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