Monday, 14 April 2014

Slow cooker beef in beer with mushrooms

This is my ideal slow cooker dish. You do have a little bit of prepping in a pan to start with, but not much. I wouldn't dream of just putting everything into the slow cooker - raw meat and veg, cold beer etc - switching it on, and hoping for the best, but I know some people do use their slow cookers like this. For me, it goes against every principle of cookery that I know. Yes, OK, you do have to spend 15 more minutes in the kitchen this way, and you'll have an extra pan to wash up, but that old adage about 'if something is worth doing then it's worth doing properly' springs to mind. By doing it properly - browning off the meat for colour and flavour and sweating your vegetables to bring out the sweetness, then bringing the alcohol to the boil first - you will be greatly rewarded in the eating. Sorry if I'm ranting a little, but I speak to so many people (granted, busy mums mainly) who just want to sling everything into their slow cooker and return to it after a day's work expecting a delicious meal. I get it, I do... and I'm not saying you won't produce an edible dish doing it that way, just that I can guarantee you'll have much better results with a little TLC thrown into the mix... 

If you are looking for a recipe where it is perfectly OK to sling it all in, then check out my Slow cooker coconut rice pudding... : ) 

Braising a cheap cut of beef in beer like this creates a smoky, slightly bitter flavour. One that children - mine anyway - seem to really like. Using alcohol in cooking is a good way to introduce more complex flavours to kids. The booze is burned off anyway, so all you're left with are the flavours, and beer has a great bittersweet depth that goes perfectly with beef. Eat with silky, creamy mash. 

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 7 hours on low

2 small onions, roughly diced
4 small carrots, roughly diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
775kg braising steak (or shin of beef)
1l beer (I used Black Sheep Ale)
250g mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons of cornflour, mixed with a little cold water, to thicken.
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, roughly chopped, to garnish

  • Sweat the onions, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and oil over a low heat for about 10 minutes. Tip it all into the slow cooker. 
  • Turn up the heat in the pan, add a little more oil and fry off the beef. Don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will steam. Do it in two batches if required. 
  • Once the meat is browned nicely all over, pour in the beer to deglaze and bring to the boil. 
  • Now transfer the stew to the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, and braise for 7 hours on low. 
  • When you are 20 minutes away from wanting to eat, stir in cornflour and water, and add mushrooms. Let this cook for about 20 more minutes to allow the mushrooms to cook and the casserole to thicken. 
  • Serve with mash (Adam makes the best mash: use a potato ricer for proper smoothness and heat your milk and butter in a pan first before adding to potatoes - it makes a HUGE difference, honestly) and some fresh parsley on top. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cauliflower, broccoli and brie soup

I'm a little bit addicted to making soup with cauliflower, as you may have gathered from looking at my Recipe Index. It's so cheap, with all year round availability, and it's very healthy too - an excellent source of vitamin C. This time I added broccoli (way healthy too, obviously - check out the vitamin K and vitamin C in this baby!) and some brie that I had to use up. Arthur is still sporadically averse to vegetables. It really is an intermittent thing, sometimes he wolfs them down. The sporadicalness (that's a real word!) is a good thing, as it's more likely to be him asserting his opinion/taste rather than a genuine dislike for them.

It's super quick, creamy and satisfying, and my kids enjoyed it, which suggests other veg averse littlies will too. Give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised. Oh, the pleasure we get from seeing fussy children eating vegetables... *gives self a little pat on back*.

If the cauli' leaves are in fairly good condition then include them; they taste amazing and it's such a shame to waste them, I only discard any damaged or discoloured ones. Plus don't chuck the stalks on either vegetable, they have loads of flavour too - and are very fashionable at the moment. Really! It's all about the cruciferous stalks in the restaurants! What a strange world we live in...

