Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Reason for Absence

Things have been VERY hectic in the Jodsgirl household recently and have resulted in me not having enough time to post anything here on the blog, or spend hours reading the posts on the BBC food message board.

So why have things been hectic I hear you ask?  Jodsgirl has a new job!!!

I had my interview the day before good Friday and was pretty much offered the job, and was told they would call me on the Tuesday to discuss further.  Well that never happened.  I obviously panicked a bit, harassed them a great deal, and they kept coming back to say that they were re-writing job specs, checking things with HR, and they had to advertise internally as well.  All of this was not looking good for Jodsgirl, until I got an email one night about 7pm.  I called them straight away and the next morning got an email to say the job was mine.  I handed my notice in that day, and was released from the place I had worked at for 6 years and 9 months, my first job when I left uni.

Anyway, I have been in the new job since the 11th May and its all going well so far.  But the biggest issue is now that I actually have a job that requires me to do some work, I cannot wile away the hours on the internet updating my blog, surfing message boards and generally trawling for new recipes.  Made worse by the fact I cant go on "personal" websites during working hours.  How rude!  Do they not understand I have a blog to write posts for?!

So there you go.  Ive just uploaded a batch of photos taken in the last two weeks, and as hubby isn't home for another hour I can start writing the posts to go with them.  Sorry again for the absence but in the long run it means a MUCH happier Jodsgirl.


Friday, 1 May 2009

Homemade Pizza

I think I have found pizza heaven.  Seriously...I'm in love.  

Whilst checking out Annies Eats yesterday I found a fantastic picture of pizza.  It was that good it had me drooling on my computer keyboard.  We have been meaning to try making our own pizza for a while now but always were under the impression it was more hassle than it was worth.  After looking at Annie's picture and reading through the recipe it all looked fairly simple, and it would be inexcusable to not at least give it a bash.

So ingredients bought hubby and I settled into the kitchen to whip up a culinary masterpiece.  That is where I discovered I hadn't read the recipe as thoroughly as I thought.  We had to leave the dough for 1.5-2hrs.  Well seriously, its dough, what did I think was going to happen with it!  So after palming hubby off with carrots and humus to keep him going we continued with the creating.

Annie's recipe is really easy to follow, both for the dough and for the pesto topping suggestion as well.  Actually we made two things for the first time today, pizza dough and pesto.  The pesto was really well flavoured although we used Pecorino rather than Parmesan as I hate the stuff.  I could have done with more basil, but that's just a judgement error.  

So dough made, pesto blitzed, mozzarella grated we were ready to go.  We decided to follow the recipe and use some cooked chicken and sliced cherry tomatoes, but hubby had to add some chorizo for a little extra zing.

So 12 minutes in the oven and we couldn't wait any longer.  The smells coming from the oven were saliva inducing.  And that's it.  To be honest it probably could have done with another couple of minutes just to brown the cheese a little more, but it was still really good.

See the picture below and head over to Annies Eats for the recipe.  Oh and while you are there check out her fantastic owl cupcakes! 

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


Anything I make in my house that has lentils in, in any shape or form is called "lentily goodness". I don't know why, it just is. Hubby isn't the biggest fan of lentils, whereas I love them, so maybe its me trying to convince him that whatever I have made is going to be great!

Something I never order when we go out to Indian restaurants, or have takeaway is Dhal. Therefore I have no way of knowing if what I am making is right. I realise its in no way authentic as its a recipe borrowed from about 3 others, and then bits of my own ideas thrown in. All I know is that is tastes good! I have been known to make a batch and stand by the cooker with a saucepan and wooden spoon in hand, shovelling unceremoniously. I often take a little pot from the freezer for my lunch at work, and its great served with a salsa type mix of chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumber. Its equally as good served with a meat curry and rice, or stirred through any leftover curry to bulk it out a bit.

Very comforting, and can be made as spicy as you like it.


half tsp of fennel seeds
half tsp of cumin seeds
1tsp garam masala
1tsp medium curry powder
1/2tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground turmeric
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 inch piece of ginger peeled
300mls water
400mls coconut milk, can use low fat
1 small dried chilli, or fresh chillis to your taste
tea spoon sea salt
olive oil
200grams small red lentils
50grams green lentils

1) put spices in a pan and dry fry for a couple of minutes

2) take spices, onion, garlic, chilli and ginger and blitz in a blender to form a paste

3) fry the paste in a little hot oil for 5 minutes

4) add the lentils, water and coconut milk. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently until lentils are cooked through, usually about 20-30 minutes. I sometimes cook for maybe 40 minutes to get a nice thick creamy texture.

5) check seasoning and serve

optional 6) you can fry some sliced onions, curry leave and mustard seeds until they start to pop and pour over the dhal before serving

Pea & Mint Soup

Making Soup. I think this has to be one of the most satisfying things you can do in a kitchen. Whether its making soup for a special occasion, following a recipe to the letter, or just using up odds and ends to make a comforting bowl of goodness.
I was supposed to go to the gym last night, but it started to rain and it put me off. Instead I went home and got busy in the kitchen whilst I waited for hubby.

First stop after sorting out the tea was to make some soup. Something cheap, but it had to be undoubtedly cheerful. Now that spring has officially sprung, I'm not craving those thick warm, stew like soups of the winter months. I need something zingy and with colour.

And this is where pea and mint soup hits all the spots. Its bright green vibrancy reminds you of the rolling hills outside. The mint adds this amazing freshness and overalls its quite healthy so gives you that boost you need.

However it did mean I had to venture out into the garden in the rain to get some mint. I so much prefer the soft fluffy mint with large downy leaves, to that horrid stuff the supermarkets sell. The leaves on that stuff are almost crunchy and brittle.

My mum and dad used to have the best mint patch in the world. It was roughly a metre square patch by the back door full of mint plants at least a 18 inches high. Magnificent. Anyway I pinched some and after a poor crop last year, I am obviously doing something right as it is popping up all over the place in my one of my raised beds. Last week I had one tiny spike poking through, yesterday there were 3 big plants in the middle of my lettuces, some more showing through the rosemary, and a bit more over in the corner!

I know it bothers some people, and they say if you are planting it in a bed you should put it in a pot first so the roots cant spread, but I love mint and am happy to have as much of it as I can. Especially when summer comes and I need it for my Pimms!

Anyway pea and mint soup is about the easiest and tastiest thing you can make.

Pea & Mint Soup

2 large onions chopped
small knob of butter
splash of olive oil
1kg frozen peas
15g of fresh mint. the soft fluffy kind is best
1 1/2 pints of veg/chicken stock
salt and pepper

1) heat the oil and butter in the pan and add the onions. fry off for 10 minutes until soft

2) add the frozen peas, and stir to coat in the butter/onion. You might need to put the lid on a leave for 5 minutes before you do this, if like me your peas were all stuck together!

3) add the stock, and leave until it comes to the boil

4) take off the heat and blend, I used a hand blender

5) check seasoning, and serve

This recipe makes 5 pints of soup, so perfect for freezing in individual portions for lunches.

I added a swirl of soya cream for the photo but it doesn't really need it to be honest. The peas and mint add such a great flavour that it can carry itself quite easily. The photo does make the soup look a little thin, but that's only because by the time I had finished setting things up the peas had sunk to the bottom. When blending I like to leave a little texture. I don't think this is the sort of soup that suits being really smooth, but its entirely up to you.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Beetroot Rissotto

Whilst round at my parents recently I noticed a Slimmers World cook book out on the table. It appears this is my mums attempt to lose weight for our holiday to Cuba in a little over 7 weeks time. That makes her, my sister and myself all desperate to lose at least half a stone!

