29 April 2011

Honey mustard chicken with herb salad & jacket potatoes

In an attempt to put some lighter and remotely healthy dishes on the menu list, I hit upon the half-way house that is "something with salad and a jacket potato" idea.  The something being the star of the show, the salad being the healthy bit and the jacket potato takes on the role of the filler.

You see, I've discovered that if you go from big old hearty stews with dumplings, enormous bowls of steaming pasta, lovely warming soups etc. straight to salads, what you wind up with are a lot of peckish chaps by 9pm.


So, in this intervening period (Spring, some call it) I've been trying to hit upon nice half-way house types of recipes that suit the weather and suit everyone's need for something fresher and lighter for dinner.  Of course, needless to say, by next week it'll be sub-zero overnight and we'll be hankering for the old Shin of beef stews again - but I might as well try!

This Honey Mustard Chicken recipe is a perfect example of a recipe of the type.  The chicken is served hot, as is the jacket potato - so both warm you up a bit on a chilly evening.  However, the salad provides that fresh flavour and crunch that your tastebuds have been hankering for, after a couple of months of root vegetables.

In fact, this chicken recipe is the first for aeons that the glaze has actually gone right - and glazed the chicken, instead of falling off and resisting all attempts to have it do any glazing.  Instead, it normally winds up laying in the bottom of the pan sulking, claiming it's "not in their job description" and "a real cook would know how".


This glaze - whether it was the hotter temperature, or the size of the pan I got right - worked perfectly and the chicken came out of the oven suitably glazed, with a lovely soft, perfectly cooked middle.

Because I was cooking the Jacket Potatoes at the same time, I had the oven temperature up at 200 deg C instead of 180/190 deg C - which is what I would normally cook chicken at.  It seems as though I shall have to try this hotter temperature again, as it seemed to do the trick beautifully.


A word about the Jacket Potatoes themselves.  They were Asda's Extra Special Marabel potatoes, which I would heartily recommend.  They are sweet and fluffy - and the skins taste really richly potato-like.  Oh, and ignore the "won't need butter" instruction on the label - they might not NEED butter, but every jacket potato should have SOME butter!


HONEY MUSTARD CHICKEN WITH HERB SALAD & JACKET POTATO  (serves 3)


Ingredients :


2 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp grain mustard
3 skinless chicken breasts


3 baking potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
3 knobs of butter
3 tbsp soured cream
3 tsp chopped fresh chives


A bag of herb salad
9 cherry tomatoes
some cucumber slices


Method :


1.  Pre-heat oven to 200deg C (fan).

2.  Take the three baking potatoes and clean them thoroughly, removing any dodgy looking eyes or scratch marks.

3.  Rub in the olive oil to the skins of the potatoes and place onto a baking sheet.

4.  Season both sides of the potatoes, then place into the oven for an hour.

5.  Mix the honey and mustard together in a small bowl.


6.  Arrange the chicken breasts in a baking dish and spoon the honey/mustard mix over, taking care to cover every inch of the chicken.


7.  Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is white all the way through when pierced with a knife.


8.  In the meantime, open a bag of herb salad and arrange a portion onto each of the three plates.  Add the cherry tomatoes and cucumber.


9.  When done, place each jacket potato alongside the salad.  Cut a cross into the top of each and squeeze gently to raise the flesh of the potato.  Add a knob of butter, a tbsp of soured cream and sprinkle the chives over.


10.  Add the chicken, cut into three portions, beside - and serve.


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28 April 2011

Bournemouth Echo "Jenny's Week" blog : Easter Sunday lunch : I'm getting better at it!


The Bournemouth Echo have posted my newest blog, so at last I can tell you all about the Easter Sunday lunch!


The following post can be seen in situ here


It’s not so much that last Easter Sunday’s lunch was a disaster (in truth, I can’t remember last Easter!), but more thinking back to the last time I cooked for anyone other than immediate family, it was a long, hard old slog.

I’d arranged for my parents to come over on Boxing Day last year.  I wanted to have a special celebration dinner, so I’d been cooking for a couple of days previously and the cooking on the day seemed to take FOR EVER.  I can remember pots steaming on the cooker top, me sitting peeling quail’s eggs for what seemed like an aeon and hubby washing up the pots as quickly as they appeared, only to have them dirtied again in a second.  It wasn’t chaos, but it was very close to it.

A rather hurried and particularly poor, snap of the assembled dinner!

So, when I invited my parents over for Easter Sunday lunch, I resolved that this time I’d learn from the previous time’s lesson – and not over face myself.

I’d decided, fairly early on, that we’d have a piece of pot-roasted brisket of beef, as not only is that gorgeous, but it almost guarantees a piece of tender, flavoursome beef with the added bonus of some lovely stock with which to make a superb gravy.

Hubby placed a request for another of the Ottolenghi Fennel & Cherry Tomato Gratin, and I decided to do some Boulangere potatoes, as I could prepare them ahead with the Gratin and both could go in the oven and be forgotten about until they were done.

