Friday 28 December 2012

Definately the best lasagne in the world!

Unfortunately I can't claim this as my recipe - it belongs to Francesco Mazzei and I've been making it regularly ever since I saw him make it on "Perfect" which I think is one of the best original shows the Good Food Channel has produced.    It's called Lasagne Pastachina.

I will admit upfront, that there are a lot of processes - it's definately not an after work supper - unless you make extra for the freezer ;-)  but it is sooooo delicious that it really is worth it.  Apparently it's a "Sunday" or special occassion lasagne in Italy.  It consists of a 3 meat ragu, the same three meats as teeny-tiny meatballs, aubergines and hardboiled eggs, cheese and bechamel.   I know the hb egg sounds a bit left field but believe me, it just adds so much, and the aubergine makes the whole dish so much lighter and fresher than a standard lasagne and the meatballs add texture to what can sometimes be a bit of a toothless dish.

See the link to the original recipe - the only alteration I've made is that I made the meatballs really tiny to ease cutting and when pushed for time I've cheated with a ready made cheese sauce.  The one thing you mustn't miss is the flouring of the aubergine - not something I'd ever considered before but it mades a huge difference to their texture.  Once you've made your ragu and your meatballs, fried the aubergine and boiled and slice the eggs its simply a case of assembly.  Remembering not to go too mad with any of the ingredients - you want to get at least 4 or 5 layers of pasta in.

The layers will be a bit on the bumpy side, with the chunks of aubergine and the meatballs but dont' worry that just adds to the charm.  Finish with bechamel and cheese - bake and then sit back and devour with a nice green salad - trust me you WON'T be dissappointed!!!!   Let's just call it a belated Christmas gift shall we ;-)

Sunday 21 October 2012

My first hand raised pie

So, every Tuesday for the past 12 weeks at 8pm, I've settled on the sofa with a cuppa a nice posh biccie to watch the Great British Bake Off.  I was attracted to the first series by Paul Hollywood, when he was lesser known, but I remembered him from a poor day time show on the food channel about 10 years ago and I was ready for a new weekly dose of those too-blue eyes.  By series 3 though he's gone a bit pantomime villain, the twinkle in his eyes now more an evil glint!  However I do find GBBO addictive viewing - just waiting for the disasters and feeling sure "I could do better"

Well, one of the technical challenges this year had me thinking - but can I?  Although I've eaten my fair share of pork pies - from the lack luster late night garage effort in hunger desperation to the more artisan variety at your local food fayre - I've never made a hot water crust pasty myself.  So, in order to see if indeed I could do better - I had a go at the turkey, apricot and bacon (OK so I didn't have any bacon) hand raise pie they cooked on the show.

I saw them all struggle to get their pies off their dollies and when I checked out the recipe, I thought I found one of the reasons - Mr Hollywood specifies a mix of lard and butter for the fat content of the pie, which to me didn't seem right, and checking that "has never failed me in 30 years" stalwart of every kitchen, the good old Bero cookbook, my suspicion was confirmed.  Traditional hot water crust is only made with lard - no butter.  Butter at room temperature is soft, lard isn't, so it stands to reason that a pastry made with butter will be too soft to easily come off a dolly and hold its free form shape.  So the above is just lard - it's a very strange texture if you've never made it - feeling hot pastry in your hands is so against all the things you've been taught about cold hands and chilling - but it's actually not as daunting as you might think!  You don't even need a dolly - just use an empty jam jar - if your pastry does stick on chilling, then the jar has an added bonus on the dolly - you can add hot water for a few seconds to allow it slip off easily ;-)

Then cram it full of filling - in this case simply diced turkey seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper with a layer of apricots in the middle.  Add a lid with a little hole for your jelly, brush with egg wash and bake.  I don't think my husband has ever been so excited by the smell of something in the oven and so eager to eat it as soon as it came out.

As you can see from the cut pie - it wasn't the perfect bake - no soggy bottoms but a little too thick in places so it was under baked in a couple of spots.  The observant amongst you may also spot a lack of jelly - well that's because whenever I eat a pork pie, I dissect it and remove the god-awful stuff so there was no way I was ruining it with something I had to take out.  Also, the aforementioned husband may have started to eat the duvet if he'd had to wait for 24 hours to let it set........

