Monday, 21 March 2016

Meat Free Monday Squash & Goat's Cheese Pot Pie

Another recipe to try if you are participating in Meat Free Monday that fits perfectly into the comfort food bracket that is often so needed after that first day back at work after a good weekend.

The filling is a combination of butternut squash, goat's cheese, red pepper, leek and ricotta with a smidge of garlic. In the interest of saving some calories, it's a pot-pie, or one with only a pastry lid rather than casing, the pastry in question - puff, my favourite for any pie.

This is an unctuous, satisfying pie recipe that is gorgeous without any addition of meat. Served with a portion of green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, green beans or kale makes for a gorgeous meal. 

As well as Meat Free Monday, this is a great alternative or vegetarian dish if catering for non meat-eaters.

Meat Free Monday Squash & Goat's Cheese Pot Pie

Here's how:
  • 100g soft Goat's Cheese (I used a Lidl version) 
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 leek
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 125g ricotta
  • Pinch salt & black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 sheet puff pastry (I used a Lidl version here) 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

First pop the oven on to about 190 degrees.

Place the butternut squash in the oven for 25 minutes while you prepare everything else.

Now slice the leek and mince the garlic and add to a pan with the coconut oil on a low heat to soften.

Cut the pepper into small, equal-sized pieces and add to the pan.

After a few minutes, add the ricotta, the salt and pepper and the thyme too. Stir and allow cook for five minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Cut or crumble the goat's cheese and place into the pie filling and mix a little to distribute evenly.

Once the squash has had 25 minutes remove from the oven and cut in half, lengthways. It will be piping hot so, if you're not in a rush leave for ten minutes to cool. Meanwhile turn the oven down to 170.

Remove the bulk of flesh and cut into equal cubes and add to the pan with the pie filling. Don't worry if the squash still needs a little more cooking - it has that to come in the pie. 

Squash & Goat's Cheese Pot Pie filling

Transfer the filling to your choice of pie dish.

Now open the pastry and place over the top of the dish, cutting away the excess. Use your thumb to crimp the edges - my pies always look quite rustic and I think this obvious homemade-ness adds to their charm.

If you wish, use the excess pastry to make a garnish - as I have here cutting the words 'Meat Free Pie' onto the top.

Now beat an egg and brush the pie all over, including the garnish. Finally cut three holes into the topping to allow steam to escape and avoid soggy pastry.

Now place the pie into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is well risen and golden brown.

Serve with your choice of green vegetables. Enjoy!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Warner Brother's Studio Tour: Behind the scenes of Harry Potter

If you’re a Harry Potter fan like myself, then the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour is an absolute must-visit venue to indulge in all your Hogsmeade fantasies and take a glimpse behind the scenes of your favourite books; brought to life for the silver screen.
If you love J.K. Rowling’s fictitious wizard world then you can’t fail to fall in love all over again with Harry, Ron, Hermione and company.

Locations

The tour allows you the chance to get a hands on experience of some of the most famous interior scenes and set locations – with the likes of the Great Hall, Gryffindor Common Room, The Weasley’s house, Hagrid’s hut, the Potions classroom and Dumbledore’s office to see where all the action took place. 

The teacher's table in The Great Hall
Gryffindor Common Room
Weasley's House


There’s also the chance of visiting Privet Drive and the Potter’s Godric’s Hollow cottage.

Potter's Cottage


Costume

Throughout the tour you’re able to view some of the most recognisable costumes from the films, including the day-to-day robes, the teachers costumes such, the final scene costumes and more fancy outfits such as the sickly pink hued dresses that adorned Professor Umbridge and the Yule Ball costumes.

Props and Design

There's the chance to sit in the blue Ford Anglia car used in The Chamber of Secrets which is a real thrill (as well as the option for an official photograph in there) and there’s plenty of other vehicles to take a look at too – from the Hogwarts Express and the Knight Bus (both of which you can hop aboard), to plenty of different broomsticks and Hagrid’s motorbike and side car. 

Hogwarts Express
The Knight Bus



The Sorting Hat, items from the Room of Requirement and wands galore can be seen up close too plus much, much more.

The Sorting Hat

The intricate white card builds of sets that happens before filming is completely spellbinding too – it’s amazing to see some of the incredibly clever and hard work that goes into each and every scene and location/set build. 

