce, or any other lettuce with red in
- 100g goats cheese
- 4 blood oranges
- 50g walnuts chopped
- 1 avocado (needs to be fairly large)
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp blood red orange juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp walnut oil
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- Small heart cookie cutter
How to make:
- Wash and chop your lettuce and arrange in the bottom of a Tupperware dish.
- Cut the ends off your oranges and then use a knife to cut off the peel and pith working from the top down and round the orange. Cut into chunky slices and arrange on top of lettuce.
- Crumble a portion of the goats cheese and sprinkle on top of salad, then add some of your chopped walnuts onto the salad.
- Cut your avocado in half, skin and take the stone out then cut thin slices. There should be the fat bottom bit on each slice. Use this to cut out your hearts and place on top of the salad.
- Finally, to make the dressing mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl or dish then pour over the salad using as much as you think it needs
Keeping with the theme of valentines, I thought these rolls would be perfect as when the lucky recipient cuts into them they will find a gorgeous red inside.
Makes about 8 large rolls (freeze any you don’t use)
What you will need:
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 200g strong wholemeal bread flour
- 7 sundried tomatoes chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 sachet of 7g dried yeast
- 75g grated cheddar cheese
- 450ml hand hot water – not too hot or it will kill the yeast
- Sunflower seeds for top (optional)
- Put the flour, salt, tomato puree and yeast into a bowl
- Add water and mix with hands until a dough is formed. Remove from bowl and knead for 10 mins. Alternatively, use a dough hook on an electric mixer for 5-6 mins
- Use your hands to push the dough out flat onto your work surface and put cheese, sundried tomatoes and basil in the middle on top. Fold the edges of the dough back over the cheese, tomatoes and basil and then lightly knead for a few minutes until you think everything has been incorporated into the dough. You might find that bits fall off as you go but don’t worry just pick up and place back into the dough and you will soon start to see that most it has been mixed in
- Once you feel the cheese, tomatoes and basil had been evenly mixed into the dough, put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size
- Gently take you dough out of the bowl and gently knead to punch the air out of it and then make 8 or so small rounds of dough and place on a baking sheet. Cover with cling film again and leave for another 30-40 mins somewhere warm.
- Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. The small balls should have grown into bigger rolls. Don’t worry if they are slightly misshapen, I think this adds the homemade appeal. At this point I put a sunflower seed heart on top of my rolls and then placed them in the oven. Feel free to miss out the sunflower seeds if you wish
- Bake for about 20-30 mins. Timings will depend on the size of your rolls but you are looking for a crusty top and a hollow sound if you tap the bottom
I adapted this recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cook book. I used natural red colouring (mine was Dr Oetker), and found the silicone heart shaped bakeware in my local Sainsburys, (and I was extremely chuffed too). If you cant find the heart moulds, small round cake tins would be fine as well. I hope you are getting the red theme here folks 🙂
Makes 4 small cakes
What you will need:
- 60 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 10g cocoa powder
- 20 ml red food colouring
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 120ml butter milk
- 150g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
- 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
- 300g icing sugar
- 50g butter, room temperature
- 125g cream cheese
- 1 tsp orange extract
- A few sprinkle decorations of your choice. I used white chocolate stars and mini chocolate stars, both found down the baking aisle of my local Sainsburys
How to make:
- Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/gas 3). Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix until incorporated
- In a separate bowl mix the cocoa powder, red colouring and vanilla extract to make a paste
- Add the paste to your butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix well
- Then add half the buttermilk and mix, then half the flour and mix, then the remaining buttermilk and mix and the remaining flour and mix
- Add the salt, bicarb of soda and vinegar and beat well for a couple of minutes.
- Pour mixture into your cake tine and bake for 25 mins until the top is slightly firm to touch and a knife comes out clean. Take cakes out of their tins and leave to cool on a wire rack
- To make the frosting mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric whisk. Add the cream cheese and orange extract and beat until smooth
- Ice your cakes with the frosting using a palette knife if you have one and then sprinkle our chosen decoration on top
Present on Valentines morning, and expect a few ‘nom, nom, nom’ texts throughout the day…for the sake of my lovely blog readers, my husband got his packed lunch early!
I’m also entering this into Cakeboule’s virtual valentines craft and bake competition 2012. Looking forward to seeing all the other entries too.