Serves: about 10 (freezes well)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes 

2 small onions or 1 large onion, diced roughly
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 head of cauliflower (plus stalks and leaves), chopped roughly into similar sized pieces
1 head of broccoli, chopped roughly (stalk included)
1l whole milk (reduce to 500ml for a thicker soup, you can always add more after)
1l light veg stock (ditto) - by 'light' I mean, if it's if shop bought, only use half the recommended amount of stock to water, to avoid over saltiness
135g of brie, chopped roughly (I left rind on)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Splash of cream (I added about 5 tablespoons!)

  • Sweat onions and garlic on a low heat in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. 
  • Add chopped broccoli and cauliflower, leaves and stalks too. Throw in bay leaf. 
  • Pour in hot stock and milk. Now simmer until the vegetables are nicely cooked, about 15-20 minutes. 
  • Once they are cooked, add your chopped brie. Let it melt off the heat for a few minutes. 
  • Whizz with a handheld soup blender or, as I do, in the jug part of a food processor. 
  • Pour in a splash of cream, if using, and season to taste. Dig in. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tortilla chip chicken salad

This should be called Happiness Salad, really, because it truly does make whoever eats it very happy. Especially children. What's that you say, 'my child doesn't eat salad'? A-HA! Try this one and then come back to me. I offer a no quibbles, 100% guarantee that they will eat all most of the things on the plate. If I'm wrong then you have my permission to knock on my door and slap my face when I appear. Or maybe just Tweet me

I saw a similar salad ages ago on The Pioneer Woman's website - I just love Ree - and I tried her recipe out. Everyone went wild for it. I knew I wanted to feature it on here, it's such a jolly, healthy family recipe that would brighten up the most depressing of days. This is my version. It's not so totally different, but I've made some changes. I loved the original so much that I wanted to remain true to the main components: juicy chicken (I use thigh as I prefer the meat), creamy avocado, crunchy fresh sweetcorn, piquant blue cheese dressing (I make my own), and then the piece de resistance - crushed tortilla chips on top. You heard me right, crisps on a salad. See, I told you your kids would love this!

It is very easy, but it is also a little bit time consuming, getting all the separate components together. So for that reason I think it's a weekend dish, or one for when you have some time to prepare something special. This would be just perfect for a kid's birthday party or a family BBQ. Ideally, serve on a large plate for people to help themselves to. Summer is coming people, I can feel it!

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 or 4 free-range or organic chicken thighs (I used 3 but they were quite big)
1 tablespoon of good quality Cajun spice mix (if you don't have this simply use a little cumin, paprika, and chilli powder mixed up - or even go naked!)
8 tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Handful fresh coriander, chopped roughly 
1/2 lime, juice to squeeze
2 cobs of fresh sweetcorn, shucked (you could use tinned but it won't be quite as nice)
2 baby gem lettuces, sliced quite thinly
1 ripe avocado, diced
Handful of salted tortilla chips
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Blue cheese dressing: (you could always buy this, either Ranch dressing or a blue cheese variety)
100g blue cheese, crumbled
150ml sour cream
100ml mayonaise
Tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Tablespoon of water 
Salt, pinch
  • Dust the thighs with Cajun coating - I use bone-in ones and sliced around it afterwards, but feel free to spend more on boneless thighs, do however choose ones with skin on for flavour. Fry in a very hot pan with some oil, turning every ten minutes or so. They should take around 25-35 minutes, depending on the size. When you think they are done, slice up and set aside. If you are worried they are still a little pink (I always seems to fret about this!), don't worry, you can give them a final toss in the hot pan before serving.
  • If you have room in the same pan, add your cobs to cook in the chicken-y Cajun juices for the last 10-15 minutes. If not, then either wait until after the chicken is done, or use a different pan. Keep turning them to cook all sides. When they're done, carefully shuck the corn: hold the cob vertically with a tea towel, and with a sharp knife, cut downwards to remove all the corns. 
  • Meanwhile, make your blue cheese dressing. Whizz up in a processor (or mash with a fork) to get a smoothish consistency. I find that you always need to stir before serving as the cheese sinks to the bottom. Lumps are to be embraced, I say...
  • When your chicken / sweetcorn is sliced / shucked, you are ready to arrange the salad. Scatter your sliced lettuce over a large serving platter. Add halved tomatoes, sliced onions, a scattering of coriander (hold some back) and avocado. Now the chicken and sweetcorn too too. Squeeze lime juice over it all. You may want to gently toss the salad with your fingers at this point, so all elements can be seen. Pour over some dressing (leave lots to serve in a jug alongside) and scatter lightly crushed tortilla chips. One last scattering of coriander and you... are... DONE!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Green lentil and spinach soup