Anyway, I was flicking through as I do, and saw a recipe for a beetroot risotto. I didn't have time to write down the recipe, but it has stuck with me since and I have been desperate to make it. I had two small raw beetroots in the fridge left over from mothers day which seemed to have lasted rather well, plus we always have risotto rice in. The only thing I was lacking was any decent stock, having used up my freezer reserves of homemade chicken and vegetable stocks.

Following a discussion on the BBC Food Boards, I discovered that the new Knorr Stock Pots were on offer in Sainsburys for half price. Eight pots for 99p cannot be ignored as a handy store cupboard standby.

Beetroot Risotto
2 raw beetroot, peeled and grated (wear gloves if you have them!)
200g of risotto rice
1 onion, finely chopped
half tsp of fennel seeds toasted and crushed
half tsp cumin seeds toasted and crushed
2 pints of stock (made with one little stock pot) needs to be simmering in a separate pan
sour cream
fennel fronds

salt and pepper

1) sweat onion in a little oil or butter for a few minutes. add rice and spices and cook on a gentle heat for another few minutes or until the grains of rice have cracks appearing on them. add in the grated beetroot and stir until incorporated with the rice

(I love the colours in this photo. The dark purple of the beetroot starts to turn the rice pink as soon as you stir and it gives you this fantastic mottled effect)

2) add a ladle full of stock, stir gently until all the stock has absorbed. repeat until all the stock has been added and the rice grains are creamy when bitten into. should take about 45 mins

3) season to taste and serve a bowl full of the risotto with a spoonful of sour cream and fennel fronds to garnish.

I think next time I will add a little more of the spices, but overall it was a really good risotto. I loved the colour and the flavour was ever so subtly earthy. I would have been happier if the colour of the beetroot had bled as much, I liked the darker flecks as it was cooking, but I suppose thats the nature of beetroot. Everything goes pink!

Weekend in West Sussex - Sunday

On the Sunday we started with a lovely breakfast in the hotel. Nice meaty sausages, crispy hash browns, and some lovely ripe sweet grilled tomatoes. Not too much as we knew we were going for a day out in Brighton, somewhere I had only passed through on my travels with work and hubby had never been to.

Upon arrival in Brighton we first navigated the weirdest underground parking system we had ever encountered, and then stripped off our jackets for a walk along the beach. Wonderful weather meant that the world and his wife were out for the day in Brighton but it just made everything seem more summery rather than crowded if you know what I mean.

We decided that we could happily share fish and chips, so after stalking a few people to see what they were eating, we found what looked like a good contender. Cod and chips once and a can of coke. Carried over to the beach, where we settled down with our little wooden forks. Heaven. Creamy soft fish, crispy batter and hot chips just the way I like them. (horrid picture, sorry about that. I seem to have the fluffiest hair in the world!)

After a couple of hours of wandering the beach and the pier we decided we better head home. However I had spotted a lovely looking place for an ice cream, The World Famous Pump Room right on the beach just about in line with the Grand Hotel. Their ice cream is made on a local farm and they have lots of lovely flavours. OH went for Amaretto and I opted for Lemon Meringue. I know I shouldn't as dairy really does not agree with me, but my goodness it was good. One scoop served in a crisp sugar cone lasted me a good 20 minutes back to the car and out of Brighton.

Sunday night we had dinner in the hotel planned. Hubby had scoped out the menu earlier in the day and said there were some decent looking options. So we settled down (quite uncomfortably close to the next table in my opinion) and placed our orders. Mackerel pate for me, and I actually cant remember what hubby had, followed by roast Topside of beef for hubby and stuffed sea bass with leek, ginger and fennel for me.

First we were served our wine. Id gone for nice Sancerre and the poor waiter took about 10 minutes to get the cork out, snapping it in the process. He poured some and asked if I wanted to taste it. Well I would have done if there weren't tonnes of bits of cork floating in my glass. After speaking to the manager we managed to get them to get us a new bottle. This was followed by them serving me normal pate instead of mackerel. Tasty starters but not overly impressive.

All was about to change. OHs beef with horseradish mash was divine apparently. I wouldn't know, I don't really eat beef so declined a sample. My sea bass however was out of this world. Two fillets of seabass sandwiched together by a slow cooked, soft sweet caramelised mix of leeks and fennel with the not overpowering addition of fresh ginger. Served with saffron potatoes and some buttery cabbage and broccoli, I could have happily eaten this dish again and again.
Sorry about the fact that there is a large proportion of me in the picture. Being very close to the next table I didn't feel overly comfortable taking pictures of the food, so hubby pretended to take one of me, but moved it down to the get the fish instead!

We don't normally do desserts but had to finish off with one as they were paying! OH opted for Baileys creme brulee which he really enjoyed and I had date and ginger pudding. Perfect texture and size, accompanied by creme fraiche to offset the richness. Again shouldn't have eaten the dairy but what the hey!

Overall an enjoyable weekend away. Food wasn't as perfect as I would have liked on the Saturday, but serves me right for not booking somewhere before 4pm on the day.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Weekend in West Sussex - Saturday

Despite the fact that I am not loving my job at the moment, I cant really complain. We regularly get invited by hotels to go and sample their wares. They invite us down, feed us, ply us with alcohol, let us stay in their sumptuous bedrooms and then after a full English the next day we toddle of home. Sometimes these little trips are for two nights, sometimes they are open to members of staff only, sometimes we can take partners, sometimes there are groups from other companies there.

Anyway, a few months ago the Hilton Avisford Park, Arundel came into the work and gave us two vouchers entitling us to a free two nights stay at the hotel with free dinner on one night. Lucky old me got my name pulled out of the hat for one of the vouchers. We had to use it by the end of May and last weekend was the only time we had free. So off we went. Its a bit of trek from Cheshire, but we set off about 10:30am, took some A road routes to avoid the standard tailbacks on the M6 and were soon well on our way.

Normally we take sandwiches, but we didn't have anything in the fridge so decided to stop at some services on the way. Now I am not one for a Ginsters pasty, or Scotch egg, but providing you can find a services with a Costa Coffee, or even an M&S you can do OK. We decided to go the Costa Coffee route and filled up on panini's and soya milk hot chocolate.

If we had realised we came off the motorway quite so early, we would have maybe postponed lunch and stopped in one of the many quaint little villages along the way. We went past so many country pubs, each one looking better than the last. Eventually half an hour from our destination we decided that we couldn't pass up the sunshine and we had to stop for a drink. We went to this lovely pub called The Mulberry Bush or Mulberry Tree which has a sister property somewhere. Stoopid me me thought she would be able to find a web link to the place and I cant. Anyway i had a lovely Pimms, and OH had an Old Speckled Hen.

As dinner was included on one night, I thought it best to have this on the Sunday night, as we would stand more chance of finding somewhere to eat on the Saturday. What I should have realised that being a Saturday it would give us less chance of finding somewhere to eat! Especially as the weather was gorgeous. We stopped in Arundel on the way to the hotel, to case the joint and get some cash. Thanks to the lovely folks on the BBC Food Boards, I had some suggestions for dinner. First option was the George and Dragon at Burpham. Armed with the phone number we rang, and rang, and rang. Not wanting to hedge our bets and book a taxi out there for it to be shut, we got back in the car and went for a little drive. It was shut with no signs up saying what time it would open, so rather than risk it we gave up on that idea. We tried Arundel House on the High Street but they had just re-opened that day after a refurb and were fully booked. We tried Butlers on Tarrant Street, but they only had one table which was next to the service door. Thanks but no thanks.

On our way back to the hotel we went past another pub called The White Swan. We stopped off to investigate and it looked really nice on the inside. We had a gander at the menu and it all looked fairly decent. So later that evening we hopped in a taxi and made our way back.

