In the run up to Christmas my head was all over the place and I was so disorganised. I was trying to be organised but it just didn’t happen. I planned to cook a steak and ale pie for Mr SmartCookieSam, our son and I but I completely forgot to switch on the slow cooker. And I was feeling pretty smug as I put the meat into the slow cooker thinking here goes, we’ll have a delicious pie filling! No way! I wondered why I’d got to 5pm and realised the cooker was stone cold and the meat inside was raw! It serves me right. So we ended up with a takeaway that night and the beef filling went in the fridge overnight.
Instead of putting the filling into a casserole dish and cooking it in the oven I usually find my slow cooker does it for me when I’m out leaving the meat deliciously tender. This I did on Saturday morning, keeping the meat on the low setting throughout the day as I was going around doing all my chores. I put browned braising steak, a chopped onion, bacon lardons, some ale, some beef stock, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, rosemary, button mushrooms and a bay leaf into the slow cooker and left it to do all the work.
Just before the pie was ready to go into the oven I transferred the meat to a pie dish and then made a shortcrust pastry lid for our meat pie. The recipe in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book also has a shortcrust pastry lid but uses beef suet in the ingredients. I hadn’t got any so I had to make my pastry with all butter and plain flour. It didn’t change the taste or the effect though. I decorated the top of the pie with leftover cut out pastry stars and then brushed the pie top with some beaten egg. It was baked in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top was golden and the filling was piping hot.
On Saturday we became a family of four again as my daughter came back from uni for the Chrismas holidays. We had a perfect first night back dinner as she loves steak and ale pie. I served it with some mashed potato, carrots and cabbage, along with a jug of extra gravy. It was so delicious there were clean plates all round!
I love making pies, quiches and tarts but I always worry about the fat and calorie content in the pastry and the fillings. But nothing beats a homemade pie or tart, especially on a cold Winter’s evening.
I had planned out the meals to cook for this last week but forgot I was a day behind with what needed eating up first in the fridge. I had some chicken breasts which needed to be used so they ended up being cooked for Thursday night’s dinner. Being a supply teacher and at the time having no work booked in for the day after, I thought I’d prep ahead just in case I ended up working. We’d all be starving by the time I got in from work. Not only that but the last thing I’d want to do is to start cooking something from scratch. I’m glad I was prepared. I ended up working and didn’t get home until 6.15pm.
The Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book ended up being our dinner along with some new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn. It was assembled and cooked the night before and it was reheated carefully the following night.
So, back to Thursday tea time and I’m cooking two meals one after the other. I started off with the tart and then went on to cooking the chicken breasts in a chipotle marinade with new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn. Yes I know we had that two nights running but it was what I was trying to use up in the fridge before doing my weekly shop at the weekend. I began with making up the shortcrust pastry which was fine. It was chilled in the fridge for half an hour as I was cooking three medium onions in some olive oil and butter. The long, slow and low heat of cooking the onions really helps them to caramelise.
When the pastry was chilled for long enough, I got it out of the fridge and rolled it out to fit it into my tart tin. There was enough pastry to overhang the edges. I filled the pastry case with baking parchment and my ceramic baking beans so I could blind bake it. After 12 minutes I had to remove the paper and the beans then pop the pastry case back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
As the pastry case was baking, I mixed together the filling. I mixed together two eggs and another egg yolk, along with some double cream, some grated Parmesan Cheese and some crumbled Stilton. I was also meant to add pine nuts to the mixture but when I looked in the cupboard I’m sure I couldn’t find any. So I left them out altogether. I’m sure walnuts would have gone well in the tart as well.
When the pastry case came out of the oven, I mixed the filling, along with the caramelised onions together. The mixture was poured into the case and I popped the tart back into the oven. I always put the tart case onto a flat baking tray in case it leaked out all over the oven floor.
The following day, when we chose to eat the tart, I asked Mr SmartCookieSam to put it back in the oven to reheat through for half an hour. The result was absolutely delicious. I’m sure it was hugely calorific, what with all the cheese and cream in the filling not to mention the butter in the pastry as well. But it simply melted in the mouth. What’s more is that as the tart was so big there was enough left over to eat cold the next day for lunch. It was a big hit and a recipe I’ll definitely be making again.