The accompanying vegetables went from steamed curly kale, through tender stem broccoli to what we settled upon, which was stringless runner beans (because they’re forgiving to cook) and some British asparagus – because if you can’t eat asparagus at such a time as Easter, when can you?

The preparations began early on Sunday morning, when I seared the Beef almost before I’d had a cup of tea.  Through bleary eyes I turned it this way and that, making sure every side had a good colour, whilst trying not to get in the way of the exploding fat.  Having made a complete mess of the cooker top, I chopped up a couple of carrots, a leek and some celery, bashed a couple of garlic cloves, added a handful of fresh parsley plus some dried sage and crumbled in an oxo cube to a stockpot full of water.  Into its bath went the piece of brisket (with some seasoning), on went the lid and I sat and waited for the whole lot to boil.  Once it was boiling briskly, I turned down the heat to the minimum required to keep the pot simmering – and went for that cup of tea.

A little while later – and in a much improved frame of mind – I set to on the preparation for the two oven-bound dishes.

Half-way through, just added crumble & tomatoes
First thing was to make some crumble for the Ottolenghi fennel dish.  That done, I was able to use our Mandolin food slicer (after a cautionary word from hubby about how having to go to Casualty at that stage would seriously put the dinner back) to slice up the three fennel bulbs and the potatoes for the Boulangere.

The finished article - ready to be served
The fennel gratin is true testament to the magic that Ottolenghi brings to their dishes.  Cooked with garlic, thyme and cream, the fennel stops tasting like fennel and tastes utterly different.  With the sweet crumble on top, together with the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, every mouthful takes on a character all of its own.  It’s a gorgeously rich but light, creamy but crunchy, sweet but sharp delightful flavour and texture combination.  I heartily recommend it to you!

The Boulangere potatoes couldn’t have been easier to put together, now I’d got the Mandolin to help out.  Previously, the long old process of attempting to slice potatoes to even thicknesses – and all without cutting your fingers off – would have been enough to make me think twice.  However, with the Mandolin I just pop a peeled spud into the holder and slice away knowing that my fingers are safe from harm and lovely evenly sliced spuds await.

Just butter the baking dish and add sliced onion & chopped garlic in layers with the potato.  Pour over just enough stock to keep everything moist, add the obligatory knobs of butter to the surface and cover over until you’re ready to put it in the oven.

As for the fennel dish, it can be prepared up to just before the adding the crumble stage, whereupon it will wait, covered, until you’re ready.  Then just add the crumble and pop in the oven.  You just need to remember to put the tomatoes on top somewhere near the end of cooking, so that they will be baked nicely.

After that, it was just decanting some of the stock from the beef pot to make the gravy and preparing the beans & asparagus.

I’m really not sure I did manage to carve the meat – it just sort of fell apart, rather than stayed in lovely carved rounds.  However, it was deliciously unctuous and beefy – and went so very well with the lovely horseradish cream.

Yes, I think I got this one right.


27 April 2011

Lunch from true leftovers : Asparagus, Fennel, Leek, Celery and Potato Soup

I made lunch for myself today.

Nobody else was here - hubby was back at work, son & heir back at school, so all was peace & quiet.


I had a bag in the vegetable drawer of my fridge, which had been collecting "things I could use in soup".  This bag - and the potential soup - had been burning into my imagination ever since Sunday, when I started putting stuff into it.

So, at the commencement of the big soup cook up, my soup bag had all the woody asparagus ends from the Easter dinner, the top ends, i.e. the fluffy bit, stalks and a bit of the sections from the fennel, a limp leek and some celery sticks that hadn't made it into the stock pot.

I chopped the celery sticks up and washed and sliced the leek.  Then I added two of the mangy Maris Piper potatoes that I'd used the better ones of for the Boulangere Potatoes at Easter.  I chopped them into tiny pieces that wouldn't take long to cook.

Then, I melted a knob of butter in a saucepan and added a tablespoon of olive oil to it.  Once melted, I threw the celery, leek and potato on top and got everything sweating down.

I then went back and chopped the fennel and cut each asparagus piece into two.

I had taken a pint or so of home made chicken stock from the freezer and heated that in another pan.  By all means, if going for a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock.  The fennel and asparagus went into the main pot and the chicken stock followed on.

I then seasoned, put the lid on and simmered it whilst I cleaned the kitchen up.

Once the asparagus and potato were softened and cooked through, I set the soup to one side to cool for a moment, then put it through a blender.

Returning it to the pan, I stirred in three or four tablespoons of double cream, checked the seasoning and added a large pinch of chopped parsley, reheated and served.

Did it make a great lunch?  Oh, you bet your life it did.  There's even (don't tell anyone) enough left for lunch on Friday.

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What is on the menu for this week?

