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!
A couple of years back as family circumstances changed we stopped having our traditional Sunday lunch at lunchtime. My daughter was out at work and would miss having a Sunday lunch and the chance for us all to sit down over a roast dinner. So our Sunday meal got moved to the early evening once she was in from work. Because we were eating late I stopped making a Sunday pudding. I really miss making a pudding on a Sunday as we don’t usually indulge throughout the week. It just makes it a bit more special. This last Sunday I really wanted to test out an idea I had for a Cherry and Coconut Sponge cake using some Red Cherry Jam I had picked up at the Good Food Show a couple of weeks back. It was baked in a bit of a rush though. I have been running around like a headless chicken this weekend trying to get all my jobs done as it is a busy time for me at work in my day job supply teaching. I don’t want to be ironing or cleaning bathrooms when I’ve got in from work during the week, so I’ve been trying to keep on top of things.
It was 2pm and I’d only just got dressed! That makes me sound like a right lazy slob but if I don’t have to go anywhere I stay and do all my housework in my PJ’s. I ironed, cleaned the bathrooms, hoovered and dusted upstairs and by 2pm I was ready for a cup of tea and a baking session.
To bake the Coconut and Cherry Sponge Cake I adapted Lynn Hill (Founder of The Clandestine Cake Club’s) own recipe from the first Clandestine Cake Club cookbook which was published back in 2013. This cake was wonderfully retro, the sort you grew up eating or your granny baked. I don’t remember my Nana Mary (my Mum’s mum) baking it, though I do remember her baking lemon cake and fruit cakes.
I started by greasing and lining two 8″ diameter loose bottomed sandwich tins. Once this was done I then weighed out some softened butter and caster sugar. This was creamed together with my hand held electric whisk. To this I added three free range eggs, one at a time and then some self raising flour. Lynn’s original recipe calls for using vanilla extract for flavouring, but instead I used a few drops of some natural coconut extract which comes from Lakeland. To add to the coconut flavour I also added some dessiccated coconut. The mixture was then divided between the two cake tins and put in the oven, preheated to 160oC. After about 25 minutes when the cakes were risen and sprung back when touched, out they came to cool on the worktop.
While the cakes had been cooking I thought about how I could decorate the cake. Lynn’s original recipe used a butter and cream cheese icing which sounded delicious along with a filling of jam. I decided to use some of my Mercers of York Cherry jam which is absolutely delicious. Instead of the butter and cream cheese icing which I couldn’t do anyway as I didn’t have the cream cheese, I whipped up a carton of cream and to this I added some Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavour Coconut Icing Sugar. I got this ready and decided to go out for a run. I’m doing the Couch To 5K app at the moment as I’m entering the Race For Life in June so I’m trying to train when I can. An hour later, I’m back home feeling a bit tired but ready to decorate the cake.
One top of one cake I spread about 6 tbsp jam and to the other I spread about half the coconut cream mixture. These were then sandwiched together. The rest of the cream was spread on the top of the cake with a dozen glace cherries spaced around the edge. To finish off, I sprinkled desiccated coconut on top of the cake.
Even though the cake was meant to be a Sunday dessert treat we were far too full to eat it. So at the time of typing it is in a box in my fridge waiting to be eaten throughout the course of the week.
To make a change from my usual baking and sweet recipes which I create, it has been a welcome change to bring you something completely different. This is a recipe I have used for nearly 15 years with my own two children and also one that has been made at an After School cookery club that I used to run.
When Wren Kitchens contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I would like to be involved in their #LittleKitchen campaign, I was really excited. Although I’m really busy at the moment in my teaching career and with home commitments, I love to take part in schemes which are very close to my heart.
The #LittleKitchen campaign has been created to encourage children to cook by being involved in food preparation and cooking. Wren Kitchen’s philosophy is something I heavily relate to: the kitchen is the heart of the home and where the family whatever their ages are able to come together. They talk, prepare food and have fun while they’re doing it. At the same time you spend precious family time together as well as creating healthy and delicious food. Not only that but by being involved in the food preparation process, children have fun, a sense of responsiblity and also are more likely to eat something that they’ve made themselves.
