Those of you who are parents will know how frustrating and irritating it is when you try your hardest to cook interesting and delicious meals for your family. Only for them to turn their noses up at something they haven’t even tried yet. Mr SmartCookieSam is the same as he has definite likes and dislikes. I like to try cooking different things for dinner and get bored of eating the same old meals day in day out. Last Wednesday I had been working just for the morning so I had more time to cook and try out something new from Mary Berry’s latest cookbook “Everyday”. I had done my food shopping on the weekend and Mr SmartCookieSam had spotted some pork fillet in the fridge. He said it would be nice stuffed with black pudding. No it will not! When I told him that it was going to be chopped up into slices to be made into Portuguese Pork and Rice, he was not impressed!
Portuguese Pork and Rice is a fantastic one pot dish that reminds me of a cross between a paella and a risotto. I guess you could also make it with chicken or prawns if you don’t like pork. The pork fillet I had bought was a lovely piece of meat and I sliced it carefully into bite sized strips. These were seared in a pan with some olive oil first.
To add depth and colour to the dish there are a variety of vegetables to chop and put in. I love the addition of banana shallots which I had never used before. I had used the little ones which remind me of pickled onions but not these. They had a pinky purple hue to them as well so this made the dish look pretty. Added to this was some strips of red pepper and some crushed garlic. These were softened for a few minutes.
It was then time to add the smoked paprika which is an ingredient I love using, followed by some long grain rice, a can of chopped tomatoes and a little bit of chicken stock. To stop the liquid from boiling away and everything burning I had to put a lid on the pan. This made the moisrure stay in and the rice grains soaked up all the stock.
Towards the end of the cooking time the pork went back into the pan along with some pitted black olives. As this was being prepared I warmed through slices of ciabatta bread and made up a side salad.
Even though both Mr SmartCookieSam and my son had originally turned their noses up at the thought of Portuguese Pork and Rice, I had a pleasant surprise. They both tucked in with gusto. It’s incredible how even the thought of something can turn people off until thay actually try it! For us, it was a perfect midweek dinner dish but Mary reckons it is also “great for feeding the family or for a summer lunch with a dressed salad on the
Now what I didn’r norice until a day or so after I had posted a photo of my meal on Instagram was the position of the black olives in my dinner. What does it look like to you?
I really want to make this again. I can see me eating it in the summer sat outside on the patio with a large glass of rose on the side.
My family and I love travelling (money and time permitting, of course). So when Ingham Lakes and Mountains asked me if I would like to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations for their #InghamsFoodieFindscampaign, I jumped at the chance.
Nearly five years ago Mr SmartCookieSam took me to Italy for my 40th birthday. He kept the trip a surprise until a week or so before the trip. We went to Venice, Lake Garda, Lake Como and up into the Italian Alps. One day we had a memorable and breathtaking road trip up along the Stelvio Pass and stopped for lunch at a roadside hotel called La Fontanella. It was near the town of Madonna de Campiglio. In the winter it was a ski resort but as this was July we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the stunning views of the Dolomites. Our lunch was delicious and I remember the starter we had to this day. I’ve recreated it and adapted it at home many times and is a perfect summer weekend lunch. Preferably sat outside with a huge glass of wine on the side (here’s hoping!)
The starter was a very filling Walnut and Gorgonzola Fusilli. Mr SmartCookieSam is not a big pasta fan but he loves this. I sometimes add pancetta to mine at home to appease the carnivores in my house. It is very quick to make and makes a perfect weekday supper if time is short. Not an everyday treat though as there is a lot of butter, cream and cheese in the recipe!
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.
WALNUT, GORGONZOLA AND PANCETTA FUSILLI
200g fusilli fresh or dried (whatever you prefer)
125g creamy Gorzonzola
100g walnut halves
150ml single cream
1 packet of cubed pancetta
First you need to cook the pancetta in a frying pan. I dry fry it as it contains enough fat. Preheat your oven to 180oC/ Gas 4 ready for toasting the walnuts.