This week seems to be following in last week's chaotic footprints.  I seem to have failed miserably on the ordering front, because we're missing and running out of so many things!  Hubby had to go out yesterday on his new bike (which wasn't a tragedy for him - he's looking for reasons to take it out), for emergency dog biscuit - and I've already put cling film and washing-up liquid on the shopping list for tonight.  *sigh*


It is true that I did do the online shopping in a bit of a hurry, last Sunday.  Once my parents had left for home, it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to not only place the order, but before that make the shopping list and before that, decide what the heck we'd be eating.  So as time marched on, I suspect my thinking may have got a little fluffy.

Hey ho.  I'm sure we'll survive!  There's a lot worse going on across the globe, so mustn't grumble over a roll of cling film and a bottle of washing up liquid, eh?

Here's what's on the menu this week :


Honey Mustard Chicken, herb salad & jacket potato with sour cream & chives
Sultana chicken with Jasmine rice
Sausage in a roll, chips and coleslaw
Bacon & blue cheese filo tart, with red onion & tomato salad
Salmon & Orzo salad
Bacon & Pepper Lasagne, with a green salad
Pasta bolognese, with garlic dough balls.

A bit of a random selection - with salad featuring quite prominently!  Which, of course, means it's going to rain.  Betcha.
Yesterday started things off very well.  The Honey Mustard Chicken was really lovely.  For once, the honey mustard glaze actually glazed the chicken instead of rolling off and spending its time being wasted at the bottom of the pan.  I don't know why I have this problem with glazes - but they rarely work.  In fact, this is the first glaze to work in around a thousand years (or thereabouts).  Well, that's how it feels, anyway.

I wonder if cooking the chicken at a higher temperature (because the jacket potatoes were in the oven, I cooked it at 200deg C instead of around 180deg C) had anything to do with it.  I suspect it may have done, so I'll test that theory the next time I attempt to glaze some chicken.  The meat had retained its softness, yet with a suitably glazed exterior.  Even the small fillets weren't over-cooked, as I'd snuggled them up to the side of the larger pieces which had afforded them protection from the fiercest of the heat.

The potatoes I used for the jackets were Asda's extra special Marabel potatoes.  They purported to require no butter, as they'd be rich enough.  Of course, we treated that information with the contempt it seemingly deserved and hubby loaded up the jackets with butter.  I added sour cream and chives to mine and son & heir's, but I have to say, I really don't think the butter was entirely necessary.  It's so rare to find a product that does what it says on the packet!

Along with the lovely herb salad (by far and away my favourite type of salad), it made for a thoroughly delicious meal which I will blog the recipe for.
Photo c/o BBC Good Food
Wednesday should have been the Bacon & Blue Cheese Filo Tart, but owing to the reluctance of the chicken to defrost last week, everything has been moved on a day or so.  Hence, we'll be having the Sultana Chicken and Jasmine Rice that had been booked in for last Monday.  Son & heir has decreed he'll be attending a friend's house "to work on a science homework project" (possibly also known as "mucking about with guitars") where he's undoubtedly hoping to get some tea.  In turn, I'll be hoping that he lets me know whether he'll require feeding, before I start cooking the rice!

Thursday's dinner is a "dinner for boys".  We're having sausages - ordinary bangers that is, rather than hot dog sausages, in a hot dog roll with fried onions and tomato ketchup.  Hubby and son & heir will both be having chips, but I've taken the opportunity to whip up a home made coleslaw.  Neither of them eat coleslaw, but I love the stuff - so hopefully, everyone will be happy!  Yes, I know it's a Bonfire Night dinner really, but maybe we'll set fire to the pile of dead weeds in the garden and make do.

Friday brings about the return of the Bacon & Blue Cheese Filo Tart.  By hubby's special request.  It's the kind of tart that looks like you've spent ages fiddling about cooking this and that for it, but in reality it's simply a "cook some bacon, assemble the rest" job.  Simple as - provided I remember to include the pine nuts.  The last twice I've made this tart, they've been forgotten and it certainly does lose something in the flavour without them.  I'll have to make sure I get them out of the cupboard to begin with!  I'll be making a red onion and tomato-based salad to go with it, as the cheese and onion is a lovely combination - as is the tomato, of course.

Now Friday should have been Scampi and chips - but thanks to the freezer, the Scampi can quite happily wait until next week.

Saturday's Salmon and Orzo salad is a new combination for us - and the first time I'll have used Orzo in a salad context.  However, using it in the same way as one would do rice, in order to make a dressed salad, seems to me to have the capacity to work.  I just hope I can get some fresh Dill on Saturday, or I'll be scratching my head for an alternative.  ~thinks ~  I suppose Fennel would work .... hmmmn.  I hope the salmon isn't so expensive that it leaves me wondering, either!

All the ingredients, from the last time I cooked the tart.
Now comes the dish that requires all the cooking.  Sunday's Bacon & Pepper Lasagne is a real production that requires a Sunday in which to do the cooking of it proper justice.  I suspect that I'll be rather done for by the end of dinner, that day!  However, the Lasagne itself is worth every moment of energy expended in the production of it.  Never have I tasted a better Lasagne - not even true Lasagne's, involving beef instead of the bacon.  The combination of the bacon and the sweet peppers, mixed with the sauce which I make with red leicester cheese, is just a glorious orange coloured melange of tastebud tittilating flavours.  I'm using fresh egg pasta for the first time, too - ordinarily I use the dried pasta sheets.  I'm not sure what the difference will be, but I'm crossing my fingers that it'll be good!