Sunday 22 July 2012

50th cupcakes

My best mate's husband turned 50 today and a big group of us went to the pub for Sunday lunch to celebrate.  I made a cupcake tower with lemon curd and vanilla bakewell cupcakes.  They went pretty swiftly but I managed to grab a piccie before everyone arrived!

Tuesday 10 July 2012

maple banana upside down cake

I'm not a huge fan of bananas in food - I eat lots of bananas just as they are (but only if they're underripe - too yellow and I gag) but my hubby loves banana flavoured things.  We had a glut of bananas to use up so I decided to twist a Bill Granger recipe I'd seen for upside down banana cake. 

I made a standard sponge but added a tablespoon of maple syrup to the mixture.  I then made a caramel with unsalted butter, soft brown sugar and more maple and poured that into a silicone mould (for ease of turning out)   Added 3 sliced bananas (Bill does his in half lengthways, which looks pretty, but I only had a square mould not a round one so I improvised!) and spread the cake mix on top. 

We ate it warm with vanilla ice-cream and it was surprisingly good for something full of nana's!  The crunchy maple edges were my favourite bits though.  It kept well and was OK cold too.

Friday 22 June 2012

The Pound Inn at Leebotwood

Whenever we travel around the UK, we always take with us our trusty AA Good Pub Guide - in 99% of cases there is a great pub within 20 minutes of most motorway junctions which find always worth the detour as for the same price as you pay for a limp sandwich and cardboard cup of coffee you can get a truly fabulous meal.

This last weekend, we travelled to visit our friends in Leominster (Herefordshire) and our route takes us through Shropshire down the A49 - a route we've taken many times.  This year, there was a new addition to the 2012 pub guide - The Pound Inn at Leebotwood - a little village between Shrewsbury and Ludlow.  We weren't scheduled to stop for dinner - but a combination of bad weather and worse traffic meant that our normal 4½ hour journey took us almost 7 hours so by the time we hit Shropshire we were starving so we pulled into the quite empty looking car park and checked out the menu.  It and the newly refurbished pub looked fabulous and I am pleased to report that once again the pub guide did not let us down - this is a total gem of a place and will definitely be a regular stopping point for us on our visits to Leominster.

Now, this was a quick stop, we were running late to get to our friends, so we just opted for main courses.  The waitress was efficient, helpful and really friendly and did point out that my choice would mean a wait of 25 to 30 minutes but I really wanted it so we decided to risk it  (it actually came in 20 in the end but we appreciated the forewarning).  My choice was butter poached free range chicken with butternut squash puree and a mustard butter sauce.  There were vegetable extras on the menu but our waitress assured us our dishes came "fully garnished" and she was right, in addition to the items described on the menu my dish came with divine roast potatoes, broccoli, courgette and a delicious strip of crispy bacon.  It was probably the tastiest piece of chicken I have ever eaten - the butter poaching providing a sweet succulence that I must try to recreate (or we have to move so we can eat it more often!)

My husband, predictably, went for the belly pork which was described as with a soy and honey glaze and apple relish.  This came with the same delicious potatoes, carrots, broccoli and a rich red cabbage stew.  The pork was succulent and the apple relish was a perfect accompaniment with a little sweetness but also a spike from thyme and some other subtle spicing.  The cabbage may well be a little unseasonable for a normal June day, but as it was cold and wet on our visit, it was just perfect.

Our bill for both meals with a couple of soft drinks on the side came to a very reason £31!  Now that'll beat a motorway service station any day of the week! 

See you on our next visit - we may well become your farthest away regulars ;-)

Wednesday 20 June 2012


I recently entered a competition run by Kavey from Kavey Eats and was really surprised when late one evening last week I received an email from her informing me that I'd won!   I like those kind of surprises :-D

And what did I win - well I won 77 boxes of Asda Chosen by you jaffa cakes and I can tell you that 77 boxes is a hell of a lot of jaffa cakes!   The courier who brought them to our offices nearly gave himself a hernia lugging in the massive box full of boxes!!!!