While you have the pancetta frying, cook the fusilli in a large saucepan of boiling water according to the packet instructions. Or if you are like me who was in a rush, you’ll end up chucking the pasta in the cold water and hoping for the best!
When the pancetta is crisp, remove from the frying pan and put to one side. Chop the walnuts up into bite size pieces and lay on a baking tray. Toast them in the oven for about 5-8 minutes checking them regularly so they don’t burn.
Next, melt the butter in the frying pan.
Then add the cubed Gorgonzola to the melted butter.
Add the pancetta and the toasted walnuts into the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the pasta is ready, drain carefully and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.
My family love this dish with chunks of toasted ciabatta bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with a side of mixed salad leaves.
I have a massive addiction to Lakeland. It’s very hard for me to come out of one of their stores empty handed. I see so many fantastic products on their shelves that I wish I just had the money or the room for in my kitchen.
At half term week I met up with my mum at Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield. My mum and I both love cooking and baking. I’ve been trying to lose some weight and so far have lost 1 1/2 stone since last July. I know I need some carbs in my diet but I would like to reduce this. One way I can do this is to use a vegetable spiralizer instead of using pasta. Ar first I thought, what’s wrong with a bit of pasta> But then after going to a restaurant and trying courgetti for the first time, I actually found I liked it.
Since then I’ve been keen to get a spiraliser. There were about 5 or 6 different ones to choose from on the shelf in Lakeland, ranging from a hand held simple one to a massive one which had different interchangeable blades. The one I chose sits comfortably on the work top. It stays put with suction pads and has four different blades of varying thicknesses. I thought that I would get a lot of use out of it, especially when my daughter is back from uni in her holidays. Once I got the hang of using the spiralizer I was really enjoying it. My first attempts were a bit messy and both the courgettes and carrots came out in short strips instead of the curly, long spirals I had seen on other peoples’ Instagram and Twitter pics. I made far too much for one person really as neither Mr SmartCookieSam or my teenage son like courgettes. Though I did mix in a few carrot spirals in with their spaghetti.
I decided to make Mary Berry’s Sundried Tomato Pasta sauce from her new Everyday book which is just out. Not a success at all. I didn’t chop the sun dried tomatoes up enough and Mr SmartCookieSam pushed them to the side of his plate. After that he said “I can’t eat this, sorry,” and put his knife and fork together. I agreed with him but not only did the pasta dish taste vile, it looked vile as well. The mozzarella was meant to be cut into little pieces on top of the sauce but it was so grainy and bitty that it was in large clumps. It wasn’t the spiralised veg, they were lovely. It was the disgusting sauce. So sorry to say this time but this is the first Mary Berry recipe which didn’t go down well in our house.
After we had tipped the disgusting food in the bin I went and found the biscuit tin. Mr SmartCookieSam asked for some cheese and crackers. So much for trying to eat healthily and cut carbs. I had four cream crackers with Brie on top. Ooops, better luck next time!
Happy New Year! I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way. I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently. This I would love to change.
Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards. I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy. This year things were different. My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house. My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening. Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.
I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer. It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling. I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop. I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.
The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix. There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time. I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”
As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top. Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.
Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten. But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!
A few weeks ago PaymentSense approached me, along with several other food bloggers to see if we could help. The idea was for us to come up with a recipe to serve four people that would cost £5 to make. It could also be a meal which was able to be divided up and either serve 2 people over 2 days or be ideal for eating as four individual portions. asked some food bloggers if they would like to share their favourite go-to recipes. These had to be created with a budget of no more than £5 for 4 people in mind, Payment Sense provide card payment services benefitting small businesses with their special rates and better customer services. We were not paid for our contributions.
On their website PaymentSense also have some interesting and thought provoking articles. One article which is very relevant to my post is this one:
A few weeks ago PaymentSense conducted some research into looking at how fast people are spending their disposible income once they have been paid and what their own situations can be like as they get closer to the end of the month. The term “payday millionaire” means that once you are paid, people tend to act like money is no object, going around splashing the cash on unnecessary purchases and buying rounds of drinks. I’m guilty of this, how many times have I gone out and bought a new pair of shoes or treated myself to a new Nordicware Bundt tin when I’ve just been paid. What was interesting was that the research showed that about one third of the people changed their eating habits in order to help budget their money until payday. So they would scrimp and scrape cooking on a budget or some may even attempt a diet!
