29 February 2012

"Turn the meal plan for this week over to me" he said ...

... and because I don't particularly like Bernard Matthews Turkey Steaks, I didn't.  *chuckle*

However, I did let hubby take the lead on this week's menu plan - only reserving the right of veto over things like putting two major carbohydrates together in a tart case.

My very favourite meal when we lived in Germany
I think we've wound up with an interesting combination of meals.  Although, our first choice for Tuesday (Bockwurst & Kartoffelsalat - a german sausage with german potato salad) had to be dropped at the shopping stage.  For starters, we couldn't find the Jelly potatoes that we've been lapping up (they're only available in some Tesco stores, which obviously weren't the four we went to) and secondly, the supermarket(s) we were in hadn't ever heard of Bockwurst.  ~rolls eyes~

So we wound up with pizza.  Desperation struck, I'm afraid.

Retro - but flipping gorgeous!
Regrettably, I think we're going to have to re-think Sunday's Beef Olives, too.  We weren't sure what cut of beef to get - and decided upon Sirloin - but the price for the quantity we're going to need - even downgrading the cut - is just prohibitive.

I'd quite like to do a pot roast of Brisket or maybe a Chicken, but done in the Slow Cooker.  I'm really not sure about that one yet, I will have to ponder it further - but I've got time for that.

So, what does the menu plan look like?  Why, like this ...

Tue : was Bockwurst & Kartoffelsalat, became pizza
Weds : Rissoles, baked Sweet Potatoes with chilli lime cream, plus peas.
Thurs : Hearty Pasta Soup and Soda Bread
Fri : Smoked Haddock & Fennel Tart with Greek salad
Sat : Chicken kebabs with salsa & greek yoghurt in pitta bread
Sun : Beef or Chicken with potatoes of some kind, broccoli, carrots & peas.
Mon : Meatballs and pasta.

Because the majority of the dishes are hubby's ideas, he is inevitably doing a fair amount of the cooking.  It is difficult to take an idea and not convert it to your view of "how it should be" as he will obviously have a picture in his mind of how he wants the dish to turn out.  As we don't have the technology to be able to download these pictures for public consumption, he's going to have to cook them!

How I imagine Rissoles to look
Case in point being tonight's Rissoles.  Now I can't ever remember eating a Rissole.  Not the kind of Rissoles that he has been speaking about - made with lamb or beef mince, coated in seasoned flour and fried.  For hubby, however, this is part of his childhood and not only does he have a picture in his head, but also the memory of a flavour - which I have neither.  I'm intrigued to find out about these Rissoles, having heard a fair amount about them over the years!

Because of their potential for being high fat, we've decided on having a baked sweet potato with the lovely chilli/lime cream dressing.  For all that it's sour cream based, I'm quite sure there's less fat involved than using a great dollop of butter - and with the green peas to accompany them, hopefully a balance will have been struck.

Picture c/o BBC Good Food website
The Hearty Pasta Soup is my choice and it is a BBC Good Food recipe that I've known about for (literally) years and have put on the menu a couple of times, but each time it's been bumped off and I've never got to make it.  So, I'm having another go.  I was hoping to be able to get some of the walnut & blue cheese tortelloni (which is double yum) to be included in the soup, but  - probably because I was after some - there was none in the shop.  I settled on a spicy sausage tortellini that I'm hoping will have some flavour.  So many of these filled pastas are just little knots of flavourless Plasticine, but I'm hoping that due to the "spicy" aspect these will be different.  I'm looking forward to it - and I will be making some soda bread rolls to eat with it.

Eggs, versus ...
Friday's Smoked Haddock and Fennel Tart is a concept that came about through exhaustive brainstorming one evening.  I do so enjoy making tarts and can't quite decide - in this instance - whether to go down the "eggy quiche" route with it, or deviate into a "white sauce" route.  I know both the fish and fennel will be happy in a thick white sauce that has the fish poaching milk used in it along with maybe some herb or another (possibly parsley & the ferny fronds from the top of the fennel) and perhaps a light sprinkling of cheddar over the top that will melt when baked in the oven (sounds gorgeous).  However, the eggy quiche route is a much more reliable route to the final product.  You know, I can feel an inexorable pull towards the white sauce going on.

....... white sauce?
I think (hope!) that it would be nice when paired with a Greek salad of large sliced tomatoes, cucumber, olives and red onion with a sprinkling of Feta cheese - but is that too much cheese for the fish?  Hmmn, possibly.  We might have to lose the Feta, if so!

Saturday's Chicken Kebabs is another brainchild of hubby's.  He's envisaging strips of chicken that have been marinaded in lemon, thyme & olive oil, laced onto skewers with alternating pieces of courgette, cherry tomatoes, mushroom, aubergine and possibly apple.  He's proposing to grill them (maybe in the char grill pan, I'm not sure) and then once done, release them into a pitta bread.  Slosh on some Greek yoghurt and some suitably tasty salsa and you're done.  Sounds pretty darned yummy, to me.

I touched on Sunday's dinner earlier - and since then I notice that our local butcher is doing whole chickens for around £2.50!  Even if they're tiny little things, for that price we could get two.  I'm contemplating having a crack at jointing the chicken(s), which is something I've never done but would be interested at having a go at.  I'm assuming it'd be easier with a smaller chicken and I know my "Big Knife" (as it's known) is man enough for the job, it just depends on whether I've got the oomph to push it through a chicken!