White Card Building of Hogwarts

Immersive Experience

There are some really great opportunities to feel like you’re fully immersed in the Potter experience – sitting in the Ford Anglia, riding a broom, taking a seat on the Hogwarts Express and running into Platform 9 ¾ with a trolley and a trunk – and an official photographer to capture all of these. These are priced at £14 a pop though – so be warned.

There’s also the chance to buy Butterbeer halfway through the tour at the Backlot Café which is fantastic. It tastes like an ice cream soda – utterly sweet and delicious – it’s £3.95 for a small plastic cup or another £3 to have your own plastic tankard or stein that you can take away with you. The café also serves hot and cold food if you need some sustenance.

Butterbeers

My favourite part of the tour was taking a walk along Diagon Alley – it truly felt magical and transported me to this fictitious place that I’d viewed on film but more importantly to me that I’d read about. The cobbled street and olde world shops of Flourish & Blott’s and Olivander’s is simply enchanting. 

Diagon Alley

The shop at Warner Brother’s Studio Tour has every kind of Harry Potter merchandise, from hoodies, wands, keyrings, mugs and soft toys to a designated Honey Dukes area where Chocolate Frogs and other sweet treats from the series can be purchased.

Details

The Warner Brother’s Studio Tour is located in Watford and we journeyed by coach from London Victoria via Golden Tours and the cost including entrance for myself and my friend Larni was £132 (or £66 a head) which was a gift at Christmas from Larni’s Mum (thanks Debs!). The price at the studio for entrance is £35 and you can also get the train into Watford and then jump onto the free shuttle buses that run every twenty minutes. There’s also a huge car park.

The tour is in designated time slots and whilst this may seem annoying, it’s incredibly busy with tourists, Potter fans and school trips so it’s necessary and actually we found it was ample time to journey round the tour at our own pace, taking in everything as well as stopping for our own photos.

If you’re a Potter fan and haven’t visited – book your tour now: https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/ 



Monday, 14 March 2016

Baby Bites Salmon in a Cheese Sauce with Sweet Potato and Vegetables

Bridget is now 18 months and whilst she's always loved her food from her first weaning tastes, she has started to get a little fussier and unpredictable in her eating habits. Some days she may really enjoy some sliced carrots and then the next time I try to offer her some she's uninterested so I now try to offer at least 3 small portions of vegetables with every main meal in the hope that she won't reject them all and this tactic is paying off.

This meal is delicious for all the family and takes little preparation aside from preparing the cheese sauce.

The below serves one toddler and one adult.


Salmon in a Cheese Sauce with Sweet Potato and Vegetables

Here's how: 


  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder 
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 150ml-200ml milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Generous grating of nutmeg
  • 50g Cheddar or other hard cheese - I used Pilgrim's Choice here)
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 2 small fillets salmon
  • Handful frozen peas
  • Baby corn
  • Mange touts
  • Tenderstem broccoli (or any other vegetables you have to hand) 
Firstly pop the oven onto 180 degrees and place the potatoes into the oven to bake.

Now prepare the cheese sauce by melting the butter gently in a heavy-bottomed pan then adding the flour once melted. Mix with a balloon whisk and slowly add the milk, mustard powder, bay and pepper and allow to gently heat. Add the cheese and the nutmeg and stir with a wooden spoon. Once satisfied with the sauce, set aside. If too thin, add a tiny bit of cornflour and cook out. Now set aside.

Place the salmon into a small ovenproof dish and cover with the cheese sauce and place into the oven for ten minutes.

Now prepare the vegetables by either placing into boiled water for five minutes or steaming for 9 minutes.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and scoop out the flesh and pop onto the plate.

Drain the vegetables and add to the plate and finally remove the salmon and cheese sauce and dish up. Enjoy!

Iberica, Victoria

Spanish food is one of my absolute favourite ways of eating; lots of small plates.

A couple of weeks back, I spent a few hours in the Victoria area with Bridget waiting for my passport, and in the evening Glen joined us for a lovely meal at Iberica in the Zig Zag Building.

Firstly the staff were incredibly welcoming and accommodating of us with the buggy and our rather mischievous 17-month old toddler which is always a good start. We love to eat out but some of our pre-child favourites restaurants aren't very child-friendly. 

The waiter took us through the menu knowledgably, and when we ordered he told us we were ordering a dish or two more than we needed; not that this deterred us.

