Monday, 28 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 28 January 2013

I'm so pleased the snow has gone now - amazingly it just suddenly vanished overnight when we had some rain. The weather's not exactly fantastic now but it's nice to see some colour again after living in a brown and white world for a week or so.

Anyway, that's enough talking about the weather. I have to say I found last week's menu a bit boring as I was either using up jars of sauce from the cupboard or cooking things I'd made several times before. So this week I've set myself the challenge of only putting things on the menu that I've never made before! And yes, I'm ashamed to say that does include roast beef. 

Monday - Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

Tuesday - Brocolli & Blue Cheese Soup with home-made bread

Wednesday - Spicy Bean Burgers with Sweetcorn Couscous

Thursday - Tarragon Pork Steaks with a Creamy Mushroom sauce

Friday - Out!

Saturday - Mr HaPoC is cooking for his Mum's birthday - lamb chops with a trifle for pudding

Sunday - Roast Beef with all the trimming

If you would like to submit your own meal plan or find some more inspiration then have a look at Mrs M's blog, At Home with Mrs M, and add your own link.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hotel Chocolat Open Your Heart To Me box and Competition

It's always a happy day when a parcel from Hotel Chocolat arrives on my doorstep and especially when it's in the name of love! January is nearly over and that of course means that Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

When it comes to Valentine's Day gifts chocolate is always a sure fire winner in my opinion -  you don't have to find a vase and keep it watered and there's no risk of secretly thinking that it's not quite your style. And chocolate is good for you, right?

On this occasion I was very pleased to discover that my parcel contained one of Hotel Chocolat's Open Your Heart To Me gift boxes.

The first thing I noticed when I ripped open the paper was the beautiful box. This one is a bit more unusual than boxes I've received from Hotel Chocolat in the past. I love the elegant, grey and white feather pattern on the top with the contrasting dark pink inner box underneath.

Hidden inside is a chunky milk chocolate heart (the top half isn't shown in my pictures) concealing eight dark, milk and white heart-shaped chocolates. There are four flavours to choose from - the deeply rich Dark Mousse, tangy Lemon Berry Tart, sweet and creamy Strawberry Swoon and the smooth and nutty Caramel Praline.

All are delicious, as is the milk chocolate heart surrounding them. It's clear that both the heart and the individual chocolates are made from good quality cocoa which really makes you feel like you're getting good value for money.

There's no doubt that this would make a fantastic Valentine's Day present if you're looking for a gift to impress.

The Open Your Heart To Me box costs £25.00, however there are lots more gifts to choose from, from the dinky Passion Meringue Pie for only £1.95 all the way up to the awesome looking Sealed with a Kiss selection box for £45.

Hotel Chocolat are offering the chance for one lucky reader to win one of their Open Your Heart To Me boxes. To be in with a chance, just have a look at their Valentine's Day selection and let me know what you would choose for your loved one. You can enter by leaving a comment below or on my Facebook page. Alternatively, you can post the following message on Twitter...

I've entered the @HalfaPotofCream competition to win a @HotelChocolat Open Your Heart To Me box -

The competition closes at midnight on Sunday 3rd February and I will announce the winner a couple of days later. Only UK entries allowed I'm afraid.

Good luck!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 21 January 2013

Brrr, it's cold and snowy here today! The local schools are shut thanks to a large influx snow yesterday (a whole 2 inches!) so I have a bonus day at home with the children which is handy as it's given me more time to get my meal plan for the week finished and this post written. Now I just have to find a way to get us all out of the house and into the fresh air for a bit! 

Here's my plan for the week ahead. This week I'm trying to use up some bits and pieces from the cupboards and the freezers so I'll be using up the last of the Christmas turkey from the freezer in a pie and a couple of jars of sauce for the chilli mince and pasta. I've just realised, though, that I have no less than four rice dishes on the list this week - never mind!

Monday - Jacket Potatoes & Salad

Tuesday - Sweet & Sour Quorn with rice & veg

Wednesday - Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Thursday - Chilli Mince with rice & veg

Friday - Eggy Rice

Saturday - Turkey & Leek Pie

Sunday - Risotto Bolognese

If you would like to submit your own meal plan or find some more inspiration then have a look at Mrs M's blog, At Home with Mrs M, and add your own link.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Warm New Potato Salad with Bacon & Blue Cheese

Here's a fantastic recipe and another one that I've made several times now but for some reason haven't got round to writing about.

Salad doesn't always sound like the most exciting option on the menu but this one is so much more than just a salad and the fact that it's warm means that it's just as nice to eat in the winter as it is in the summer.

It's not the quickest salad to throw together as the potatoes and onions need to be roasted for 40 minutes and then left to cool for a bit so your salad leaves don't dissolve into a soggy mess on contact. That said though, if you're not under pressure to get dinner on the table quickly then it's relatively hassle-free.

Warm potatoes, bacon, blue cheese...what's not to like? It's definitely a dinner I particularly look forward to when it's on the menu.

