Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friday Night's All Right for Dancing

The horse bolted before the stable door was open. That's wrong, isn't it? The bolted, that isn't right either. Oh forget it. I forgot to mention the disco before the last post and that night's dinner so a quick recap; the kids had their hair straightened/coloured/curled for the school disco after having this weeks Pasta Fest. It was a simple fest but a fest nonetheless.

Once we had dropped the twins off at the infant disco, we dropped Kelly at James's house and then floated on a sunbeam to the Burnbrae where we had a small sherry (gigglesnort) with Ann and Gordon. An antipasti was bought and I recommend this to everyone if anyone ever ventures towards that shady establishment which we love. Succulent artichokes, parma ham, salami, Parmesan cheese, olives, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Truly the food of the Gods. Giving us spicy olives was an affront to decent society though. Not with antipasti, Burnbrae people, don't mess with such things. Keep your olives mild!

Sun and Simple Pleasures

What a wonderful weekend. The sun continues to shine, the kids continue to glow and, despite a small slump yesterday morning when I realised I had tasks ahead of me before I could enjoy any of the sunshine (and on my own too as husband took another Saturday off to go Aikido-ing. No, it's no mistake, last week was treasure hunting, this week is Aikido-ing-I did say it was ok, but we say these things sometimes when we don't really mean them) it has been grand. I worked through the slump with the help of the kids as they did their best effort at tidying a bedroom, i.e. they sat on the floor and looked puzzled. But still, they did a little and with my help, we made a dent, big enough for a sleepover to happen.

The rest of the day was spent in a hazy blur as we wandered the long way through the haze to the park. We stopped of at Ann's to pick up her laddie and she forced me...yes, FORCED have two gin and tonics. I left half of the 2nd one as I had responsibilities ahead of me and Ann pours a mean drink.

The kids parked it up for a good hour and then we went home for sausage and mash. I'll not insult anyone with how to cook such a dish but my mash does contain a good pinch of salt, a splash of full fat milk if I have any, sometimes even cream and a stick of butter! Sometimes, there is no point without the proper, fatty ingredients. A little of what you fancy does you good. I of course did not partake and instead had a nice cold salad.

Today was spent gathering lots and lots of children, boys at that, dropping them in the swimming pool and then feeding them burgers and ice cream. Everyone needs afternoons like that. On the way home, we saw the Air Cadets and stopped off for a wee shot in their plane. They happily obliged.

As if all that wasn't enough, Auntie Susan appeared and took the twins away for a birthday treat and Kelly and I made our way slowly towards the park, her on her bike, me in my mules that haven't seen the light of day for nigh a year. The walk took an hour. So, of course, my poor feet died. Goodbye, dear feet, you did me well.

For dinner, we had sugar-spiced salmon and rice. The rice was a last minute decision and it went well together. It was a subtle, pleasant summer dish and the hot but sweet mustard sauce....the easiest I've ever made...added a nice tang. I did not take a photograph as I salivated my way to the dinner table. I had a salad at lunch and ate at 6.30pm, really rather late for me.

Sugar Spiced Salmon with Chinese Hot Mustard
(This recipe is from Nigella Lawson's 'How to Eat' if I didn't know how to do THAT.)

A fillet of salmon per person.
Combine the following ingredients in a little bowl:
Quarter teaspoon per fillet of ground ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, sugar and salt, Colman's Mustard Powder.

Heat the griddle or frying pan (I added a tiny bit of sesame oil and rubbed it round with kitchen towel, but do what you prefer). Coat the salmon in the spices, both sides by pouring the spices onto a plate and pressing the salmon into it. Cook for 2-3 minutes each'll see it turning opaque. I always put it in a very hot oven for another few minutes after this as I do not want to eat this type of salmon with raw bits in the middle.

The Hot Mustard is prepared simply by adding 1.5 teaspoons mustard powder and sugar then add a teaspoon of warm water from the tap. Stir thoroughly and Bobby's your Uncle, you have yourself a sauce, my friend.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekly Receipt

Oh, how glorious the weather is! This being Scotland, don't be surprised, if you visit from abroad, to find people running round in circles with their hands in the air, yelling with delight, bumping into each other with a pack of ice lollied children with bright red cheeks trailing behind them. We do love the sun. We love the rain too, but like any visitor that comes 5 times a day, you start to weary. We shall drop the kids at their disco, sun ourselves at the Burnbrae and bring in the weekend with...a gin and slimline tonic, just the one.

I did my shopping in this lovely heat in record time because, well, the sun was shining and I wanted to get out in it and it was also nearing 3pm so I had to get the kids from school. We just spent a pleasant hour in the park but husband volunteered to take the shopping home-those prawns aren't cheap, y'know!