We ordered the half and half cured meats and cheese selection. The cheeses included mild and creamy manchego (Bridget's favourite) and Urgell; and a softer, smokier one, of which the name escapes me - all equally delicious. The cured meats included spicy chorizo, a really tasty fuet de vic (slithers of a sausage made from the belly and loin of the pig) and the classic lomo or cured pork loin - all delicious and each bringing something different to this delicious board. Accompaniments included quince and Membrillo jelly and complemented the cheeses perfectly. A great start. 

Half and Half Cured Meats and Cheese and Pan Con Tomate

Another board included the pan con tomate or lightly toasted crusty bread topped with flavourful tomatoes. This was good too, but I make this quite often at home and prefer the tomatoes to have a little more bite rather than this paste-like consistency, discussions with a Spanish colleague informed me that each town in Spain has their own way of doing this so I'm in good company apparently.

The stand out dish for me at Iberica was a plate of grilled prawns with mushrooms, cooked in really fragrant garlic oil and not much else. Stunningly simple. A true example of letting a few great ingredients sing together. I'll be attempting to make this at home. 


Also delicious, was the Chicken Chillindron with rosemary roasted potatoes. The chicken was so soft, tender and juicy it was perfection; and surrounded by a warm and sweet tomato sauce, just stunning. The roasted potatoes were tiny, but delicious morsels too. This was a favourite for the three of us. 

Chicken Chillindron

Another great dish was the Iberico Pork Sliders - mini burgers, so moist and tasty and served in brioche buns with a mustard dressing and a pepper - they were only a couple of mouthfuls each, but very, very good ones. 

Iberico Pork Sliders

Glen's favourite dish was the Venison Meatballs which were in a rich a gravy. I'm not fond of venison but did have a nibble and they had plenty of flavour and weren't dry at all, as is often the case.

Venison Meatballs

We also had patatas bravas - roasted potatoes topped with an unctuous, almost sliky and creamy tomato sauce, some plump Manzanilla olives, and Serrano ham croquettes or croquettas served with a strong and superb aioli, again a great dish. 

Serrano Ham Croquettas

This was a fantastic meal and with a Mahou, several soft drinks and a glass of Olorosso sherry came in with service at under £80 which I thought was reasonable given the various dishes.

We love taking Bridget out to eat with us and think it's really important that we do so she learns great table manners and social skills and I never worry about what she might eat as there is always something. I also think it's super important to encourage children to eat lots of different types of foods. Here at Iberica she absolutely loved the ham croquettas, the manchego, the pan con tomate and the meatballs. I had to cut them in half to remove the stone but she also had a few Manzanilla olives with me. She is a true baby or toddler foodie and long may it continue.

There are tons of Spanish style restaurants around London and here are a few tips for some of my favourite dishes or drinks at some of them.

1. The crab croquettas at Barrafina, Adelaide Street are sensational
2. Jose's original Bermondsey tapas bar has the best pan con tomate I've ever had
3. Pix in Soho offers the most wonderful Sangria
4. The Opera Tavern serves simply stunning Iberico Burgers

Best Avocado on Toast

This is my absolute favourite version of avocado on toast. The heat from the chilli, the sharp lemon and the salty feta cheese just make every single mouthful a delight.

I could pretend to be precious about which type of bread I prefer this on – but to be honest the topping is what this is all about, so a slice of Warburton’s Toastie (as here) is absolutely fine. 


Best Avocado on Toast

Here’s how:

  • 1 small avocado
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 50g feta cheese
  • ½ red chilli
  • Sprinkling of sea salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1 slice toast (I use Warbuton's Toastie
Firstly pop your bread in the toaster.

Now halve the avocado and place all flesh into a small bowl and squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice. Use a fork to mush it up a bit but don’t completely pulverize, as you want this to keep some texture.

Once the bread is toasted, spoon over the avocado and press down with the back of the spoon.

Now slice the chilli, keeping the seeds in if you like extra heat – scatter over the toast.

Take the feta and very gently crumble over the avocado toast.

Season generously with salt and pepper. Coarser sea salt is a must here – it’s almost make or break. Enjoy!

The Narrow, Wapping

Last Sunday was of course Mothering Sunday or Mother's Day and we had a lovely three course lunch as a family at Gordon Ramsay's informal, The Narrow at Wapping, overlooking the Thames.

I'd never eaten there before despite popping in several times for drinks, and always eyeing up the food.

There were eight of us - myself, Glen and Bridget, my parents, my Nan and my two brothers, Daniel and Dean and when we arrived the place was absolutely heaving with jovial diners. There wasn't room for a pre-meal drink at the bar but we squeezed onto a sofa in the main stretch of the restaurant with the beautiful views out across the river. It's a fairly cold space despite the radiators pumping out heat plus a few fan heaters so wrap up if you feel the cold and visit during this cold spell.