Warm New Potato Salad with Bacon & Blue Cheese
(from BBC Good Food Magazine)

500g/1lb 2oz salad potatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, each sliced into 6 wedges
4 rashers smoked bacon, trimmed and cut into large pieces
140g/5oz mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard (Dijon mustard works just aswell)
1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
100g bag mixed watercress and spinach salad (or any other mixed leaves you fancy)
85g/3oz creamy blue cheese, eg St Agur

1) Heat the oven to 220c/fan 200c/gas 7. Place the potatoes in a roasting tin, then rub with 1 tbsp oil and a sprinkling of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, then add the onion wedges to the tin and everything a good shake.  Roast for 20 minutes more until the potatoes have turned a deep golden brown and the onions have caramelised and softened. Leave to cool slightly.

2) Heat a non-stick frying pan and dry-fry the bacon until crisp. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes more until they have softened.

3) Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk the mustard, vinegar and remaining 1 tbsp oil with a splash of water. Place the potatoes, onions, bacon and mushrooms in a large bowl with the salad leaves, pour over the dressing and mix well. Divide between 4 plates (see below!), then crumble over the blue cheese.

Serves 4 - that's 4 very small people presumably. Two of us can polish this off in one sitting without breaking a sweat.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 14th January 2013

Half way through January and so far 2013 is shaping up quite nicely and I've been kept very busy getting back into the swing of things at work, planning and booking our trips and holiday for the year ahead and generally Getting Stuff Done. The uber-planner in me loves this time of year and all of the exciting organising that comes with it!

Here's my plan for the week ahead. I've got a couple of things planned from my Christmas recipe book, Lorraine Pascale's Lorraine Pascale's Fast, Fresh and Easy Food, and I'll be sure to report back on how they turn out.

Monday - Chicken Tikka Masala

Thursday - Prawn Caeser Salad

Friday - Out!

The Prawn Caeser Salad will leave me with some leftover pomegranate seeds so I'm also planning on making this lush Bulgar Wheat salad for a couple of lunches.

If you would like to submit your own meal plan or find some more inspiration then have a look at Mrs M's blog, At Home with Mrs M, and add your own link.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A 3rd Birthday Cake & Cupcakes

Although I said in my last post that I'm a bit sick of cake, that doesn't mean I'm not still making them.  For other people anyway.  Before Christmas I agreed to make a birthday cake for a work colleague of MrHaPoC. I was initially reluctant as while I love making cakes and even stretch to a little decorating for my own children's birthdays, making cakes for other people is a whole different ballgame. The pressure to get it right is multiplied as the thought of messing it up and letting someone down is not a nice thought!

However, after making it clear that I'm by no means a professional cake maker and deciding on a cake design similar to one I'd done before I agreed to take on the task and I thought I'd share a few pictures of the results! Apologies for the less than brilliant picture quality - at the time I was too wrapped up in making the cakes and delivering them to their destination in one piece to consider digging out my dslr.

The main cake is just a basic vanilla sponge (recipe from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess) filled with jam and covered with a vanilla buttercream. After applying the decorated topper, I then used some pink icing and my trusty Tala icing syringe to pipe some stars around the top and the bottom.

I can highly recommend the printed toppers as a great way of adding decoration to a cake without too much trouble.  You can find them on ebay and there are a huge variety of pictures and styles to choose from. As above, you can often get them personalised with names and ages too. They are either made from rice paper or very thin, solid, icing but I find the icing variety look a bit better.

I had also agreed to provide a dozen iced cupcakes. Luckily these didn't cause me too much stress - the cakes all rose nicely and didn't come away from the papers as has happened to me in the past. I haven't quite mastered the perfect icing swirl but I was still fairly happy with the result and once the final decorations had been applied (see below) I think they look pretty good.

Aswell as the topper for the large cake the lady who placed the order had also supplied me with some decorations for the cupcakes, again available in lots of different varieties on ebay. The princesses and the butterflies both come printed on sheets of rice paper which means you need to set aside a bit of time to carefully cut them out. I was pleased with how they turned out though.

I think when everything was put together it looked pretty effective and mostly importantly the recipient was happy!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday - 7th January 2013

As part of my must-blog-more New Year's resolution, I'm determined to get back in the habit of taking part in Meal Planning Monday's again. It's a simple concept set up by Mrs M of the brilliant blog, At Home with Mrs M, where bloggers share their meal plans for the week ahead and it's a great way of finding a bit of inspiration.

I was doing this regularly for a while but I've had a look at my old posts and, unbelievably, the last time I took part was in June last year! Seriously, where did the time go?

So here's my plan for the week ahead. There are a lot of old favourites on the list this week but over the next few weeks I'm planning on putting my new cook books to good use and trying out a few new dishes. 

