Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Toad in the Hole

In honour of tonight’s Great British Bake Off and the first ever ‘Batter Week’, I was inspired on Monday to cook one of my favourite family dinners; Toad in the Hole, a hearty batter pudding with good sausages.

This meal is incredibly simple to prepare, and is such a comforting dish, it transports me straight back to my childhood.

I use my mother’s fail-proof recipe for a Yorkshire or batter pudding, with some dried thyme as an added, tasty extra (my Mum would not approve of tempering with a classic I’m sure) and it has yet to fail me. Mum swears by making the batter at least an hour before cooking and leaving to stand – as it has never let me done, I’ve stuck with her advice.

This week I served with some sweet potato mash and lots of vegetables – but I forgot how filling it is, you could easily have it with just a selection of vegetables, and of course some thick, delicious gravy.

Toad in the hole

Here’s how:
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Pinch sea salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-6 good quality, thick sausages

Firstly make the batter by combining the flour, mustard powder, thyme, salt and pepper and mixing well in a small bowl or jug. Now use a spoon to make a well in the centre and then crack in the two eggs, and the egg yolk and use a fork or whisk to combine, adding a bit of the milk at a time until you have a fairly thick batter. Now cover and set aside for an hour (or less if you’re in a rush). 

Pre-heat the oven to 180 for 15 minutes. Now place the oil in an oven proof dish and rotate to ensure the base is covered, then place the sausages in and cook for ten minutes in the centre of the oven.

Remove the dish, and the oil should be incredibly hot and sizzling, pour in the batter around the sausages (try not to pour over the top for a better finish) and then return the dish to the oven. Don't be tempted to open the oven mid-way through as this will prevent the good rise you want.

Cook for 30-35 minutes or until the pudding is well risen and golden brown – your final result should be slightly crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside – delicious.

Toad in the hole

Use a palette knife around the outside to just gentle release, then cut into portions and serve with your choice of accompaniments. Enjoy!

Toad in the hole

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Recently the infamous secret blend of eleven secret herbs and spices that makes the chicken from KFC so moreish was leaked all over the internet, and I must admit I am due to host all of the family to trial the recipe and see if it matches up that of the fast-food chain favourite - I'll be sure to post the results here.

For now, however, after a few years of trial and error, here is my own preferred version of Buttermilk Fried Chicken.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I have experimented a lot taking inspiration from BBC Good Food, Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart and a whole range of American blogs and websites, but this combination seems to go down the best - especially when served with crunchy homemade slaw and macaroni cheese.

Buttermilk is quite easy to come by in supermarkets these days, but you can make your own by combining the required amount of natural yoghurt with a tablespoon of lemon juice or even vinegar.

I use a dry brine rather than wet, but I then marinate further in the buttermilk for a couple of hours at least, to ensure the chicken is really tender and moist on cooking.

It may seem a lot of effort to marinade overnight and then for a further couple of hours but once you make this the once, I guarantee you'll be back for more. This does pack a punch so to make a milder version cut down on some of the spices and leave out the tabasco from the buttermilk marinade. We made some goujons from chicken breast for Bridget and she liked them though, so it depends on your taste buds.

This is one of the naughtiest recipes I make at home, and one of the most happily devoured, it really is delicious but best to avoid if you are on any kind of diet - this is definitely a 'once in a while' kind of dish.

Here's how:
  • 4 pieces if chicken, thighs are best but you can use drumsticks
  • 1 litre rapeseed, vegetable or ground nut oil

The dry brine:
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons

The wet marinade:
  • 1 tub of buttermilk (250-300ml)
  • 1 tsp tabasco
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

The flour coating:
  • 220g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp black pepper.

Firstly in a small bowl combine all of the dry brine ingredients. Now place the chicken into a marinade bag or bowl and scatter over the brine. Try to ensure each piece gets a good coating by using your hands to rub in. Now zip up and place into the fridge overnight, or for a good 10-12 hours.

When ready for the next stage, place the buttermilk, tabasco, lemon juice, garlic and Worcestershire Sauce into a large bowl or another marinade bag and then place each piece of chicken inside. Zip up then use your hands on the outside to ensure each piece is immersed in the buttermilk. Return to the fridge and leave for a couple of hours.

Chicken marinading in buttermilk

Pre-heat the oven to around 100 degrees – it’s just to keep the chicken warm once cooked if cooking in batches.

Now pour your oil into a fryer - or if like me you don't own one, a good quality wok or metal, heavy bottomed pan and place on a medium heat.

Meanwhile combine the flour coating ingredients, stir and set aside.