I shared a fair few boxes around my colleagues - who all looked very bemused and couldn't understand why I had 77 boxes - it was good fun explaining and handing them out.  We still have a lot of boxes left though and the photo above is me hiding behind a stack of them.  I can report that they are probably the best jaffa cakes I've ever tried - we do like a jaffa in our house and these ones seem more chocolatey and definitely more orangey than "other" brands, yes even the famous one!

Thanks Kavey :-D

Sunday 29 April 2012

Morrison's Market Street

We went to a different Morrisons today as they were offering money off your shopping.  I guess it was an incentive to get you to look at their new market like layout.  I normally hate supermarkets moving stuff around but on this occassion I FULLY and WHOLEHEARTEDLY approve!!!   Morrison's market place is layed out with fruit and veg all displayed beautifully with varieties the like of which I've rarely seen outside of London.  2 types of chard, 3 'choi' varieties, 4 aubergine, at least a douzen varieties and colours of tomatoes and my favourite golden and candy beetroot :-)  they even have an automatic misting system for the tender veg and herbs.  Many have travelled far and are out of season but to see something out of the norm really got my culinary juices flowing and I can't wait to see what the summer brings

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Chicken and Chorizo triangles

Now, I'm a girl who likes leftovers, and manys the day that I will deliberarely plan leftovers to make "tomorrows" meal as I find it economical both in money and often just as importantly TIME....  As there are just 2 in my household, when we have roast chicken, there are always leftovers - and if you strip the little birdie properly, a lot more than you can sometimes believe!  So I do love things I can make with little bits of chicken.  This recipe is inspired on a squash and feta triangle from Cooking with Pumkins and Squash by Brian Glover - a very fine book indeed if like me you like a good squash and it makes a fantastic party nibble.  So when we decided to throw a surprise 50th for a friend this week, and I had half a chicken going spare, I decided to adapt the veggie delight into something altogether more carniverous.

Chicken, Chorizo and Courgette Filo Triangles:

Left over chicken
Chorizo (cured not raw)
Small onion
Medium courgette
rose harissa
1 pack of filo
melted butter/olive oil

The measurements aren't precise - it all depends on how many triangles you want to make.  One pack of pastry will make 12 good sized parcels of 16 smaller ones.  My starting point was how much chicken I had left - I used the meat from 2 wings, one leg, the oysters and all the other "bits" under and around but no breast.  This yielded me about 6 tablespoons of chicken once cut into cubes (very small -  a little less than 1cm cubes).  I then added everything else to balance - about half the amount of onion, courgette and chorizo to chicken - all cubed to the same size.

Fry the chorizo to get it a little crispy and release the oil - remove with slotted spoon reserving the oil.  Add the onion and courgette and soften in the chorizo oil.  Add 1 teaspoon of harissa (or more if you prefer it with a kick) and a drizzle of honey.  Once the onion is softened and transluscent, remove from the heat and add the chicken and chorizo (you can do it in a bowl if you prefer, I was trying to reduce washing up!)  Add the zest of a lemon and a large handfull of chopped parsley, season and stir.  Add chopped gherkins (or capers) to taste - you want a bit of balance between the heat, the sweet and the sour which the pickles and lemons provide.

Leave to cool slightly while you prepare the filo.  Cut the sheets into 3 (or 4) equal strips from top to bottom on the longest length of the sheets.  I take them 3 at a time and leave the rest covered to avoid drying.   Brush half of each length with melted butter or olive oil (or I use a mix of the two).  On the non buttered half put a spoonful of the chicken mixture in a triangle as pictured below.  Getting a rough triangluar shaped pile is important as this is what creates the finished shape.

 All we need to do now is keep folding the triangles over each other so that all the open edges are eventually sealed in.  See the series of photos below as I photographed each stage to hopefully indicate where to fold it as its quite complicated to explain in writing.

Now all the edges are sealed, just fold them over again so the triangles are 2 layers thick all the way around.