Only 4 days until Christmas, and it is all starting to get a bit hectic in my house. Don’t think I have been to bed before midnight this last week, but finally the mince pies are made and the presents are wrapped. Can’t help wondering if I have forgotten something though. It worries me that in my haste to perfect things down the smallest detail that I will have forgotten something major. It only occurred to me not so long ago that my guests are staying for more than Christmas day and so will also need feeding in addition to their Christmas dinner! The challenge here has been to think of things that are quick and easy but also keeps up the ‘domestic goddess’ appearance! I also like to cook a meal at some point over this time that is fairly light and not as calorific as all the other foods typically eaten at Christmas. I always end up craving a bit of green veg, just to make me feel a bit more normal. This is particularly the case this year with all my baking in recent weeks. Every time I get a glass out of the cupboard the mince pies on sitting beautifully on a plate on the side shout my name, and when I open the fridge the ‘spare’ truffles look longingly at me. What is a girl to do??
This recipe is perfect for Christmas eve, and ticks all the ‘boxes’ I mentioned above. You can prepare the salmon earlier in the day to marinate, and then at dinner time just pop them in the oven, get your rice coking and don’t forget the steam a bit of green veg to go with it! It is a recipe which I have been doing for years and is totally my own creation. I just tried a bit of this and a bit of that, and over time I think it has really become perfected. This is a great time to share it with you.
What you will need:
- 1 salmon fillet for each person eating
- Basmati rice
- Green veg
- Foil to wrap parcel up each salmon fillet
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp teriyaki sauce
- 1tsp tamari sauce
- 1 tsp runny honey
- Juice from half a lemon
- Sprinkle of fresh coriander
- Sprinkle of fresh ginger chopped
- Sprinkle of dried chilli flakes
How to make:
- Place each fillet of salmon on a piece of foil large enough to cover it and seal together at the top. Wrap the foil around the salmon but don’t seal together so that the salmon is still exposed
- Add all the marinade ingredients onto the salmon and seal the foil together. Put in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more
- When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and bake for 20 mins
- Whilst the salmon is cooking, prepare your rice and vegetables
- Take salmon out of oven and carefully out of foil wrapper. Serve with rice and vegetables and pour the juice over the salmon, (this is one of the best bits especially when mixed with a bit of rice)
All that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy your baking, thanks for your support, and I wish you all a fabulous Christmas! I’ll be back in the new year 🙂
For Christmas this year I have decided to make some homemade food hampers for a few unsuspecting special family members. I’ve not attempted anything like this before, but it makes perfect sense for me. First and foremost it is a great opportunity for me to be creative not only by making the items but also packaging them all up to look really special. Our garage is currently full with lots of different sized boxes that I have been collecting, but it feels good to be able to reuse them! This little project is also a way for me to give gifts that will hopefully mean something to the people receiving them. I just could not bring myself to buy another pair of socks! However, if the thought of creating a hamper fills you with terror along with all the other Christmas preparations, maybe consider just giving one homemade item along with another gift. I’m sure this would be thankfully received, especially if you make them something scrummy!
Red onion and apple chutney
I will be putting this red onion and apple chutney in my hampers. There are two main reasons why I have been inspired to include it and I hope some of you may identify with these. They are:
- My love of cheese at Christmas time – I’m thinking now of roquefort and chutney on a nice crisp cracker and trying eat it in one piece without dropping crumbs down the sofa whilst watching the Christmas day evening film!
- The pot of similar shop brought chutney in my fridge which I just knew I could make a better version of and for much less cost.
Alternatively, you could just make it to have at Christmas time with your family and friends. How wonderful to be able to offer homemade chutney with your after dinner cheeseboard! Then after Christmas you can try using this chutney on pizza. Spread it on top of your tomato base, sprinkle mozzerella and goats cheese over it, cook and serve with fresh rocket.
The ingredients list looks long, but most of it should be things that you have already got. They may be hidden at the back of the cupboard but I bet some of them will be there. So make sure you have a good hunt before you write your shopping list. I actually found my apples when I parked next to an apple tree at my local gym. Freshly fallen but perfectly ripe and otherwise going to waste I’m sure. However, the best bit about this recipe is that once you have chopped and measured everything you just leave your saucepan full of ingredients to work its magic over the hour and a half it takes to cook. It just needs a stir every time you walk past.
What you will need
- 1 kg apples – peeled, cored and chopped
- 250g white onions – peeled and chopped
- 250g red onions – peeled and chopped
- 25g fresh grated ginger
- 1.5 tsp ground ginger
- 200g seedless raisins
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 tsp mustard seeds
- 1.5 tsp ground cloves
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 250ml balsamic vinegar
- 50ml cider vinegar
- 300g cane sugar
- 100g preserving sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- Good grinding of pepper
- A large saucepan
- 6 250ml jars with lids
- Put all the ingredients into the saucepan, and mix together. Cook over a low heat for 1 hour with the lid on and half an hour with the lid off
- Whilst cooking stir regularly to stop the chutney from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan
- Sterilize your jars by either putting them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher or washing them in hot soapy water by hand and then putting them in a low oven for 30 mins or so until hot and dry
- Once cooked fill the jars with the chutney. Use a long thin implement like a chop stick to push the chutney down and push away any gaps of air
- Place somewhere cool and leave for at least a month to mature and improve. Just in time for Christmas!
