Friday, 30 December 2011

Woo-Your-Man Sea Bass Stir Fry

Wowsers. This stir fry sauce is nice. Take a pack of stir fry veg and cook up in a wok with this beautiful coconut, lemongrass and chilli sauce. Add some noodles and shallow fry a couple of sea bass fillets for 7 minutes turning once half way through. Get everything steaming hot and serve with a squeeze of lime juice on top. Wit-woo. A quick and taste bud-tingling meal worthy of a wolf whistle.

Christmas Sherry Trifle (aka Splodgy Mess)

This was quite exciting ;-) I hadn't made a trifle since I was about ten years old and it was from a Birds all in one pack.

I'd declared to my family I would bring the dessert for Christmas day this year. I had my eye on this fabulous banoffee pie in BBC Good Food magazine. When I went to make a list of the ingredients I noticed it had something like 750 kcals per slice which put me right off. I also remembered my Dad is a fussy eater and likes trifle so I thought if I make something he likes then everyone will be happy. Cue the Christmas sherry trifle. I used:

1 strawberry swiss roll
Sweet sherry
Strawberry jelly cubes
Frozen berries, defrosted
Custard (ready made)
Double cream
Hundreds and thousands

I had bought all the items to make custard from scratch but when I got to my mum's house to make it on Christmas eve (I had to make it there as I don't have a trifle bowl) she had a box of ready made custard in the fridge so I used that.

The swiss roll went in first to line the bottom and was drizzled with sherry. I then laid the fruit on top and made up the jelly and poured it over to just cover the fruit. I put this in the fridge overnight. Then on Christmas day I added the custard and whipped some double cream and spooned on top into peaks. Santa's little helper (my 3 year old niece) was then given the very important task of adding the hundreds and thousands to the top. The trifle then went into the fridge until after dinner.

I brought it to the table to a round of applause, put the spoon in to serve and the trifle fell apart in each dish in a splodgy mess. It tasted nice but looked like a ten year old had made it. The main thing was my Dad liked it so that was a good enough result for me ;-)

Cajun Salmon with Couscous & Garlic Roasted Veg

This is a nice way of making a winter warming dish out of salmon. All you need to do is cover a couple of salmon fillets with Cajun seasoning, wrap in some foil and put to one side.

Then fill a roasting tray with red peppers, chopped butternut squash, red onions olive oil, salt and pepper and place in the oven with some garlic for 40 minutes.

Half way through put the salmon parcel on top of the veg and put back in the oven. Prepare a packet of Mediterranean couscous and keep to one side. Take the roasting dish out and cut one of the salmon fillets to see if they have cooked. Warm a couple of dinner plates and serve in a layer of couscous, then veg, then salmon on top. Nice.

Chicken, Edamame & Ginger Pilaf

I found this recipe in the January issue of BBC Good Food magazine. It is very easy to make and according to the recipe contains 436 kcals per serving. All you need to serve four people is:

2tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
thumb-size piece ginger, grated
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
3 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
250g/9oz basmati rice
600ml/1pt vegetable stock
100g/4oz frozen edamame/soya beans
coriander leaves and fat-free Greek yogurt to serve

The oil, onion, ginger and chilli go into the saucepan with salt and pepper. You cook this for five minutes then add the chicken and rice. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down low and then cook for 10 minutes adding the soya beans in the last few minutes. Serve with coriander leaves on top and Greek yogurt on the side.

The magazine describes the soya beans as being full of 'protective isoflavones' (I'd never heard of these) which are heart and hormone friendly.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Best Pubs for Guinness in Manchester

Now then. A lot of thought has gone into this blog post. Many a conversation has been had between myself and my Guinness drinking partner in crime (my husband) over this topic. And I like to think I am extremely knowledgeable on this subject. (I'm not sure whether that's something to be proud of or not). But here are my/our top five pubs for drinking Guinness in Manchester.

1. The Marble Arch, Rochdale Road. We lived in an apartment two minutes walk away from the Marble for 18 months. The first day we moved in we did a Google search for the best Guinness in Manchester. The Marble Arch came up. You should have seen our expressions when we realised the pub was at the top of our new road. Result. The Guinness here is really creamy, is always served in the appropriate glassware, and the staff really know how to pour it and often say 'go and sit down and I'll bring it over when its ready'.

