31 August 2010

Review : Byron Bay Cookies

As a family, we consider ourselves very lucky to have been chosen to sample and review the range of Byron Bay Cookies.

We didn’t really know what to expect, when the Postman brought what seemed to be an unfeasibly large box. Upon opening, we discovered a treasure trove of Cookiness! “Get the kettle on!”, the cry went up.

So, we settled down with our first choice - the Sticky Date, Ginger & Walnut Cookie.

What a triumph. Each individual flavour of date, walnut and ginger comes through, with the level of ginger being just right and not overpowering the other two at all. Even as you open the packaging, you know you’re in for a treat as the cookie just smells divine. Pleasantly dense without being over-sweet, it has the joint accolade of being able to melt in the mouth, yet also being able to be dunked in your tea, which if anything, enhances the flavour. There aren’t many cookies you can say that about!

As a close second, came the Lemon Macadamia Nut Shortbread. Personally, I’d say this was my favourite. It looks nice, smells gorgeous and the taste, with its crumbly butteriness is a cookie experience that is just beyond all things. The lemony flavour hovers around in the background, ever present, while the Macadamia nuts are evenly spread without being in huge chunks that would inevitably compromise one’s teeth. I think the biggest accolade one can give these shortbread cookies, is that it is impossible to hold a conversation whilst eating one.

We all ran out of tea at this stage, so let’s fast forward to the following day at tea-time.

Our son, who is 11 years old and pushover for a Smartie, immediately homed in on the “Dotty Cookie”. His professional opinion is that this is a wonderful cookie. I quote “Lovely crumbly consistency .. ~munch~ .. big chocolate chunks in it, too .. ~crunch~ .. chocolate really tastes fresh .. ~slurp~ .. it gets better when you dunk it in milk!”. Does a cookie get better than that, for a child?

Hubby had homed in on the Fig & Pecan cookie, forgiving it for being low fat. Although he found it quite hard work to chew, saying “you certainly know you’ve eaten one, it fills a hole!” as it is somewhat dense in it’s flapjack-like consistency, he certainly wouldn’t have turned down a second!

My choice was the White Chocolate Chunk & Macadamia nut cookie. With the vanilla sweetness of a soft ice cream, this cookie is just begging to be eaten with a strong cup of coffee. With very gentle flavours, the chunks of nut are slightly too big for comfort’s sake (see comment above, re. teeth!). Again, it is gloriously crumbly and buttery.

Last, but by far from least, came the Strawberry & Clotted Cream cookie. Moist and strawberryish with a creamy finish, the cookie isn’t cloying at all and every bite is a delight. As with most of the shortcake-style cookies, be prepared to be wearing any number of crumbs! The most memorable feature of this cookie, however, is the smell. Do remember to take a moment to enjoy the aroma, before taking that first delicious bite.

With a retail price of between £1.20 and £1.39 (for the gluten-free versions) I’d say that these cookies represent excellent value for money.

It's just one of those phases we go through ...

Do you find that you go through phases with the food you choose to eat? I do. For definite. I’d love to know what causes the swap from one phase to the next, because I really can’t put my finger on a reason – other than my singular lack of success at combining tomato and chilli, as per recent attempts.

This week seems to have been all about chicken and cheese. Not necessarily combined though, you understand. I see you looking somewhat relieved. *chuckle*

Well, we started off the week with a Smoked Cod Rarebit with baked cherry tomatoes. Now, apart from it winding up rather over-sauced, this was an all-round success that will be repeated at some point.

It’s also extremely easy to do, as you begin by melting butter, adding garlic, tossing the tomatoes in the garlic butter, before adding them to an oven-proof dish. Then you wilt some spinach in the remains of the butter, add a teensy bit of nutmeg and put on top of the tomatoes. Place some fillets of smoked fish (cod, in my case) on the top of the spinach and make up a thick, roux-based white sauce, to which you add some wholegrain mustard and some grated cheese. Pour this over to cover the fish and bake in a moderate oven for some 30-45 mins (depending on how thick your fish is) and serve.

I was even able to avoid the tomatoes for my son, who hates cooked tomato, buy only placing them into two-thirds of the dish.

From there, we progressed to Chilli Meatballs with Cheesy Nachos. Now I do understand that in no way can this be classed a dish that is remotely good for you. However, it does come into the category of “got to be done” and now we’ve done it, we’re satisfied. Until next time. *wink*

For Friday’s dinner, I had chosen “One-pot Chicken & Bacon Stew”, which looked to be far more difficult than it actually was. You can find the recipe for it here.