It was quite quiet when we got there with only about 3 other tables eating, and one couple having drinks at the bar. We decided to have a drink whilst we read the menu, and having made our decisions were led to the table. They started off by saying they didn't have one thing on the menu which was scampi. No problem there, neither of us wanted it. Then she came back 10 minutes later to say they also didn't have the seabass(my choice) and one other thing which I cant remember. So I had to change my mind. There were a few other things on the menu, but nothing really grabbed me like the grilled seabass on a white wine risotto had done, so I resorted to the starter of fish cakes, but served as a main with chips and veg.

For starter I had leek and potato soup, which was homemade and nice, but far to peppery. OH had duck terrine, with Tacklemans chutney and Melba toast. For mains, I had the above mentioned fish cake and OH had his all time favourite of steak with peppercorn sauce, onion rings, chips and roasted vine tomatoes. The service was good throughout the meal, but the place lacked atmosphere to be honest. We then had a terrible end, when they brought us the bill with an extra £2 added onto the steak, an extra 70p on the fishcakes and a few more pennies here and there. All in all they tried to charge us an extra £4.20p. We spoke to the girl who served us and it appears it was something to do with the computer, and she was very apologetic and took the money off as she should. They also didn't seem to charge us for the drink we had in the bar before the meal, so I did still leave a tip!

Top Photo - Hubbys pate and chutney

Bottom Photos - Sorry about the messy picture of hubbys steak, he started eating before I could take a picture. The mustard on the top left of the plate just about blew his head off the poor mite!

African Curry

Ok I will admit it, I don't make my own curry paste. You are now free to tut away to yourself.

Ive tried, I promise, it just never seems to have the correct depth of flavour I crave and therefore it is easier using a jar! If I lived nearer to Manchester or actually went into Manchester on a more regular basis than once every six months and did more than visit the Arndale I would take advantage of the local ethnic shops and would buy my pastes from there. However I'm too lazy, so my curry pastes are normally from Asda who do a fantastic ethnic range, and my Thai paste are usually Sainsburys own as I find the Bart ones too spicy.

Recently while perusing the aisles of Asda we came across this paste.

The description is as follows; Balangwu, Suya Paste - spicy hausa/fulani peanut cooking paste.

Ingredients; groundnut paste, pepper, ginger, clove, nutmeg, spices, groundnut oil.

As you can see its a little vague!! Who knows what "spices" covers, considering it specifically mentions pepper, ginger etc.

Now hubby doesn't do much cooking in our house. He likes to come in and stir things whilst I'm cooking, and he does a mean chilli when he sets his mind to it, but its usually a once every few months occurrence. Anyway after all my baking and creating over Easter Weekend (which included Nachos for 10) I think he felt it was his turn and that curry was the order of the day. Obviously it couldn't be made with whatever meat we had in the freezer, it had to be made with what it suggested on the back of the label which was lamb! Well it would be wouldn't it! So off I toddle to Sainsburys and come back with a cheap and cheerful pack of neck fillet.

Hubby shut himself in the kitchen and proceeded to make this culinary masterpiece.

African Curry

200g lamb neck fillet cut in chunks
1 large onion chopped
2 dessert spoons of curry paste
1 red pepper chopped
as many mushrooms as you like chopped
half pint of water
2tbs of peanut butter
2tbs of coconut cream

brown rice to serve

1) fry off onion and add curry paste. cook out for 5 minutes
2) add lamb neck and brown
3) add in peanut butter, coconut cream and half pint of water
4) leave to simmer for 1hr or until lamb is very tender
5) add in mushrooms and peppers for the last 10 minutes
6) serve with brown rice

The curry paste is VERY hot. It recommends 2-3 dessertspoons and it certainly made our noses run! On the jar it just advises using the paste with water, but the addition of the coconut made it a creamier and more to our liking. Despite the spiciness it was a really good curry. Lots of flavour and quite addictive. We will definitely make this again and I have already mixed a bit of the paste in with some coconut cream as a marinade for some chicken legs which are in the freezer waiting for a suitable BBQ day!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Easter Bunny Biccies

I have been a little stressed recently for reasons I shall go into on another post when the time comes, and as I have mentioned before I find the best way for dealing with stress is to shut myself in the kitchen with Heart FM (I love hearing about the congestion on the M25 - makes me relish not living down south) and create. Whether its stuff for the freezer, or treats for the office, it always seems to relax me.

Anyway, I knew we were off the pub on Friday night with friends, and we had hubbys parents coming on Saturday as we were off to a family friends birthday so I thought some baking was in order. A while ago whilst shopping at Cheshire Oaks we were in one of the kitchen shops and I saw this really cute little bunny head shaped cutter. Now we have a rabbit called rather unimaginatively Peter. But there is a snag...we thought it was a boy and its actually a girl! But Pete works for both. So anyway in homage to Pete the cutter was bought and was used to make these rather cute little biccies.

Easter Biccies (sort of based on a recipe from The Cooks Encyclopedia of Cookies Biscuits and Bars)
175g salted butter
300g sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour
2 tsp ground mixed spice

Pre-heat oven to 190deg.

1) Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy
2) Mix in the egg and egg yolk, along with the vanilla essence.
3) Sift in the flour and mixed spice and mix together. Gather the dough in a ball, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4) Once chilled, roll out the dough on a floured surface until 3mm thick. I made some slightly thicker, but they do puff slightly in the oven.
5) Stamp out the shapes with cutter. The recipe said it made 30, but once again something happened in my mixing bowl and I ended up with hundreds!
6) Bake for about 8 minutes until lightly golden. They will spread slightly in the oven, so make sure they are spaced out on the tray. If you let them go too brown they are fine, just a little crispier.
7) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cook decorate with a little icing coloured with food colouring. Once the icing had set I then popped 5 into a little cellophane bag and tied with a nice piece of ribbon. Forgot to take a picture but they made lovely little Easter gifts. The girls appreciated them and took them home from the pub to eat at a sensible time with a cup of tea. The boys however ate them in the pub!

Easter bunnies waiting to be iced

Easter bunnies iced and waiting to be eaten!

Good Friday Fish Day

Ok so I am not religious in the slightest, however I still do the old fish on Good Friday thing. Don't know why, I think its something my parents always did even though they aren't religious either!

We did cheat slightly by having left over pulled pork in pittas for lunch, but I am sure being frugal lets you off.

Anyway, I am a big smoked salmon fan. Hubby not so fussed, but will eat it and does claim to enjoy it every now and again. Those packs of value smoked salmon trimmings are really quite good when you are working to a budget and we often have a pack in the freezer.

We were off to the pub later on Friday night and as it was my turn to drive I thought I'd better line hubby's stomach with pasta. He is a PROPER beer drinker and we go to what is probably one of the most run down little pubs in our home town. From the outside the paint is crumbling, and the inside is filled with old men huddled round little tables, and there is a stroppy old bar woman who once shouted at us to "not f~%k with the fire". The beer is therefore the only reason we go there. Hubby and his mates usually work from left to right across the hand pumps, so it can turn quite messy!

Smoked Salmon Vodka Pasta (serves 2)
1 onion
half a pot of Alpro soya cream (or Elmlea for you normal peeps)
half a bag of washed spinach
50ml vodka
half table spoon of tomato puree
1 packet of smoked salmon trimmings
100g of pasta per person

1) Put pasta on to boil
2) For the sauce start by sweating the onion in a little oil until translucent. Add the tomato puree and cook out on low for 5 minutes (may need a splash of water)
3) Add the vodka and reduce
4) Add the spinach, and soya cream and heat until the spinach is wilted.
5) Add in the salmon and season with black pepper.
6) Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Pour the sauce over the pasta, stir through to coat and serve.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

We have two types of "nice" dinners in our house. First are the type that involve meticulous planning, lots of time spent in the kitchen, other people are usually invited and it definitely calls for us to be sat at the dining table with napkins.