I've been dreaming about a soup like this for ages. Sad, aren't I? I was thinking specifically of lentils, a cheap and oh so healthy store cupboard fave of mine, with some spice, some coconut creaminess, and a little zing of lime too. I am so smugly pleased with the outcome! Just wolfed down a bowl. Adam too. *Kids not yet. Will report back when they give their verdict - honestly I will! And it will be honest too, knowing them. 

If you fancy a bowl of comforting yet healthy goodness, then try this. I think you're going to like it. I cooked the soup with half a chopped green chilli, and served more on top for grownups. But go for it if your kids or whoever you're serving likes it hot. You must eat it will lots and lots of chopped fresh coriander, oodles of lime juice and a fresh sprinkling of salt - Maldon flakes ideally. Yet again, I have made enough for the large family I am obviously unconsciously craving; simply halve proportions if you want to make less. Saying that, I think it would freeze well (if freezing I would add spinach after). Talking of spinach, I strongly suggest tucking it in just before serving to retain the colour and fresh texture. 

*Bea (nearly 2) had a bit; Artie (nearly 4) notsomuch. Probably one for the adults, then, or older children. Told you I'd be honest!

Serves: 8/10 adults
Prep time: 15 minutes 
Cooking time: 40 minutes

2 tablespoons of a plain oil, vegetable, sunflower or rape seed would be ideal
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (don't worry if you don't have this in, but it's a nice addition)
2 thumbs worth of ginger, diced finely
4 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted then crushed (you could use ground coriander, but it won't be as nice)
1/2 green chilli, sliced finely
1 onion, diced
500g green lentils
2l stock (a light chicken or veg ideally homemade, but if using shop bought then leave out salt)
1 can of coconut milk 
Juice of 1 lime, plus zest
225g spinach
2 teaspoons of salt

To serve:
Freshly chopped coriander 
A couple of limes, to squeeze
Natural or Greek yoghurt 
  • Heat the plain oil, I used rape seed, in a pan over lowish heat. Add your ginger, garlic and chilli. Cook out for 5 minutes until softened. 
  • Meanwhile, toast your coriander seeds in a pan, dry. This will only take about 3 minutes. Watch them as they burn quickly. Bash them in a pestle and mortar to grind. 
  • Add your onion to the garlic and chilli and cook for 5 more minutes, until nice and sweet and soft. 
  • Now add your turmeric and ground coriander to the mix. Cook for a few minutes. 
  • Rinse the lentils. Add to the pan. 
  • Pour in your stock, bring to boil. Add the coconut milk, season well, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir often to release the lentils' creaminess; I lovingly stirred mine the whole time, which was very meditative. 
  • The result you want is soupy, with soft lentils and not too much excess water floating on top. When you are happy with the consistency, which in my case took about 40 minutes, add lime, zest and juice.
  • At the very last minute, turn off the heat and tuck in the spinach. Serve with a final squeeze of lime, chopped fresh chillies (red would be lovely but I could only get green), loads of fresh coriander and a good dollop of Greek yoghurt. Sprinkle more salt on top. Marvel at healthy food tasting so good. 