I'm smug. The bill, once again, was under £50 (£48.12) and that was with 2 free range chickens, 3 salmon fillets, fresh haddock fillets, tiger prawns and sausages. I also managed to refill the baking cupboard. Go, Helen...Go, Helen.....

Weekly Shopping List 29th May-5th June 2009

It's that time of year, folks, the time when the sun starts to shine, the shorts come out and Helen realises that she needs to shed a few of those extra pounds. So, tis diet time. I'm loathe to call it a diet though as I can't and won't (I won't, I won't! Ok, yes I will) stick to a ridiculous plan designed to make my belly ache and my face droop. Of course, losing weight is simply about cutting down and exercising more, and less about making home-made chips late in the evening (not me!) and possibly...possibly reducing that pesky wine intake (sorry, girls).

This weeks list takes the above into consideration:

Pasta Fest
Penne with 2 cheese sauce and home-made garlic bread
Fusilli with Helen's tomato sauce, basil and Parmesan

Ginger and Lemon Roast Chicken with couscous and salad

Sugar Spiced Salmon with fresh vegetables (Helen & Brian)
Salmon Fishcakes (Kids)

Chinese Chicken and Rice with broccoli

Prawns with Garlic and Chilli (Helen)
Sausage and Mash (Brian and kids)

Chicken and Rice Soup, Sandwiches and Salad

Home-made Fish and Chips
(Helen's without batter and sweet potato oven wedges for all).

Lunches will be antipasti, sandwiches and soup for all. Breakfast will be a mix of cereal, toast, pancakes, crepes and waffles with scrambled eggs.

Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing will be the the only baking this week; to achieve a goal, you must first limit the temptation. Do I need to cancel the pub on Thursday? (Hears the chortling around Glasgow).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mince & Tatties!

Ah, mince and tatties. What Scottish child doesn't remember the taste of their mums or even better, granny's version (don't tell my mum I said that). The secret to good mince is the same as any other meat that needs stewing; long, slow cooking with a lid on.

This is one dish that does not benefit from proper beef stock....Bisto or Oxo is how this dish is made. I don't want to be teaching my 'granny to suck an egg' as the old adage goes but for those friends from abroad who are not horrified at the thought of a plate of minced beef and mashed potatoes, here is the recipe. For those of you who are, look away now!

Mince & Tatties

Teaspoon oil
Minced Beef or Lean Minced Beef (I usually buy 500g but measurements don't matter. Don't buy extra lean for this as you need a certain amount of fat for the beef to cook well).
1 onion, chopped.
2 carrots, sliced.
Approx. 1/2 pint beef stock (add more if required)
1-2 oxo cubes

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions and carrots for a few minutes; add the minced beef. Fry continuously over a high heat, stirring all the time until the mince is brown all over. Sprinkle over an oxo cube and stir well. Pour in the beef stock (I always use Bisto) and stir. Turn heat right down and put a lid on it. Check after a few minutes that mince is simmering gently and leave for 30 minutes. Check mince after this time and add more water or stock if needed. Nothing worse than burnt mince! Well, there is but.....we won't go there.

The mince will be cooked after an hour but you can cook it on a low heat for up to two hours for very tender mince but it is very important you check the amount of liquid every 20 minutes or so. Make sure the beef stock isn't that thick to begin with, you can always add a bit more at the last 10 minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes, or tatties, as we say in Glesga (Glasgow).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm tired, so tired...

I'm tired, so dinner has been limited today to freezer stock. It's all good freezer stock but freezer stock nonetheless.

Supper was the same; it was toast with whatever topping the children desired (banana, jam and nutella...not all together, I should point out), made by dad as mummy collapsed in a heap before starting another round of chores. Such is the life of a mum.

Tomorrow, it shall be mince and tatties, like it or lump it. Of course, there are no lumps in my mince and tatties so we all love it fine!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Braw Chocolate Cake Recipe

The Braw Chocolate Cake

Grease and line two deep cake tins. Oven temperature 180 degrees C, 350 F, Gas 4.

90g/3oz cocoa powder
375ml/12 fl oz boiling water
185g/ 6 oz butter
440g/ 14oz caster sugar (not a misprint!)
2 tablespoons raspberry jam (I used strawberry as that is all I had)
3 eggs (I used large)
300g/ 9.5 oz self-raising flour

Combine cocoa powder and boiling water and mix to dissolve. Allow to cool.
Cream butter, sugar and jam until light and looks all pink and glorious! Beat in eggs with a spoonful of flour, one at a time. I sieved the flour into the bowl. Fold in the remaining flour and cocoa mixture alternately.
Spoon mixture into the cake tins and bake for 35 mins.