This pub in general is really good. It is packed on a Friday night with Postmen from the sorting office over the road. It's packed on a Saturday afternoon with shoppers who have ventured that bit further out for a drink to keep the man happy. And it is packed on a Sunday for roast dinners. In the winter they have a real fire going which along with the great beer, nice food and friendly atmosphere makes you want to stay all night. A pint of Guinness costs £3.50.

If you go and have a few scoops don't worry you're not seeing things, the floor is on an angle.

2. The Britons Protection, Great Bridgewater Street. We only started going to this pub in the summer since we moved out of the city centre and saw it as we went past it on the tram every day. What a find. It's conveniently close to my office so is a great venue to meet for a drink after work. The Guinness is poured really well in here and is like a hug in a glass. It is not quite as creamy as The Marble but comes a close second.

3. Tom's Chop House, Cross Street and Sam's Chop House, Back Pool Fold. We call these posh pubs. You're more likely to get gentlemen in suits in these pubs, particularly in Sam's as it is so close to the business district, and they are priced accordingly. I think last time I went in it was £3.75 for a pint of the black stuff. Definitely worth a visit for the feeling of being in an old world London pub.

4. The Wheatsheaf Inn, Raby. This is not in Manchester. It's about 50 miles away near my hometown but I can't leave it out of a blog post about Guinness ;-)

5. The Railway, Hale. Great for sports, this pub has at least four TVs, a darts board and a golf society. The Guinness is a recession-friendly £3 a pint - amazing. This pub is literally always busy and absolutely buzzing. We have a bet going that this is the biggest grossing pub outside of London it is that busy. Regardless of how many people are in there you always get served within 30 seconds of standing at the bar. And if you are full of Guinness I highly recommend a Mount Gay rum and coke. Or two...

If anyone knows any other Manchester pubs highly regarded for Guinness PLEASE let me know.

Christmas Cheer for £4

This is my alcoholic contribution to Christmas day at my parents' house this year. This little trio of delights is worth just over £44 but I paid just over £4 thanks to the double your points offer at Tesco. I exchanged my £20 worth of Clubcard vouchers and received £40 to spend on Finest food and wine. I have already handed the bottles over to my dad as there is no way we can be trusted not to drink this in our house before Christmas day.......

Sizzling Fajitas at The Alchemist

I cooked chicken and mushroom fajitas at home the other night with piles of hot sliced peppers and onions. They were pretty amazing even if I do say so myself ;-) They made me think of the beef fajitas I ate at The Alchemist on Spinningfields recently. The food was lovely but the thing that impressed me the most were the serving dishes in the photo here. I'm online now to start searching the interweb for something similar. If anyone knows where I can buy them let me know.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Chocolate Banana Eton Mess aka MMMM MMMM

If you're looking for somewhere to go for Sunday lunch in the Cheshire/ Manchester area you should definitely try Simon Rimmer's Earle in Hale. I went recently with the girls and we enjoyed a very relaxing three hour, three course lunch for £18.95 which included mushroom and onion soup, an amazing roast beef dinner followed by this chocolate and banana Eton mess.

Now usually when I'm with the girls there's nothing to hear but chitter chatter but each time the food was served - particularly during dessert - there was nothing but silence and occasional When Harry met Sally type of noises around the table. This dessert is seriously sexy. I didn't actually have anything to drink apart from water during the meal (shock horror) and I went away feeling amazingly satisfied.

We even saw Simon Rimmer as he walked in post SFTW saying hello to diners on his way through the restaurant which was the icing on the very creamy cake.

New Sleepy Tea zzzzzzzzzzzz

New to the tea cupboard is this Dr Stuart's valerian tea which I bought in the veggie shop Eighth Day in student central on Oxford Road. Wrapped in individual packets and with a warning on the box 'do not drive or operate heavy machinery' after drinking, I thought this tea looked the business. And so far it hasn't failed.

This tea contains limeflowers, valerian root, hops, passion flowers and fennel and despite sounding reasonably exotic actually tastes a bit like I'd expect sugar paper to taste. It doesn't taste horrible, just a bit 'blah'.