Monday's meatballs and pasta is going to be an interesting one.  Yes, I've been having a bit of a meatball fest just lately - but I spotted a bag of frozen meatballs in Asda the other day, for a very affordable £1.55 for 500g of cook from frozen.  Now my guess is that these are going to be parlous as best and inedible at worst, but they've just got to be tested.  They purport to be 80% beef and have an encouragingly short ingredients list that doesn't appear to contain anything that would make your eyebrows lift in horror.

I'll be making a lovely powerful tomato sauce (possibly with a little chilli) to put them in and we'll have some grated cheese to sprinkle over the pasta.  It's rather like having your favourite curry the first time you use a new Indian takeaway, just to test what they're like.  Before I try doing anything startling with them, let's try them with a bog-standard sauce and get their measure.  I'm sure you'll hear, whatever the results are!

Apart from that, I still have three types of packeted rice pudding to try out (we tried the chocolate one the other day) and report back on.

I am STILL intending on cooking the Dorset Apple Cake - and had better get cracking on it, because the Bramleys I bought for it are slowly getting older and older!

I've also entered a Watercress Soup competition - so I'll soon be trialling a few recipes before deciding on my potential competition winner.  It's a good job son & heir is out for 5 lunches out of 7, as he'd probably leave home if faced with successive bowls of watercress soup for lunch!

Something else that's going to require some thought is what to cook for National Pie Week!  I'm considering steak and kidney, at the moment.  I do love a good steak & kidney pie, but it needs to contain loads of lovely pieces of kidney as well as be in a luscious rich beefy gravy.  Goodness, I've just made my own mouth water!  It is just such a good job that you can't put weight on by just thinking about food - I hope.


27 February 2012

Tomato and Brie Tart - perfect for lunch, supper or picnics!

I have discovered that I really like making tarts.

Doesn't matter if it's a "slab of puff pastry" tart, or a "in a tart case" or a quiche - the end result is usually double-yummy and there's something immensely satisfying about pulling a gorgeous looking pastry confection out of the oven.

It's a different kind of satisfaction to making a pie, I find, as that "reveal" moment of cutting into a pie is always fraught with anxiety as to whether the filling is cooked, too thin, too thick or has just disappeared in the process.

When you've created a tart, the "reveal" moment is all to do with the flavour and if you've paired your filling ingredients up wisely, then you're almost guaranteed to succeed.

Wise pairing of ingredients is what it's all about with this Tomato & Brie Tart that I cropped from an old copy of Delicious! magazine.  The oven-baked cherry tomatoes are like small flavour bombs that are hidden within the subtly cheesey, creamy, eggy goodness of the tart's filling.  From the high pitched explosions of tomato flavour, to the supporting cast of the chives that give the tart filling another dimension, the delicate creaminess of the Brie is there, giving good honest earthiness and a hint of expensive exclusivity.

Mind you, this tart very nearly didn't happen - and for more than one reason.

Firstly, we had a great deal of deliberation in the supermarket over which cherry tomato to buy.  Needless to say, 300g of cherry tomatoes isn't all that easy to find when packs contain 250g and there aren't any loose versions around.  Then there was the price - from £1.20 through to £1.75, I wasn't keen on spending nearly £4 simply on tomatoes!

Eventually we settled on two punnets of baby plum tomatoes, only to find - once I opened the packs at home - that at least two in each punnet were literally furry with mould.  Gross!  Not to mention the waste of money.  Odd, too, that the furry ones were directly under the label and so couldn't be seen from the outside.

The next setback was the pastry.  I'd bought pre-rolled, ready made chilled pastry - but hadn't realised that what I had was a rectangular piece.  My flan dish (as are most flan dishes) is round - not rectangular.  So, having sat and contemplated my options, I did some surgery on the rectangle and after a bit of judicious sticking down, managed to create a tart case.  I was just crossing my fingers that I hadn't left any gaps anywhere for the egg mixture to escape, or I'd have no chance of getting the tart out of the dish!

The next catastrophe was the cream.  I'd had a large container of cream in the fridge for a few days - and so bought another smaller container, just in case.  Stupidly, I cracked the eggs into the bowl and then added the cream without remembering to taste it first and check that it was still good.  The "flop" as the cream cheese lump disappeared beneath the eggy waves, alerted me to the fact that the cream was a long way from good.

So those three eggs had to go down the plughole - with the rotten cream - and I had to start again.  The waste of three eggs hurt, let me tell you.

They say that bad things happen in threes - and that was my three things over with, thank goodness.

We ate the tart with an accompanying salad of salad leaves, more cherry tomatoes, celery and marinated small beetroot (honey & rosemary).  Delicious!

I had the leftovers for lunch the following day and can confirm that the tart was as good then as it had been warm.  The brie flavour had taken something of a back seat, being cold, but it was still very much there.  From which I deduce that the tart would be perfect picnic ammunition - and with the summer hoving into view through the mist-laden Dorset hills, I'll have to remember this one!

TOMATO & BRIE TART  (serves 4-5 and is suitable for vegetarians)

Ingredients :

Ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
300g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
100ml double cream
100ml milk
2 free range eggs, plus 1 yolk
4 tbsp snipped fresh chives
200g Brie cheese, diced small
a small handful of Cheddar cheese, grated, for sprinkling.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200degC (fan 180degC)/400degF/Gas 6.