Chorizo and butter bean stew

There is already a chorizo and butter bean soup on this blog, and very nice (and popular) it is too. But ever since I posted that version, which uses tinned beans, I have vowed to post another way of making it - with dried beans. This way, which is actually how Olive my mother-in-law makes it, produces a completely different result. With tinned beans it is still really good - so please do use that recipe if that's what you have available to you - but if you have the foresight to buy and then soak dried butter beans the night before, then I would say that this recipe is preferable (in my opinion). The dried beans, when cooked, go really sludgy (in a good way) and are so creamy. The tinned ones tend to keep their shape and be firmer. This version also contains more vegetables and therefore I feel perfectly justified in calling it a stew. 

It is insanely good, if I do say so myself... I ate 4 bowls of it last night, drizzling each fresh portion with extra virgin, sprinkling with fresh parsley and a little Maldon sea salt and hoovering up more than was necessarily ladylike. The kids (who also love it) and Adam left the table about 15 minutes before me. Then I remembered I had a yoga class. Oh dear. I felt a bit lethargic during that class I can tell you with 4 bowls of this in my tummy.  Lesson learned: eat a bowl of cereal for dinner before exercising in the evening. 

I used a picante (hot) chorizo. My kids seem to enjoy things with a little background heat. It wasn't too hot for them. We like to introduce heat in small amounts like this and we hope this way they will get to enjoy spice. 

Serves: approx 6/8 adults
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 2 1/2 - 3 hours

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
500g butter beans, soaked overnight
200g hot cooking chorizo, sliced into coins (or dice if you want them to be more event dispersed)
1 onion, diced
1 leek, diced
2 carrots, diced
7 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
500g tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
2 teaspoons of salt
Fresh parsley, chopped roughly, to serve
  • Soak your beans overnight. Discard the water. Cover with fresh cold water and bring to boil. Boil for 30 minutes. 
  • Heat olive oil over a medium heat. Sweat onions, leek, carrots and garlic for 15 minutes.
  • Add your sliced chorizo and turn up heat a little. Now the spices and cook for 5 more minutes. 
  • Now throw the chopped tomatoes in. And, once the beans are getting going, tip the contents of the pan, both beans and boiling cooking water - carefully - into the stew. Season well with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. 
  • Serve with crusty bread, fresh parsley, more olive oil and seasoning. 

Hidden veg shepherd's pie

One approach to getting kids to eat more vegetables is to hide them in dishes. It doesn't 'solve' the overall 'problem' of them not loving the vegetables, but in the short-term they are getting some nutrients into them - and we all know in reality parenting is about day to day survival, right? Well, I guess this shepherd's pie does the whole hidden veg thing. Artie is more fussy than he used to be. The positive perspective on his new pickiness and 'I do not like vegetables' stance is that I am being a bit more creative with same-old-same-old dishes (like good old sheperd's pie) by stuffing them with extra vegetables, chopped up so small that he doesn't notice! He really dug this pie. Like, shockingly so! Bea too. They both had two bowls. This was pleasing to say the least. It's all about the tiny victories when you're a mum...

The pie has 5 types of vegetables in, but obviously you aren't going to get the full recommended daily portion of say, carrots, by eating a serving of pie that only has 3 in. So it's not going to fulfil the 5 a day quota alone. That said, you're going make a serious dent in it by having just one portion of this delicious, comforting pie. The gravy to serve with it is taken from the pie itself - a trick taught to me by my mother-in-law. It cuts down workload and is soooo tasty, as it's flavoured with all the meat and vegetables. One last thing... my secret ingredient, that I almost forgot to include in the recipe by the way, is... HP sauce! 

Serves: 6 adults
Prep time: 
Cooking time: 1 hour

500g minced lamb
3 carrots, diced
2 leeks, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme)
500ml light veg or beef stock
1 tablespoon of gravy granules (or 2 tablespoons of flour if using beef stock), to thicken
2 tablespoons of HP or other brand brown sauce