But I've had a rocking nights sleep each night I've drunk it so the quirky strapline 'your ticket to bedfordshire' is definitely correct.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Afternoon Tea Chez Moi

My girls came to stay last weekend to sample a taste of Cheshire life. I decided there was no better opportunity to throw a pink afternoon tea party. Amazing excuse to guzzle pink bubbles at 3pm on a Saturday. I took inspiration from The Ritz afternoon tea menu for my sandwiches which included:

Cucumber and cream cheese with chives
Turkey, rocket and cranberry sauce
Cheddar cheese and plum chutney
Smoked salmon and cream cheese

All the sandwiches had the crusts cut off. To follow we ate:

Scones with clotted cream & raspberry and pomegranate jam
Mini chocolate muffins
My friend's home made strawberry cupcakes

Good job none of my friends believe in dieting ;-)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Dinner for Two at The Drunken Duck

I took this picture of The Drunken Duck on August bank holiday Monday morning hours before opening time. We were on a countryside hike and stopped to take in the views from the seating area over the road which are stunning.

My husband and I returned on the Wednesday evening (minus hiking gear) for a couple of real ales and dinner in the restaurant.

I had pea and mint soup to start with which was delicious followed by fillet steak which was piping hot - just how I like it. We shared a bottle of Argentinian Pinot Noir which topped the meal off perfectly. Good job we had a 1.5 mile walk home to ease our stuffed bellies.

Little Jar of Goodness

During our romantic break away in the Lake District we completed an eight mile walk which took in the village of Hawkshead. Whilst we were there we visited Relish and sampled some of their award winning jams and chutneys. I came away with a pot of the carrot and orange chutney which we ate with cheddar and crackers back at the caravan. It was so nice we ate the whole jar whilst we were away as a post-hike-I'm-so-tired-I-can't-stand-to-cook kind of snack.

Relish stock at various places nationally. I'll be going to The Cheshire Smokehouse to get my next jar of goodness. You can follow them on twitter @hawksheadrelish.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cookie by Name, Cookie by Nature

So it's a sunny Sunday in London. Myself and three of my best friends find a table on the top of Covent Garden market outside Chez Gerard. The Pinot is flowing and we put the world to rights in true Sex and the City style. We managed to smuggle in a few sweet treats in the form of Ben's Cookies. YUM. I love the distinctive Quentin Blake illustration on the packaging and the hand drawn lettering.

Friends, wine, cookies and laughs = the perfect Sunday. Even if it did mean a rather bad head on Monday. Oh well. You only live once.

Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych

As part of a friend's hen do in London recently we went for afternoon tea at One Aldwych, a five star modern hotel in Covent Garden. Light, sleek and luxurious with lots of glass and huge floral displays protruding from palm trees in the lobby, this was very different to the afternoon tea experiences I've had so far.

We had a long table for nine and were handed the tea menu as we sat down and served water in sparkling glasses. Those of us drinking champagne were brought beautiful flutes of bubbles and we all said 'cheers' to the hen.

The food was served on cake stands as you can see in the photo with a selection of finger sandwiches, asparagus and duck egg, scones with cream and jam, Eton mess, treacle tarts, chocolate brownies and strawberry cream cakes. Lots of sugar! The most impressive part for me was the Pimms jelly served in a long shot glass complete with small skewer of fruit on top.

Priced at £35 for the champagne package this was about an average price for afternoon tea in London. We were there for two hours and were suitably stuffed rolling into black cabs outside the hotel to go back and get ready for the Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.

Next stop is afternoon tea at The Ritz to get some full on chintz and old school charm at round tables with silver tea pots and floral crockery ;-)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Salmon & Super Food Farfalle

The first new pasta dish this evening was a success. I chose farfalle pasta and cooked a light fish sauce with:

Olive oil, garlic, onion, sea salt and black pepper
2 x salmon fillets
1 x courgette
1 x large handful spinach
1 x large handful watercress
1 x small handful flat leaf parsley
1 x tub Weight Watchers creme fraiche
Freshly grated parmesan for two

The pasta was cooked to packet instructions. The garlic and onion were softened in the olive oil then I added the courgette. The salmon fillets were then added along with the spinach and watercress. Once the salmon was almost cooked I cut it into chunks in the pan. Then on went the creme fraiche and the parsley and the mixture was heated through until the salmon was ready. The farfalle was then drained and everything mixed together and heated through in one pot.