There was a great atmosphere and children were most certainly welcome - there was even a face painter, which was a nice touch.

Once seated we ate from both the The Narrow's Mother's Day and  A La Carte menus and weren't disappointed.

My Dad and I chose the ham hock terrine to begin, which came with the most delicious homemade piccalilli that was artfully arranged on the plate. The terrine was chunky, full of meaty flavour and perfect with the fresh seeded rolls that came to the table. Very rustic in taste, but beautifully presented.

Ham Hock Terrine with Piccalilli

Glen had a mushroom fricassee served on rocket with buckwheat and with a perfectly soft poached egg on top which was a delicious and light way to begin.

Mushroom Fricassee with Rocket, Buckwheat and a Poached Egg

My Mum and Daniel both opted for the mackerel rillettes which came atop some rye toasted bread. Smooth and pepped up with a zing of lemon and a hint of black pepper, it was lovely, a great start.

Mackerel Rillettes on Rye

Dean had the Chicken Liver Parfait which was great but a rather large portion - no matter; we shared around the table, happily.

Chicken Liver Parfait with Pear Chutney

We also ordered one of the bar snacks of fried squid - a favourite dish, as we'd seen a few other diners enjoying. The squid was tasty and cooked perfectly - no rubbery texture here, cooked in salt and chilli but It was a slightly too heavy handed on the salt for my liking.

Squid


I had seen several roast beef dinners whilst having a drink beforehand, and it looked rare and beautiful so this is what I chose. I was slightly disappointed when it arrived, it looked a touch overdone for my taste, but on cutting into the meat, realised it must have browned on the outside from sitting on the hotplate waiting to be brought to the table as the meat, a sirloin, was tender and pink inside and had the most beautiful seasoned taste. The roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables were lovely too but the huge Yorkshire pudding was utterly perfect - I ate every morsel.

Roast Beef

Glen had the leg of lamb and Dean the pork loin roast dinners and, like mine, each came with just a drizzle of gravy, and we had to request more. We weren't offered condiments and our waiter rushed off so we had to, request these from a different member of staff which was a little frustrating, however it was insanely busy and the roasts were all good so we felt forgiving.

Roast Pork
My Dad had the Pappardelle with Rabbit Ragu which he said was fantastic; but lamented he would have liked a little more pasta.

Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle
Both my Nan and Bridget had the Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas, although Bridget's was from the children's menu and the white fish was cooked beautifully, coated in a crispy batter and served with perfect 'chip shop' style chips and mushy peas - again a good dish.

Fish, Chips and Mushy Peas

My Mum and Daniel both opted for the Pan-fried Hake on a bed of Crayfish Risotto. The hake was cooked to perfection, crispy skin and perfectly flake-able flesh. The risotto was a little under seasoned and lacking in the seafood flavour Dan was looking for, but my Mum thoroughly enjoyed.

Pan Fried Hake with Crayfish Risotto
We had a selection of puddings that included Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding, White Chocolate Cheesecake with Poached Pear and my own delicious Rhubarb and Pear Crumble with a Vanilla Custard - utterly delicious. My only complaint here would be that I could have done with a little bit more custard, but that may be down to sheer greed.

Rhubarb and Pear Crumble with Vanilla Custard

Bridget's dessert was an ice cream with chocolate sauce which she thoroughly enjoyed and I think it's a great coup that any child eats free at The Narrow all day, every day - great incentive for families to eat out more. She received a colouring in book, some pencils and a plain paper hat to decorate which kept her more than amused. The staff were kind and attentive towards her too, when one waiter noticed she was nibbling on the cucumber garnish from one of our drinks, he brought a little plate full of cucumber over. All of these small attentions to detail mean so much when eating out with children, so top marks for being family-friendly.

We had a few beers and wine amongst the table but there were a couple of drivers in our mix too and the bill came in at just under £300 for the eight of us including service which for three decent courses each, I thought was reasonable.

The Narrow is a great venue for informal family dining, in a buzzing riverside atmosphere that serves wholesome, hearty and delicious traditional food with something for all the family.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Family Fish Pie

This is a really delicious, wholesome and comforting dish, perfect for cold winter nights for all the family.