Nutella Icing
250g/ 8oz butter
330g/ 10.5 oz sifted icing sugar
Three large spoonfuls of Nutella
2 tablespoons condensed milk, milk or cream, to taste.

Beat butter until creamy. Add icing sugar a little at a time, add milk (I used condensed) and then the Nutella. Beat well. Use to sandwich the cake together and for the frosting at the top of the cake. I thought it all a bit much icing so next time, I'd make a ganache to pour over cake. The original recipe icing is as follows but I haven't made this yet.

Chocolate Mocha Icing
125g/ 4oz butter
330g/ 10.5 oz icing sugar, sifted
1.5 tablesoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 tablespoons milk.

Beat butter until creamy, add icing sugar a little at a time, combine cocoa powder and coffee and mix to a smooth paste with the milk then whisk into icing.

Always allow cake to cool completely before icing as it can 'turn' the icing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cannae Curry and The Braw Chocolate Cake

The Cannae called because I thought "I cannae really be bothered" and "you think you cannae make a curry? Well think again!". This was supposed to be the posh sounding North African Lamb with Ginger and Chili and Couscous, part of this week's menu. Well, after my husband abandoned me last night to go treasure hunting, I fell asleep on the sofa and awoke at 6.30am, twisted spine and neck, absolutely freezing and still in my clothes. According to my husband (by phone, he's still chasing the Big Ship Fandango), I do fall asleep on the sofa now and then but he normally wakes me up and I stagger upstairs just in time to put on pjs, wash my bleary-eyed face, slather on some cream with eyes shut and fall into a wee pile at the bottom of the bed. I work hard, you know.

So, with that crick in my neck and a pain in my head, I made some tea and set about repairing the night before damage to my face, hair and appearance. After five hours....well, not quite, and 2 cups of coffee, I started to feel a little more human and began preparing the chocolate cake (the full recipe to follow tomorrow). I had decided to try an old recipe, one I'd had for years but never made because the ingredients seemed odd; 10 oz sugar, raspberry jam in the batter, to name but a few.

The jam was placed into the bowl just after the butter and sugar had been beaten and I must say, it looked wonderful. By the time the cocoa powder had been added, I knew it was going to be a good cake and was really glad I'd oiled and lined my two thick cake tins as the amount of batter was vast.

My problem with chocolate cake is the lack of moistness. Most chocolate cake recipes, in my opinion, are rather dry, unless you add nuts of some description which the kids don't like. There is no point making a chocolate cake that everyone does not enjoy as the kids devastation and subsequent sulkiness followed by tears and trauma at your lack of thought at adding ground almonds....this is all kids, believe not worth it and you are left contemplating the eating of an entire chocolate cake between two. It can be done but I don't recommend it.

This chocolate cake which I'd sandwiched together with my own recipe Nutella flavoured icing and covered with the same, tasted moist, almost nutty and wonderful. My mum left very happy as did wee Ellie, a visitor of my daughters. She proclaimed it "the best chocolate cake EVER! Even better than TESCO's!!!" My children agreed.

By the time the cake was placed in the oven, I'd cleaned and footered about, I had decided to use half of the lamb for the curry and the other half to make a stew as I realised there was a lot of it and the kids would no doubt prefer the less spicy dish. It also meant splitting a meal into two which is always cost effective!

It was a basic stew of frying of the meat, adding the veg and stock and simmering for two hours (recipe to follow although throw whatever in the pan and add some tomato puree is about it). I tend to add potatoes these days to make life easier.

Fraser said, as he has on many occasions, that he doesn't like lamb so I told him he was having beef. Lucy giggle snorted to herself, not quite believing he was falling for it, yet again, but fall for it he did. "Mmmm, lovely beef, mummy!" he said. When he was down to his last chunk, I told him it was lamb and Lucy shouted "I KNEW IT WAS LAMB! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU FELL FOR IT...AGAIN!" and we all laughed, even wee Fraser who has a sense of humour. He finally agreed that he liked lamb although he did say he couldn't quite believe he was eating "a live lamb". Um, it isn't alive Fraser and we had a philosophical discussion on carnivores, eating meat and cannibalism.

By the time the visitors had gone and I had tidied up yet again, I looked at the lamb, the coriander and the rest of the ingredients and thought "I cannae be bothered" or, as my good pal Anne would say (or what I imagine she would say) "stuff this for a game of soldiers"! What I really couldn't be bothered with was reading a recipe so instead, I chucked all the stuff in the pan, mostly in chunks, after browning the meat and again, simmered it for two hours. The chick peas had been simmered earlier and they were added to the pan. I did a taste check and to my delight, it was wonderful. As long as the ingredients are mainly fresh and meat is simmered slowly, you really can't go wrong. I ate a bowlful. I couldn't help myself and the rest has been put away for Brian and I to eat tomorrow evening...unless he is still looking out to sea or has ran away with a sailor-ess or some other such watery nonsense.