I was approached, along with several other food bloggers to see if we could help. The idea was for us to come up with a recipe to serve four people that would cost £5 to make. It could also be a meal which was able to be divided up and either serve 2 people over 2 days or be ideal for eating as four individual portions.
It didn’t take me long to choose which meal I would submit to the campaign. My Cheesy Potato Pie has been a firm favourite for many years. I first started making it as a student about 25 years ago. I also cooked it frequently for my own family as my two children were growing up. Now it has turned full circle and my daughter is now making the pie at uni. Money was tight at home when my children were very young and I often behaved like a payday millionaire. I still do but nowadays I have to be more careful. I work as a supply teacher in my day job and the money comes in dribs and drabs according to when there is a demand for a supply teacher. When it is the school holidays when I don’t have money coming in or when it is close to payday I rely heavily on meals like this.
My Cheesy Potato Pie is simple and quick to make. It is served with a layer of baked beans on the bottom of the dish. The baked beans don’t have to be an expensive brand like Heinz. I only had Heinz in the picture as I’d bought a pack of 4 cans which were on special offer in the supermarket a couple of weeks before. The same goes for the cheese topping. I sometimes use the budget cheese or whatever’s on special offer at the time. To add a bit of extra something to the pie, you can serve it with a side of bacon or sausages or even veggie burgers which my daughter prefers. I even like eating the pie on its own and it’s a perfect choice of comfort food. I know I’ll be making this lots once all the Christmas food has been eaten up, until our bank balances have had a chance to recover!
CHEESY POTATO PIE
5-6 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 x400g can of baked beans
100g grated cheddar cheese
butter and/ or milk to mash the potatoes with
8 sausages/ rashers of bacon or other accompaniment.
Put a large pan of water onto boil.
Peel and chop the potatoes and put into the pan of boiling water. Boil until soft.
Mash the potatoes with a knob of butter or with milk if you prefer. Or even use both!
Put the baked beans into a large ovenproof dish and spread them around, covering the bottom of the dish.
Preheat the oven to 180oC or Gas 4.
Spread the mash evenly on top of the baked beans.
Grate the cheese and sprinkle it on top of the pie.
Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the topping is crispy and golden brown.
While the pie is in the oven, cook the bacon or sausages in your preferred way.
I chose to cook some sausages with my cheesy potato pie. The ones featured in the picture are frozen Slimming World ones which I found in Iceland a few weeks back. I tend to get the best quality sausages I can find for the cheapest price but these were bought while I was following Slimming World leading up to Christmas. Back to it in the New Year!
This pie could be made in four individual dishes or in two smaller ones which serve two people. It keeps well in the fridge overnight and can be frozen.
The cost of this dish is roughly about £4.00 including the sausages which makes this a very economical meal.
I cannot believe how lazy I’ve been about my blogging recently. Life has just been so hectic and every time I try to sit down and write something, there’s always something else to do. I’ve also started on a diet, so I have been trying my hardest not to bake as much. This is torture to me as I really miss it. So I made a deal with myself. I said I would bake only for Cake Club or for special occasions. Famous last words: I lasted 4 days after joining Slimming World! It got to Sunday lunch time and I was working my way through a massive bag of beautiful rosy apples my Dad and step mum had given me. I just had to bake something and found the perfect recipe in Miranda Gore Browne’s book Bake Me A Cake As Fast As You Can.
Apple Amber is a traditional Irish pudding which is a bit like an Apple Meringue Pie. Miranda’s recipe is a cake version where the base is a whisked lemon sponge. The apples are spooned on top as a filling and then the meringue goes on top and is baked in the oven. It sounded too mouthwatering for words.