Who remembers having Pineapple Upside Down Cake as a child? Did you have it for school dinners? I did, although when I was little I didn’t like the pineapple and left it. I remember a very strict teacher at our Infant School telling me off for not eating it and making me sit there at the table until I’d eaten every last mouthful! I’m surprised it hasn’t put me off pineapple for life!
I’ve had the NordicWare Pineapple Upside Down Bundt pan for a couple of years now. I spotted it on Ebay from the US and just HAD TO HAVE IT! I love how you already have the shape of where to stick the pineapple rings and the cherries in. Alternatively as with other bundt pans, you could bake a pineapple flavoured cake and the pretty pattern will come out on top of the cake when you take it out of the tin. Personally, I’ve not got round to trying this out yet, but maybe one day?
To be honest I’ve not had much chance for blogging recently so this cake was baked over a month ago. It was my 19 year old daughter’s last day at home before going back to uni for her second year. She was moving into a new house and would be going back early to work on a film shoot. As with the last year before she left for uni we had a family meal at our house. My Dad and step mum came over and I cooked a roast chicken dinner followed by either Pistachio and White Chocolate Blondies and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. What would you serve with it? I went for a choice of double cream or vanilla ice cream.
As for the recipe used, I tried googling for a recipe specifically for the Nordicware pan but could I find one? No such luck, so I tried adapting a recipe I’ve used before. Nigella Lawson has a lovely recipe in her Express book, but the cake comes out a lot smaller. I doubled the quantities of the cake mixture itself and that seemed to work. I had to keep an eye on the time in the oven though. As it was over a month ago I can’t remember the exact time but my guess is it took me about an hour to bake.
The SmartCookieSam family have just come back from our summer holidays in the South of France. It’s been 9 years since we last went to France. We’ve always loved going there and as I speak French, it always feels like a special place to me. Of course part of going to France is to enjoy all the lovely food and wine and our holiday was no exception.
We stayed in a beautiful villa outside the medieval town of Flayosc near Draguignan and for most of our shopping used the huge Carrefour supermarket on the edge of Draguignan. I was blown away by the sheer quality of the fruit and vegetables for a start. Tomatoes never taste the same in the UK as they do in the mediterranean countries, to me.
The day after we got home I had to head up to our local supermarket to stock up. I’d been so taken by all the Provencale type foods and dishes I’d seen, I was keen to make something French for our dinner. My son was over at his girlfriend’s house and he balks at anything with tomatoes in it unless it’s ketchup! I was looking in one of the Great British Bake Off books and found a mouthwatering sounding recipe in the book to accompany the 2013 series The Great British Bake Off Everyday. There was a recipe for Roast Tomato Tart. It captured all the typical Mediterranean flavours and could be adapted to have pesto sauce in it in place of mustard. I chose to stick with mustard. The tart is a shortcrust pastry base infused with rosemary, baked blind and then spread with Dijon mustard and grated Gruyere cheese. Then the tart is topped with sliced tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and then salt and pepper.
The recipe makes a tart in a circular 1 x 23cm loose based quiche tin but I chose to try out a rectangular flan tin I’d bought in John Lewis last year and never used. I found I had slightly too many tomatoes to go in the tin but I just added them to the side salad I was serving with the tart.
200g plain flour
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried, as I didn’t have fresh)
140g butter chilled and diced
3-4 tbsp iced cold water
800g ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard or pesto sauce
175g Gruyere or Emmental cheese, grated
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A couple of pinches of herbes de Provence
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, you make up the rosemary shortcrust pastry. This can be done in a food processor or by hand. I thought that by the time I’d faffed about getting the food processor out, I could have made up the pastry. But if you have one and it’s not a pain getting it out of the cupboard, it makes making pastry so much easier. Rub the butter into the flour until it makes fine breadcrumbs then add the water little by little. Form into a ball with the end of a round bladed knife. It should be a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap the dough into cling film and put in your fridge to chill for about 15 minutes.
Flour your work top with some plain flour or if you’re like me, pour too much out so it goes all over the kitchen floor. When you have done that, get the dough out of the fridge and roll the pastry out to fit the flan tin allowing extra to overhang because of shrinkage.
Then the oven needs to be heated up to 190oC/
Excuse the awful pictures but I was taking the photos in a hurry. Especially doing them before Mr SmartCookieSam saw me taking the pictures and would say he didn’t “want to see his dinner on bloody Facebook!”
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.
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.
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!