Cannae Curry

Packet Stewing lamb/Neck fillet...amount does not matter but I had enough for 4 small servings.
Chick Peas (cooked in salted water on a simmer or stock for 30mins-1 hour, making sure the water doesn't run out).
Coriander and Cumin powder.
Curry powder.
2 small onions, quartered.
Approx. 2 inch ginger, peeled and grated.
1 whole chili
3 cloves garlic, bashed and sliced.
Tin plum tomatoes.
2 large tomatoes, quartered.
2 tablespoons or more tomato puree.
A little beef stock, bisto for this is fine...approx. 5 fl. oz.

Salt and pepper the lamb and fry in olive oil. Add some ground coriander and cumin...approx. a small teaspoon of each. Once browned, add the onion and stir. Add the chili, seeded and diced. Then add the ginger and garlic. Stir and cook for a minute or two then add the plum and quartered tomatoes. Add a sprinkling of curry powder to taste and mix the tomato puree in with the stock and pour over curry. Mix, bring to the boil and add a tin of already cooked chick peas-the tin says ready to use but cook anyway...nothing worse than a hard chick pea...well, there is of course, but not in a curry. I suppose worse things could be found in a curry actually but I don't want to put you off your tea.

Simmer the curry on the lowest heat, covered and check on it from time to time and give a stir. Leave to simmer for two hours, check the seasoning and ad a good handful of chopped, fresh coriander. Stir, and serve. I had my bowl tonight on it's own because of the chick peas but this would be wonderful with the puffy bread and some rice.

I am now being forced to retire early with the children to watch a dvd where they will fall asleep in my bed and a force not fully understood by nature or science will make the children spread their arms and spring out their legs as if jumping from an aeroplane and I will have the choice of sleeping in two inches of mattress whereby I shall awake with a body cutting of my air supply as it lies across my head and throat whilst another covers my tummy and the heat of a thousand fires comes from them or, once again, slinking away to sleep somewhere which is alien to me and will hurt my back, my neck and my poor, poor head. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Helen's Meatballs!

What can be better than a huge, steaming dish of spaghetti and meatballs? Rice and meatballs? This dish goes well with both but since there is always lots left over, the remainder gets used to add to cooked fettuccine, placed in a foil package or individual packages, covered with mozzarella and baked for 10 minutes or so. This is actually my favourite way to serve meatballs and there is something about the mozzarella sticking to the foil, all gooey and hot that makes it taste even better. As with most sauces, this tastes even better the next day so you can prepare this in advance although the kids might complain!

The kids love helping with this dish but you have to watch over them whilst they scrub their little hands both before and afterwards as their tiny fingers are ideal for rolling the little meatballs whilst raw. They also love plopping them into the sauce but make sure they are wearing aprons.

The Meatballs
500g minced beef
1 egg
1 grated tablespoon Parmesan cheese
3 grated tablespoons cheddar cheese
1 minced garlic clove
2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt

The Tomato Sauce
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
20g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
700g (1 bottle) tomato passata-if only cartons available at 500g, use two.
350g chicken/vegetable stock
Small tablespoon caster sugar
125ml full fat milk (use semi if you prefer)

Put all meatball ingredients into a bowl and mix, adding black pepper to taste. Get the kids to sit round the table and shape little balls, about a teaspoon per meatball. You'll get loads, around 40-60, depending on the size of the teaspoon! Cover the meatballs and put in fridge; this makes them less likely to break up when it is time to cook them.

The tomato sauce is almost the same as for the lasagna. Put onion and garlic into processor and blitz to a pulp. Heat the butter and oil in a pan over a low heat and cook onion mixture for around 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it, you do not want it to go brown or burn. Stir every now and then.

Add passata and stock, sprinkle in sugar and a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you wish, you can add a dash of wine but I tend not to do that for this dish. Let the sauce bubble away for 10 minutes and then add the milk. Stir and let it come back to the boil.

Take the meatballs out of the fridge and drop them one at a time into the sauce. Do not stir to begin with even if you can see the top of some of the meatballs. Shake the pan a little and wait a few minutes. Then, give a gentle stir with a wooden spoon, turn the sauce down a still want it boiling though, a heavy simmer if you like, and partially cover pan with a lid. After 20 minutes, it will be ready. Taste and add some seasoning if you need it.