I served it with freshly grated parmesan and black pepper. Enjoyed by one hungry, slightly sweaty husband returning from football.

Mission Pasta

You know how sometimes you just get on a mission to do something? Well my current mission is to cook with every different type of pasta available in the supermarket.

I cook with linguine and penne almost every week so they are off the list. First in the shopping trolley tonight were:


All best pronounced in an enthusiastic Italian accent. Watch this space.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Tomato & Chilli Pasta

I bought some 'Lumaconi' pasta from the Sainsburys Taste the Difference range at the weekend. The pasta is shaped like mini conches and really lends itself to the chunky vegetable sauce I made on Saturday night.

After chopping lots of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, red pepper and spinach, I cooked them up with some olive oil, red wine and dried chilli flakes. Realising I didn't have enough chopped tomatoes for the whole dish, I poured in some of this Pizza Express Arrabbiata sauce. It was very tasty and all together provided just the right amount of kick.

Topped with freshly grated parmesan, this dish got the ultimate seal of approval; husband found eating the leftovers straight from the pan in the kitchen.

Romantic Dinner Table

A lovingly prepared dinner deserves to be eaten at a beautiful table. With this in mind we always have flowers in the middle of our dinner table. It's also a way of bringing the Cath Kidston effect into our home a piece at a time.

This week we have yellow and white roses purchased courtesy of Tesco's summer voucher exchange. I swapped a £5 clubcard voucher for £10 to spend on flowers. As well as the roses we have a striking lilly and iris bouquet in a vase by the front window giving our home an extra sprinkle of kerb appeal.

Channelling Popeye

I cannot stop eating spinach! It is the new must have food accessory in our house as it goes with absolutely everything. Spinach in salads, spinach in pasta, spinach in curry, spinach in sandwiches, spinach in soup. Sometimes I just reach in and eat handfuls of the green leafy super food in the same manner as crisps.

At this rate I fully expect to be displaying Popeye sized muscles by Autumn.

Beautiful New Dining Chairs

I'm totes in love with this new pair of dining chairs we bought recently. Every time I walk into the room they bring floral pleasure to my eyes. In fact, they are so beautiful I'm having second thoughts about all the fancy dinner parties I'm planning as I don't actually want anyone to sit on them.

These beauties are from Dining Room World and were £250 for the pair. Worth every penny!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Royal Stamford Fizz

This is the name my friend and I have given to the cocktail we drank on Royal Wedding Day with cucumber sandwiches in my new house. We also drank it on a hen weekend recently along with enough wine and vodka to fill a small lake. You need:

Prosecco or champagne
Elderflower cordial
Mint leaves
Ice cubes
Wine glasses
Friends ;-)

I grated some cucumber into the glass underneath the ice the first time but you don't need it. Try it! Perfect for sunny days and bbqs with friends.

Balti Palak Aloo Dhal

One of the best places in Manchester for a Friday night dinner is Akbar's. The restaurant is always buzzing and you get massive naan breads served on a sort of tree to save space on the table.

We went for dinner at Akbar's recently and after the compulsory poppadoms and dips for starter I tried one of the vegetarian specialities for my main meal; Balti Palak Aloo Dhal. This a spinach, potato and lentil dish cooked to a traditional Balti recipe. It was bursting with flavour and more aromatic than spicy. Definitely worth trying.

After this and a couple of Tiger beers (and a G&T in the White Lion) we managed to roll ourselves to the tram stop and home.

Chestnut Mushroom & Spinach Soup

Mmmm doesn't this look tasty? Well maybe not but despite the dodgy colour it was actually really nice and filling. For this quick, mid-week, golf-widow tea I used a box of chestnut mushrooms, an onion, a garlic clove, a large handful of spinach, veggie stock and a slug of cream. Nice with chunks of Tesco olive and tomato bread whilst watching Ronnie get sent daaaan in Eastenders.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Triple S Sandwich

The name of this post does not come from using three ingredients beginning with the letter S. It comes from what this sandwich reminds me and my husband of: Saturdays as a Student in Sheffield.

In the final year of uni in Sheffield my husband lived just off Ecclesall Road directly behind Nonna's. In fact when we last visited they had extended Nonna's and made the old student house into what is now the deli. Great location as you used to get the aroma of all the cooking coming straight into the bathroom of the house.