Considering everyone had clean plates at the end of the meal, I’d call that a success. Well, as it was involving chicken, bacon, white wine and cream, how on earth could it have failed to succeed? That combination Is almost guaranteed to impress.

However, all this was put into the shade by a muffin recipe. Well may you raise your eyebrows, but this is no ordinary muffin recipe but one for the lovely Brunch Muffins.

Now, again, how could anything involving bacon, cheese and spring onions not win anyone’s heart? Especially when the end result is fist-shaped and portable. Perfect Sunday morning food for boys, men and blog-writing mothers, alike.

Again – like most of the best recipes – it is dead easy.  You simply take 360g of self-raising flour, half a tablespoon of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and combine them in a large bowl.

Take 100ml of vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, 300ml buttermilk or semi-skimmed milk and a grind or two of black pepper and combine them in a large jug.

Fry off 100g of diced streaky bacon until it’s starting to go brown, then 5-6 chopped spring onions until they’re softening.

Add the liquids to the flour mixture and whisk or beat until smooth, then add 70g grated mature cheddar cheese together with the bacon and onions and mix well.

Decant into six large muffin cases, sprinkle another 10g of cheese over them and bake in a moderate (190deg fan) oven until brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Then, fend off the hungry hordes until they are cool enough to eat (the muffins, that is, not the hordes) and arm yourself with tomato ketchup for the “can’t eat bacon without ketchup” members of the family.

My thanks go out to Lucinda Overington, for the Brunch Muffins’ recipe – without whom our Sunday mornings would have been markedly less enjoyable.

(First published 31.8.10 Bournemouth Echo "Taste" Pages)

29 August 2010

One-pot Chicken & Bacon Stew

Photo c/o BBC Good Food
Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of mine!
I discovered this recipe on the BBC's Good Food website, which can be found here.

Having had some singular disasters with the tomato/chilli combinations, I had moved over to the gentler side of life and was open to offers along the chicken/mushroom/wine/cream lines.

BBC's Good Food website is always a great port of call for me, largely because it's recipes are always sensible - they rarely offer "Lark's Tongues in Aspic", for instance.  Another boon of their website is the comments box, where folk comment, having made the dish.  You can glean some interesting tips from cooks who have attempted the dish before you and want to pass on their recommendations.

This recipe had three plus points, for me.

1.  It was a one-pot dish.  That always wins in my book, as being disabled, juggling loads of pots and pans isn't easy - and anyway, someone has to wash them up at the end of the process.  It usually isn't me, but I don't like to leave a mountain of dishes for lovely hubby to do.

2.  It involved the use of white wine.  I'd got 100ml or so of white wine sitting in the fridge, getting in the way.  I always try to use leftovers where possible, so this definitely counted.

3.  It involved the use of both cream and mushrooms.  Our son doesn't like the texture of mushrooms, but he's become quite adept at hooking them out of meals, fortunately.  As for the cream, well, everything tastes gorgeous with some cream added, doesn't it?

So, here's the recipe, incorporating my alterations :


Ingredients :

knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
100g smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
half a tbsp of tomato puree
100ml white wine
400ml chicken stock
1-2 bay leaves, depending on size
2 tbsp double cream or creme fraiche
1 medium potato, in half-inch cubes
6-8 white mushrooms, quartered
chopped herbs such as parsley, chives or tarragon (I used parsley & chives)
fresh ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Heat oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6.

2.  Heat oil and melt the butter in large flameproof casserole with a lid, or use a deep frying pan and decant into a casserole dish as you go.  Fry the chicken (in batches if necessary), with some freshly ground black pepper for 5 mins on each side until well browned, then remove to plate and keep warm.

3.  Sizzle the bacon until beginning to crisp.  Stir in the carrots and onions and cook for 5 mins or until starting to soften.

4.  Stir in the flour and tomato puree, and cook for 1 min more.

5.  Add the stock and wine, mixing well to combine and bring to a simmer.  Allow to simmer until the sauce has thickened, then add the bay, cream and more black pepper.  You shouldn't need salt, owing to the butter and the stock already containing salt, but add salt to taste if you need to.

6.  Add the potatoes and mushrooms and stir to ensure they are well coated in the sauce, then add the chicken and any juices and do the same.  Put the lid on and place into the oven for 40-50 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped herbs.

I served the stew with some broccoli florets alongside and everyone cleared their plates.  Success!


27 August 2010

Failure on the compatibility front

Lancaster & Spitfire at Bournemouth's Air Festival 2010
I know the aircraft don't have anything to do with food, but I liked the photograph so much, and it's representative of what was going on over the week!

This blog post first appeared in the Bournemouth Echo's online pages, here.