2.  Line your tart tin or flan dish with the pastry and trim to size.  Scrumple up a piece of greaseproof or baking parchment, then open it out and place on top of the pastry.  You'll find it will fit more easily, having been scrumpled!  Pour baking beans or rice - or whatever you prefer to use - in on top and blind bake for 15 minutes.

3.  Remove the baking beans and leave to cool.

4.  While the pastry was cooking you can have been preparing the tomatoes by halving them and putting onto a baking tray.  Drizzle with olive oil and season.

5.  Then, once the pastry is done, place the tomatoes into the oven for 15 minutes.

6.  When the tomatoes are done, remove and allow to cool a little while you mix up the egg mixture.

7.  In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, milk, chives and seasoning, until combined.

8.  Place the tomatoes neatly into the pastry case, making sure they are evenly spread across it.

9.  Pour over the egg mixture and scatter over the brie cubes, then the handful of grated cheddar.

10.  Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes or until slightly risen, set and golden.

11.  Cool slightly before serving.


25 February 2012

Smoked Mackerel with Winter Couscous and ... a garlic mushroom?

Yes, the garlic mushroom was perhaps a step too far where this meal was concerned.

Still, although I wouldn't recommend the combination again, the garlic mushroom itself was just divine.  Hubby was the first to mention its being out of place beside the mackerel and couscous - which I couldn't comment upon because I'd eaten mine before I ate anything else.  It's been a while since we had those Portobello mushrooms in any dish, so oven baked with garlic butter meant it was a case of "hello old friend" and once I'd started, I found it impossible to stop.

I did see his point, however.  I suspect that being a mushroom-a-holic, just the idea of making the oven baked garlic mushroom was enough to convince me that it would fit nicely beside the other ingredients.  I had to have been suffering from mushroom blindness.  It's my only excuse, so I'm sticking to it.

Doesn't it look completely and utterly lush, though?  Ooooh yes.  I shall have to get some more and make them again for a weekend lunch, except this time slap them inside a crusty roll and make sure I'm wearing a bib to catch the juice as it drips down my chin.

I'll just be off for a bit of a lie down, I think.  Too much luscious mushroom imagery.

So, if possible, if we can forget about the mushroom involvement in this dish (~weeps~)?  The Winter Couscous, however, was completely brilliant and went beautifully with the rich smoked Mackerel.

Making the Winter Couscous is a breeze, so long as you've got a little bit of time beforehand and a kitchen door.  The door is necessary to be able to shut and so prevent your smoke alarm from going doo-lally as you chargrill the courgettes, peppers and red onion.  Having lots of windows (or another, back door) to open and so allow the smoke out and some air in, is another good idea.

I absolutely adore using my chargrill pan.  I always start off the process being a little bit scared of it, as it is cast iron and so gets utterly blindingly hot - including the handle.  I made the mistake of connecting with that handle once when we first got the thing - and I've been petrified of doing it again.   Making sure you've got an oven glove or tea towel to hand is a necessary I find.

The other thing that's a teensy bit skeery is that things tend to pop and crackle when cooking - particularly the red pepper.  Yes, I'm a big wimp and yes I did jump every time it popped or crackled, but once you get using the pan (and provided you remember to oil the food and not the pan) you find that it's not so scary after all.

I even began to feel quite professional, as I laid on the strips of courgette, then flipped them over and admired the chargrill stripes that appeared.  Almost the best part about the whole process is the smell, but then that's beaten into the proverbial cocked hat by the flavours.  Of course, it is completely necessary for you to taste a piece of each vegetable - after all, Chef Raymond Blanc insists upon it.  (I reckon he uses a chargrill pan a lot, from the sounds of things, then).

I left the veggies to cool on a plate for a couple of hours before cutting them into smaller pieces for inclusion in the couscous.  It's only a wonder there was anything left (particularly of the courgette - yum), after all that rigorous taste testing.

Once you've done that process, it's just a simple matter of slicing the ingredients and mixing up the combination.

I was intending on putting a dressing with the couscous, however, the olive oil I used when chargrilling the vegetables was obviously sufficient when combined with the vinegary salty capers and the juices from the cooked vegetables, so an additional dressing was superfluous.

I thank Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for my success with couscous.  If it wasn't for their Green Couscous recipe, I wouldn't have twigged to the intensity of flavours that's required to jazz up what is a really quite dreary carbohydrate.  So, I thank you, you two!

WINTER COUSCOUS    (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

A courgette, sliced into thin strips
a red pepper, diced into 1-2cm squares 
a red onion, cut into eight wedges
1-2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150-200g couscous
1 tsp Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock bouillon powder
150-200ml boiling water
8 or so cherry tomatoes, quartered
half a celery stick, de-ribbed and diced finely
two handfuls of watercress and rocket salad leaves, thick stems removed and chopped into manageable pieces
a tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped roughly
a tsp of fresh mint, chopped roughly
a tbsp of capers, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Place the courgette and red pepper into a bowl and add the olive oil and seasoning (to taste).  Toss the vegetables until you are happy that everything is coated with oil.

2.  In the meantime, the chargrill pan can have been heating up.  If you don't have a chargrill pan, I suggest you just plain old grill the veggies.  Lay the first instalment of veggies onto the chargrill pan and leave them there until they are showing discernable stripes, then flip them over and grill the other side.  You are looking for their being softened, but not totally cooked through, i.e. retaining some crunch.