The second type are still classed as a "nice" dinner, but take a completely different format. They usually happen on a Friday night, or the night before a day off. Its normally just me and hubby, and involves some form of finger food eaten whilst sat on the sofa. Wine is usually the standard accompaniment and instead of napkins we resort to kitchen roll. A lot less formal, but it doesn't mean the meal is any less of a success!

So bearing in mind that Thursday night was officially the start of one life's little joys, a four day bank holiday weekend, it was only right that we needed one of the second type of "nice" dinner.

I knew I had a boneless pork shoulder in the freezer, and didn't need any time to think about what I would make with it. And I sure as hell knew that hubby would have no complaints if I said we were having pulled pork for tea!

Pulled Pork
2kg Boneless Pork Shoulder (keep the string on)
1 onion peeled and roughly chopped in big chunks
3 cloves of garlic squashed with the flat blade of a knife and chopped in half
2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 1/2 cups of homemade chicken stock (can use a cube)
2/3 cup of apple juice
3 squirts of Ainsley Harriott BBQ spray (can use tbsp of a standard BBQ sauce)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
squirt of tomato ketchup

1) The night before place all ingredients in a jug and mix together. Place the pork in a bowl, stab it a couple of times with a knife and pour over the mixture. Cover with cling film and chill overnight.

2) The next day, place the pork and marinade in the slow cooker and cook on low for 10 hours.

3) Remove pork from slow cooker and set to one side.

4) Pour the juices into a saucepan, and boil on high to reduce. You want to be left with a thick sauce, so it may take 20 minutes or so.

5) Whilst this is reducing, remove the string and any fat from the pork, and shred with two forks. The meat should be well cooked and shred easily.

6) Once the meat is shredded and the sauce is reduced, remove any fat and pour the sauce over the meat and stir to coat.

7) Serve pulled pork with whatever you fancy. On this occasion
we served with soft white rolls, shop bought coleslaw (I'm embarrassed that I didn't make my own!), and roasted new potatoes. On previous occasions I've served with with homemade winter coleslaw, salad and oven baked jacket spuds which was a very dreamy combination. The meat can also be used to fill wraps, along with all sorts of salady bits and pieces.

We finished the meal with a bottle of the ever-so wonderful Lindemans Tollana Semillon Chardonnay. Possibly my favourite wine of the moment, and usually on special offer in Sainsbury's on a quite regular basis!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Random Aubergine Thing

Well that's how hubby described it to my sister! Id bought an aubergine in the weekly shop with a mind to making moussaka. However upon checking the old bank balance and realising that lamb mince was a little extravagant for a week-before-pay-day meal I thought I better make something else. Rooting through the freezer threw up half a pack of pork mince, and I knew the cupboards were full of spices and the fridge full of veggies. So thinking cap on - and here's what I came up with

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, which is very unlike me, I'm usually snapping everything we eat at the minute. I will be making again though so will add a photo in the not too distant future.

Random Aubergine Thing
250g of pork mince (could use lamb)
1 onion finely chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
5 chopped dried apricots
2 chopped dried figs
Half small courgette diced
8 mushrooms diced
Half an orange pepper diced
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp tom puree
2 level tbsp ground almonds
Chopped parsley
1 cup veg stock
1 large aubergine

For the cheesy sauce (I made a lot as can never get quantities of cheese sauce right!)
50g butter
50g flour (approx)
1 carton of Soya cream (or about 250ml milk)
1/2 cup veg stock (you probably wont need it unless the sauce is too thick - as I used soya cream I needed it)
Grated nutmeg
Black pepper
50g grated cheese

1) slice aubergine in half length ways, scoop out the insides, dice it up and put to one side. Scoop out insides to leave a "shell", brush with oil, sprinkle with a little extra cumin and bake in oven 200 deg for 15mins or until cooked
2) fry off pork mince, onion and garlic. Add spices, dried fruit and tom puree. Stir and cook for 2 mins
3) add in diced veggies including the insides of the aubergine and cook for another 2 mins. Add ground almonds, stir until incorporated and then add veg stock.
4) cook for 10 mins until sauce is thickened and veggies are cooked. Season and cover to keep warm
5) make sauce by melting butter in a small saucepan. Add lots of grated nutmeg and a little black pepper. Add in a little of the flour and whisk in. Keep adding a little flour until you get a thick goo. Add the milk a little at a time and keep whisking until smooth. Add some grated cheese and stir until melted. Should be a thick dropping consistency.
6) spoon your pork mix into the hollowed out aubergine, make sure to mound it up. Cover the top with as much or as little cheese sauce as you want and bake in a 250deg oven for 10 mins, until cheese sauce is just turning golden.
7) serve with some little roasted potatoes sprinkled with sea salt, and some salad.

I had leftover mince and leftover cheese sauce. Bunged em both in a little pot and heated up in microwave at work for my lunch. Oh My God it was heavenly!!! Leftovers rule!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Mothers Day

My parents live 1 mile down the road, and hubbys parents live in Ripley which is about one hour from us, so we don't get together that often. Mothers Day therefore provided the perfect opportunity to get both sets of parents round for a lovely Sunday lunch. I spent a day or two debating over whether to do a starter or canapes, and finally settled on the canape idea. I think sometimes its much nicer to put out big plates of nibbles to have with champagne, and let people pick and choose what they want, than to be very formal and have them sit down at the table.

So now I just had to decide what to cook. I wanted to keep them quite light, and wanted a nice mix of flavours and hot and cold.

The first thing I made was this from the BBC Good Food site - Spanish Spinach Omelette
When you look at the recipe you think 10 eggs is going to be WAY too much, but I only ended up with maybe 2 slices about the size of those in the picture (which incidentally I'm having for tea tonight!) I served it with this fantastic Bruschetta mix from Oil & Vinegar Bruschetta Mix. Its essentially freeze dried tomato, red pepper, garlic, herbs and seasoning. You mix it with hot water and a glug of olive oil. You can then stir it into creme fraiche to use as a dip, its nice on top of jacket potatoes with some crispy bacon, or you can use it as a dressing for steamed veggies. It went really well with the still warm tortilla.
The next thing I made was Smoked Mackerel Pate, and to be honest I make it quite a bit. I always have a packet of peppered smoked mackerel in the freezer so its so easy to whip up for a quick lunch.

to make a bowls worth as in the picture below
1) take one packet of peppered smoked mackerel fillets. Remove skin and flake into the bowl of a mini blender
2) add in 300ml of half fat creme fraiche, the juice of a lemon, and some snipped chives
3) blend until desired consistency. you may need to stir it around in the blender
4) serve with some warm wholemeal toasts or crudites

I also made some little smoked salon blinis as I love them!
1) take 300ml of half fat creme fraiche and add a good glug of vodka and season. put in the fridge to chill
2) use a ready prepared vac-pack beetroot, or cook your own (I did and had pink hands for 36hrs) and slice into very fine strips. I only used 1 med sized beetroot to do 16 blini

3) take one packet of blinis (I don't make my own) and put them on a baking tray and into a low oven for 10 minutes
4) once they are lightly toasted, remove from the oven and let them cool. if you don't do this the creme fraiche tends to slide off - not a good look
5) once cooled, place a small pile (about a teaspoon) of the beetroot julienne on top of each blini.
6) follow with a teaspoon or so of the creme fraiche
7) top this with smoked salmon. I used Salisbury's Basics smoked salmon trimmings 120g, and it was the perfect amount.
8) sprinkle some chopped chives over the top and serve - perfect with champagne!