Anyway I used to go to Sheffield from Manchester most Friday nights and Saturdays generally used to involve getting up around brunch time, going for a walk along Ecky Road and getting the most amazing turkey and bacon club sandwich from Spoilt for Choice. If the weather was nice we'd cop a spot in the Botanical Gardens, eat and mmmm mmm our way through them.

Our new life in Hale has a bit of an Ecky Road/Hunters Bar type of feel about it. So I made these sandwiches for lunch today as a memory marker.

I used Tesco's Finest oak smoked bacon, Finest roast turkey, avacado, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. Perfect with a mug of Twinings sitting in the sunshine listening to the birds sing and smelling the laundry on the line.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Oysters at The Drunken Duck

This was a big tick in the gastronomical box for me. I've wanted to try oysters for a while now. There was something about the way the oysters were described on the menu at The Drunken Duck in Ambleside that made me go for it. They were served with a red onion relish and a bloody Mary. It was probably the alcoholic content that did it.

I ordered two oysters for my starter. They were served on ice with lemon and the relish and bloody Mary came on the side. I knocked them back and wow you get a bit of a rush as you eat them. They were kind of salty and juicy yet quickly disappeared into nothingness. The vodka and tomato juice went down a treat as a chaser. I was so impressed with the size of the shells I took this little picture afterwards on my phone.

Now I've ticked that box I need another little foodie challenge...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum Hotel, London

This was a weekend of pure treats for me and my gorgeous friend Cotty. Not only were we going to the Kylie Aphrodite concert at the O2, we also went for afternoon tea at The Athenaeum Hotel in London. Our booking was for 3pm so after a few not so ladylike pints of Magners on Carnaby Street we made our way down Piccadilly to the hotel where we were greeted by concierge in a top hat and tails.

There was a formal sitting at 3pm so all the guests waiting in the reception area were shown through in person to their table in the garden room. We opted for the pink champagne package which was around £35. The tea sommelier brought the menu over showing all the different kinds of leaves you could choose from. I went for Assam. The sandwiches were then brought over, followed by warm scones and crumpets (yum) which were then followed by an enormous cake trolley.

You get a lot of afternoon tea for your money here so it is definitely worth a visit. The atmosphere was lovely with various parties enjoying tea; hen parties, birthday parties, groups of ladies. We booked months in advance and it is obviously a popular choice. Perfect for ladies who lunch.

Berry Nice Pancakes

I've made pancakes before and they have turned into a disaster so I wasn't too optimistic about making them. However a little bit of Delia instruction worked wonders and made a whole batch of these bad boys.

The filling was the best bit; blueberries and strawberries mixed into syrup warmed in a saucepan. It also had a few slices of banana thrown in. A nice treat which required a gym session the following day to run off the guilt.

Easy Peasy Pasta Sauce

This was a bit of an experiment which turned out ok. I basically didn't have much in to cook apart from pasta and some fresh items in the fridge. So I put garlic, red onion, peppers and tomatoes into a roasting tin with some salt, pepper and olive oil and put it in the oven. Once cooked I chopped it up, put it in the blender and whizzed it into a sauce. I mixed the sauce into some penne and served with parmesan. It could have done with some fresh herbs but was an ok mid week tea in front of the telly.

Bone Suckin Sauce

I can't quite decide if it's the name, the size of the jar or the taste of the sauce I like best about this. My mother in law used it to marinade some fillet steak we were cooking on the barbecue when in The Lakes recently. If you fancy trying some you can buy it from Lakeland for £4.99.

Described as a great all-rounder it goes with a variety of meats. It has a nice smooth tomato and honey flavour which compliments the meat and doesn't overpower it.

I've looked in a variety of supermarkets for a similar thing including Waitrose but it seems Lakeland is the only place you can buy it. So I then searched for it online and found the Bone Suckin website which is American and shows the whole family of related foods including Bone Suckin Mustard and Bone Suckin Yaki. Have a look.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Afternoon Tea at The Radisson Edwardian, Manchester

I recently had the pleasure of going for afternoon tea with my friend at The Radisson Edwardian in Manchester. PERFECT way to spend a Saturday afternoon! The men were at golf so we indulged ourselves with tea and cake in the fabulous setting of the hotel's Opus One bar and restaurant.