We're staying in Italy for the final dish of the week - a good old Bolognese.  Not spaghetti this time, because I've got so many half-bags of spirali, penne and fusilli, I think we'll have a mixture and try to finish some of them up!  This dish will also use up the beef mince I bought from Spring Fields Butchers, when I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to find lamb mince for one of the dishes a couple of weeks ago.  It's a good dish for a Monday, as it doesn't take much preparation, so when I'm all tired and brain-dead after adding up and taking away for the last four hours at work, I can (almost) put it together with my eyes shut.

So, there you have it!  Oh, one other thing - I'm planning on making some vegetable soup for lunch today, from the leftover ends of the asparagus, fennel, green beans and leeks we used at the weekend.  Fingers crossed it will turn out to be yummy - as I have been looking forward to a lovely bowl of soup, since Sunday!

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26 April 2011

What was on the menu list last week!

I'm really not quite sure what happened to last week, in terms of being able to blog about what was on the menu list, anyway.  I seemed to perpetually be one or two days behind what was happening - but then, this is what happens when real life takes up time you could have spent writing about that real life.

Last week's menu was an odd collection - and this week's is turning out that way, too.  However before we turn our attention to what's going to happen, perhaps we could have a little look at what has happened!

I began last week with the lovely, lovely Smoked Haddock Chowder, with crusty bread.  Well, ordinarily it's lovely lovely.  This one wasn't bad - but it wasn't unctuous and glorious like it should have been.  I have found that, amazingly, if the cook isn't feeling 100% then - very often - the food won't turn out to be 100%.  No matter how hard you try.  Still, everyone ate it all up and maybe it wasn't as bad as I imagined.  Maybe!

A slightly less rich colouring - but very moreish nonetheless
Wednesday was the inaugural trot-out of a Lamb Pilaff originally blogged by Twitter pal @thegrubworm.  I was instantly intrigued by his recipe, as it included just about everything I like to eat - and in a seemingly authentic style.

As is always my way, I made a few changes to his recipe as - and most crucially - I discovered I didn't have any saffron at the last minute.  However, it was too late to change horses mid-course, so I just did my best with it.  I'd also added a leek to the meat mixture to increase the veggie quota and instead of using cubed lamb shoulder, I'd opted for the cheaper lamb mince.

Well, I can only imagine how the embellished saffron-infused version must taste, as the non-saffron version tasted jolly flipping good!  I won't blog the recipe, as you can go to his blog and pick it up from there, simply by clicking on this


Thursday had to be an easy dinner, as I'd been back to work after a few days holiday and anticipated that I wouldn't really be feeling like cooking.  Amazingly, we'd again run out of an integral ingredient for Devilled Sausages, sweet potato wedges and baked beans.  This one was down to bad luck, however, as we'd managed to pick up a jar of peanut butter which some disgusting oik had poked a finger into, then re-sealed.  Yuck.  Devilled sausages just aren't right without peanut butter included in the devilling (I'll blog the recipe the next time we have them and you'll see I'm right).


So, I freestyled a dish of oriental glazed sausages (soy sauce, oyster sauce, marmalade and chilli) together with sesame & orange sweet potato wedges - all with the poor old baked beans.  However, I have to report that orange zest goes oddly well with baked beans.  Who knew?




Good Friday brought about a return to a more structured approach to a meal, in the shape of Spirali al Forno, which utilised four cheeses.  Goodness, but this one was good - so much so, it warrants a blog post all of its own - so look out for it!


Easter was upon us by now - and Saturday involved lots of cleaning, organising and preparation for my parents' visit for lunch on Easter Sunday.  I took the easy way out - and we had pizza.  You can't knock it, when you're busy doing other things!


Easter Sunday, as I told you in the quick post to let you know I hadn't run away, was a lovely day with a lovely meal.  The Ottolenghi Fennel & Cherry Tomato Gratin I have blogged already, but I shall definitely blog the recipe for the Boulangere Potatoes, as it was one of the better ones I've tried.

I've also written a blog post for the Bournemouth Echo which deals with the day in detail, so I won't duplicate too much here.  Once the post is up on the Echo pages, I'll post it here so that we can all catch up.


One thing I didn't blog is our dessert on the day.  Hubby had requested we have some kind of creme brulee.  During discussions, he suggested that it would be possible, to save time and effort, to use pre-prepared custard and simply brulee the top.  Bearing in mind that Ruby, our rhubarb, had been growing fit to bust ever since it had stopped snowing - the concept of Rhubarb & Custard Brulee was born.