I also found another recipe on the BBC Good Food site which looked so simple but very tasty

Sorry for the picture being a bit out of focus!
I did it slightly differently to the method in the recipe, in that my pear wasn't particularly long, so I just cut it into strips, halved my piece of prosciutto and went from there. To be honest I like the way the pear peeps out surrounded by the rocket, makes for a more interesting visual

And my final canape was to be honest a bit of a let down. I had been at The Belfry (nr Birmingham) a couple of weeks ago on a work trip and we were given a fantastic array of canapes before dinner. One of them was, as far as we could work out, a tomato croquette. Now the version we had was a smooth pale red inside, and served warm - very reminiscent of a potato croquette and was one of the nicest little morsels I have eaten in a while. I searched high and low on the old t'internet for a recipe which sounded vaguely like it would produce what I wanted and was stumped at every turn. In the end the only recipe I found was this one Tomato and Basil Croquettes
If you look at the recipe you can see it is supposed to have a small cube of mozzarella inside but that wasn't what I was after. In hindsight once I had read the recipe and realised that mashed potato mixed with sun dried tomatoes wasn't really what I was after, I should have knocked it on the head and found something else. But never mind.

They turned out OK, but only OK. The crispy breadcrumbs were nice, and the filling was tasty, but it just wasn't what I was after. I made a homemade garlic mayo to go with them, and that wasn't great either. FAR too garlicky, and all I can say is its a good job we were all eating it!
For main course I did St Delia's fantastic Leg of Lamb Baked in Foil with Butter and Herbs. Its so easy! Just make slashes in the lamb and rub in the lovely herby butter. It should be accompanied by a redcurrant, orange and mint sauce, but I was serving with dauphinoise and I didn't want the redcurrant/orange to curdle the cream on the plate. I forgot to take a picture of the main, probably due to the amount of alcohol I had consumed by then! But personally I thought it was delish. It was the first time I had tried dauphinoise and I had made it with soya cream and soya milk and it worked out well. Some of the potatoes had stuck together slightly forming a massive wedge of spud which meant there were a couple of spoonfuls which weren't cooked through properly, but hey ho, you live and learn and next time Ill do a bit more stirring in the early stages, or even do what my mum does and par boil the tatties first.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Chicken and Sun-dried Tomato Pilaf

Whilst we were in Devon I happened to miss my dads birthday, so we decided to invite them round for dinner on Sunday night. I hadn't cooked anything from the slow-cooked book since the Frikadeller so decided to roll out something slightly more suited to a nice dinner for your folks.

The parents along with the in-laws are also coming for dinner next Sunday (Mothers Day) so I didn't want to go all out and not have anything to wow them with next week so decided against starters. Mum isn't much of a dessert person and Dad likes a bowl of Onken yoghurt with some banana or muesli, or a slice or two of soreen so that was off the menu too. However I decided that something was needed, and after a root through the fridge I found a packet of beetroot and made the following.

Beetroot Dip

1 packet of vac-packed beetroot, or ideally fresh ones
1 tablespoon of cream (I used soya cream)
lemon juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper
5 fresh mint leaves
half a clove of garlic

Blitz everything up in a mini-chopper or food processor until its fairly smooth.

I served with a bag of Asda value tortilla chips, but it will easily go with crudites. Don't worry about the garlic, its far from overpowering and as long as it wasn't a massive clove and you don't mind the taste you could probably put a whole one in.

For the main course I did the Chicken and Sun-dried Tomato Pilaf

Now we normally eat chicken thighs, turkey thigh meat, or turkey breast, but I happened to have a packet of 5 chicken breasts in the freezer which is just what was called for in this recipe. I decided to do something in the slow cooker, as we had been out all morning and a friend was coming in the afternoon.

Sundried Tomato and Chicken Pilaf

1tbs of olive oil
4 chicken breasts
1 large onion - finely chopped
2 garlic cloves - crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
50g of sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
2 teaspoons of pesto
1 pint chicken stock
200g of normal/wild rice mix
salt and pepper

1) Heat the oil and brown the chicken breast on the presentation side only
2) Fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes and add tinned tomatoes. Add sundried tomatoes and pesto, season with salt and pepper
3) Pour into slow cooker and stir in stock
4) Rinse rice, and add to slow cooker
5) Arrange the chicken on top, brown side up and press them just under the liquid.
6) Cover and cook on high for 3-4hrs

NB. The recipe says to cook for 3-4hrs on high, and I went more for the 4hrs however I think this was a bit long as the rice was a bit too soft for me. In future I would go for 3hrs and if it needed a little longer turn to low. Overall though a really nice dish, and we had it with some lovely steamed veg. Definitely something you can serve for a dinner party, or nice meal with friends.


Well Devon was lovely! Having never been to that part of the country before, I was expecting a lot and was not let down. Beautiful countryside, fantastic views of the sea and lots of quaint little villages (along with some rather kitsch seaside attractions which felt like abandoned ghost towns!)

We set off on the Monday morning after I'd got the last minute bits and bobs from Sainsburys. We had a proper little picnic to take in the car; homemade chicken & tarragon mayo sandwiches, steak flavour McCoys for hubby, original Sunbites for me, a box of mini flapjack bites (which I seemed to consume all by myself throughout the week oops) orangina for the boy and water for me. We had also made the random decision to create some Scotch eggs that we could share out with our convoy at whatever services we stopped at. We used this recipe Simon Rimmer Scotch Eggs which we had made before and they turned out perfectly. I added more herbs, black pepper and a little chili flakes to the pork mix which made them extra special. Unfortunately they all got snaffled before I remember to take a picture.

A couple of weeks before we were due to go to Devon, my mum made the announcement that she had this giant school-style metal tray in her greenhouse that she used for potting plants. I got very excited as I have wanted one of these trays for ages. We rescued it from the garden and upon discovering that it smelt vaguely of tobacco (?) we tried to get it in the dishwasher. At this point we realised it was too big, which meant it was also going to be too big to go in the oven. Never fear, a back up plan was soon hatched. Hubby, despite having a very poorly arm, took himself of to the garage with said metal tray and the angle grinder. Half an hour and one burnt thumb later, the tray fitted in the dishwasher (minus the handles on the side).

Upon arriving at our rented house in Devon, we were unsurprised to discover that the tray didn't fit in any of the three ovens the well stocked kitchen had to offer. However it did fit on top of the gas hob. So the decision was made to take full advantage and cook most of the meals in the tray before transferring to the various serving dishes.

The Shepherds Pie went down a treat. I fried off 2kg of lamb mince with about 5 chopped onions and various seasonings. Once nicely browned I scooped the meat into the 3 serving dishes, topped with some well mashed mash, lots of cheese (sprinkled by my little helper - see photo on left - who also mashed as hubby's arm was a bit dodgy) and then it all went in the oven. The gravy was then made in the big tray with the meaty juices, and I hate to say it but some gravy granules. No way could I make gravy for 12 people! I also rustled up a lentil version for our token veggie. There were some leftovers after the first serving (see the picture on the right) but it all got eaten in the end, served with carrots, broccoli and peas (lovingly chopped by the two J's)

Hubby's Chili on the Tuesday night also went down a storm. His friend from work was employed as Executive Sous Chef despite never having cooked in his life. Having instructed him on how to chop peppers, he took to it like a duck to water. The addition of lager caused a stir amongst the traditionalists but was declared a winner in the end. I got in the bad books at one point as I forgot to buy any dark chocolate. BAD WIFE! But in the end it turned out a gorgeous rich chili, served with rice (microwave, because have you ever tried cooking rice for 12 people - it doesn't work!) sour cream and tortilla chips (the Asda value ones are far superior). Again we whipped up a veggie 3 bean version for our leaf eater who was leaving the next day.