Test the oil is hot enough by dropping in a breadcrumb, when it sizzles, you know it's ready.

Now take each piece of chicken and coat in the flour, all over, tossing to ensure an even spread.

Now use tongs or a metal slotted spoon to lower the chicken into the hot oil - be careful. If using a wok or pan you'll need to do this in stages of 3-4 pieces at a time.

After 6-7 minutes, use the tongs or spoon to turn over the chicken pieces. Now cook for the same amount of time on the other side, or until cooked through and golden brown and very tempting looking on the outside.

Now place onto a wire rack in the oven and repeat the process until all the chicken is cooked, then place onto some kitchen towel on a plate to absorb any excess grease.

Buttermilk fried chicken

Serve with your choice of accompaniments. Enjoy!

Buttermilk fried chicken

Lady and the Tramp style Meatballs with Spaghetti

I often make my own meatballs, it's a fun cooking activity with my daughter, but for a quick mid-week meal, I turn to shop bought. I have tried the various supermarket versions and the Tesco Finest range, are a favourite in our house – the beef ones.

This dinner can be on the table from start to finish in 20-25 minutes so is perfect during the working week when time is precious and despite a quick-made sauce the base, of onions, garlic and chilli pack it full of flavour - you could of course add some fresh herbs to further enhance too, such as torn basil leaves or thyme which would both work well here.

The chilli adds a lovely heat - but if your taste is for less heat, just add half or a quarter of the chilli.

Lady and the tramp style meatballs with spaghetti

This serves 3:

Here's how:
  • Pack of 12 meatballs
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 carton cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 green pepper
  • 50g spaghetti
  • Optional: cheese to grate on top (we use Parmigiana)

Firstly fill and boil the kettle for your pasta water - this speeds up the process and if it's good enough for Jamie, it's good enough for me.

Now add the olive oil to a large non-stick pan and place on a medium heat.

Finely dice the onion, mince the garlic and slice the red chilli and add to the pan to really flavour the oil, then once slightly softened add the meatballs.

In the meantime, dice the pepper and halve the tomatoes and once the meatballs have started to brown, add to the pan.

At the same time place your pasta on to cook, with a pinch of salt.

Add the tomato puree, a pinch of salt and black pepper to the pan of meatballs and stir to combine the sauce and reduce down the liquid from the tomatoes.

Meatballs in the sauce

Once the pasta is cooked, take a spoonful of the cooking water and add to the meatball mix then stir through to loosen up the sauce and help coat the pasta.

Now drain the spaghetti and add the pan and stir through well before serving. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Cheat's Pavlova

This is a great quick and easy dessert that looks impressive as a centre-piece, for times when you might not have bundles of time to prepare one.

It's certainly a cheating version for meringue to shop buy it, but sometimes needs must and this is particularly good if you have unexpected guests for dinner as can be whipped up in next to no time.

If you do have time to prepare your own meringue, all credit to you, and I would suggest this fine recipe from BBC Good Food.

Cheat's Pavlova

Here's how:

  • X2 Meringue Rounds
  • Large tub of whipping cream
  • 1 tsp good vanilla (I use Nielson Massey)
  • 2 kiwis
  • 100g each: Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries Drizzle of Raspberry Coulis (I use a Morrison's one
Firstly place the two meringue rounds on separate plates.

In a bowl whisk the whipping cream with the vanilla until thick and spread over the cavity of each of the meringues.

Wash and then dry the berries. Halve the strawberries and set aside.

Peel the kiwi and cut into thin slices.

Now start in the centre and create your own pattern of fruit - I did a round of blueberries, followed by raspberries then alternated between a strawberry half and a kiwi slice.

Once you've arranged the fruit into a nice pattern, drizzle over a little coulis over each.

Now finally lift one and set it on top of the other (if you have one neater than the other, this is the time to showcase it on top). Enjoy!

Tomato and Vegetable Pasta Bake

This is another quick and easy dinner that's ideal for mid-week when time is precious.

You can use an array of vegetables according to what you have in stock but here I have used peppers and courgettes for a colourful combination.

It's a great family meal especially when served with a side salad or some steamed vegetables such as asparagus and acts as a great vegetarian dish for Meat Free Monday or any other day you feel like omitting meat.

Luckily Bridget is a great eater but if you have vegetable-dodgers in the family, you could very easily disguise the peppers by grating them into the sauce instead too.

I add a little smoky heat by a small amount of paprika, but you can adjust this according to your own or your family's taste buds.

The below serves four, with a side salad.

Tomato and Vegetable Pasta Bake

Here's how:
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 courgette
  • 3 tomatoes or a carton of cherry tomatoes (could also use 1 tin)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 250g penne
  • 50g mozzarella
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 and add the olive oil to a non-stick sauce pan and place on a low heat.