The execution of said concept didn't quite come off - although the desserts were very nice and the tops did brulee in the centre.  The custard proved too heavy for the rhubarb layer in the base of the ramekin and forced the rhubarb juice up between the side of the ramekin and the custard.  Consequently, when I sprinkled the sugar on and blowtorched it, a percentage of the sugar melted instantly and disappeared without trace.  However, the crunchy brulee top was achieved and everyone appeared to approve.  Next time, I'll definitely make a lighter weight custard and allow it to set with a skin on top.  That'll definitely help the blowtorching!


I think we should skip lightly over discussing Monday's dinner.  You see, I'd taken the chicken out of the freezer the night before and left it in the fridge.  I came to it on Monday evening to make the Sultana Chicken that I'd listed - and the chicken was still frozen solid.  So, we went to Macdonalds.  *blush*  Needs must, and all that.

Now, before I wrap this post up, I have something very important to report.  I recently bought my very first jelly mould.  So, I give you - a jelly!  Complete with wobble.



So proud - now all I want is one shaped like a rabbit.


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Testing sweeties without a hint of remorse, for Sweet Junkie





Every so often, as a food blogger, one gets the chance to have samples of certain products sent to you to test and review.  One such, is Sweet Junkie's range of sugar free sweeties.


I mean - sugar free?  It had to be done.  In the name of research, obviously.

First thing, though, was to quiz Michael - the man behind Sweet Junkie, and @SweetJunkie on Twitter - as to what the sweetening agent is for these goodies.  You see, as a household, we are quite adamantly against the use of Aspartame or Acesulfame as sweetening agents.  There has been far too much bad press regarding the both of them, to entertain it.  So you can imagine how happy I was, to learn that the sugar-free sweeties use sucralose and maltitose both of which are perfectly acceptable.

Here you see Basil, hoping he'll get to try some - and deciding which!

Sorry, Basil - but sweeties aren't for dawgies.  :(  You'll just have to go back to gnawing your bone.

Immediately upon emptying the package, son & heir's eyes lit upon the Sugar-free Little Bears and he began to look hopeful.


Needless to say, the Little Bears didn't last beyond five minutes as they were sampled again, and again, until they were gone.  Which goes some way to explaining just how good they were!  The texture is slightly tougher than the ~cough~Haribo~cough~ version, which I found an improvement.  I hate jelly sweeties that wrap around your teeth like glue, flatly refusing to detach until they've dissolved.  These don't do that - which I can't help but think is a good thing, as they're aimed at young mouths.


Next up - and I must add here that all these sweeties were sampled over the course of a few days, rather than all at the same time.  Too many sugar-free sweeties can have the unfortunate side-effect of having you spend far too long in your local "house of easement", as the Tudors so quaintly put it - was the Sugar-free Lun Jeelers.


Now I don't know about you, but I had to enquire as to what a "Lun Jeeler" actually was, before sampling same.  It's all very well trying something, but if you don't know what it is supposed to taste like in the first place, it's a bit of a one-sided taste test!  For those, like me, not "in the know", the name is a contraction of the name "Lung Healer" - so, a type of cough candy.


I sampled mine as I was entering my local supermarket, in the hope that it would a) stop me hankering after the breakfast I'd not had and b) stop me from hankering after naughty additional things that aren't on the list, and finally c) chase away my dry mouth (from missing breakfast, no doubt!).  It was a big ask of a little sweetie, but goodness - it did the job!  They have an intriguing taste, as the immediate flavour is citrus, followed by a very gentle sarsparilla-like effect.  Now normally anything sarsparilla flavoured I just can't abide, but these were very nice indeed.


Regrettably, hubby's opinion of them was rather less printable.  He spat his out very quickly, claiming it had caused one side of his gums to swell up!  Bizarre.


The one sweetie that we had been sent that Hubby was keen to sample, was the Sugar-free Lemon, Lime & Acid drops.  His particular interest was in the Acid drop, as they were a favourite from childhood.


He declared his Acid drop to be a creditable attempt - in that it was indistinguishable from a sugared sweetie, however felt that the Acid was a bit too gentle on the tongue.  I had a lemon drop and son & heir had the lime drop and we both were very happy with ours.  In fact, all mine was missing, was some sherbert in the middle - but then that'd be a completely different sweetie.


I'll tell the truth and say that I was more than a little leery of trying the Sugar-free Mint & Aniseed sweets.


I'm more than a wimp where mint is concerned - and far from it "settling your stomach", have found over the years that it has the exact opposite effect.  As for aniseed, well in small doses perhaps.


I am quite sure that if you're a mint-oholic who likes the flavour of aniseed, you'll absolutely adore these sweeties.  I feel bad about giving them a negative review, because the whole issue is simply one of personal taste.  However, for me (and Hubby) we didn't last beyond the first two or three sucks.  ~shrug~  It wasn't the sugar -v- no sugar, it was simply the combination of mint/aniseed.  Don't let us put you off!


Last contender in this hall of fame, is the ubiquitous Cough Candy.