The other J&J (just realised there were 6 people out of 12 on this trips whose names started with J!) cooked a mean fish bake on the Wednesday. I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of it which I am quite cross about as this was undoubtedly the resounding success of the trip. We normally have quite simple food on these trips, things which are cheap, cheerful and which can be scaled up for large numbers of people, so this was quite a departure from the norm. A mixture of king prawns, haddock and pollock mixed with creme fraiche, lemon zest and grainy mustard, topped with breadcrumbs, a little grated cheese and parsley. Served with some of the best potatoes I had tasted in a long time, carrots and broccoli. Definitely one to repeat in the Jodsgirl household.

Cooked breaky was the next thing to utilise the big metal tray. I was up early, quite a miracle considering how much I drank the night before, and had most of it done before the troops surfaced. The bacon and sausages were cooked in the tray before being transferred to the oven to keep warm, along with potato waffles. I then cooked the mushrooms in the same pan, getting up all the lovely stuck bits from the bacon. The beans were cooked in the microwave and I finished off by doing the scrambled eggs in the big tray, only managed by tipping it at a slightly weird angle! They did go a bit of a funny colour due to the mushrooms prior cooking, but tasted good all the same.

We finished off the week with G's sausage pasta bake. Again the big pan was used to cook the sausages and mushrooms, the pesto, tomato puree, tinned toms and frozen sweetcorn were all added in, whilst the pasta was cooking. Once it was all cooked and stirred together it was transferred to the dishes, smothered in a lovely thick layer of cheesy goodness and baked until golden. A salad accompanied as did some lovely garlic baguettes. I had just bought Sainsburys value part bake baguettes which were surprisingly good, but we managed to find some wild garlic outside the house by the stream, so by mixing the chopped leaves with butter, salt and pepper we had ourselves a little garlic bread feast. Another great meal and the perfect way to round off the week.

Cant wait for next year. The culinary gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Break in Transmission

Well next week I am going on an UK holiday. Nothing to do with the credit crunch, but a tradition of which this is the 5th year. Every year a group of between 10-14 of our friends pick a part of the country, find a nice house to rent (try English Country Cottages if you fancy it. The house we are renting takes 16, has its own outdoor heated pool, towels, linen, leccy all paid for and its costing us £58 each for a week), and then spend one week drinking, eating, going for walks, playing on the wii and sing star. The first two years we went to the Lake District, the third year was Northumberland, last year Norfolk and this year we are off to North Devon.

Ive never been that far down the country, and I am really looking forward to it. There are 12 of us this year and I'm in charge of the shopping. Ive done it every year and I love it. Making lists is one of my hobbies, so I thrive! We have a budget of £23 per person for 4 evening meals, 4 lunches, 3 normal breakfasts and 1 full English. Doesn't sound a lot but we manage to eat well. This years menu is as follows

Monday - Shepherds pie, carrots, broccoli and peas (cooked by me and J)
Tuesday - Chilli with rice, sour cream and tortilla chips (cooked by hubby and his friend from work)
Wednesday - Fish Bake with new potatoes (cooked by J and J)
Thursday - Sausage and Pesto Pasta Bake with crusty bread and salad (cooked by G with T&R assisting)

A few of us will muck in with the full English and the rest of the time its just get what you want from the fridge/cupboards whenever you need it. We take our own alcohol, of which there is a lot! Lunches are usually sandwiches to talk out with us, or if we are staying in due to the bad weather then 9p noodles, crumpets with cheese or quiche.

Ive also asked the very nice people of the BBC food boards for ideas on nice pubs in case we want to eat out during the day, or stop off for a well earned pint on the way back from a walk, so thank you to all who replied.

I will try and take piccies if I can, showcasing not only mine but my esteemed co-holidayers culinary skills. Ive also got a post for Frikadeller that I need to put that up when I get back.

Ta ta for now

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cancer Research Race for Life

Just in case anyone is passing by and feels like doing a good deed, I am taking part in the Cancer Research Race for Life on the 10th May in Delamere Forest. This will be the third year I have taken part in memory of two very very special people. My nana Doreen Law, and Dorothy Eglon who was her best friend.

I am very passionate about doing all I can to support any form of cancer charity. In the past I have done an abseil off Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland, organised a cake bake at work, and am organising another one for the end of this month.

Please give as much as you can. I know its the credit crunch, but even £1 would help.


Monday, 16 February 2009

Kashmiri Butter Chicken

Well I kept to my promise and made the first thing from the Slow Cooker book I blogged about earlier. However it sort of happened by accident! Hubby said he was going to do it and therefore it had to be done ASAP. We had spent the weekend in Newcastle visiting friends and arrived home at about 1:20.....which funnily enough was just in time for the football. Weird how that happens isn't it?! Anyway we went from hubby wanting to make this, to hubby wanting to watch the football and jodgirls being forced to make it instead. Not that I had a massive problem with that. I love nothing better to potter whilst he is watching the footie. I stick Heart FM on really loud and just get on with it.

So off I went.

Kashmiri Butter Chicken
(Ultimate Slow Cooker - Sara Lewis)

2 onions
3 garlic cloves
4cm of root ginger, peeled
1 large red chilli, halved and seeds discarded
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs sunflower oil
25g of butter
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground tumeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
300ml chicken stock
1 tbs of light muscavado sugar
2 tbs of tomato puree
5 tbs of double cream
pinch of salt

to garnish
2 tbs of flaked almonds
sprigs of coriander

1) Blend the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli in a food processor
2) Cut each chicken thigh into 4 pieces. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add chicken until all the meat is evenly browned. Lift pieces out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate
3) Add butter to the pan and when it has melted add the onion paste. Cook until just beginning to colour. Stir in all the crushed seeds and spices. Cook for 1 minutes and then add the stock, sugar, tomato puree and salt. Bring to the boil
4) Transfer chicken to slow cooker, pour onion mixture over the top and make sure the chicken is pressed below the surface. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours.
6) To serve, stir in the cream and garnish with almonds and corriander.

N.B I halved this and only made it for two, and there wasn't an awful lot in the slow cooker, so it cooked quite a bit quicker than suggested. In the future I would make the full quantity and freeze before adding the cream. Speaking of cream, I dont think it really needs it. I used less than half the amount of Alpro Soya cream, and to be honest I preffered the taste beforehand, but this could be beacuse it was soya cream. The picture was taken before the cream was added, and we served it with plain boiled brown rice.

Valentines Day

What with the credit crunch and all we made the decision not to go overboard this year, not that we ever do! We decided we would just spend the day together, doing what we wanted to do, followed by a DVD, lovely meal and a bottle of bubbly.

There had been much to-ing and fro-ing over what we fancied. We decided on the starters fairly early on and actually stuck to it. We had scallops (big massive ones) wrapped in Black Forest ham from Lidl, pan fried and served on a minted pea puree. Now I know that sounds VERY Masterchefy but I like it so there! To be honest I gave hubby one of my scallops and went back for seconds on the pea puree, which he thought very strange!

For mains we couldn't make our minds up. First of all I fancied Cheese Fondue, and found a great recipe where you end up with a crispy disc of cheese at the bottom. Now this might sound a bit odd as I am lactose intolerant, but to be honest cheese doesn't seem to affect me, and certainly not as much as milk or sour cream. Anyway hubby decided that fondue would be a bit heavy, considering our plans for later that evening(!) so I trawled through my recipes and came up with alternatives. First we thought about lamb Wellington. There was a recipe in last months Easy Cook magazine which looked lovely and used neck fillet so economical too. But then he decided he didn't fancy that. So back to the drawing board.