3.  Place the vegetables onto a plate to cool and continue cooking until you've done the lot.

4.  Place the onion into the bowl and, if necessary, add a little more oil.  Toss to coat and repeat the cooking process, adding the onions to the plate when done.

5.  Cover the plate with cling film and leave to cool.

6.  Place the couscous into a bowl and sprinkle the bouillon powder over.

7.  Add the boiling water (which should just appear at the same level as the top of the couscous), make sure the bouillon powder has been accepted by the water and cover the bowl with cling film.  Leave for 10 minutes, then uncover and fork through to loosen the grains.

8.  In the meantime, you can be preparing the remainder of the vegetables and slicing the chargrilled veggies into smaller pieces, for inclusion with the couscous.

9.  Once the couscous has cooled, add the remainder of the ingredients (i.e. all the vegetables) to the bowl, season to taste and fork lightly to distribute evenly.

10.  Serve with smoked mackerel fillets.

I just had to tell you ...

Firstly, that I've been given an Award!

~ preen ~

Here it is (before my head gets too big!) ...

Thank you, Seren, for even considering me - let alone awarding it to me!  I'm very pleased and must apologise for not shouting it from the rooftops earlier.

I'm not really sure how versatile I am, here on the blog, as it's a bit of a singular theme.  Mind you, I suppose I've reviewed restaurants, tried out new products, baked, slow cooked, roasted, fried, boiled, steamed, stir-fried and casseroled my way into your consciousness - so maybe I do qualify, after all.

I must now bestow the award (pass it forward, if you like!) to a whole heap of other bloggers, who I consider to be versatile.  Well, that shouldn't be difficult!

1.  Someone who I like to think of as a friend, not only a co-blogger, is Karen of Lavender & Lovage.  Consider yourself awarded, Karen!

2.  This fellow has only recently begun his food blog, but is already showing all the signs of greatness - Jack Knight of The Knight of the Round Table.  He's utterly dedicated to food and recipes and has the biggest collection of family recipes of anyone I know.  If we all get after him, he might even put more of them on his blog!

3.  I'm a very new follower of the Menopausal Mother blog - but already I love it.  She always puts a smile on my face and has the distinction of being one of the few bloggers who has managed to have me laughing out loud at something she said.  Now that's talent!

4.  Then, there's the irrepressible Suzy at Sudden Lunch!  A woman after my own heart (except with more interesting things in her fridge), she concocts the most amazing lunches out of next to nothing (truly versatile!) and is just hugely inspiring.

5.  I just couldn't miss the adorable Marley from Marley & Lola's Border Terrier Life.  Even if you're not a doggie person, you can't help but admire Marley's verve and zest for life in the face of a recent health setback.  (His typist is obviously fairly dedicated, too!).  They're all on holiday at the moment, but they'll be back soon!

6.  Then there's my very long-standing and good friend Laura of Laura Cousins Music.  Get a little window into the life of a Community Musician and Music Therapist - her work is both fascinating and inspiring - and she has a lovely turn of phrase with it.

So there you have it.  Now all you lot have to do, is pass the love forward.  *grin*

Secondly, and before I go, just so that you can admire it too, here's the latest offering from the Artisan Bagel Baker, when he's taking a day off from baking Bagels ...

..... just how good does that loaf look?  Where's the butter dish and a knife?



24 February 2012

Hot and spicy pork steaks

As I had a whole packet of Scotch Bonnet peppers left over from the Trinidadian Prawn Curry, I was alert to anything that required a chilli pepper - and Spicy Pork Steaks were on the menu.

I'm now not quite so scared of the Scotch Bonnets.  Mine are only small, so it is easy not to over-chilli just by using a half.  I am terrible for doing the "I've cut this much off, so I'll use this much, even if it's too much", because I can't bear the idea of the waste.  Which is bizarre, because if a recipe says "half a chilli pepper", then (if it won't keep nicely and it's something small) I've no compunction in throwing the other half away.  I don't understand myself, sometimes.  In fact, in this incarnation, I could easily have used the other half of the Scotch Bonnet as it was hot and spicy, but on a scale of 1-10, registered at around a 4-5.

I love pork in all its different cuts.  I am not one of these people who are put off by the presence of fat in meat and can eat a degree of fat, i.e. on a pork chop, or in slow roasted belly of pork.  Unfortunately, (for me, that is!) both hubby and son are those sorts of people, so we don't get to have pork very often as all the cheaper cuts are laden with fat.

Every so often, though, I find a recipe that will do well with the pork steaks from our local butcher and I get to have a pork fix.  I usually cut the majority of the fat from the chaps' portions and leave the fat on mine - which helps with the overall flavour and gives me a little porky fat moment.

So, when I made the Spiced Chicken Legs by Galton Blackiston recently, it occurred to me that the recipe would potentially be good with pork.  So I gave it a whirl, this week.

Regrettably, I had used up all the fresh coriander in the Trinidadian Prawn Curry (forgetting I'd need some for the pork dish), so had to think a little bit sideways.

I used Galton's recipe as a base and differed from it in that I substituted half a Scotch Bonnet pepper for the large red chillies, used orange juice because we'd run out of apple juice (that'll be the Tequila Cocktails that did that!) and included two tablespoonfuls of honey instead of the coriander.