Bake at 180 for 10 - 15 minutes until golden and crispy.  Eat hot or cold.  If like me you need to take them to a party, they can also be part cooked (just about 7 minutes until the pasty cooks enough to hold its shape) then open freeze.  They can then be reheated and the cooking process finished on party day.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Chocolate and Caramel Cake

One of my close friends turned 50 today - and normally we don't celebrate her birthday with her on the day itself, what with it being that one day in the year we are "obliged" to be romantic with our other halves and all.  BUT this was a special birthday, and in a year that has been pretty tough for said friend so, we promptly all ditched our other halves on Valentines day and set off for a surprise "party" instead.  The friend thought she was just coming to another friend's house for tea and was totally flabbergasted when we were all hiding in the kitchen with this monster cake!

Cakes for my friends need to involve chocolate, but I wanted to add a different dimension so decided to go tripple layer with a yummy layer of caramel cake sandwiched with salted caramel cream between the two chocolate layers.  I did decide to cover the whole of that with whipped chocolate ganache - the result was probably the biggest cake I've ever made - tasted blumming lovely though ;-) There were 8 of us, and this is the most we could manage!

The caramel layer was a recipe I found on the delightful Pink Whisk's blog - Ruth's recipes are super to follow and work really wonderfully - well they would wouldn't they, her being the almost (and IMHO should have been) winner of GBBO Series 1.  I followed the cake recipe pretty much as is, but I did add the whole can of caramel as I wanted the flavour strong enough to stand up against my chocolate buttermilk cake.  If I give it another go I will definately make thinner layers!

Book Group Dinner - Angelsey Eggs

There was a slight slip in my plan for 2012 to record all the dinners - I forgot to photograph the January dish (epic fail, month one!)   However, we liked the dish so much, that I made it again the other night just for me and hubby so I photographed that one instead.  Call it cheating if you will, but at least we have something to show on the first of these posts rather than lost of text and little else....

As our egg hater wasn't coming to January's group, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make a dish I'd been wanting to make ever since I saw it on the Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Great Britain about 3 years ago - Angelsey Eggs.  However, as my hubby doesn't do cheese it wasn't a dish I could make for him so it had to wait for cheese and egg loving friends.  I do adapt dishes for him without cheese but it seemed a waste on this one, especially for a first outing, and I wanted to try it "properly" first.

I took the recipe from the book that went with the series, but it is currently on the BBC site with it being a BBC show too and you can find it here in full if you want it but essentially it is mash potato with leeks in, with a layer of hard boiled eggs, covered with cheese sauce which is then topped with a mixture of cheese and breadcrumbs.  It's a proper rib sticking winter warmer so was perfect for the recent chilly weather.

I made a couple of adaptions to the bikers recipe - I softened my leeks in butter rather than boiled them and for speed (it was a school night after all) I cheated with a jar of supermarket 4 cheese pasta sauce mixed with cream for my cheese sauce (the cream was to help hubby get over the cheese factor), and whilst not authentic, it worked fine for me.  I did use Caerphilly along with cheddar in my topping though and am glad I did as I'd never had it before and it as, as it turns out, a rather marvellous cheese!

Here's my second cooking of it in pictures:

Leek and potato layer (this time using up leftovers from Sunday lunch - perfect Monday night quick dinner dish):

A layer of lovely free-range golden goodness:

A rich and creamy cheesy blanket (again cheats sauce and cream to make it not too strong for my hubby)

For book group I made a full on cheese version for us girls and a separate one for the hubby sans cheese.  This time we were sharing so I made the sauce weaker, and then added parsley to his "purely breadcrumb" topping to distinguish it for the cheesy side which was all mine!

Here's the golden baked version in all its glory.

Served with pork chops and broccoli - delicious and total comfort food.  Will certainly be a regular winter visitor at our table from now on.

Monday 13 February 2012

Book Group Dinner History

One of the things I've been meaning to do for ages, is to start cataloguing the food I cook so that when I cook something new and interesting I remember it, and can perhaps do it again and make it better rather than merely staring at DH and saying what was that thing I cooked that you really liked and getting the "which one" look in return!