Now I've been sucking on Cough Candies ever since I was a proverbial nipper - and I can safely say that not only do Sweet Junkie's Sugar-free Cough Candy Twists taste exactly how they should do, but I honestly could not establish any difference in flavour or texture, between the sugar-free and sugared.


In fact, I've held on to the other two that were in the packet - and nobody's having them except me!


The long and the short of this review, is that if you're diabetic or watching your weight, but just love your sweeties - go along to Sweet Junkie and order up some to try.  (You can find Sweet Junkie on Facebook, too!).  I am quite sure you won't be disappointed - and they have just so many different types, other than those I've mentioned above.


For those of you who are lucky enough to not be diabetic or weight watching, go along and have a look at the glorious selection of sugared retro sweeties.  You'll find yourself exclaiming "oh, I've not had those for years!" and reaching for the order button.



Just to confirm that this is a sponsored post. I was sent the sweeties free of charge for the purposes of this review, and received no financial reward. Any views expressed are my own or as expressed to me at the time.

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24 April 2011

I haven't run away, honest!

Just to let you all know that I haven't run away, I've been very busy preparing for, cooking for and entertaining my parents who came for the day today (Easter Sunday).

We had a lovely day, and ate Pot Roast Brisket of Beef, with Ottolenghi's Fennel & Cherry Tomato Gratin, Boulangere potatoes, asparagus and stringless beans - all of which was suitably moistened by a superb gravy made with the stock the Brisket was poached in, together with horseradish cream and grain mustard.

For dessert, we had rhubarb & custard brulee - which finished everything off perfectly.

We didn't have wine as none of us drink at lunchtimes, but we managed to empty two bottles of Asda's Extra Special Sparkling White Muscat Juice, which is non-alcoholic and at £1.51 a bottle hardly broke the bank, but provided a suitably sparkling celebration drink to toast everyone's health by.

Full blog post is yet to come .....

20 April 2011

Pork & Pepper stir-fry : yes, the one that wasn't, until it was!

I've talked about the menu list that I post up on our fridge every Tuesday, which tells the family what will be for dinner on each night that week.  I've also, very recently, talked about what I call various dishes, in order that the name doesn't set up a resistance with either son (or his Dad, sometimes!).

Well, this is the stir-fry that wasn't a stir-fry, until suddenly I was rumbled and it was.

I hadn't done a stir-fry for ages - and I really like them.  I have to admit that I much prefer stir-fries that contain more veggies than this, but I was attempting to strike a compromise with the veggie-haters amongst us.

I used the pork steaks from our butcher and trimmed off the excess fat.  I didn't give the fat to the dogs this time, but saved it until the next time I was using the oven, whereupon I roasted the bits to extract the fat for roast potatoes.  The roasted and crunchy pieces then went in the dog's dinner.  Better that they rest on their waistlines, than on mine, but I will admit to shedding a wee tear, at the time.

It was, interestingly, the first time I had dabbled with Jasmine rice.  It's really quite nice, isn't it?  Not a huge difference between that and ordinary white rice, but its fragrance is inviting and the grains are a nice size.


Something else that I hadn't done before, was to toast sesame seeds.  It's weird but sometimes I think that I've watched so much cooking t.v., that I think I've done something that it turns out I haven't - and toasting sesame seeds is one such.  It took longer than I was anticipating, but the fragrance they give off as they toast is mouthwatering.


The dish has a lovely (well, hubby and I both thought it was lovely) sweet and sour flavour that is down to the lime juice and honey.  The chilli gives it that nice back of the throat warmth, without blowing your head off.


It'll probably be some time, but I'm definitely doing this one again!


PORK & PEPPER STIR-FRY (serves 3)


Ingredients :


150g Thai Jasmine rice
1.5 tbsp sesame seeds
1.5 tsp sunflower oil
6 pork steaks or 400g pork fillet, sliced into finger width strips
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, sliced into fine strips
1 leek, cut into rounds
3 tsp cornflour
3 tsp soy sauce
juice of 1.5 limes
1.5 tbsp clear honey
1 red chilli, seeds removed and sliced.


Method :


1.  Place the rice in a saucepan with 450ml boiling water.  Bring back to the boil, stir once, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low (or "just on").


2.  Cook for 15 mins, stirring from time to time, by which time the rice should have absorbed the liquid and be perfectly cooked.


3.  Dry-fry the sesame seeds until toasted golden, then set aside to cool.


4.  Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok.  Add the pork (in instalments if needs be) and stir-fry for 5-6 mins over a high heat until the pork is lightly browned and cooked through.  Reserve to keep warm.


5.  Cook the peppers until they reach your favourite consistency - we prefer around 10 minutes or so.


6.  Mix the cornflour and soy sauce together in a bowl, then add the lime juice, honey, chilli and sesame seeds, plus 8 tbsp of cold water.


7.  Pour into the wok and immediately stir well, cooking until the sauce has thickened.


8.  Add the pork and stir or toss to ensure everything is coated in sauce.


Serve.


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19 April 2011

Bournemouth Echo blog "Jenny's Week" : The stir-fry that isn't a stir-fry, until it is!



