Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mocha Banana Smoothie and Food Blogger Connect 2011

Every year food bloggers and writers from all over Europe and beyond have the opportunity to attend Food Blogger Connect, which is the largest food blogging conference in Europe and gives like-minded bloggers the chance to meet and listen to a number of high-profile guest speakers. This year the conference is being held in London on the 11th to 13th August and of course I would love to go but sadly I don't have the funds to take me there.

Luckily though, I might still be in with a chance of going as Cuisinart, one of the sponsors of FBC11, have launched a competition that will enable the two lucky winners to get free entry to the full weekend conference, including an opportunity to participate in the cooking demonstration with Celebrity Chef Anjum Anand.

Sounds good to me!

All I have to do is post a smoothie recipe of my own making or from any recipe provided by Cuisinart or Anjum Anand's books.

My recipe was inspired by a desert I used to have when I was little - ice cream mixed with Camp Coffee Essence. I love the sweet coffee flavour it lends to anything you add it to and it tastes great mixed up with bananas, ice cream and a little bit of dark chocolate.

Mocha Banana Smoothie

2 bananas
2-3 scoops of vanilla ice cream
1 tablepoon Camp Coffee Essence
1 tablespoon finely grated dark chocolate plus extra for sprinkling
a splash of milk
whipped cream for decoration

1) Pile everything bar the cream into a blender and whizz until combined.

2) Serve in a tall glass and top with cream and a sprinkling of grated chocolate.

Serves 1

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ricotta and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

Does anyone still use sun-dried tomatoes? You hardly ever see them in recipes these days and the once-popular deli counter staple seems to have been almost entirely eclipsed by the sun-blush or semi-dried tomato (which I love by the way). I've had a jar of the sun-dried version sitting in my cupboard for ages and I finally got round to digging it out a few days ago to make this, one of my favourite pasta salad recipes. I haven't made this for ages but now I've been reminded how good it is I think it's going to be my staple BBQ pasta salad recipe for the rest of the summer.

As you can see below the amounts used are not set in stone and can be adjusted to suit your own tastes. I love this when it's freshly made and the pasta is still warm however it still tastes great the next day and any leftovers are perfect for lunch boxes.

Ricotta & Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

Approx 400g/14oz pasta
250g tub ricotta cheese
7-10 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped or snipped with scissors
grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

1) Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the pack instructions

2) When cooked, drain the pasta and tip into a large bowl. Mix in the ricotta until the pasta is well covered then stir in the sun-dried tomatoes. Add parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

Serves anything from 2 to 6 or 8, depending on greed and portion sizes

Monday, 27 June 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 27 June 2011

I've decided this week to try out the Sainsburys Feed Your Family for £50 plan. You might have seen the adverts or read about it on their website - apparently the plan provides meal ideas for 3 meals a day, for four people, for 7 days and all for a cost of just £50. Hmmm. Considering I usually spend double this and then some this seemed like quite a challenge but we're all trying to save money these days so I thought it would be interesting to give it a try. Not surprisingly, cutting the budget this much will involve some compromises so many of the products on the shopping list are from the Sainsburys economy range and there's nothing of the free range or organic variety. I usually aim for the mid-range products rather than the economy lines so it will be interesting to see if I notice a difference.

As the menu is not aimed at small children and because there are a few items I'm not willing to cut out altogether I've actually decided to try and keep to a budget of £60 and to only make changes or additions to the plan using things I already have in the house.

You can find full details of the plan on the Sainsburys website here. I'll try and report back with the results over the next week or so.

So here's my menu for the next week and a bit. I get my shopping delivered on Tuesdays so my week using the plan will run from Wednesday to the following Tuesday.

Monday - Baked Aubergines with Potato Wedges

Tuesday - Pork Chops with Veg

Thursday - Chicken Risotto (Sainsburys recipe)

Friday - Burgers & Potato Wedges (Sainsburys recipe)

Saturday - Out

Sunday - Cheesy Bolognese Bake (Sainsburys recipe)

Monday - Sausages with Potato Wedges and Creamy Greens (Sainsburys recipe)

Tuesday - Salmon Fishcakes with Salad or Veg (Sainsburys recipe)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Date Bars

Wow, these were a surprising hit. If there was an award for Best Use for an Old Bag of Dried Dates this recipe would be a winner for sure. Recipes using dried fruit don't always generate a great deal of enthusiasm for me but these little lovelies defied all my preconceptions and were so much nicer that I was expecting. Cooking the dates reduces them to a sweet, sticky, almost toffee-like goo which is then surrounded by the buttery, crumbly base and topping. They remind me of fig rolls in a way but sooo much nicer!