Now finely dice the onion and mince the garlic and add to the pan as the base of the sauce.

Dice the courgette, peppers and tomatoes and once the onion and garlic have softened, add to the pan.

Add a pinch of salt, black pepper, the tomato puree and paprika and cook for a further 15 minutes until reduced down to a thin sauce.

Meanwhile cook your pasta accordingly, (I always add a pinch of salt) and before draining take a tablespoon of the cooking water and add to the sauce to loosen and help coat the pasta.

Now drain and add the pasta to the sauce pot and stir well to ensure each pasta piece is covered.

Now transfer the pasta to an oven proof dish and tear over the mozzarella.

Now place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and you have a golden brown topping. Enjoy!

Pregnancy Food Diet: Week 17

This past week has been another busy one with a few shortcuts happily taken on the food front plus a meal or two enjoyed out – counting down now to our 20-week scan.


Again this has remained a mixture of Nutriblasts or homemade smoothies such as this Banana & Mango combination , plus the Pret Five Berry Bowl of yoghurt, berries and granola during the week. At the weekend I made chocolate pancakes for me, Glen and Bridget on Saturday and served with yoghurt and berries and Sunday we had a combination of what was left in the fridge before the weekly shop: toast, fried tomatoes, blanched asparagus and a rasher of crispy bacon. Surprisingly delicious together.

Main meals:

On Wednesay I enjoyed a delicious lunch of Middle Eastern sharing plates with Chloe Pierre LDN at Nopi

Thursday we enjoyed quick-made Chicken Fajitas made with Old El Paso Smoky BBQ Fajita Mix.

On Friday, after a busy working week, I turned to convenience and cooked some Morrison's breaded cod with McCain's Oven Homefries and a big portion of peas.

Saturday I had to pop into central London with my daughter, brother and his partner and we enjoyed a lovely late Dim Sum meal at Imperial China on Lisle Street.

Prawn and chive dumplings

Prawn cheung fun 

Sunday's are always a good day for cooking and eating together, and we fancied something different. I made this variation of a Chicken and Apricot Tagine and it was gorgeous.

Chicken and apricot tagine

Monday, my day off from work, I spent a bit of time batch-cooking so have some easy-win meals, or at least the basis of meals to hand in the freezer. For our Monday meal I slow cooked some braising steak with onions and mushrooms in ale and beef stock and made this wonderful Steak and Ale Pie with mash and vegetables. Just lovely!

Steak and ale pie

Tuesday night we had a team work night out which involved some crazy golf in trendy Brick Lane at Junkyard Golf. By the time we'd finished we had missed all dinner queues but knowing I have to eat, I made a quick couple of slices of cheese on toast before bedtime, needs must!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Messy Toddler Play: Indoor Painting

Anything relating to arts and crafts will be a sure-fire winning activity for toddlers and small children.

Messy play with paints

The sensory act of painting with brushes and encouraging your little one to get their hands wet and dirty and create hand prints with paint will keep them entertained for a good hour or more, especially when bolstered with plenty of encouragement - children thrive off of being told how well they are doing. In fact Bridget loves a little round of applause when she finishes a painting.

Hand painting

It's also a great way to help teach them their colours in a fun and interactive way.

Painting outdoors in the garden is a good way of getting fresh air and keeping the painting mess to a minimum.

Some people obviously don't have a garden and painting is also a great rainy day activity too, so painting indoors must be entertained at times and I recently discovered a great parenting hack to keep the mess to a minimum.

People have long used newspaper on the floors or on tables where painting is occurring to reduce the mess, and I thought how about cling film? Bridget has a lovely easy-wipe high chair, which actually we've very recently adjusted to a stool for her to sit right at the table with us without her little tray (at nearly two she is growing up too fast). I also use the Crayola Washable Paints which do come off in our experience, but sometimes the paint might dry without you noticing; so I wrapped Bridget's tray and the seated area in cling film and then could allow her to get as messy as she wanted without constraint - she loved it.

Learning colours with paints
Happy painting face

I also encourage paint in just knickers when warm enough as a quick bath afterwards is no trouble and this prevents clothing getting paint sploshes on, but otherwise old clothing or a little painting overalll like you can get in Early Learning Centre and the likes are worth investing in.

Bridget's birthday is fast approaching and we've bought her a little art desk complete with easel and supplies so we'll be encouraging lots more messy play this winter which will be helpful when I'm in the midst of my third trimester or when baby number two has made his/her arrival. Happy painting all :-)