We ended up choosing a recipe I have had for ages and never got round to cooking.

My lovely sister got me a pasta machine for Christmas and we bravely made our first batch a couple of weeks ago. It was definitely trial and error! However this time, we perfected it. We were a smooth, well oiled, pasta making machine! The pasta came out perfectly and was duly hung over the oven door handle whilst we tidied up.

The recipe is from Sainsburys 2008 calendar which came free with the Christmas magazine. Hubby isn't keen on watercress so I substituted basil instead. It worked really really well, and is perfect served with a chilled Pinot Grigio.

Open Salmon Lasagne with Watercress and Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

3 x 75g of watercress

3 tbs of capers

juice of 1 lemon, plus wedges for serving

6 tbs of olive oil

4 salmon fillets

1 250g pack of fresh lasagne sheets, halved

4 vine tomatoes, finely chopped

N.B. The recipe advises that you roast the salmon fillets, but I steamed them for 10-12 minutes. Also used 4 vine tomatoes for 2 people as I didn't feel there were enough. And as mentioned above I used a packet of basil rather than the watercress.

1)In a food processor whiz the watercress, 2 tbs of the capers, lemon juices and 4 tbs of the oil until the watercress and capers are finely chopped. Season and set aside

2) Lay the salmon fillets on an oiled baking sheet, season with black pepper and bake for 15 minutes.

3) Meanwhile in a pan of salted boiling water cook lasgane for 6-7 minutes until al dente. Drain and toil with 1/2 tbs of olive oil

4) Once salmon is cooked, roughly flake into a bowl and 3/4 of the chopped tomatoes and 3/4 of the watercress mixture and stir

5) Lay one piece of lasgane on 4 plates and spoon a little of the salmon mixture on top of each, repeat until you have two layers of fish and lasagne. Then top each pile with another piece of lasagne

6) Thin the remaining watercress mixture with a tablespoon of oil, then spoon over the lasganes. Scatter with the rest of the capers and chopped tomatoes, season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Spicy Thai Spinach Soup

In between the stresses of last week, I realised there was a big bag of spinach that needed using. We used to eat spinach a lot, but for some reason haven't been doing so in recent months.

So I had this bag that needed using, I didnt want to spend any more money and in my continuing quest to drop another half stone in time for my holiday I decided that I should make soup.

Thai Spicy Spinach Soup

1 bag of spinach - washed

1 large potato - skin left on

2 tbsp of green Thai curry paste

1 1/2 pints of chicken or veggie stock

1 onion

Finely chop the onion and fry in a little oil with the curry paste for 5 minutes

Finely dice the potato and add to the onion mix. Cook for a further 5 minutes

Add the stock and the bag of spinach and bring to the boil

Remove from the heat and blitz with hand blender

Season with S&P if needed and serve hot

I added the swirl of soya cream for the photo, but it doesn't really need it. The potato adds enough creaminess to the finished dish.

The colour does go a slightly sludgy green, but don't let it put you off. The curry paste adds just enough zing to make your nose run, and you get all that goodness and iron from the spinach. Perfect for these cold days.

Sweet Treats

Well I have been very busy lately what with one thing and another, but have remembered to take photos of most things so should be a fair few posts to update you all with.

First things first. My company had to make 3 people redundant this week. Being a Senior Manager meant that I was quite involved and it was one of the most horrid experiences of my life. So I did what I do best in stressful situations...lock myself in the kitchen.
I had taken hubby off to the pub to watch the footy, stocked up on baking essentials, and turned on Heart FM. I was ready to go. I decided on sweet treats for the office rather than going down my normal savoury route. I find one of the most relaxing things to potter about making in the kitchen is a big batch of my homemade tomato sauce.

So anyway - out came my little baking book "The Cook's Encyclopedia of Cookies, Biscuits & Bars - Hilaire Walden" and I duly decided on two things. Apple Muffins, in the hope that they were vaguely healthy, and then Peanut Butter cookies to hit that sweet/salty craving.
Apple and Cinnamon Muffins
Makes 6 (or in my case 8)
1 beaten egg
40g of caster sugar
120ml of milk
50g of melted butter
150g of plain flour
1 1/2tsp of baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2tsp of cinnamon
2 eating apples, peeled and cored and finely chopped (I did mine in the food processor)
for the topping (this is the only bit I changed to my own idea)
50g of pecan nuts
dessert spoon of dark brown sugar
dessert spoon of oats
1) Pre-heat oven to 200 degC. Line muffin tin with papercases. Mix egg, sugar, milk and melted butter in large bowl. Sift in flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add chopped apple and mix roughly
2) Spoon mixture into cases. Blitz topping ingredients in food processor and sprinkle over uncooked muffins.
3) Bake for 30-35 minutes until well risen and golden. Transfer to wire rack to cool

The muffins worked really well, and I even got to use one of my Christmas presents. My sister got me some silicone moulds and they were great. I did however get very greedy and ate one pretty much as soon as it came out of the oven. I ended up with one of those lovely blisters on the roof of my mouth, that make you gag every time your tongue touches it! The next day when cooled they were equally as great. The apple had created a slightly gooey texture in the centre which wasn't too heavy, and they certainly tasted of apple. I'm still persevering with muffins. I just cant seem to get the texture right. I suppose I am thinking of those horrid muffins you get in supermarkets that are quite light and fluffy, whereas mine are always that bit denser. I thought I had perfected the not stirring too much, but I obviously need to try harder.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 24 (but be prepared for more!)
115g of plain flour
1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
115g of butter
125g of light brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp of vanilla essence
225g of crunchy peanut butter
1)Sift together flour, bicarb and salt and set aside
2)Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3)In another bowl mix the egg and vanilla essence, than gradually beat into the butter mixture
4)Stir peanut butter into butter mix and blend thoroughly. Stir in dry ingredients. Chill for at least 30 minutes until firm
5) Pre-heat oven to 180degC. Grease two baking sheets (at this point I used my big round pizza tray and a non-stick silicon baking mat. I just had to keep doing another batch after one came out of the oven)
6) Spoon out rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough and roll into balls
7) Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets and press flat with a fork (apparently they should be about 6cm in diameter, this could be where I went wrong as mine were about 2cm! - hence why I had hundreds!). Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly coloured. Transfer to wire rack to cool
The peanut cookies were a resounding success, apart from the fact that they had similar characteristics to Gremlins and seemed to multiply. The recipe was supposed to make 24, but I ended up with hundreds of the things! I ended up doing 4 batches and sending some into work with hubby, and some off to my sister. Hubby kept updating me throughout the day with how many people had eaten, and at my work they didn't even make it to afternoon tea. Definitely one to make again.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Greek Food

Right, I have finally figured out how to upload photos, ALL BY MYSELF, which is quite a feat.

However this does mean you have to come back in time with me. Let me explain. When I first thought about doing a blog on my favourite subject I happened to be on holiday with hubby. Two idyllic weeks in Pefkos Rhodes, in a self catering apartment about 15 minutes walk from the main town. Relatively quiet with enough restaurants for one every night, and a couple of decent bars. I explained my plan to hubby, and enlisted his assistance in taking pictures of the food we ate over the fortnight. He wasn't really as up for it as I was, and occasionally cringed behind the carafe of wine as I happily snapped pictures of Greek delicacies, although he does feature as an unwilling subject in a couple of the snaps!