Date Bars
(adapted from Bake by Rachel Allen)

250ml/9 fl oz water
200g/7 oz dates (stoned weight), chopped
175g/6 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g/6oz soft light brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar with no trouble)
100g/3 1/2 oz porridge oats
good pinch of salt
175g/6 oz butter, diced

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8 inch) cake tin.

2) Place the water and chopped dates in a medium-sized saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, uncovered, on a low-medium heat until the date mixture is very soft and thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

3) Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the sugar, oats and salt and mix well. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, rub it in until moist clumps form.

4) Press half of the oat mixture evenly over the base of the prepared tin. Spread the cooked date mixture over this, then sprinkle with the remaining oat mixture. Press gently with the palm of your hand to flatten it on top.

5) Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown at the edges and set in the centre.

6) Allow to cool completely in the tin, then cut into bars and serve.

Makes about 16 bars

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Hotel Chocolat - The Summer Desserts H-Box Selection

Hotel Chocolat contacted me recently to tell me about their new Birthday Gifts Collection - a tempting array of chocolatey goodies packaged in a variety of ways and suitable for a range of budgets.

From this little Happy Birthday Message Box..... the guaranteed-brownie-points-earning Summer Picnic Hamper....

...and lots more in between.

Also included in the range are a number of Hotel Chocolat's H-Box Selections, which I'm already a fan of, so I was especially happy when they sent me their Summer Desserts selection to test, taste and review.

This box contains thirteen chocolates all inspired by classic desserts, and at 11 pounds is, I think, reasonably priced. For your money, you get one or two of each of the following:

Eton Mess - Very creamy with a mild hint of strawberry

Coconut Bombe - Smooth and chocolatey with a coconut flavour that wasn't overpowering

Summer Pudding - Very smooth and fruity, I could really taste the raspberries in this one

Chocolate Brownie - A delicious combination of chocolate and praline

Red Berry Mousse - Nice gentle fruity flavours

Chocolate Mousse - Very dark and rich - one for the dark chocolate lovers

Neapolitan - Somehow they managed to capture that slightly fake-but-in-a-good-way strawberry flavour you get in neapolitan ice cream - lovely

Lemon & Passion Fruit Tart - This had a lovely lemony flavour, however I wasn't so keen on the layer of dark chocolate hidden underneath.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed sampling this selection and would happily recommend them as a present for chocolate-loving friends or family.

Thanks to Hotel Chocolat for sending me this sample to review.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Meal Planning Mondays - 14th June 2011

Oops, I know this was supposed to be yesterday (the clue is in the title!) but I just didn't quite manage to get down to the task. Yesterday's dinner was a bit of a hurried affair anyway and not worth mentioning however from today onwards it gets a bit more interesting.

So here's my menu for the rest of the week...

Tuesday - Pomegranate Marinated Chicken and Couscous (but without the aubergine in the recipe)

Friday - Pasta with Spicy Sausage Sauce

Saturday - Lasagne

Sunday - Roast Chicken

Nothing new on the savoury front this week however I'm hoping to try out some new strawberry recipes as we head towards the peak of the season.

As always, if you're planning to cook something exciting this week feel free to leave a comment here or on Mrs M's website, At Home with Mrs M, the original home of Meal Planning Mondays.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lamb Biryani with Cumin, Mint and Coriander Yoghurt

No Meal Planning Monday for me this week as I'm off on holiday on Thursday and the rest of the week is very much unplanned at the moment! Instead, though, I'll tell you about the Lamb Biryani that appeared on my meal plan a couple of weeks ago.

This recipe comes from Bill Grainger's book, Every Day, which I like more and more as I try new recipes from it. It has a great variety of recipes, most of which are very fresh and healthy, which are great for weeknight dinners or for serving to friends and family.

This is a lovely, gently spiced rice dish that was very easy to assemble. Once you've done the initial browning and frying it will look after itself in the oven while you get on with something else. I halved the recipe and this was about right for two of us, however you could stretch it to three if you served some naan bread on the side.