Serve with spaghetti, rice or fettuccine. With spaghetti, add a good grating of Parmesan. With fettuccine, add the mozzarella and bake in foil. Delicious!

This recipe has been adapted from a Nigella recipe in her book 'Feast'.

Penne Pasta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

We were in the mood for some tasty pasta after an afternoon spent in the park. This dish took 10 minutes to make and was really rather tasty...mild, unassuming but tasty. The basic sauce...condensed milk, paprika and tomato puree goes very well with mushrooms but this sauce would work just as well on its own and very well with chicken. There was enough for 6 adults so some has been put aside in the fridge for a snack on another day. The cost for the entire pasta including a contribution towards the paprika and butter etc. plus half packet penne is £2.90 so that's approx. 48 pence per adult person. Not bad at all!

Penne Pasta or pasta of choice
Parmesan Cheese
Vegetable Oil (Tablespoon)
Knob Butter
1 Onion, chopped
350g Mushrooms, selection, to taste, sliced
1 teaspoon Paprika
2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
250ml/8 fl oz Evaporated Milk
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Cook pasta as per instructions.
Gently fry onions for a few minutes in oil and butter, then add mushrooms. Cook over a low heat until soft.

In a measuring jug, measure out the milk and add the tomato puree and paprika. Mix well. Add to mushroom mix. Season to taste and let it simmer, stirring every minute or so, for five minutes. Add to cooked pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Burnbrae Banter

I've had a few not completely sober requests from the girls at the Burnbrae; Anne would like the spaghetti and meatball recipe and Karen has come over all Nigella and wants some more cakes. Well, girls, it's 25 past midnight, Brian is making me tea and toast and so tomorrow when I stagger downstairs, my first task will be to post quite a few new recipes.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Menu List for 21st-28th May 2009

I've planned for this week taking into account the school holiday and store cupboard ingredients. The amount spent was £45.81. A few basic ingredients were also bought (click on receipt to see full list, in large), e.g. milk, bread, pine nuts, nutella, fruit, veg. The remaining approx. £5 will be used for other basics throughout the week.

The cakes will be made on Friday as we have friends coming over but we're bound to have half left to last us a few more days!

Salmon Fishcakes
Cheesy Potato and Leek Pie
Penne Pasta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce
North African Lamb with Chilli and Ginger and Cous Cous
Mince & Tatties
Baked Potato Salad
Lentil Soup

Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Chocolate Cake

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Comment Box

Thanks for the emails, girls. Anyone can now leave a comment as I've edited it for use by everyone.
!Thanks for the feedback!

Pasta Fest!

Pasta Fest, as the kids like to call it, is a night of various different kinds of...well, pasta....! I made the kedgeree (recipe to follow soon) last night for Brian and I as the kids really wanted Macaroni and Cheese with garlic pizza. Brian ended up eating the macaroni too so I sat on my own some with my wee bowl of kedgeree, glowering at them all and froze the rest. So tonight, there will be no macaroni...there will be tantrums (and that's just from Brian) but I'm not making it two nights in row. Pasta Fest always involves one pasta dish never before tried and is usually made up of leftover kitchen ingredients. So tonight, the menu is.....
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Spaghetti Frittata

Rigatoni al Forno

Puffy Bread

We usually have someone turn up on Pasta night, quite by chance (hmm) so I always make plenty. All pasta dishes keep really well and can be heated up either in a pan, in the oven or by microwave. I prefer to place leftover pasta in foil, sprinkle over mozzarella, regardless of the dish and seal, bake in oven at 170 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Ensure pasta has come to room temperature and that oven has had a chance to heat before placing anything in the oven !

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Helen's 2nd version)
Cook the spaghetti as per instructions.
Fry 2 finely chopped slices of bacon or pancetta in olive oil until crispy. Turn the heat down and add a a little extra olive oil and small amount of butter, a finely chopped shallot or half small onion and cook until soft. Stir and ensure the onion does not go brown (adding a few drops of water will help this but don't leave it, keep checking and stirring). Add a finely sliced clove of garlic if you wish but it must not burn so stir constantly. Do not add garlic at the same time as the onion(with any dish) as it cooks far quicker and can easily turn bitter. If adding garlic, cook on allow heat for 1 minute and then add a splash of white wine. Let it come to a quick boil and bubble away for a few minutes then turn it off.

In a separate bowl, beat together 2 eggs (if making for a family of four or five-halve the ingredients if less), double cream to taste- I use approx. 4 tablespoons but feel free to use more or less and two large handfuls of Parmesan.