Well, I can safely say that I had a collection of really nice dinners this week – well, all excepting the Sicilian Style Fish Stew, but more of that later. However, I’m not really sure that the remainder of my family enjoyed them so much.

Son's bowl of chowder, complete with bite missing from bread.
(Photograph taken by son)
We kicked off the week with a Smoked Haddock Chowder, which always goes down well with everyone. This was no exception and made a great start to the week.

Next came what was billed on the Menu as “Tuna & Sweetcorn Salad” and was one of Hubby’s cooking nights. However, it transmogrified into a Tuna Salad Nicoise (albeit made with tinned tuna) and was really gorgeous. I loved the lemon vinaigrette dressing on the salad leaves and with some crusty bread, it made a handsome meal. Unfortunately, our son has decided that he doesn’t like tuna any more. This is peculiar as tinned tuna was, along with fish fingers, the denomination of fish we used to get him started with eating it. He will now eat most types, other than smoked mackerel – and tuna, now it seems. Darn! Foiled again.

We soldiered on and menu item no.3 appeared, which was Meatballs & Pasta. Now we’ve both made meatballs in various incarnations and with varying levels of success, to the point where now we can’t really face the lengthy process of mixing and rolling the little devils, nor the difficulty of finding room in the fridge for them to chill. I seriously think that other people must have two fridges, or alternatively nothing in their fridge to begin with. However, Hubby had come up with a blinder of an idea, which was to use some “extra special” sundried tomato & herb beef burgers which he broke into meatball sized pieces, rolled into a ball and hey presto – meatballs. What a triumph! I can recommend this procedure to all those Mums & Dads out there who are also suffering from meatball making fatigue. Perfect.

You’re probably all thinking “well, that all sounds successful, what’s she on about?”. You see, it all began to go downhill from hereon in.

 Next up on the menu list was the “Sicilian-style fish stew” for which I’d bought some fresh cod fillets and frozen them in advance. Never again. We have now decided that recipes including fresh fish shall only ever feature on a Tuesday or a Friday (both of which are shopping days, and don’t require the fish to be frozen).

Looks innocent enough, doesn't it?
The dish looks a picture, and indeed I really enjoyed the broth, but the fish tasted muddy and not right and the red kidney beans were like bullets, so much so that Hubby and I both got worn out trying to chomp our way through them. Hubby declared his portion inedible and son managed to do his best with it, but more went into the bin than ever got eaten. Still, one bright note was that the brown crusty rolls we had with it, were yummy!

Saturday’s dinner was Braised Chicken & beans, served with a carrot/swede mash. I chose this one, because we were keen to try a few dishes that used white wine, and this one did. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our usual standard of chicken breast and had to settle for the supermarket’s own brand, which was salty, watery and rubbery. Not a good start. Hubby declared the carrot/swede mash inedible, although neither son nor I could detect any problem with it. Son found himself somewhat challenged by the white wine in the sauce, but I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner – problems with the chicken excepted.

Owing to the failure of the last few dinners and the dismal day, I’d decided to make the most of our crop of rhubarb in the garden and made a Rhubarb Cobbler. It isn’t the standard type of cobbler, with “cobbles” placed upon the rhubarb and baked, it is a type where you mix together a batter (made with – American cup sizes – half a cup of sugar, half a cup of plain flour, half a cup of milk, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt) and pour it over the rhubarb. I cooked the rhubarb for 3-4 minutes in the microwave, with a couple of tablespoons of sugar added, then poured the batter mix on top and baked at 180deg (fan) for 35-40 mins. The result is almost like a sponge, but with a gorgeously chewy texture. Add that to our beautiful rhubarb, and everyone had forgotten their dissatisfaction with their first course.

I can only hope that if the Sausage & Lentil Casserole I have planned for tomorrow goes wrong, the family is as easily cheered up by the Pineapple I’ve got for dessert!

24 August 2010

Smoked fish & cherry tomato rarebit

You see what I mean, by over-sauced!
Although delicious, this did turn out a wee bit over-sauced.  Next time I make it, I'll follow the reduced quantities I've set out below.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients for the sauce :

30g butter
40g plain flour
a dash of worcestershire sauce
400ml whole milk
75g strong cheddar, grated
1 heaped tsp wholegrain mustard

Ingredients for the fish :

25g butter
1 clove garlic, grated
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
120g fresh spinach, washed
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
400g undyed smoked haddock or cod, skin removed
25g strong cheddar, grated

Method :

Preheat the oven to 190C/fan 180C/gas 5.