I debated adding a little vinegar and going down the sweet and sour route, but the marinade was all getting a little bit too liquid by then (I should have reduced the amount of orange juice) so opted not to.

However, what turned out was really very nice indeed.

The marinade was certainly hot - no doubt about the Scotch Bonnet in there! - but perfectly acceptable and in the oven, had reduced down to a sticky glaze that coated the pork steaks.  When I do this one again (and there will be another time!) I will turn the steaks part way through cooking and baste them with the marinade, to take advantage of its stickiness.

The edges of the pork steaks had caramelised beautifully in the oven too, which gave a lovely flavour to both the marinade and the pork - my favourite bits!

I served the steaks with baked jacket sweet potatoes (and an ordinary potato for son & heir, who has decided he's not keen on sweet potatoes) which had a lime & chilli sour cream dressing, (made by including a finely chopped sweet red chilli & zest of half a lime plus some salt & pepper into a pot of sour cream, so couldn't be easier!) plus some garden peas.  Yummy!


Ingredients :

6 pork steaks
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper, minus seeds (or 2 red chilli peppers)
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
100ml orange juice
2 tbsp runny honey
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the tomato ketchup, garlic, chilli, Worcestershire sauce, orange juice and honey, to make the marinade.

2.  Dunk in the pork steaks and leave to marinade for as long as possible - at least an hour.

3.  Pre-heat your oven to 200deg C/400deg F/Gas 6.

4.  Fish out each pork steak and lay them into a baking dish.  Cover with the remains of the marinade, making sure that each steak is liberally coated.

5.  Roast for around 25-35 minutes, until the pork is tender, the marinade has turned sticky and the corners of the steaks have begun to caramelise.  It may well be worth turning the steaks and re-coating with the marinade part way through the cooking.

6.  Serve.


23 February 2012

Eating on car journeys - Guest Post!

Here's my first true Guest post, from Gargi Shastri at the Sainsburys Money Matters blog.

How to eat healthily on family car journeys

Taking the right snacks on a car journey can make the trip more enjoyable for the whole family. Read on for tips about healthy versus fatty and sugary snacks, how to keep the car tidy and other things to consider when preparing for an enjoyable ‘picnic on the road’.

What to eat

Cereal bars and dry fruits are often a healthier alternative to sweets and chocolate, which can make children overexcited. Fresh fruit such as bananas and grapes as well as cheese slices, oat cakes, crackers and light yogurt are all options to pack for the journey. If you’re worried about a messy car, it makes sense to avoid dips or food that can easily leave crumbs. For example, pitta pockets and tortilla wraps might not be as messy as sandwiches.

What to drink

There’s always the temptation to stock up on fizzy drinks but, with a little preparation, you could avoid this. Water could be the healthiest drink for your family and it won’t stain your car seats if it’s spilled, so it might be worth putting some water bottles in the fridge the night before the journey.

How much food to bring

It’s surprising how much we can eat when we’re travelling in the car. For long journeys, it makes sense to pack enough to keep the whole family going. You could make up small packets of healthy snacks - such as carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, olives and dry fruits - that everyone can munch on throughout the journey. But do make sure that you have plenty of main food items, like sandwiches, as well.

Where to eat

If you think you’ll be passing through a scenic area and have time to spare, why not stop for a proper picnic? Make sure you have enough paper plates, cutlery and plastic bags to put all the rubbish in. Of course, if you’re in a rush, the passengers can eat on the go.

Keeping the car tidy

You could try packing all the food and drink into easy-access holdalls so they can be moved around easily. Be sure to secure all the bags properly so there are no loose items which could fly around in the car if there’s a sudden halt. You can also keep the mess in check by having designated plastic bags to put all the rubbish in.

Safety advice for drivers

  • The AA advises drivers to avoid heavy meals before a drive, as this can lead to driver fatigue.
  • The law also advises against eating and drinking behind the wheel, as this can lead to driver distraction. It is a better idea for the driver to pull over safely before eating or drinking.
Having plenty of healthy snacks and drinks for the family can make a car journey more comfortable. Choosing the right car insurance cover for your needs will also help to put your mind at ease.

Thanks Gargi!  Mind you, I've got to say that I - for one - would never give a child a pitta pocket or a wrap to eat in the car, but then maybe my experience of the contents going absolutely everywhere isn't everyone's! Gargi writes on a range of topics including car insurance, car safety and other motoring topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys yoga and cooking Indian food - I'll have to see if she'd like to write a recipe for us!


Tequila cocktails - oh, the fun we had!

Cactus Cooler on the left, Desert Apple on the right
I was looking at the Recipe Index page on the blog here and thinking to myself that the Moscato Love was looking fairly lonely, there all on its own under the heading of "Drinks".  

So, following some ponderment, I mentioned it to hubby.

There then ensued a bit of a brain storm.  Now we often find that moments of enforced idleness (such as when waiting to collect son & heir - a case in point) can be filled with running ideas up flagpoles, taking concepts on board and generally doing some blue sky thinking.  Or "getting very hungry whilst talking food", as it's known in our house.  The only difference was, on this day we were talking about cocktails - and Tequila cocktails, as it turned out.