When spaghetti is cooked, add it to wine/bacon mix and stir. Immediately afterwards, add the cream/egg mix and toss well. Add a good grinding of black pepper and a fine grating of nutmeg. Serve with extra Parmesan.

Spaghetti Frittata (New dish!)
This is taken and slightly adapted from Nigella's Feast cookbook but with added chorizo.
Knob of butter
Few drops of garlic infused oil (shove a bashed garlic clove in some olive oil, cover and leave for an hour if none already made up)
200g cooked spaghetti
4-5 eggs
Sausage shaped chorizo, cut a few thick slices and chop roughly.

Beat the eggs and add some salt, the cooked spaghetti and chorizo. Add to hot pan (with oil) and swirl around until pan covered. Nigella tells you to put it under a grill at this point but I will be sliding it on to a plate, placing the pan on top of the plate and using oven gloves to hold the pan and plate together tightly. Then, I'll be turning it over so that the uncooked side of the frittata is in the pan...did that make sense?? I don't like uncooked egg and coming across a runny bit would not be good for my appetite so I'm cooking this like I would do any other frittata. Oven gloves are a must, the pan and frittata will be hot. Be careful.

Cook in pan for a few minutes, checking underneath to ensure it doesn't burn. Sprinkle with whatever fresh herbs you have (thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley) and a little sea salt and black pepper. Slice like a pizza.

Rigatoni al Forno
There is no need for exacting measurements with this dish. Make enough pasta for the amount of people and how hungry they are and add as much or as little sauce as you like. Remember, the meat sauce freezes really well and tonight I'll be using some already prepared weeks ago. This means you only have the bechamel to do. This dish freezes just as well as lasagna. Place in foil packages, enough for two and sprinkle over some fresh Parmesan before freezing. It can be re-heated from frozen over a low heat but I prefer to take it out of the freezer the night before and then out of the fridge 20 minutes before re-heating, if I have the time. It cuts down on heating time and ensures evenly distributed warmth of the dish!

The meat sauce and bechamel is exactly the same as for the lasagna (see below). Put the oven on to 200 degrees Celsius and then cook the pasta in boiling water as per instructions. Remember to salt the water. Drain and add back to the pan, adding the bechamel sauce, mixing well. Then add the meat sauce, mix again and add to buttered, oven proof dish. Cover with grated Parmesan and bake for 30 minutes or less. The top should be golden and a bit crispy in places.

Puffy Bread
This is utterly delicious which I can't quite understand considering the very basic ingredients. It's probably the deep frying part although because they cook so quickly and then drain on kitchen towel, they do not hold a lot of fat. I use these to accompany curries (I originally got the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Recipes, and is also known as poori bread) but it is a great change to the usual garlic bread with pasta. The kids love it.
100g sieved (discard the remnants in the sieve) wholewheat flour
100g plain flour
Half teaspoon salt
120ml milk (or water)
Vegetable oil-2 tbs for cooking, more for frying.

Put flour and salt in a bowl. Dribble the oil over the top and rub in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add the milk or water until a stiff ball of dough is formed. Empty the ball onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Form a ball again and rub a little oil over the ball and either place inside a plastic bag or wrap in clingfilm. A sandwich bag is easier. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Knead the doughball once again and then divide into 12 equal balls. Don't worry if you get more or less! Have something handy to cover 11 of the balls with-I use clingfilm or a clean tea towel which I've ran under water and squeezed all the excess water out of-and with the 12th ball, flatten it and roll out into into a pancake or circle shape. If you have the space, do all the balls and cover with the tea towel or cling film on a single layer....they'll stick otherwise. I have found myself without the space and running back and forth rolling out each ball as I cook it!

Heat around 1 inch of oil in a deep pan, wok or frying pan. It has to be deep as the oil and bread bubbles upwards. Let it get really hot. Have a platter nearby lined with kitchen towel. Lift up the first 'poori' and lay it careful on the surface of the oil. Its ok if the first few sink as they should quickly rise back up again and begin to sizzle. Using the back of a slotted spoon, push the bread back into the oil with tiny, swift strokes. As you push down on one side, the other side puffs up so you keep moving about. Within seconds, the bread is ready and puffed up. Turn it over and cook for about 10 seconds then put onto platter. If the oil is not hot enough or for other unknown reasons, sometimes the bread doesn't puff up all that much; don't worry, it's still delicious and won't happen with them all. Put down more kitchen towel if the platter is full and keep adding the pooris.

Once you've made this bread once, you'll realise it isn't as much hassle as it sounds. Its really pretty straightforward but like everything in life, a wee bit of practice makes perfect. And a lot of practice with this bread is worth it.