Firstly the service was excellent - very professional and friendly. There was a wide choice of teas on the menu and I went for the Assam. My friend went for the Earl Grey. When the tray of cakes and sandwiches arrived we thought 'there's not much there'. How wrong we were! There were eight small sandwiches which included a selection of salmon and cream cheese, ham and mustard and egg and mayonnaise. The bread was super soft. Then we started on the cakes! There was a mixture of cupcakes, cream horns and fruit tartlets. Then to top it all off there were four scones, cream and raspberry jam. The scones were very light and I managed to get through two of them (greedy).

After two hours of nattering we decided we could eat no more and had the remaining cakes put in a little white cake box to take home. We left The Radisson with a lovely sugar rush (£14.95 each) and walked through town to join the men in the Northern Quarter for a couple of drinks.

I could get used to spending my Saturdays like this!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

Very easy to make and super tasty! I used an onion, a bag of ready chopped squash, a jug of vegetable stock, a small amount of milk and lots of cracked black pepper. Served with watercress garnish. Delish!

Next on my list is green soup. It will include every green vegetable I can get my hands on to give it a real vitamin punch. I love making soup its such a good way of using up all the veg left in the fridge at the end of the week.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Truffle Tagliatelle at Jamie's Italian Covent Garden

I went to Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden recently with six of my girlfriends and we enjoyed a really lovely meal. We had the planks of meat to start along with white bait, mozzarella and Italian breads. For my main I had the Truffle Tagliatelle which was nice but maybe a little bit plain. Two of my friends had Rabbit Pasta which looked fabulous so I definitely had a case of food envy. The atmosphere in the restaurant was great; very relaxed and nice and noisy to drown out the rather loud girl talk fuelled by three bottles of Jamie's Prosecco....

Disappointed in the Dragon

Every time I go to the supermarket I peruse the exotic fruit section and read the names of the different items in stock partly to educate myself but also because I love the colours. I've been looking at the dragon fruit for a while now and it was only after watching Lorraine Pascale cutting up a dragon fruit on Baking Made Easy that I decided to take the plunge.

I was planning on eating it with a kiwi and strawberry fruit salad. Unfortunately the dragon fruit did not make the cut as it tasted so plain. I was expecting something really exotic tasting...but there was no kick. Disappointing. And it looked so pretty on the inside!

Naughty but Nice

So it's Sunday morning, you're on the settee with four of your best girlfriends drinking cups of tea watching Keeping up with the Kardashians on E! whilst flicking through celebrity gossip magazines. Life is pretty chilled and uber girlie. What can make it better? Sweet treats of course. Cue the gorgeous chocolate doughnuts. Naughty but nice.

Thinking about Jlo

My friend Jodie and her boyfriend Beautiful Tom are travelling the world at the moment (as you do). They are currently in Laos and are off to Thailand next to meet up with a few of my other friends (jealous). It was when I was in one of my favourite Manchester restaurants Tampopo recently that I really started to miss her. The place mats (pictured) set me thinking about her and how much fun she is having whilst we're in good old rainy England. Just wanted to say love you Jode xxx

Celebrating The Year Of The Rabbit

Here's a photo of the vegetarian stir fry meal I made to celebrate Chinese New Year. It was very simple and packed full of veg in an attempt to ward off all the flu germs that have been going around.

I used:

1 x broccoli
2 x red pepper
1 x pack mange tout
3 x noodle nests
1 x Chinese Szechuan sauce..ready made ;-)

All served and eaten with chopsticks!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Kung Hei Fat Choi

The wok will be coming out tonight in honour of Chinese New Year. I'm planning on making a vegetarian stir fry with a Szechuan sauce served with chopsticks my friend brought back from her travels.

There are plenty of Chinese recipe ideas on the BBC Food website to get your taste buds going. And if you're in the North West there's a website dedicated to celebrating the year of the rabbit in Manchester. Have a look on the Symbols page to read about the Chinese zodiac and which year you were born in.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Tomato and Mushroom Linguine

There is a recipe for Pappardelle, Mushroom and Mozzarella on the Jamie Oliver iphone app. I made it a couple of times and since then it has morphed into this linguine dish which is a lot simpler. I've tried various different types of creme fraiche for this dish and have found the absolute best one is by Weight Watchers. Also, I've started using freshly grated parmesan in my cooking rather than the ready grated stuff in a bag and it adds so much more flavour that I'll be using it every time from now on. Here's what I used for this meal:

1 x garlic clove and 1 x onion
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Dried linguine for two
Pack of organic cherry tomatoes
Pack of chestnut mushrooms
Pot of Weight Watchers creme fraiche
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat a frying pan with the olive oil (or some butter) and add the crushed garlic and chopped onion. After about five minutes add the chopped chestnut mushrooms and season. Slowly add some of the chopped cherry tomatoes. Then get your linguine into a pan of boiling water and cook according to instructions. Whilst the pasta is cooking add some creme fraiche to the mushroom and tomato mixture, stirring it in so it becomes a thick sauce. The creme fraiche can dry up the mixture too quickly before you get your pasta cooked hence why you just add a bit at a time. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, keeping a small amount of the water in the saucepan and put the linguine back in. Then pour everything from the frying pan into the saucepan, mixing the sauce into the pasta. Throw in the rest of your tomatoes if you've saved some and the parmesan cheese so it becomes part of the dish. Serve and enjoy. Very cold glass of white wine optional ;-)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Rocket, Spinach, Tomato, Cucumber and Avacado Salad

I love this served with a hot fillet of peppered mackerel on top. Everything is sliced and thrown into a colander to be splashed and tossed with some balsamic dressing. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish, place on top of the salad and you have a nice starter or light lunch.

Go Go Gadget Garlic Crusher

New addition to the utensil pot is this chrome garlic crusher. It's very handy for getting the garlic super fine and saves your fingers trying to chop the cloves into tiny pieces. It does tend to get some garlic lodged on the inside which you need a knife to scrape off but being dishwasher safe it soon comes clean.

Butternut Squash, Smoky Bacon and Spinach Risotto

Great flavours for a risotto which was made in the same way as the bacon, mushroom and pea version I described earlier in the month. The bacon for this one though was fried and made crispy before adding to the risotto and stirred through at the end. I served this with a mixed salad and parmesan cheese.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

'Working Nine Till Five' Veggie Curry

Firstly, I didn't take a picture of this delicious meal my husband made because I was too embarassed to display the size of the massive portions we were eating (an hour of gym/ Zumba makes you very hungry). Secondly, I've called it 'Working Nine Till Five' Veggie Curry because if I had more time I'd love to make a curry sauce from scratch.

We use this particular curry sauce as it reminds us of home and my mother in law's cooking which never fails to impress. Here's what we used for our veggie curry:

Chopped butternut squash
Chopped sweet potato
Baby sweetcorn
Sugar snap peas
Basmati rice

The veg is all chopped and boiled or steamed until al dente then poured into a saucepan with the curry sauce. The rice is boiled according to instructions and within 25 minutes you have a really tasty veggie curry which I guarantee you needs no meat whatsoever. As long as you're using thick veg like butternut squash you get a really hearty meal perfect for cold January nights.

Do you think 'hiya' is appropriate?

We've been watching Michel Roux's Service on BBC Two this week and the title of this blog was one of the best lines from teacher to trainee when greeting guests to a 5* resort. Whilst the concept of this programme is not exactly rocket science it does highlight an age old famously British trait; manners. Personally I like going to fancy restaurants where service is impeccable and all the front of house staff put on their Sunday best. I was at a marketing seminar a few years back where Paul Heathcote was talking about those 'magic moments' in restaurants where you recognise a special occasion. I experienced such a moment at Manchester's restaurant of the year 2010/2011 Rosso recently when the waiters came out singing happy birthday to me with a slice of chocolate cake complete with happy birthday written across the plate in chocolate sauce. It's such a small touch but makes a big impression. My brother works as Food and Beverage Manager at the award winning Rudding Park in Harrogate and from what I've heard the service there sounds spectacular. I'm just waiting for an invite now to go for a meal (hint hint) and see what it's all about....

New Sleepy Tea

Twinings' chamomile is usually the tea I drink before bedtime to get me in the psychological state of going to sleep. I'm not in love with the taste though so decided to try this Clipper organic sleep easy tea. With ingredients that include orange and cinammon I though this looked like a really nice alternative to chamomile which I'm pleased to say it is. So much so that the first few nights I had a couple of mugs of it before bedtime. I'm not convinced about it's sleep inducing effects just yet. With it being the first few weeks back in work after Christmas and an aggressive new exercise plan - I'm not exactly having trouble drifting off. This tea also contains valerian which is said to be a sleepy herb and it comes in unbleached bags which I like. Whether or not it works, it tastes nice and smells lush. I have another sleepy tea on my list to try which I'll be buying next week.