First, I had to make the apple filling. This I tried to do on the Sunday morning when really I should have been finishing off my pile of ironing. The ironing basket was getting as tall as the Empire State Building but that didn’t stop me from baking! I used 3 apples as they were quite small and finely chopped them. Miranda had said to grate them but I find grating things hard work. So I peeled the apples, cored and sliced them into little cubes. They were then put into a pan to stew with some sugar. As my apples were eaters and quite sweet, I drastically reduced the sugar but added in lemon juice. Once the apples were pureed down a bit, I took them off the heat and stirred in two egg yolks.
Miranda suggests using a springform cake tin but I couldn’t find the right size one in my cupboard. I just used a normal circular tin but a deep one I use for Christmas cakes. This gave me enough depth for the lemon sponge cake base, the filling and the meringue part. As the filling was cooling, I started on the cake part. I whisked butter and sugar together in my KitchenAid, then added in some vanilla extract and two more egg yolks. While this was whisking away I weighed out the dry ingredients for the cake. I used self raising flour, baking powder and some lemon zest. Finally I added in some milk.
The cake baked very quickly in my fan oven and only took about 20 minutes. I felt the time passed by in a flash as I was doing the meringue part while the sponge was cooking. Apart from smashing an egg on the work top and then making a mess of separating another egg, I finally managed to make some meringue. I’m getting better at meringues but sometimes I worry about burning them.
At last it was time to assemble the whole cake together and finish it off in the oven. I spooned the apple mixture on top of the sponge still in its cake tin and then finally on went the meringue. I wanted it to look like a big snowy mountain but it just looked like a big mess. I just hoped it would taste nice. Back into the oven it went for 15 minutes.
When the cake was ready to come out it smelled wonderful in my kitchen. I gave it time to cool down before attempting to get the cake out of the tin. It slid out easily apart from one tiny bit of sponge which got stuck to the side of the tin. I had greased it, too.
Later on I served the Apple Amber Cake up for pudding. I had a tiny mouthful and found it quite sugary, even with my sweet tooth. Funnily enough Mr SmartCookieSam, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth liked it and over the next couple of days had more slices of it. My son ate the cake and meringue bit and left the fruit! I will definitely have a go at baking it again but was wondering if there was a way of reducing the sugar content in the meringue and the apple puree so that it didn’t taste so sweet.
The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is the latest publication from food writer Annabel Karmel and was published a couple of months ago. My family have grown up with Annabel’s recipes right from when I started weaning my daughter back in 1998 using purees from the Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. I’ve bought several of her books over the years from her Family Meal Planner, to her Kids In The Kitchen inspired books, to her party recipe one. I’ve kept all the books though I don’t think my kids would appreciate butternut squash purees now! Having said that, I regularly go back to recipes from the Family Meal Planner, which has been my lifesaver in the kitchen for the past 16 years.
So, when Annabel brings out a new book which isn’t directed at babies and toddlers, I’m always keen to buy it. I was very impressed with the Busy Mum’s Cookbook as it fits into my lifestyle. I work most days as a supply teacher, a job I love but I’m always shattered when I get in from school. All the recipes I have tried out of the book so far have fitted into the slot of being suitable for busy parents and not just Mums!
The introduction states: “Many of us stick with what we know and trust when it comes to cooking, especially when our lives are busier than ever! Yet the result is often a collection of six or seven failsafe recipes that families rely upon week in week out!”
I have easily fallen into that trap. I think I’ve cooked chilli con carne or chicken curry every week for the past year but I do it because I know my son will eat it. Annabel Karmel’s own children have always been a massive part of her cookery career, she tests recipes out on them and there used to be photos of them in her earlier books. Now they are grown up but they still influence her recipes, just like I do when I try to recreate my own dishes at home.
The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is split up into seven sections each featuring a stack of recipes to suit all lifestyles.