Now I am such an innocent were alcohol is concerned.  I'm definitely not a Lambrusco girl - I do draw the line at that - but I like what I like and that's pretty much that.  Having said that, however, my tastes have changed in latter years and I can now cope with a greater number of different types of alcohol than ever before.  (Which is amazing, considering I went through my twenties drinking orange juice and lemonade, while everyone around me got sloshed).

I could vaguely remember trying a Tequila way, way before they were fashionable - and liking it.  Of course, I don't remember which Tequila drink (it would have to have been involving a mixer of some sort - I just don't do neat alcohol), but it was a start.

So having settled upon Tequila, the first thing that struck me as a perfect accompaniment, was the Tymbark Cactus Juice that is my current fruit juice passion.  Available from some branches of Asda and your local Polish Grocery store, it is alarmingly green, made from Prickly Pear, Lime and Apple juice, is completely gorgeous and really refreshing.  Tequila being cactus based, (the Blue Agave, apparently), it just made sense.

Next up, was an idea for an apple juice/Tequila mix.  However, not just any apple juice, it had to be a cloudy, fairly tart, apple juice - and one which would stand up well against the Tequila.

Well, these two ideas were taking shape.  Next thing on the list was to find some Tequila!

It seems that there are two readily available types of Tequila, the Silver or twice distilled younger variety and the Gold, aged variety.  Of course, there are many more - but these two appear to be available just about everywhere.  We settled on some "Sierra" Tequila, which I have no idea whether it's a good, bad or indifferent one - but it's the one we used.

It seemed to hubby and I that, if you're considering making a cocktail, then you don't really want to go with the aged variety for fear of knocking out some of the more complex flavours.  So that is why we settled on the Silver.

Having got the Tequila, we were curious to find out whether we a) liked the stuff and b) liked the stuff enough to want to create cocktails with it.  Not being ones to wait when you can be getting on with something, I found myself sampling a teensy tiny Tequila & Cactus Juice, at 11 am.  Now I can quite categorically say that you can keep your neat Tequila - bleah! - but with Cactus Juice?  Oooh, now you're talking!

So, last night, we had a concerted effort at blending and developing the "Cactus Cooler" and the "Desert Apple".

My favourite, not surprisingly, is the "Cactus Cooler".  With its ice, cactus juice, lime, and mint, it has an interesting effect!  The initial flavour is the sweetness and greenness of the cactus juice, swiftly followed by the sharp hit of lime and the coolness of the mint leaves - each flavour being quite distinct.  Then, comes the spreading warmth of the Tequila as it registers a slight sourness which transforms into a comforting glow - all ready for the next cooling sip.  Goodness me, but I could drink really quite a lot of this.

Hubby preferred the "Desert Apple".  A mixture of Silver Tequila and Copella Apple Juice with Elderflower, it is elegant in its simplicity.  The Copella Apple & Elderflower Juice is particular to this cocktail as Copella has the dry element of a fresh crisp apple and is not cloyingly sweet like many apple juices.  The "Desert Apple" delivers an instant sharp zing of Tequila on the front of your tongue before the apple juice floods your mouth with a dry sweetness.  Next comes the high floral note of the elderflower.   The whole thing is ice cold and dangerously swiggable - and you get to eat the lime washed apple slice at the end.

I'm quite coming around to this developing cocktails idea.  We should do more of it!

By the way, if you're curious about how we achieved the exotic background - look here.


In a tall glass, combine the Tequila and cactus juice, in the ratio of 1 to 5 (the 1 being the tequila!) until the glass is three quarters full.

Layer a mint leaf and then an ice cube, repeating until the glass is almost full.

Twizzle the cocktail to mix and garnish with a slice of fresh lime.


In a tall glass, combine the Tequila and the apple juice in the ratio of 1 to 5 (see above!) until the glass is three quarters full.

Add ice to top the glass off and give the whole thing a twizzle.

Take a good sized slice of apple and rub a cut lime over the flesh to prevent it from browning.  Use this to garnish the glass.

Try not to drink it too quickly!

Note : the 1 to 5 ratio of Tequila to fruit juice was our preference but of course you may prefer more or less tequila flavour.  We recommend that you experiment at length to discover your perfect mix!


How we did the Tequila Cocktail pictures :)

Well, we got into a right old pickle, to begin with.  We had Mexican pattern shirts, sunglasses, towels and sun cream flying around the living room, trying in vain to create a "holiday" feel.

Then, rather disconsolately, we went for a "classic" feel with just a polished wood background - which although classy, didn't say "fun" in the least.

Then hubby had a flash of inspiration and reached for his laptop - but the screen was too small to include the drinks glasses.  We were just about to abandon that idea, when I remembered that the laptop could be plugged into the t.v.

So this is how we did it :

The camera was balanced on top of a pile of C.D.'s, which was in turn on a pile of Playstation games, which was in turn on top of hubby's laptop table.

The drinks were sat on my occasional table - which has an adjustable height - in front of the t.v.

Brilliant.  :)

Trinidadian Prawn Curry - some like it hot!

At last!  I put the Trinidadian Prawn Curry on the menu list - and actually got to make it.

Having done so, all I can say is "wow!".  "Some like it hot" is about right - this stuff is almost dangerous, it's that hot.  I know my hubby will be saying to himself "well it wasn't THAT bad - I could have gone a bit hotter", but for me it was right on the edge of being too hot (spicy hot, that is!).  Having had a little taste of the final product just before serving, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had melted the plastic serving spoon.