The photo above is Lamb Gastras. The Gastra is apparently the ceramic pot that the lamb is cooked in, and came complete with a number of cracks and chipped edges. Certainly not something that would be allowed in this country! The lamb was cooked with rosemary, mustard, wine, fresh spices and potatoes and was so incredibly filling and delicious. The mustard added a slight heat, and the rosemary some wonderful fragrance. This was our first night meal and a perfect start to the holiday.

The image on the left is a filo and feta parcel. We first had this dish a couple of years ago on another Greek island and it was a combination of flavours that really blew us away. The salty feta is encased in a crisp parcel of filo pastry and baked in the oven. They drizzle huge amounts of honey over the top and sprinkle with black or white sesame seeds. Now I am not a fan of feta, far to salty for me, but combined with the crispy pastry and the sweet honey that cuts through that saltiness, it really is good.

Lamb chops are synonymous with Greece for me, and always remind me of story my mum tells of when she and my sister went away for a week to one of the Islands. The village where they were staying only had about 4 restaurants and was situated on the harbour. One night they were out for dinner and ate at this tiny little place. They ordered lamb chops and were pleasantly surprised when the hugest mound of them arrived on their table. They sat and used their fingers to pick them up and get every last little scrap of meat off what were by all accounts the nicest lamb chops either of them had ever had. As they were leaving the restaurant there as a minor car accident in the lane outside. Being the post exciting thing to happen in this small village for a while everyone came rushing out, including the chef of this establishment. Who turned out to be one of those quintessential older Greek women, straight from a postcard...., complete with the most disgustingly dirty apron you have ever seen in your life. Both my mum and sister said if they had seen the apron before they ate, it would have really put them off, but they were still happy to declare them the best lamb chops in the world! The above lamb chops couldn't compete with that accolade but were still damn good. Juicy but well cooked (no pink bits for me) with plenty of seasoning and a nice accompaniment of tomatoes, onion, tatziki and some rather good chips.

One of the best bits of any holiday to Greece has to be the Gyros. Nothing like those horrid kebabs that so often seem to end peoples nights out in the UK. The shop that sold these was a tiny little thing, with maybe 4 or 5 little tables out the front. A proper Greek version of a fast food joint, but proper home cooked fast food!

There were three choices of meat available, chicken, pork and lamb. Whilst the lamb looked
something like the standard donner meat you get in this country, the chicken and pork were basically chunks of proper meat pushed through the spike and left to rotate until crispy and glistening with good old fashioned grease. You could have a mixture of meat, which hubby decided to go for, but I stuck to the pork. Highly seasoned, with some good spices in there to add a little heat, chips, tatziki, tomatoe, onion, all wrapped in a soft flat bread and presented in some greaseproof paper. Heaven! And all for the bargain price of €3. Hubby went for the man sized option for €5 which had all three meats, plus the chips and salady bits but all served on a big wooden board. Personally I could have eaten there every night and after one too many fruity cocktails I had serious thoughts about opening a PROPER Gyros shop back in our home town.

Cant go to a Greek Island and not eat fresh fish! When I was younger and far far less adventurous than I am now I always used to order half a roast chicken and chips when we were abroad. I know I know, sacrilege. And then when I got it, I used to make my mum sit and de-bone it before she could eat her tea. Thankfully I have now grown out of this, and can even de-bone my own fishes. think the waiter was a tad surprised though when I asked for it on the bone instead of filleted. Delicious soft, white flesh, with a buttery lemon sauce. mmmmmm

On our penultimate night we were sat having a drink after our meal and were deciding where to go on our last night. We finally decided on the place we went to on our first night and on a wander past we had a quick look at the menu. We had been fairly adventurous on our holiday, and had tried a number of local dishes that we hadnt seen before on our travels of the Greek Islands. And then something caught my eye. Tsoukalato Fournisto. Lamb shoulder marinated for 12 hrs in a white Grenache with mountain herbs. Then cooked in an air tight ceramic dish in a wood oven for 12hrs with potatoes, onions, garlic and parsley. mmmm. It had to be ordered 24hrs in advance and was for two persons, so with hubbys agreement we went in, booked a table and ordered what was to be known as THE PIE! When we arrived the next evening we did the whole "we have pre-ordered" thing, and were shown to lovely table upstairs on the balcony. Starters were ordered and devoured, and then we waited for this culinary masterpiece to arrive. And when it did arrive we almost died. From a distance, and from the angle we saw it, when the waiter carried it in it looked like a pie! All I could see was this 6inch deep ceramic pot with what appeared to be a crust around the top. 6 inches of filling with a crust. OMG, how would we ever get through that! At first I thought they had messed up our order, but upon its deliverance to the table all was revealed.

What we had presumed was a pie crust, was actually a kind of dough used to seal around the edge of the pot. We were encouraged to break parts of it off and dip it in the juices inside. We started doing that, but the dough was quite stodgy and plain, made more to be useful than tasty. However what was inside was magnificent. Tender as anything lamb, with the taste of the wine and herbs. Loads of poatoes and vegetables which we weren't expecting. After the first couple of mouthfuls we both started to wish we hadn't had starters, as we wanted to do this bad boy justice. We soldiered on, and managed to finish the whole thing. Never felt so full in my life, but it was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Its now fairly obvious to me why I put 5 pounds on in two weeks! We ate out every night, lunches were either sandwiches made in the apartment with ham and bread rolls we had brought from home, and then Asda 9p noodles when the bread ran out. So that's lunch and dinner sorted, but what about breakfast? Breakfast always bothers me when Im abroad. Im a cereal girl but I don't do dairy, and there was no way I was carrying 2 cartons of soya milk in my suitcase. Hubby doesn't usually eat breakfast, and if he does its just a piece of toast. So what to do? We all know the bread when you go abroad isn't great, but I have come up with the perfect solution. Eggy bread! Whisk a couple of eggs together with a fork and add a drop of milk if needed. Drown your bread in the mixture and then do the other side. In a pan, heat up some butter and little oil to stop it burning. Place slice of bread in the pan when the butter starts to foam. When brown on one side, sprinkle the other side with sugar and flip over. Meanwhile chop up one really really ripe peach. Sprinkle that with a little sugar as well and then throw it in the pan next to the bread to warm through. Serve the cooked eggy bread with the warmed through and slightly caramelised peaches. If you have run out of fruit, take some of those little pots of jam and smear across the eggy breaded goodness. Delicious!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ultimate Slow Cooker

Using my slow cooker has become a bit of a regular thing at the moment, especially during these cold times. I have perfected rice pudding, and do a mean chicken and lentil casserole, but tend to cook the same things over and over again. Hubby therefore surprised me last night by bringing me home a present. Ultimate Slow Cooker by Sara Lewis. He got it from the Book People, and it has to be one of the best books I’ve looked at in a long time. Real homey style food, that’s classy enough to serve for friends. Most of the recipes have little tips as well, such as alternative ingredients, at what stage to freeze, or how to make it dairy free. All English recipes as well which I find quite refreshing. The majority of slow cooker cook books, tend to be American and refer to crock pots, with all measurements of zucchini and all purpose flour in cups.

So I sat on the sofa last night and went through it with a bunch of blue stickies and tagged all the recipes I want to try. Here is the list

Caldo Verde
Smoked gammon and mixed bean chowder
Bloody Mary soup with chilli oil
Abruzzi Lamb
Spiced pork chops with sweet potato
Pork, orange and star anise
Sun-dried tomatoe and chicken pilaf
Kashmiri butter chicken
Chilli black bean stew
Mixed mushroom and lentil braise
Mediterranean fennel with nutty crumble
Cheesy vegetable galette
Sticky toffee apple pudding
Double chocolate and sweet potato cake

So the plan is to try at least two of these a month, more if I can manage it. Providing I can work out how to upload pictures with constantly having to bug hubby, I will post photos of my efforts to accompany.