The below makes enough for x3 adult portions and two smaller toddler portions which I make in ramekins and for Bridget's smaller portions I add some frozen sweetcorn too for extra veg (Glen hates it so can't include it in the adult version).

Some people poach their fish first, but I chop it all up raw and allow it to cook inside the pie - 30 minutes is more than enough time for it to cook through.

This is a great, nutritious toddler meal and a good way of encouraging them to eat fish - Bridget absolutely loves fish pie. 

Family Fish Pie

Here's how:

For the mash topping:
  • 800g white potatoes (I use Desiree
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp butter or margerine
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 50g hard cheese such as Grana Padano, Cheddar etc.) 

For the pie filling:
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 heaped tsp mustard powder
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 100g frozen peas
  • Handful fresh parsley leaves
  • Handful fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 large salmon fillet
  • 1 large cod fillet (or other white fish)
  • 1 large smoked cod or haddock fillet (approx 200g) 
Firstly peel the potatoes and rinse well. Then coat in water and a pinch of salt and place onto boil. Once they've come to the boil simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, or until a fork easily goes through the potato. Drain, and return to the pan on the heat to absorb any retained moisture then remove.

Add the milk and butter and firstly mix a bit with the fork. Now mash well with a conventional masher and season well with white pepper. Remove enough mash for any child or toddler portions, then add another pinch of salt for the adults and set aside.

Now pre-heat the oven to 180.

It’s now time to make the fish pie sauce or roux. Place the butter in a non-stick pan on a medium heat and allow to gently melt.

In the meantime finely dice the onion and mince the garlic, then add to the melted butter for a minute or two.
Now add the flour using a wooden spoon to mix as you go so it all combines well.

Now add the wine and use a balloon whisk to gently mix which will avoid the sauce becoming lumpy. Add the bay leaf and mustard powder at this stage and season to taste.

Next add the milk a little at a time, mixing in with the balloon whisk as you go once all combined mix with the wooden spoon and allow to cook for ten minutes or so. Now add the frozen peas, and sweetcorn if you are using and stir through then remove from the heat.

Rough chop the parsley and tarragon and add to the sauce and stir. 

Family Fish Pie the Roux or Sauce

Now cut all of the fish fillets into fairly similarly sized cubes. Add to sauce mix and stir well, then spoon into the pie dish or dishes. 

Family Fish Pie pre-potato topping
Baby Bites Portion of Family Fish Pie

Now spoon over the mash potato to cover all, then use the back of the spoon to smooth it down a little. Now use the back of a fork to make a crimped finish and complete by grating over the cheese.

Place the dish onto a baking tray and pop into the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the potato topping is golden brown. Enjoy!

Simple Double Chocolate Tray Bake

Baking is an incredibly sensory experience which children tend to love, whatever their age and this simple tray bake tastes great, is easy to make and offers a great activity you can share with your child or children.

My daughter is a mere 17 months, yet she enjoyed mixing, sieving, pouring the cake batter into the cake tin and, yes of course she licked the bowl afterwards.

Obviously keep the children away from the boiling water and the hot oven!

You could have it plain, or add the white chocolate cream cheese icing as I did here.


Simple Double Chocolate Tray Bake

Here's how:

  • Sponge recipe:
  • 50g Cocoa powder (I use Cadbury’s Bournville)
  • 6 tbsp boiling water
  • 100g butter
  • 270g caster sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 125ml milk
  • 3 large eggs
Icing:

  • 200g white chocolate
  • Drop vanilla essence
  • 3 squares milk chocolate
  • 150g cream cheese (Philadelphia is good)

Firstly grease a baking tin and line with baking paper and pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees.

Now sieve the cocoa into a small bowl and pour in the boiled water, stirring straight away to make a paste.

Add the butter next and beat till smooth, then add the sugar and flour and do the same again, then beat the eggs in, one at a time.

You should by now have a silky molten looking cake batter. Pour this into the cake tin and move the tin around to ensure it is evenly distributed.

Now bake for 30-35 minutes or till well risen and cooked through. If pierced with a skewer, it should come out dry.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool for thirty minutes.

In the meantime, use 3 squares of the white chocolate and the three squares of milk chocolate and grate for decoration, set aside.

Now melt the remaining white chocolate above some boiling water in a bowl until silky and rich.

Now add the Philadelphia and stir through with the vanilla essence.

Spoon onto the cake and use a palette knife to spread evenly. Finally scatter over the grated chocolate and cut into even squares. Enjoy!
Bridget loving baking!