The following blog entry can be seen in situ here


The stir-fry that isn't a stir-fry, until it is!

All of which is because my son is vehemently anti stir fries.  Mind you, he appears to be becoming anti anything remotely sweet and sour too, which is a great shame.

Being a just-on-the-verge-of-teenage lad, he’s developing a nice line in vegetable avoidance.  He’s decided he doesn’t like casseroles (which have vegetables in the mix), or the said stir fries (which have vegetables cooked with the meat, that are ~horrors~ still crunchy) and will visibly blanche when faced with a salad.

He much prefers non-vegetable meals like chilli con carne, or spaghetti Bolognese.  Which is a shame, really, as his Mum is as vehemently pro-vegetables as he is vehemently agin them.

However, we persevere.  I figure that if I keep on serving up the right portions of vegetables, he’ll get used to seeing them on his plate and teenage hunger might win over teenage pickiness.  I do try to avoid things that I know he just can’t countenance, like mushrooms, cooked tomatoes or aubergine, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t appear in certain recipes.  Take, for instance, the absolutely gorgeous Greek Lamb & Orzo Bake that we had for dinner last night.

The recipe involves lamb mince cooked with onion, garlic & aubergine, then with stock, tinned tomatoes and mint.  You then mix in some cooked orzo (which is rice-shaped tiny pasta, for those who were wondering) and put the mixture into a dish to bake, topped off with an egg/greek yoghurt mixture that sets and creates a lovely tangy topping.


There are two things in this recipe that son doesn’t like – aubergines and tomatoes.  Neither is avoidable, as they’re both fundamental ingredients.  However, the tomatoes will cook down and become part of the general saucy melange, whereas the aubergine will stay in chunks.  So, when I was adding it to the baking dish, I just chased most of the aubergine away into the other three quarters of the dish.  I served it with baby sweetcorn and sugar snap peas, and the lot disappeared.  Job done.

I reckon that one of my jobs as a parent, is to broaden my son’s horizons on as many different subjects as possible.  Hence, I refuse to be cowed by his likes and dislikes where food is concerned and I also refuse to cater just for him, while his Dad and I eat something else.  Case in point is son’s new friend, who was in the house when lunchtime struck.  Hubby offered him a sandwich, and he asked for chocolate spread.  Now, although I have nothing against chocolate spread and indeed we have some in the house which is brought out at breakfast time and stays with breakfast time, a lunchtime sandwich for boys consists of something savoury, accompanied by cucumber and tomato and maybe a packet of crisps.  So we went through all the choices : cheese (no), marmite (no), fish paste (no), ham?  We suspect he just accepted ham out of a desperate desire to please rather than anything else, as his sandwich came back with two bites taken out of it, no cucumber eaten, or tomato – and even the crisps came back “because they’re beef”.

I just couldn’t imagine my son doing the same thing to someone else.  Plus, the thought that this little lad (who was the size of a whippet – and is it any wonder?) would only eat chocolate spread in a sandwich, left me feeling really quite sad.

When hubby mentioned how glad he was that our son wasn’t like that, I just had to say that it’s because we’ve trained him that way.

So, to get back to the stir-fry that isn’t, until it is, this refers to a Pork & Pepper stir fry that we had one day last week.

I knew that if I wrote “Pork & Pepper stir-fry” up on the menu list for the week, I’d set up a resistance in our son’s mind.  That resistance would manifest in a large case of the “I don’t like <insert name of foodstuff>”.  So, I called it just “Pork steaks & pepper”.  All was calm.  Right up until he came into the kitchen and spotted the Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, sesame seeds and sliced red & yellow peppers.  “Oh”, he said.  “It’s a Chinese something then?” sounding really disappointed.

“Marginally”, was my reply, hedging my bets.

The end result was that he ate the pork, about a third of the peppers and all of the jasmine rice.  He did declare that he “didn’t like the sweet and sour flavour, because of the vinegar”.  I just couldn’t resist informing him that there was no vinegar involved in this one – just soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and honey.

I wouldn’t say it was a win:win situation, but hey – he got fed and hubby and I think the recipe has got to be one of the nicest stir fry recipes we’ve tried in a very long time.

Now, I’ve just got to work out how to try to get some of the lovely watercress salads past him.

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Prawn curry with tomato & coconut

This curry represents my first dabble into using Tikka spice mix.

Now, before you all raise your hands in despair and start telling me how much better it is to mix your own spices (which I agree, it can be), let me explain.  Tikka is a very different kettle of spices to your standard curry.  The mix is different, it contains different spices.  Now, before I start trying to formulate my own mix, I like to play around a little with a commercially prepared spice mix, just so that I can get the flavours, aromas and textures set in my head.  It's a bit like covering other people's songs before you record one of your own.  Or maybe not - but that's what it feels like, anyway.