To make the rarebit sauce, melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan and stir in the flour.  Cook, stirring, for one minute.  Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in most of the milk until combined.  Keep some milk back, so as to keep the sauce as thick as possible. Add the Worcestershire sauce, then return to the heat and slowly bring to the boil, stirring or whisking constantly, adding a little milk as you go until the sauce is unctuous and thick.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the mustard and cheese.  Season with pepper and set aside.

For the fish, melt the butter in a large, high sided non-stick frying pan, add the garlic and cook until just coloured.  Immediately add the tomatoes and toss them with the garlic butter, cooking just enough to heat through.  Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place into a shallow baking dish (a lasagne dish is perfect).  Spread them evenly.  Replace the pan on the heat and add the spinach.  Cook over a high heat until just wilted (will only take seconds), then tip into a colander and press to remove all the liquid.  Replace into the pan and add seasoning plus the nutmeg.  Arrange over the tomato layer, then cover with the fish fillets.

Spoon the rarebit sauce over the fish fillets so that they are completely covered, then sprinkle with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for around 30-45 mins until brown and bubbling and the fish is cooked through.  You can check this by inserting a knife into the fish, whereupon the flesh should flake easily.

Serve straight from the dish, with new potatoes and peas.

Courgettes with crisp cheese crumbs

Just out of the oven
A lovely warming side-dish to something relatively plain like chicken or sausages, this is also a really good use of courgettes for those with a courgette glut at the moment.  Even better is that the kids like it, too!

Serves 3-4


4 courgettes, trimmed and cut into chunky pieces
pinch of dried chilli flakes
1-2 tsp fresh (or less if dried) thyme leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed or grated
45g dry breadcrumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
tomato passata (or leftover tomato sauce would do fine!)


1.  Heat oven to 100C/180C fan/gas 6.

2.  In a bowl, combine chilli, thyme, seasoning and oil.

3.  Add courgettes and toss to coat.

4.  Place courgettes into baking dish and bake for 20 mins or until softened.

Ready for baking

5.  Meanwhile, put remaining oil in bowl.  Stir in the garlic, breadcrumbs, parmesan and some seasoning.

6.  Once courgettes are softened, pour over enough passata to cover the base of the dish, then sprinkle with the crumbs.

7.  Bake for a further 10-15 mins until crisp.

I served them with Chicken Kiev, new potatoes and peas.  I have to say that the peas were a bit unnecessary and hubby had sneaked one of his potatoes onto my plate, when I wasn't looking!

23 August 2010

Small batch jam making - you can do it, too!

Plum Jam
For people like us, who love the taste of home-made jam but who cannot justify (both in expenditure and calories) making pots and pots of the stuff, the revelation that is "small batch jam making" is almost life changing. Although, I have to admit that why I didn't think of just making a small amount of jam instead of huge vats of the stuff, I really don't know - it all seems so obvious now.

One punnet (400g) of British plums
Anyway, if you've got a punnet of fruit that you don't know what to do with, plus a half hour and some sugar, then a pot of delicious jam can be yours.

For instance. I was in the supermaket collecting the weekly haul of ingredients, when I noticed a decent sized punnet of British plums for £1. Immediately they caught my eye, but I hesitated because I am really the only one of the three of us who will eat a raw plum. Then the lightbulb switched itself on and I remembered the small batch jam. Just the job!

The first job, after washing them and removing their stalks, is to remove their stones and cut them into quarters. You don't really want them any bigger than that, otherwise you'll wind up with huge sheets of plum skin wafting around in your jam.

Starting to bubble
Then, weigh your fruit and put it into a saucepan. Next, weigh out an equivalent - or less, if you like your jam zingy - amount of sugar and include that in the pan with the fruit. The last batch I made was rhubarb and ginger jam, and I did that on a 3 parts fruit : 1 part sugar basis, which worked fine. Add a tablespoon of water or fruit juice to the pan and turn the heat up to high.

Bubbling away like crazy
You will need to be attentive in your stirring of the pot, mainly to keep everything moving so that it doesn't stick to the pan and burn, but also to keep the sides pulled in so as to prevent sugar crystals from forming.

Bubbling nicely
As you stir and as the potion bubbles, you'll begin to notice that the "feel" of the jam is beginning to change to a more slippery, less grainy, sensation.  This is your cue to try a little drip - either into a saucer of cold water, or onto a cold metal spoon.  If the jam thickens and doesn't run (or dissolve, in the case of the saucer of water), then it's time to take it off of the heat and allow it to cool slightly before decanting into your pot.

Rhubarb & ginger jam
In this instance, there's no need to fiddle around sterilising the pot, or providing little greaseproof layers for the surface.  The truth is that the jam just isn't going to be around for long enough to warrant worrying about it going off.  *grin*  Kept in a fridge, it should last as long as it needs to - until the last spoonful is used up on a piece of hot buttered toast.