1 swede, peeled and chopped into chunks
1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped into same size chunks
50g of butter
Splash of milk, ideally whole, heated
150g cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
  • Cut the potatoes and swede into equally sized pieces, place in cold water and bring to boil. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Drain and mash with butter, lots of salt and pepper, nutmeg and heated milk. (Adam makes the best mash and this is his secret, so I've started doing it too - it makes it smoother somehow)
  • Simultaneously, or before you put your potatoes on, sweat your onions, leeks, carrots and garlic gently in olive oil for about 15 minutes, until nice and tender. 
  • Add your mince and turn up heat to brown. 
  • Sprinkle the granules (or flour if using beef stock) in and stir well to coat and combine. 
  • Now the fresh herbs, bay and rosemary or thyme if using that, and hot stock. I used a light, decent shop bought vegetable stock. Do not season with salt if using shop bought stock as it will be too salty. If it's home made stock (well done you) then feel free to season. 
  • Let it come to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Keep stirring to prevent sticking, especially if you have used flour to thicken. 
  • Preheat oven to 180C. 
  • After 30 minutes or so, check the mince and season. If you're happy then pour the mince mixture into a sieve with a bowl or jug underneath to catch the excess gravy. Set gravy aside for serving. 
  • Tip the mince into a large ovenproof baking dish. Cover with mash and scatter cheese on top. 
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with lashings of gravy and if you can be bothered, some peas or cabbage alongside. We didn't, as there is quite a lot of veg in it already. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Penne with buttery courgettes

I cook and eat a lot of pasta, but you wouldn't know it from my Recipe Index! When I rearranged my recipes a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly realised that I actually didn't have many pasta recipes on here and, for a so called family food blog, that is frankly ridiculous. I think, previously what has stopped me posting my pasta recipes on here is me thinking that they weren't 'special' enough. But through talking to friends and gaining feedback on the blog recently, I am discovering that simple, quick, healthy recipes like this is what you lot want. So, apols for the last two recipes being pasta, but I'm playing catch up, OK?!

This is a very easy but very delicious pasta dish that goes against how I usually cook courgette. I normally either griddle it (as here) or mix with feta and turn into fritters (here), or sometimes I grate it and cook quickly with anchovies and garlic then mix with spaghetti (not made it onto here yet!). Quickly braising it this way, with butter, parsley and garlic (and a little chilli, feel free to omit) makes it really sweet and tender. I can't believe how good this dish is, given the time and effort involved. Bea loved it. Artie, who at nearly 4 is going through a perfectly normal but testing fussy stage, agreed to eat a few bits of courgette after some gentle coaxing but wolfed the pasta down in seconds. Neither minded (or noticed) the hint of chilli that I added.

If you don't have fresh parsley in (I know it's not always an easy thing to get last minute on your way home from work or whatever) then simply leave it out - do not even think about using dried parsley - you know what, if you have a jar of that awful stuff lurking in your cupboards somewhere I implore you to chuck it in the bin ASAP! Buy the best pasta you can afford; for a relatively small difference in amount spent, you will get a much better result if you choose a better, more expensive brand.

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
3 medium sized courgettes, diced into 1cm squares roughly
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
400g penne
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
50g butter
100g freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper - be generous

  • First get your largest pan filled, yes filled, with water. Salt it well. Bring to the boil. 
  • Meanwhile, thinly slice garlic and dice your courgettes. Warm the oil over a low to medium heat and gently cook your garlic - stir and don't let it colour - for about 5 minutes. Add your diced courgettes, turn up the heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring. Watch that your garlic doesn't burn. 
  • Your pasta water should be boiling by now so toss in the penne and let it boil for a minute or two less than it says on the packet. Just before you drain the pasta, scoop out and reserve half a mugful of starchy water - this is to mix in afterwards. 
  • Add the butter, chilli (if using), zest and juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper and parsley to the courgettes, stir well, add a lid to the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes more over a medium heat. Then taste, season again if required. 
  • Drain pasta and tip back into the large pan. Add your courgette mixture and splash a few tablespoons of water in. Mix well. Throw in half of the cheese and toss again. You may need a little more water. Taste again and if happy, serve with more cheese at the table. This dish lives or dies on its seasoning and generous amount of parmesan so don't be backwards in coming forwards!