Mind you, having said that, it wasn't an aggressive heat.  The chilli effect (a combination of ginger, black pepper, medium curry powder and Scotch Bonnet pepper) was certainly well rounded and didn't immediately grab you by the back of the throat and threaten to throttle you.  It developed in your mouth and those different sources of flavour seemed to affect different taste buds.  I thoroughly enjoyed it (as did everyone - including son & heir) even though I had to bail out slightly before I'd finished.  Son & heir was quite happy to take care of any leftovers I might have had, so nothing got wasted!

This was the first time I'd used a Scotch Bonnet pepper in anything and, if I'm honest, I was a little bit scared of it.   Mind you - get this - when I opened the cellophane wrapper, there inside, happily marching around taking bites out of my peppers, was a caterpillar!  Kudos to you, little caterpillar, you must have cast iron insides!  He's now marching around inside a bin bag, feasting upon veggie peelings and probably considering ordering a takeaway, just to get some spice.

I was alert to the warnings about getting Scotch Bonnet all over my fingers, then not rubbing my eyes, so I used a couple of freezer bags over my left hand while the right hand did the chopping.  A wise precaution, I think, as I don't own any rubber gloves.  As with all chillies, I did my usual "tongue test" in that I cut a tiny piece off and just touch it to my tongue to test the heat of the chilli.  I find it's always worth knowing, so that you can judge how much (or how little) to use.  I was surprised to find that (because these Scotch Bonnets aren't terribly juicy - I don't know if that's true of all of them) my tongue didn't immediately burst into flames, so I used the prescribed half a pepper, minus seeds.

One thing that peeved me about the original recipe (which can be found here and is by Gary Rhodes and Fazil Bacchus), is that the quantities of ingredients given for the "Spice Paste" or "Green Seasoning mix", makes twice the amount required for the dish.  Now that's okay if you are planning on having a similar thing again tomorrow, but I wasn't - and wound up throwing away half the paste.  I do think that mention of this should have been made in the recipe, as it was a terrible waste of ingredients - and money!  I gather that I could have frozen half the spice paste and it would apparently have survived to fight again another day.  However, I've not had much luck in doing that in the past and didn't much fancy setting out to make it again only to find that the spice paste has deteriorated in the freezer and (of course) I wouldn't have any replacements.  So, for me, that was intensely annoying.  For that reason, I've halved the ingredients in the recipe detailed below.

Having assembled the spice paste and incorporated it with the prawns, I looked at what was left to prepare and, for the life of me, couldn't really see how it was going to turn into a curry.  It was at this point that I began to worry - but if you're making it, nil desperandum!  The process is so quick and so simple that it's almost like watching magic unfold before your eyes.  The end result isn't (of course) much like an Indian Curry as we know them, but it is a curry all the same - just with a different texture, a looser sauce but amazing and complex layers of flavour.

My only error with this curry was to use poor prawns.  Not prawns with holes in their shoes, you understand, but peeled, cooked, small prawns.  I can see that it would be far, far nicer with an arm and a leg's worth of juicy, raw Tiger or King prawns.  My little prawns - even though the cooking process was so quick, suffered for having been cooked a little too long and weren't exactly rubbery but were headed that way.

Still, I'd be very curious to see how this spice mix translated to a chicken curry - and may very well investigate that next.

So, in essence, I can't recommend this curry highly enough.  Just so long as you can cope with a hot chilli experience - and don't try to tamp down the chilli, it just isn't worth it as this curry is meant to be hot - and you can afford the prawns, go for it!  You'll be glad you did.


Ingredients :

For the spice mix :
1 tsp ginger, chopped finely or grated (I used a ginger paste)
a medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
half a red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 large sprig fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 small stick celery, chopped
10ml white wine vinegar
pinch ground black pepper.

For the curry :
1-2 tbsp medium curry powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g shelled prawns (I used 300g frozen North Atlantic Prawns, which wasn't a good idea)
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
half a small celery stick, chopped finely
half a Scotch Bonnet pepper, seeds removed and chopped finely.

Method :

1.  First thing to do is to make the spice mix.  So, into a food processor, place the ginger, onions, garlic, red pepper, coriander, thyme, parsley, celery and vinegar.  Blend until smooth.

2.  Place the prawns into a large bowl and add the spice mix.  Stir to combine and leave to marinate for 30 minutes or so.

3.  Blend the curry powder with around 125ml of water - enough to make a slack paste.

4.  Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan over a medium heat and fry the curry paste for around a minute, stirring all the time to ensure it doesn't burn.

5.  Add the prawn mixture to the pan and cook for around 3-4 minutes until the prawns are changing colour and the spice mixture has softened.

6.  If necessary (I didn't need to), add enough water to make the sauce and continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes until the prawns are cooked and tender.

7.  At the last minute, stir in the coriander, celery and chilli.

8.  Serve with some kind of flatbread (roti or chapati) and steamed rice.


22 February 2012

Baked Turkey & Carrot Meatballs with Garlic Roast Potatoes

I seem to be having a bit of a meatball moment, right now.

I suppose, thinking about it for a moment or two, it is because (it seems) that whatever appears in meatball shape, son & heir will eat without demur.  Quite apart from that being good for his health, it is also good for ours - as not having a sulky teenager picking disconsolately at his food, means that we can relax and enjoy our meal.