Monday - Random stir fry using noodles, veg, pork and some stir-fry sauce from the supermarket

Tuesday Nigella's Chinatown Chicken Salad

Wednesday - Veggie Enchiladas

Thursday - Jacket Potatoes

Friday - Probably takeaway

Saturday - Pastitsio

If you would like to submit your own meal plan or find some more inspiration then have a look at Mrs M's blog, At Home with Mrs M, and add your own link.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Stir-fried Pork with Hoisin and Greens

I don't know about you but, as is usually the case at this time of year, I'm a bit sick of cakes and sweets and have been scouring my recipe books for lighter, healthier dinners. Stir-fries are one of my favourite options in this situation as they usually include plenty of veg and are easy and quick to throw together. 

This recipe is a recent discovery that has quickly become a hit with the whole family. It's yet another successful recipe from one of my favourite books, Every Dayby Bill Grainger, and I've yet to make something from it that I didn't like.

As with all good stir fries this is quick to make and, thanks to the five-spice marinade and the combination of hoisin sauce, soy sauce and chicken stock, it has bags of flavour. I've tweaked the recipe slightly as this suggests cooking the broccoli in the wok rather than boiling or steaming. I know broccoli doesn't benefit from being over cooked but at the same time I'm not keen on it when it's too crunchy and I can never manage to cook it enough in a frying pan or wok.  Also, I often buy a 600g pack of pork steaks from the supermarket and use half for each meal, instead of the 400g suggested below, which provides enough for two adults and two children.

Stir-fried Pork with Hoisin and Greens
(adapted from Every Day by Bill Grainger)

2 teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
400g/14 oz pork leg steak, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon peanut oil (I just use sunflower oil)
3cm/1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 bunch tender-stemmed broccoli, cut into long florets and boiled or steamed for a couple of minutes until just cooked
6 spring onions, chopped

1) Mix together the cornflour, sesame oil and five-spice. Put the pork in a non-metallic bowl, pour the cornflour mixture over the top and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

2) Mix together the soy, hoisin and chicken stock. Heat the peanut or sunflower oil in a large wok or frying pan over a high heat. Add the ginger, spring onions and pork to the wok and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the pork is light golden. Add the broccoli to the wok, add the sauce and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Serve with jasmine rice or similar.

Serves 4

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Hello to 2013 and The Cookhouse Restaurant, East Suffolk

So here we are on the first day of a whole new year.  In the past I've done round ups of some of my blog highlights from the past year, however 2012 didn't see a great deal of action blog-wise for various reasons. This is something I'm hoping to rectify in 2013.

Instead, while I recover from a whirlwind of Christmas cooking and rediscover my kitchen mojo with the help of a new cookbook, I'm going to try and catch up with a few posts I had intended to write last year but never quite got round to. To start with I thought I'd share the details of fantastic lunch we had back in the autumn.

On the way to the East Suffolk coast we stopped of at the Suffolk Food Hall, a haven for foodies just outside Ipswich with an impressive view of the Orwell Bridge. The food shop alone is worth a visit, being jam-packed with goodies from local producers and some more far afield. The sort of place you wish lived close enough to (and had enough money!) to do your weekly shop there.

The main reason for our visit, though, was to try out the new Cookhouse Restaurant. There has been a cafe at the food hall for a long time, but The Cookhouse is a more recent addition, set in a new building just next door.  The restaurant is set on the top floor and the benefits of this were immediately apparent as we reached the top of the stairs and saw the fantastic views out of the large windows and across the estuary. We were soon seated at a nice table for two in the middle of a very attractive, large room. As you can see in the picture below, some of the larger tables had benches for seating, however a couple had large comfy sofa-type benches covered with modern fabrics which broke up the room decor nicely.

So, on to the food. I could have happily chosen anything off the menu, which had a selection of lighter meals to chose from, such as soup, bruschetta or a goats cheese tart, and some more heartier dishes such as a delicious sounding fish pie, venison suet pudding and Brancaster mussels. Mr HaPoC chose the Suffolk Food Hall Stockman's Platter which included flaked ham hock, cheese, bread and a home made scotch egg. Although there didn't look to be a huge amount of food on the trendy wooden board it turned out to be very filling and everything tasted fresh and homemade.

After a great deal of indecision, I opted for the Duck leg hash, with mushrooms, spinach and topped with a pan-fried duck egg. I have to say the photos below really don't do this dish justice as this was genuinely one of, if not the, nicest things I ate all year. Generous chunks of flaked duck leg were mixed with crushed potato and the spinach and mushroom both added the most amazing savoury flavour, topped off by the gooey duck egg. If we ever return I will really struggle to choose something different. It was just perfect! 

We were very tempted by the deserts but in the end went for the takeaway option and selected a couple of delicious cakes from the bakery downstairs to accompany us on our walk around Dunwich Heath.

All in all, we were very impressed with our lunch. The setting is lovely, the food was delicious and the service was good. I really hope we have the opportunity to make a return visit at some point in 2013.