Monday, May 18, 2009


You either love them or hate them. If you love them then the best are from Somerfield's Extra Special Range, in particular the large green olives with garlic. To make your own cheaper, extra special kind, buy a large pack of Asda's small green olives, usually Spanish. Drain them and put into a dish with a tablespoon of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and possibly a little bit of rind, sea salt to taste, lots of freshly ground black pepper, some leftover thyme (basil works well too) and a good, fine grating of Parmesan cheese. I have a jar of seasoned garlic cloves which I add and occasionally some feta if I have any left over but these are extras. Mix well, cover and leave for at least 12 hours. Delicious and a fraction of the cost.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lemon Cakes

Lemon flavoured food is an all time favourite of mine, particularly in cakes. Nothing beats that citrus smell and subtle taste. I've made many lemony cakes over the years but the following two recipes are both easy and very tasty and I always have the ingredients. A few friends have tried these and they always work out well. Isn't that right, Karen?

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake

125g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
175g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk
juice of 1 and a half lemons (I usually just buy a large lemon need around 4 tablespoons but it doesn't have to be exact!).
100g icing sugar
Preheat Oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4. Butter and line a loaf tin (well!) having the lining paper stick out a's easier to lift the cake out afterwards.
Cream together the butter and sugar (make sure butter is at room temperature) and add the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well. Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then the milk. Spoon into loaf tin and place in oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
Five minutes before the cake is ready, make syrup. Put the lemon juice and icing sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves.
Once cake is cooked (check by inserting a skewer or fork into the should come out clean). Puncture the cake all over with the skewer and pour the syrup over immediately. Leave it to soak up and cool. Then remove from tin and enjoy!!

Lemon Cupcakes
Same recipe as above but place into 12 muffin cases. Reduce cooking time to 25 minutes. Do not make syrup but make butter icing by placing 75g (3oz) butter into a bowl and beat until soft. Gradually sift in 150g (6 oz) icing sugar and beat either by hand or with a whisk or blender. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice and lemon rind from the lemon (obviously....duh!). I also add a few drops of lemon oil but there is no need. Once smooth and to a nice spreading consistency, put in the fridge for 5 minutes to make it easier to handle and then spread over cooled cupcakes. Really delicious.

Bank Holiday Monday

On the last Bank Holiday Monday, I took the kids to The Burrell where we met up with friends to take part in a decathlon. The kids had great fun and then we all piled back to mine for food. I like to make pasta fresh but I decided to be prepared as I didn't want to come back and spend an hour cooking plus I knew the kids would be champing at the bit for their tea! I made in advance a large lasagna, a large Macaroni Cheese and I made the linguine with lemon and feta fresh. I prepared a fresh loaf by slicing it about a third of the way down and filling it with garlic butter. I bought a garlic pizza and added some fresh rosemary and sea salt before cooking it. There were 6 adults and 7 kids.

When I came home, I put the oven on and quickly prepared some antipasti and olives plus a small round of Camembert. I didn't put out bread because there was a lot of food and bread for the main course and I didn't want anyone filling up. The children who didn't want antipasti got stuck into a large bowl of Doritos!

The pre-cooked lasagna was placed in the oven and 25 minutes later, the macaroni was put in. Then, I cooked the linguine. The lasagna was brought out to the table first and the bread was put in its place in the oven. I prepared some cucumber, tomatoes and yellow pepper for the kids as an accompaniment and tomatoes with pesto as an accompaniment for the adults.

The food went down a treat and afterwards we had home-made lemon cupcakes and lemon cake.

I'd definitely do this again as it was suitable for everyone and perfect for a 6pm tea. Next time however, I would not pre-cook the lasagna; I'd prepare it all as usual in the dish but then cover it in clingfilm and put in fridge; the pasta becomes a bit too hard and slightly burnt round the edges if pre-cooked in a large dish. The macaroni cheese was fine but next time I'd prepare the cheese sauce but not cook the pasta until we were ready to eat it. The heat distribution, possibly just in my crappy oven although it is fan assisted, meant that I had to rescue the dish before it started to brown but the middle was only warm and not yet hot.

Lemon cake recipes to follow.

Menu 16th May-20th May 2009

I was in a sunny mood when I went shopping and made my meal plan for the week but the weather has turned and therefore things may need to be heated up a bit! I've adapted my original plan a little. The menu for this week:
Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes and Fresh Steamed Green Veg.
Fresh Salad including Penne, Potato and Coleslaw.
Helen's Kedgeree
Pasta Fest
Parsnip and Apple Soup
Lentil Soup

Tonight, the kids will be having Stovies (see previous entry) whilst Brian and I go to Stravaigan for a birthday meal. I'll make the roast chicken tomorrow and forget about the soup for a day; it'll be bacon and sausage rolls, gallons of tea and the papers...I predict a hangover!