I note that I've got a meatball recipe coming up in the next week, too - so I'll have to back off on them a wee bit, or we'll all be suffering with meatball exhaustion soon.

This meatball recipe, however, was a bit different in that a) the meatballs contain grated carrot (see health comment, above) and b) they are cooked in the oven.

I was a tiny bit dubious as to the success of this recipe because of those two points and in the knowledge that I'd have to pep up the tomato sauce, to make it flavoursome enough to satisfy the family's taste buds.  The original recipe stated to just cover the meatballs with a tin of tomatoes and that was it.  I couldn't see how that would equate to a "tomato sauce" - it certainly didn't in my opinion!  Now ordinarily, I'd fry off meatballs before making the sauce - then dunk the meatballs back in and the whole thing would be done on the hob.

With this recipe (the original of which can be found here on the BBC Good Food website and is created by Lucy Netherton), the meatballs are rolled, then placed into a baking tray and baked, then the tomatoes are added to the tray with some Parmesan cheese, baked a little more and served.  Now I like this kind of dish.  Cooking it in the oven in this way is fairly easy on the cook in that you don't need to stand (sit, in my case) over the cooker, watching and stirring.  Instead I can spend some time doing the dishes (and reduce the amount that will need doing after the meal) or tidying up the kitchen (which often falls to hubby to do), or just plain go and have a sit down for 20 minutes or so.  So I was intrigued to discover how the meatballs would fare, cooked in this way.

The other point is that, as you've got the oven on anyway, you might as well make the most of it and cook some of the accompaniments that way.  Hence the Garlic Roast Potatoes.  (I also included a lost and lonely parsnip.  Well, it gave it a job to do!).  These potatoes are billed as "crispy potatoes", but I fail to see how potatoes can get crispy, when you've got a pot of bubbling tomatoes in the same oven, which is filling it with steam.  Mine certainly didn't.  However, they were very tasty - and very moreish.

I used the Jelly potatoes that Greenvale Farmfresh had sent and very delicious they were, too.  I am sure they would have crisped up, had it not have been for the steamy tomatoes, as they were demonstrating a degree of crispness, even so.  The flavour of the potato stood up remarkably well to being mixed with the garlic and rosemary - both of which are very strong flavours that could easily have swamped out the natural potato.  I'll definitely be looking for these spuds again in future.  I just hope that they manage to get them into Asda supermarkets, as I hate our local Tesco!

Anyway, getting back to the meatballs - in order to pep up the tomato sauce, before mixing with the meatballs, I tipped the tomatoes into a bowl and added some tomato ketchup, a splosh of mushroom ketchup, a pinch of dried parsley, some salt & pepper and a teaspoon of paprika and gave it all a good mix.  It certainly did the trick, as the tomato sauce was rich, tasty and did a good job replacing gravy where the vegetables were concerned.  As a side point, the colour - enhanced by the paprika, no doubt - particularly, the red of the sauce against the green of the broccoli, was amazing!

This meal was quite ridiculously healthy and exceptionally low in fat.  Any fat that might come from the Turkey is drained off prior to adding the tomatoes, so really the only fat you are ingesting is coming from the tablespoonful of olive oil used to cook the potatoes.  Dividing that between three people and whatever was left on the baking tray, amounts to not a lot of fat!

The best bit of all, though, was that it was a tasty and satisfying meal.  So many of these extraordinarily healthy dinners are just that - but don't last.  Within an hour or so you're beginning to wonder what to put on some toast - and that's not the idea at all.

Everyone enjoyed this meal - and I'll bet not one of my chaps realised that there was a grated carrot in those meatballs.


Ingredients :

1 onion, grated
1 large carrot, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped finely
450g turkey mince
4 large potatoes, skin on and cut into small cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
400g can cherry or chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp mushroom ketchup (or Worcestershire Sauce)
a pinch of dried parsley
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp grated Parmesan.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat oven to 220degC (200degC fan)/425deg F/Gas 7.

2.  In a large bowl, combine the onion, carrot, half the garlic, half the rosemary, some seasoning and the turkey mince.  Give everything a good squidge around until it is evenly mixed.

3.  Shape into 15 meatballs and place into a deep sided baking tray or oven proof dish.

4.  In another bowl, toss the potato pieces with the remaining garlic, rosemary, more seasoning and the oil.  Turn them out onto a shallow sided baking tray and give it a little shake to settle everything and ensure every little spud has a space around it.

5.  Place both trays into the oven - potatoes on top, meatballs underneath - for 20 minutes.

6.  In the meantime, you can prepare the tomato sauce by taking another bowl (I used one bowl and just washed it up in between times!) and adding to it the tomatoes, tomato ketchup, mushroom ketchup, parsley, seasoning and paprika.  Give everything a good mix to ensure it's combined.  If you can cope with cold tinned tomatoes, you can taste to check the seasoning.

7.  At the end of the 20 minutes, remove the meatballs and drain the juices into the nearest dog's bowl.  Add the tomato sauce mixture and turn the meatballs in it, to ensure everything is evenly coated.

8.  Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and replace into the oven to continue baking for another 20 minutes.

9.  Turn the potatoes, to ensure even baking, and replace for the prescribed 20 minutes.

10.  What you are aiming for, is lovely browned and (hopefully) crispy roast potatoes, and to have the tomato sauce bubbling well in the meatball tray.

11.  Serve with some steamed broccoli, as a good combination and for awesome colour.

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