Now that the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, there is no better excuse to indulge in a bit of comfort eating to make us feel a bit better. I try as much as possible to cook a Sunday lunch each week so that we can all sit down as a family and enjoy a meal together. Call me old fashioned but I really see the value in doing this for our little family. Besides, it gives me an opportunity to bake and try out new things, which keeps me happy.
One of the new things I have been trying out is an old favorite which for some reason seems to have passed me by in the last few years. Not sure why. Maybe it was because I was not fortunate enough to taste one that inspired me enough to want to start making my own. This is possibly a consequence of living ‘down south’ but there is no excuse for the bad ones out there, and they are far to fattening to eat a bad one! I guess I should say what I am talking about, although you may have guessed from the title of this post. It is of course the humble pie! So what was it that got me thinking about, and then baking pies? Well it was quite innocent really, and a bit by chance. A good friend of mine gave me a new recipe book as a gift and in there was a fabulous looking pie recipe that caught my eye. It was just what I fancied, and I guess you could say the rest is history. Once the first one was a success, I have gone on to try a few, and have now come up with a recipe that combines a number of seasonal ingredients to create a pie which for me is worth making every time. After serving this to my mum one week, she went out and brought me the cutest little blackbird pie funnel, so now with a blackbird to put in my pie and a nursery rhyme to sing with the kids, pies are a regular feature in our house. If you are reading this and can’t remember the last time you made a pie, give this one a shot and you might just find yourself in a whole new world of Sunday lunch heaven!
Mushroom, Chestnut, Stilton and Guinness Pie
This is a vegetarian pie but is hearty enough for any meat eater to enjoy. The addition of Guinness is down to my Irish roots, but it helps to make a rich flavoursome gravy which is one of the reasons this pie stand out. It is perfect to eat at Christmas time too, and can be made in advance and frozen once the pie filling is in and the pastry lid on top. I have included the recipe for puff pastry, but if you have not got the time or energy to make it, just add some ready made puff pastry to your shopping list and use that instead.
- 300g/10 1/2 oz plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 300g/ 10 1/2 oz unsalted butter – cold but not solid
- 1 teaspoon of lemon juice (jif will do)
- 140ml icy water
- Put the flour into a bowl with the salt, then rub in 50g of the butter with the fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs and is well incorporated
- Add the water and the lemon juice and stir into a dough using a round bladed knife and then your hands. We are trying to keep the pastry as cold as possible, hense the mixing with a knife first. Cut a cross into the top of your dough ball and then wrap with cling film and put in the fridge
- Put the remainder of the butter on the counter between two sheets of cling film and bash with a rolling pin until it is half its original thickness. Then fold up and do it again, and again if needed until the butter is pliable but still cold. Beat into a square approximately 13cm width and length
- Retrieve your dough from the fridge and roll out into a cross shape with four (for want of a better word) flaps, leaving a slightly thicker central square once all flaps are rolled
- Place the butter in the centre of the dough and fold flaps in to cover the butter
- Turn dough upside down and roll carefully into a rectangle and then fold bottom third in to the centre third and the top third into the centre third, (a bit like folding a letter)
- Give dough a quarter turn so folded edge in on the left and follow step 6 again
- Complete another 4 turns and folds, at which point your puff pastry will be ready. Can be keep in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions
- 250g/9oz chestnut mushrooms cut in half
- 2 carrots cut into bite size chunks
- 150g/5 1/2 oz cooked chestnuts
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 250ml Guinness
- 100ml vegetable stock
- 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 100g/3 1/2 oz stilton cheese
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. Heat oil in pan and fry onions until golden and soft. Add mushroom and carrots then saute for another 10 mins
- Stir in the chestnuts and thyme, then add the Guinness and simmer for 3-5 mins
- Add stock, worcestershire sauce and sprinkle in the flour stirring until fully mixed in. Cook stirring regularly for another 15-20 mins until the liquid has reduced and thickened to look more like a gravy.
- Add stilton and season with salt and pepper. Stir until melted and combined
- Put pie filling into your pie dish. Place pie funnel in the middle if you have one, otherwise you can use an upturned egg cup
- Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and lay it over the top of the pie dish leaving a slight overhang. Trim with a sharp knife and seal edges with the back of a fork or by pinching with your fingertips
- Brush top of the pastry with beaten egg, gently prick the top with a fork and bake for around 35-40 mins until risen and golden.
I like to serve mine with new potatoes, a green vegetable and some additional gravy.