What Soup?

Yesterday I spent £46.28 on the weekly shopping bill. Brian and I will be going out for dinner tonight so there will be a few less meals to think about. But first, last week....

I have been cutting down on what I eat the last few weeks as I'd like to lose a bit of weight; I've lost four pounds so far. When 'dieting' before, I found that the cost of fresh, healthy and low fat food could sometimes be high but in fact, with a bit of organisation, dieting or in my case, changing some of my eating habits can be cost effective: lose pounds and save pounds!

The best discovery I've made so far to eating healthy but feeling full and being able to eat when you want without spending a lot of money is...wait for it....SOUP! Every day this past week I've made soup which I've had for my lunch with bread and occasionally for dinner. A large pot of soup costs approx. £1.00. Seriously. Here is an average ingredient and cost list for a pot of soup:
Knorr Chicken stock cube approx cost. 16 pence (Using home-made stock £0.00 pence)
Lentils approx cost. 18 pence for 100g (£3.78 x 2 kg)
Carrots x 2 approx cost. 20 pence
Onion, large approx cost. 16 pence
Turnip,small, half approx cost. 30 pence
Leftover chicken/ham approx cost. 0 pence

Some soups are more expensive than others of course but I've used a lot of leftover ingredients which have already been costed for the week so a lot of items haven't cost much at all. This week I had the following soups:
Chicken & Rice
Watercress & Spinach
Tomato and Basil

Chicken & Rice
Home-made stock was used for this but a Knorr chicken stock cube is great. Chicken carcass was boiled with a bay leave, half a carrot, half onion and a few black peppercorns and leftover herbs. This was then simmered for a few hours, drained and left to get cold. Any 'scum' or fat that had risen to the top was scraped off and then I re-simmered it to concentrate the flavour.

I threw a carrot and quarter of leftover turnip into the blender. I chopped an onion and all of this was added to stock. Boil and then simmer. Any leftover veg can be used as the base for this soup (except green veg!). If you like to blend your soup then make sure you do this before adding the rice and chicken; I've made this mistake and it isn't good. I then added a cup (approx. 100g) of basmati rice, washed. I cooked the soup for approx. 15 minutes on a simmer and then added the chopped up leftover chicken. After a few minutes, the soup was ready. Brian, wee'est 'un and I loved it; the other two are not huge soup fans.

Watercress & Spinach
I do have a nice recipe for this but on this occasion, I added leftover leaves which I'd used for salad to the leftover pot of chicken and rice soup with an added cup of chicken stock (Knorr this time). It was delicious and very healthy not to mention ready in 2 minutes. For adults only!

Knorr Chicken stock cube, lentils washed and added to stock, brought to the boil and simmered whilst preparing rest of vegetables. Two carrots and half turnip were washed and chopped small and added to pot alongside a chopped onion. Once it was almost ready, leftover ham was added to the pot. Again, Brian, wee 'un and I loved it.

Tomato & Basil
There are many recipes for tomato soup; this one is a very quick version. A chicken or vegetable stock cube is dissolved in a small cup of hot water and added to approx. 350g passata (sieved tomatoes, Asda sells jars at approx. 90p for 700g and smaller cartons) and bring to the boil, immediately turning down to a simmer. An onion is blended so that it is almost mushy but finely chopping would do and added to the passata. You could add a chopped garlic clove at this point too. The tomato soup is simmered for five minutes and then I add a teaspoon of sugar and a good pinch of salt (sea salt somehow works better) and a very good grinding of black pepper. I also add a fine grating nutmeg but don't buy it just for this. It is important to taste this soup and make sure it is to your liking...add more salt if you feel it is too bitter and more pepper for spice. At the end I add a handful of chopped basil leaves and give it a quick blend with the hand blender. I then serve with a few chooped leaves sprinkled on top. There is virtually no calories in this and if you add a chopped up chili then you have spicy tomato soup.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I have occasionally bought cold pasta from the supermarket which tastes like feet and doesn't last long so I decided to come up with my own. I wanted a dish that was lovely whilst hot but just as good cold. This is the best so far.

250g Penne Pasta
1 roll soft goats cheese (packet from Asda)
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons of olive oil
4 tablespoons (or more) of grated parmesan
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed to use, stalks discarded

Cook the penne as per instructions. Drain and add all of the above ingredients; use only half of the goats cheese though, chopped up. Mix all the ingredients through and then crumble over the remaining goats cheese, some extra parmesan and a grinding of salt and pepper.