I began this curry with an idea, a goal, in mind.  I wanted it to be creamy without being heavy, kind of middling-hot (enough to satisfy hubby's chilli tastebuds, but not so much as to make us gasp) and not just prawns.  I wanted there to be something else in the curry sauce, but not necessarily a vegetable like potato, or okra.


Now bear in mind that this was a Monday curry - which means that the fridge and larder are at their leanest for little bits of this and that, leftovers which could be press-ganged into use.  However, I had a tin of coconut milk specifically for the curry and part-way along the recipe I suddenly remembered the two vine ripened tomatoes that made all the difference.


The end result was a delightfully light curry which made a real change from the heavy, rich, dark curries that we're used to.  We ate it with some peppered poppodums which went with it perfectly.

PRAWN CURRY WITH TOMATO & COCONUT  (serves 3)

Ingredients :

a knob of butter
2 onions, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, grated
3 tsp of tikka curry powder
half a tsp of cumin
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped fine
200ml fish stock or water (if you're concerned about the salt content)
400ml can of coconut milk
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp plain yoghurt (I used Greek)
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
sea salt & ground black pepper
300g frozen prawns (defrosted)
Method :

1.  Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and add the onion.  Cook gently until softened and golden.

2.  Grate in the garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes then add the Tikka powder and cumin.  Stir to combine and allow to cook down for 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.  Increase the temperature a little, so that the tomatoes start to soften.

4.  Add the stock or water, mix it in, then add the coconut milk, tomato puree, yoghurt, coriander and sugar.  Season, stir well and bring to a boil.

5.  Allow to reduce until you are happy with the consistency, then add the prawns and allow to heat through.

Serve with white rice and puppodums.


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15 April 2011

Friday mumblings ... and a zombie Jack Russell

Well, here we are at another Friday.  How do the weeks go so fast?  This week has been somewhat blissful for me, as I worked on Monday but not on Thursday, nor the Monday coming - which means I'll have 9 days straight without having to go to work.  Yummy!

I do love my work - I'm the person who makes sure all the suppliers get paid for a Bournemouth hotel that specialises in ballroom dancing holidays - and it only happens two days a week for four hours each day, but all the same, it's lovely to have some time off.

As I'm sure you all know, I menu-plan for a week ahead.  When I do the menu (usually on a Sunday), I then convert it into two shopping lists - one for the online order (which I place on a Sunday) and one for Saturday's top-up shop where we fetch in the meat and vegetables for the weekend, plus anything critical that's either run out or we find we need before next Tuesday's delivery.  It sounds a bit complicated, but I've been doing it for so long now, I don't think I would know how to run the shopping without menu planning!

This morning, I checked the shopping list to see if I needed to go to the butchers - which I could see I did.  Except, from the distance of the side of my bed, the scrawlings on the notepad where Saturday's shopping list was, looked like "6 pork steaks and landmines".  LANDMINES???  ~rubs eyes, looks again~  Oooh, not "landmines", but "lamb mince!".  LOL  I was sure, all the way to the butcher, that I'd ask for landmines instead of lamb mince.

As it was, my unruly tongue behaved itself (for once) and I asked for lamb mince.  However, unfortunately, they didn't have any!  Can you believe that?  I'd been talking to a nice fellow (@sweetjunkie on Twitter) about how people are apparently not eating as much lamb mince as we have done, these days.  It's not surprising, if the butchers don't have any!  Although I do admit that may be because there just isn't call for it these days.  I dunno - and I hope not!  Having had some lamb mince from the butcher recently, I wouldn't want to have to go back to supermarket pap again.  I came away with 600g of beef mince which I put in the freezer, as a fall-back position just in case I can't find any lamb before Sunday.

Hubby came back from town yesterday, reporting that the greengrocer in the market place had some blood oranges!  Unfortunately, he didn't get any as he thought we'd a plethora of oranges in the fridge already, but has gone back there today in the hope that he'll be there again.  We've had a bit of a run on orange-themed dinners just lately that has eaten into my orange supply, so I'd be glad of some lovely blood oranges.

Can you see them?
In the "news from my garden" department, I noticed yesterday that the Gooseberry seems to have teensy tiny microscopic gooseberries appearing!  I can't really believe that - so long as the birdies leave it alone - I'll have THAT many gooseberries, but it'd be lovely if so!

The postman has just arrived, bringing me some sugar-free sweeties from www.sweetjunkie.com to try!  Yay!  I knew it was going to be a good day!  Here is Basil, pondering on whether dogs like sugar-free sweeties and if so, which one to start with.  LOL  Son & heir as already decided it's to be the sugar free little bears.  Me, I fancy starting with the Lun Jeelers - has anyone got any idea what the heck a "Lun Jeeler" is?

Uh-oh!  From the sounds of despair coming from the kitchen (where son & heir is trying to reproduce the toasted ham & egg sandwich I had for breakfast), I'd better go and lend a hand.  'Till later!

By the way - and just quickly before I go - here's the Jack Russell in zombie glasses that I promised all those Twitterers would see if they visited my blog.  There, I bet you're glad you did, now!  :)


Whoooooo - scary!


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