As part of this process I am determined to record the meal I cook each month for what we laughably call at book group at my house each month.  Yes we pick a book each month and yes C & L pretty much read all of them, L2 reads most of them and me and S read them if we can be bothered when we have time, but really it's just an excuse to get together and eat food!  The way it works is that all the girls chuck in a fiver and I rustle up something for them.  We all met on a business course nearly 6 years ago and have been meeting at mine once a month ever since - there was talk of taking it in turns, but I like to cook, they like to be fed so keeping it at mine works all round.  What has happened though, in the most part, that except for special requests and our annual turkey dinner at Christmas (and yes, I cook a turkey AND all the trimmings, on a week night, after a full day at work and have it on the table by 8.30 pm), I have always given them something different - so that is well over 60 different meals.  Now if only I'd thought to keep a record of them from the beginning........

Well I didn't, cos I didn't blog then, I don't even think I'd heard of the concept of it back in 2006/2007, but we did start to discuss how they couldn't believe I kept coming up with new dishes all the time sometime around the middle of 2009, and thanks to great memories and the help of a few emails we managed to get a list together, which I am going to store here for historical purposes and then from now on will do a proper monthly post to record the meal and even the odd photo if I remember to have the camera to hand before the talking and eating begins and we all get carried away.....

So here's the historical headlines:


 Chicken & ham / Mackerel, leek and fennel pies with potatoes and braised cabbage.
 Vegetarian meatball tagine (meatballs hybrid of falafel and spinach and cheese balls)
 Ham & leek /Squash and leek cannelloni with garlic bread and salad.
 Asparagus quiche with deconstructed Greek salad (so fussy eaters can pick what they like again!)
 Summer minestrone.  Rosemary salted caramel millionaires shortbread for dessert.
 No meeting.
 Courgette soup (Food Urchin's recipe)  Pan Bagnat.   Lemon buns and/or salted caramel pavlova for dessert (birthday treats)
 Cauliflower and chickpea curry with Gujarati aubergine fritters and Indian chicken goujons.
No meeting
 Shepperd's pie with rumbledethumps topping (meat and lentil and black bean versions)
 Squash risotto with crispy bacon topping (mushroom for the veggie)
  Christmas dinner - turkey and all the trimmings.  Veggie option was "individual" mushroom wellingtons.   Chocolate and salted caramel tart (guest provided)

2010  (one guest turned veggie in Jan 2010, 2 other guests are "fussy with vegetables" - book group dinners become slightly more challenging!!!)

 No meeting
 Prawn curry and matter paneer (Hairy Bikers recipe after seeing them live)  non fish eater not present
 Spinach and feta frittata
 Chilli and cornbread (both meat and veggie bean chilli made)
 Asparagus and pea risotto with poached egg/goats cheese for non egg eater who is not the veggie - told you they got more challenging!
 One of our group returned to Canada so this was her farewell dinner.  Lamb steaks with roast potatoes, cumin roast aubergines and courgette, and pea and broad bean salad.  Veggie option was a mini asparagus quiche with same sides.
 6 onion quiche, ham wrapped potatoes (plain ones for veggie) and salad.  Coffee toffee cupcakes.
 "Special" Birthday dinner request to repeat paella - made veggie version for all and had bowls with meat and fish so people could add what they liked and exclude what they didn't!  Chocolate and beetroot birthday cake.
 Haddock chowder (no bacon) with fresh bread (non fish eater not present)  Cake for dessert.
Massaman curry chicken and potato/prawn and potato with bok choi
Chicken (bean for veggie) Quisedillas with spicey vegetable soup.
 Christmas dinner - turkey and all the trimmings.  Veggie option was squash and feta and pine nut filo pie.
 Experimental mince pies (with nuts and limited dried fruit for non dried fruit eater!)


No meeting
Chicken and squash tagine
Quiche (variety unknown)
Salmon (chicken for non fish eater) on mash with watercress and pea sauce
Tuna and pasta bake
Courgette Soup, Courgette bruschetta and St Clements Tart (caramel disaster!)
Lamb burgers with onion rings and wedges
Paella - mixed meat and seafood
Spaghetti and meatballs
No meeting
Christmas dinner - turkey and all the trimmings.  Chocolate log (guest provided)

Let's see if we can do some proper recipes for 2012 onwards.....