Chapter One is called “20 Minute Recipes” and features plenty of recipes which can be cooked in a very short time. Last Monday evening I tried out the Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto on my family. It says the cooking time is 10 mins and the preparation time, 8 minutes. I had to roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar which took all of 10 minutes. While the tomatoes were roasting the pasta was cooking on the hob. When it had cooked I added pesto sauce to the pasta and mixed it with the tomatoes and mozzarella pieces. Ideal for a a quick weeknight supper.
Annabel’s baking recipes are just divine and I must admit I always looked at the baking and dessert chapters first when I bought her earlier books. For every special occasion dinner I must have made Annabel’s naughty but nice version of Tiramisu and baked a lot of her cakes and cookies for children’s parties. I know sweets and desserts get a bad press but to be honest I can’t see the problem in having the odd treat here or there. So it was great to see a handful of delicious recipes at the back of the book in the Sweets chapter. Last Sunday I tried out the Golden Syrup Ginger Cake which is described as a “deliciously moist, gently spiced cake (which is) perfect for an afternoon tea treat.”
To me it sounded like McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake which I used to eat as a child for tea at my Nana Margaret’s house. I’ve not had it for years. So I was tempted to try baking the cake to see if it was the same. I used my Nordicware Gingerbread Man Loaf Bundt pan which has only been used once before, great to give it another outing. I greased the pan well with Wilton Cake Release. Flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and ginger were combined in one bowl. In another in went eggs, sunflower oil and golden syrup. They were then mixed together and the batter poured into the tin. It tasted lovely even though I could have done with more mixture to fill the tin! It looked very small!
Last Friday night was perfect to sit out and enjoy the gorgeous sunny weather. I had loads of tomatoes to use up and had the idea of making the Three Tomato Bruschettas for my family. Though we only had one type of tomato, this recipe was a lot more fiddly than I thought. I had to peel and de-seed a whole punnet of cherry tomatoes which took a lot of time. The Bruschetta recipe is in the Lunchboxes and Snacks chapter. Lunchboxes is something I never get right. When my kids were at primary school they had Lunchboxes and I used Annabel’s own Lunchboxes book for ideas when my daughter first started in Reception. Her pasta salads and fruit salads with dips would come back untouched and she used to say “Why can’t I have fruit winders in my lunchbox?” Or “……has Cheesestrings in hers, why can’t I?” I tend to be a bit disorganised with my own lunches, I end up with half a carton of soup or a noodle pot. If I’m feeling really lazy then I buy a sandwich from a local garage with an M&S food shop attached to it. Same goes for my husband, when he’s working in his office, he’s across the road from a fantastic bakery so he nips there for a sandwich or a pasty. The kids follow what their friends are doing in town. So unless I sort myself out, I can’t see myself using the lunch box recipes much!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love baking biscuits, hence my blog name SmartCookieSam. Last Friday I had some spare time and decided to bake some of Annabel’s Chocolate and Oat Cookies. My son is going through his GCSEs at the moment and my daughter has been busy in her college course. What better than a sweet treat to start half term off? The cookies were very simple to make using butter, brown sugar, flour, an egg, some vanilla extract, baking powder, a small amount of ground ginger, porridge oats and dark chocolate cut into chunks. No sooner than they had been put on the cooling rack, then half of them disappeared! That’s a good sign. If they’re still there in the biscuit tin a few days later that’s when I start getting worried.
My son and husband aren’t massive pasta fans but they liked the Pasta Arrabiata recipe. It was a perfect standby storecupboard supper to knock up after a busy day at work. It went very well washed down with a couple of glasses of wine! I forgot to tell hubby that Arrabiata sauce has chillies in it!
There was another chapter in the book dedicated to Entertaining. Well I can’t remember the last time I had friends round for dinner. It was probably about 10 years ago. Ever since I went back to work doing dinner parties is the last thing on my mind. Though I have had several parties and get togethers. This usually ends up being buffet food or a BBQ or maybe cakes and lots of drink though! I can’t see me cooking any recipes from the Entertaining chapter soon, though!
So, to sum up I was extremely impressed with Annabel’s book. It is going to be well used in the next few years I bet as it was the case with her baby and toddler feeding books. I can wholeheartedly recommend it!