I nearly didn't make the spiced yoghurt but I'm glad I did as it was a lovely accompaniment to the curry and was no trouble to assemble. I'm not too keen on using whole chillies so I substituted it for a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes which added just enough background warmth for me.

Lamb Biryani
(adapted from Every Day by Bill Grainger)

1kg/2 lb 4oz boneless lamb leg, trimmed and diced
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
300g/10 1/2 oz basmati rice
750ml/26 fl oz chicken stock
small handful fresh coriander leaves

1) Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6. Put the lamb in a large bowl with the garam masal, cumin and turmeric and toss to coat the lamb in the spices.

2) Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a flameproof casserole over a medium heat, and the lamb in batches and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until browned all over, adding a little more oil if necessary. Remove and set aside.

3) Add the remaining oil, onion, garlic and ginger to the casserole and cook over a medium heat until the onion is soft and pale golden. Add the rice, stir together and cook for 2 minutes.

4) Return the lamb to the casserole in a single layer and carefully pour over the stock. Put the lid on the casserole and put in the oven. Cook for 35-45 minutes or until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the liquid. Top with coriander leaves before serving.

Serves 4-6

Cumin, mint and coriander yoghurt
(as above)

300ml natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
2cm/1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 long green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
lightly toasted cumin seeds

Serves 4-6

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Fairy Cakes

Why don't I make fairy cakes more often? And I don't mean enormous cupcakes, or anything involving a piping bag. Just dinky little fairy cakes with a bit of glace icing on the top and scattered with sweets or sprinkles. They are so easy and quick to make and taste fabulous, yet somehow I only end up making them for birthdays and children's parties.

I decided to rectify that today though by making a huge batch to take to work tomorrow. This was inspired in part by the cupcake party my daughter recently had for her birthday (run by The Suffolk Cupcake Company, who did a fab job) as the lovely lady hosting it left me all the unfinished tubs of sprinkles and I've been waiting for an excuse to use them.

Here's the recipe I used...

Fairy Cakes

2 eggs
4 oz self-raising flour
4 oz sugar
4 oz butter or margarine
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsps milk

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Line a bun tin with cake cases (I use the smaller fairy cake cases for this recipe)

2) Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3) Add the eggs and beat in thoroughly. Don't worry if it curdles a little.

4) Add the flour, vanilla and milk until you have a mixture with a soft, dropping consistency.

5) Spoon into cases and bake for 12-15 minutes until the cakes spring bake when lightly pressed.

Makes about 18 cakes.

For the icing you just need to follow the instructions on the back of the icing sugar packet. Don't hold back on the quantities though - the more the better in my opinion. Then add any colour you like and use any decorations that take your fancy.

Go forth and bake!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Spaghetti with 5-minute tomato sauce

This is a delicious pasta recipe that's just perfect for this time of year when you want something a bit fresher and lighter than a heavy pasta bake. The lovely summery flavour comes from the fresh tomatoes so it's definitely worth trying to make the most of the British varieties as they arrive in the shops over the next few weeks. The soft tomatoes are complimented by the hint of garlic and salty pancetta in the background and the whole dish is finished off perfectly by the bright, tangy goats cheese.

I should say that the title, "5-minute tomato sauce" is a little misleading as it doesn't account for the fairly lengthy and messy process of skinning, deseeding and chopping the tomatoes. It's a bit of a chore but definitely worth the effort and when done you are just minutes away from putting your feet up with a delicious dinner.

Spaghetti with 5-minute tomato sauce
(adapted from Good Food Magazine, September 2005)

5 large ripe tomatoes
140g/5oz spaghetti (This never seems like much for two so I use 6oz)
3 tbsp olive oil
100g/4oz diced bacon or lardons (the little plastic tubs of pancetta work really well)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
50-85g/2-3oz soft fresh rindless goat's cheese
handful basil and/or snipped chives

1) Pour boiling water over the tomatoes to cover, leave for 1 minute, then drain and slip off the skins. Quarter and seed the tomatoes, then chop the flesh.

2) Bring a large pan of salter water to the boil, add the spaghetti and give it a stir. Cook as per the instructions on the packet.

3) Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and fry until starting to crisp up. Add the garlic, tomatoes, the rest of the oil and pepper and salt if using. Heat through for 1-2 minutes until just simmering.

4) Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan, tossing in the sauce until lightly coated. Divide between two warm soup plates, crumble over the cheese and scatter over the herbs. Serve with crusty bread and a glass of red wine.

Serves 2