Review : The Hotel Piccadilly, Bournemouth

Hotel Piccadilly, Bath Road, Bournemouth Dorset BH1 2NN
I had mentioned to my parents that the Piccadilly were doing a three-course Sunday Carvery lunch that we were quite keen to try. So, their having decided to join the party, we all sallied forth to do just that. The Piccadilly has its own car park and, as we arrived some 20 minutes early, we were able to get parked with no difficulty. Mum & Dad had a slightly more difficult job, but coincided with somebody leaving, so all was ultimately well. However, it did set in my mind that it is good to arrive early.

After a short time spent in the airy and comfortable art deco styled lounge, chatting and watching the other guests go by, we made our way to the Restaurant where we were instantly seated at a very acceptable table. The waitress was friendly and cheerful in bringing us a jug of water and took an additional drinks order. We didn’t opt for wine, however a good choice of wine is available, priced in addition to the meal. Ultimately, there were only two small tables left vacant by the end of lunch and the lively atmosphere amongst the guests was greatly enhanced by the gentleman in high heels and sequinned union jack dress!

As we were fairly ravenous, we didn’t wait very long before descending upon the Chef’s Table to collect our starters. There were salads to suit every palate, plus seafood salad, smoked salmon and charcuterie. In fact, it was difficult not to overdo ones choices. My selection of a pork terrine, seafood salad, smoked salmon, potato salad, coleslaw and chorizo went down very well and I’d certainly have been back for more, if the knowledge of the roast to come hadn’t been enough to put the brakes on. The family chose, in addition, the bean salad, rice salad, green salad, salami and prawns and all were unanimous in their praise.

On then to the main event, the roast carvery. There were two meats on offer, a roast beef and a gammon joint. I was hard pressed to decide between the two and was saved by the chef offering a slice of each. There were the usual accompaniments of horseradish sauce, mustard and a delicious beef gravy. Of note has to be the Yorkshire Puddings, which were quite the biggest I have ever been offered! Vegetables included roast potatoes, buttered new potatoes, red cabbage and a medley of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and green beans.

The meal was something of a game of two halves. The meat was absolutely gorgeous, being full of flavour and tender to the knife – faultless, provided you don’t like your beef to still be mooing! I think it would be difficult to produce beef that is still pink in the middle for a carvery, bearing in mind it is going to be standing around for, potentially, a long time. The vegetables were very acceptable to my taste in that they were slightly under-done, however they were rather under-seasoned. I suspect that a change in species of potato wouldn’t go amiss for the roasties, as these were oddly wet in the middle – like as though a baking potato had been used, instead of a good old King Edward. Maybe it’s a personal taste thing, but I like my roasties to be crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle.

For dessert, I had bread & butter pudding with custard and the family’s choices ranged from Lemon Posset through to a chocolate brownie with custard. The winner in the dessert stakes was very definitely the Lemon Posset, as it’s freshness and lemony flavour left us hankering to slip a couple into our pockets on the way out!

Overall, we were agreed that for £9.95, it made for an extremely acceptable and enjoyable lunch, which we would all be very happy to make a habit of!

22 August 2010

Wet Sunday entertainment

It's being a filthy day, today.  So bad that the poor old Bournemouth Air Festival flights are rapidly being cancelled hand over fist.  The big boys like the F-16 and the Typhoon need something like 1500ft of clear space beneath the cloud base - and currently we've got 300ft!  Not good.  So you can imagine how grey and miserable it is out there.

In here, however, it's warm and cosy with the smell of Brunch Muffins and Rhubarb & Ginger jam in the air.  Is there anything nicer (apart from going out for some delicious lunch experience somewhere), than setting to in the kitchen on a grey, wet day?  I don't think so.

Laura's home-grown eggs

My dear friend Laura gifted me with six lovely fresh eggs yesterday, from her back garden hens.  They are always such a treat, they immediately set me to thinking about what I can use them in.

Having just seen the recipe for the Brunch Muffins on UK Food Bloggers Association's site, see here, they were first on my agenda and have turned out to be a glorious muffiny treat on the tongue, perfect with a cup of coffee or, indeed, for brunch!

The rhubarb & ginger jam is episode two of my small batch jam making experiment.  The rhubarb came from the garden and is guaranteed to be good - although the erstwhile triffid that was the rhubarb patch is now starting to look more than a bit plundered.  I can't bear to think that it will stop growing soon!  I worked on a ratio of 3:1, fruit to sugar, this time.  The resulting jam is setting beautifully and tastes just gorgeously zingy.  Just the job to wake the tastebuds up in the morning.  *grin*  I can't wait to try!
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