It is always a challenge to find meals which tick all the boxes. Is it delicious? Does is contain portions of fruit and veg which will count towards your 5 a day? Will the kids actually like it? I think this recipe has proved time and time again that it does fulfill that need.
My Chinese Egg Fried Rice recipe is one that children of all ages can help to create and it is a valuable recipe to add to the repertoire. I am convinced that being able to cook simple, yet nutritious, but fun meals is a valuable life skill as everyone has to eat. My own daughter is off to uni this autumn and she will be able to cook the Egg Fried Rice for herself and her friends. The beauty in this recipe is that you can used whatever leftover veg you have left over, so long as they are chopped up small. It can also have frozen peas and sweetcorn in it so it fills out the dish. All the ingredients are cheap so it is a useful budget dinner.
CHINESE EGG FRIED RICE
225g dry weight long grain or basmati rice
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped finely.
1 pepper, deseeded and chopped
Approx 75g frozen peas
2 medium eggs, beaten
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
If you fancy substiuting any of the vegetables, feel free. I sometimes use 3 or 4 spring onions in the rice instead of the ordinary onions. I used a yellow pepper here but the colour doesn’t matter. Just use whatever you have at hand.
KIDS IN THE KITCHEN:
Even very young children can take part in making this dish. My own two children used to help by using a child friendly knife to cut and prepare easy to cut vegetables like peppers and to help weigh out ingredients. I included them in every step of the process even though they kept away from the hob when I was frying the vegetables and boiling the rice. When the dish was put on the table I let them serve themselves.
As children get older they are more able to cope with cutting more difficult vegetables, such as onions and will be able to peel the carrots. You could involve them by adding the vegetables and rice to the pans at the right time and they could stir the contents of the pan. They could also make the omelette with help. Teenagers will easily able to cook the Egg Fried Rice without supervision. Though my children will always leave me their mess to clean up afterwards!
This is a blog post I was meant to write about last month and due to all my crazy commitments it never got written. Now half term is here I’m beginning to catch up with myself again. Blogging ends up being pushed to the back of the queue when I’m trying to get everything else sorted.
Anyway, I was contacted by Brazen PR who asked me if I would like some vouchers to try out Dr Oetker’s new product, their Calzone Speciale. I said yes, all my family love Calzone if we go out for an Italian meal. We also love the Dr Oetker Ristorante Pizzas which to me are very useful if you are having a busy week and don’t have much time to cook.
Dr Oetker Calzones are only available in Asda at the moment. I don’t often go to Asda, as both local Asdas are about 12 miles away from me and I find them far too crowded. I can never get a parking space when I go to Asda! I do like Asda though, don’t get me wrong. It’s just I have other supermarkets nearer to me. The vouchers could also be used with the Ristorante Pizzas so that’s what I decided to do as they were more widely available. I found these in my local supermarket which is Morrisons.
I chose three different flavour pizzas, two of which my children had already tried and loved. According to Dr Oetker’s website they are “the nation’s favourite thin and crispy pizza” which cooks “to perfection in about 10 minutes” I must admit I don’t buy pizzas that often, they’re usually something I enjoy when eating out. But I was keen to try the Pollo flavour, which had chicken and sweet corn on the top. I knew my kids would scoff down their favourite, the Pizza Mozzarella which is like a Margarita pizza with basil on top. Another winner in our house is the Pepperoni Salami one.
One busy Thursday night last month I had just the opportunity to use the pizzas. Hubby had been in London working for the day and had eaten out. I had been at work all day and as soon as hubby got back I was on the road to my mum’s overnight about 2 hours away. So a quick but tasty dinner was needed. Usually I try to share out the flavours but my kids said “Ugh no!” to the chicken one. So I ended up with it.
I would give my pizza 3 stars out of 5. Even though it had been in the oven for the recommended time and temperature it tasted doughy to me. I don’t like deep pan pizzas and much prefer thin and crispy bases. The topping was ok, but I’m not really a fan of chicken on pizza. My kids enjoyed their pizzas and they loved the bases. They also thought there were plenty of toppings.
Thankyou so much again to Brazen PR who very kindly sent me the Dr Oetker vouchers. I’m hoping to try the Calzones in the fur when I can get to my nearest Asda.