Monday, 17 January 2011

'Check Out His Lunchbox' Pesto

This is my first attempt at home made pesto. I had Delia's vegetarian cook book recipe in mind to try but when it came to it I decided it can't be that hard I'll make my own version. It was all a bit trial and error but I used:

Leaves from 1 x basil plant
Handful of freshly grated parmesan
Pinch of pine nuts
Slug of olive oil
Handful of spinach and rocket leaves
Handful of chopped cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper

I put the basil leaves, parmesan and pine nuts into the blender together and whizzed it slowly adding some olive oil. Gradually I added the salad leaves and chopped tomatoes adding salt and pepper as I went. It took a while but eventually it all whizzed up into a sort of thin mayonnaise consistency. It tasted nice, maybe a bit too much of parmesan, but it passed the husband taste test so I mixed it into some cold pasta, spooned it into two lunch boxes and whacked it in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.

Green Tea from Juyan's Tea House

New tea on the block is this loose green tea from Juyan's Tea House. I tried it after my colleague Simon ordered some online. It's the nicest green tea I've tasted and comes close to replacing my trusty old peppermint tea. Juyan's website is worth a look to read all the different names of the tea and see some of the prices.

Peter Pestle & Molly Mortar

This Jamie Oliver pestle and mortar was a Christmas present from my sister in law. I was very excited about giving it a bash tonight but after an hour of lifting weights in Body Pump my arms failed me! It looks the part in our kitchen though so I'll just admire it for now.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sunday: Day of Rest

After swimming thirty lengths this morning I was ravenous by the time we got to our lunch date with friends at 1pm. We went to The Bulls Head in Hale Barns which does a fantastic carvery for £7.25. I chose beef and turkey and after commenting on how nice the honey roast ham looked the chef gave me a small slice to try. Complete with stuffing, veg, roast and mashed potatoes and gravy, this was just what I needed. Especially when I found out we were staying to watch the Liverpool v Everton game (yawn). This part FORCED me to have chocolate fudge cake and ice cream for dessert ;-)

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Skinny Fish Pie

This is the skinny version of my fish pie. I have cooked it in the past with a cream and cheddar sauce poured over the fish before it goes in the oven but with it being January - and health kick time - I decided to just use lemon juice and seasoning on the fish.


1 x selection of fish. I used a ready chopped mix from Asda and a smoked peppered mackerel fillet
8 x small white potatoes for the mash topping
1 x handful spinach
1 x lemon
Butter, splash of milk and seasoning

Peel and chop the potatoes and boil in a saucepan. Meanwhile put the oven on a medium heat. Take a casserole dish and add the fish to the bottom in an even layer. Squeeze over the juice of half the lemon, add salt and pepper and gently move the fish around the bowl so it gets an even coverage. Then add a layer of spinach over the fish. Once the potatoes are cooked enough mash them mixing in butter to taste and a splash of milk. Spoon the mash over the spinach and place in the oven for approx 25 minutes. You should see the lemon juice sizzling when you spoon into the pie to serve it. Serve with peas, tenderstem broccoli or other seasonal greens.

Red lentil, chickpea & chilli soup

During a weekend away in Edinburgh last October we ate lunch at Henderson's vegetarian cafe. This place had been recommended to us by my colleague Jenny's sister who went to uni there. The food was amazing and inspired me to try cooking with lentils and chickpeas. I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and am pleased to say the results were delicious!


2 x tsp cumin seeds
1 x large pinch chilli flakes
1 x tbsp olive oil
1 x red onion, chopped
140g red split lentils
850ml vegetable stock
400g can tomatoes, whole or chopped
200g carton chickpeas
1 x small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes for 1 min, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas. Add the oil and onion and cook for 5 mins. Stir in the lentils, stock and tomatoes, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have softened.

Whizz the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until it is a rough puree, pour back into the pan and add the chickpeas. Heat gently, season well and stir in the coriander. Serve with some Warburtons seeded batch bread and spread.