Monday, 16 January 2017

Creamy Parsnip and Leek Soup with Lemon, Turmeric and Coriander

This unusual combination gives a surprisingly delicious and creamy soup with subtle Thai flavours.

This soup was created as a result of what was in the fridge that needed using up - at this time of year, after the weekend has passed (think roast dinners), things like parsnips tend to get sold off cheap and can be just too much of a bargain to resist at times! (I might just happen to have a bit of a 'yellow sticker' habit!). 

So I thought I'd do something a bit different with them for a change, and it turned out delicious! If you're not the biggest fan of parsnips, don't worry, the flavour is very delicate - they mostly just add a velvety, creamy texture to the soup. Or feel free to substitute with something like sweet potatoes, butternut squash or similar (remembering to adjust the calories if you're counting).

Serves six to eight, 135 to180 calories per portion (a smaller portion is around 275g if dividing into eight, a larger portion is around 370g if dividing into six). Chicken is extra.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Hearty Ham and Lentil Soup

A really delicious and filling soup that's easy to make and great for the family

This soup is amazingly tasty, given the simplicity of the ingredients - the secret is using a really tasty ham stock, and I carefully saved mine from cooking the Christmas ham, with the express intention of making soup. I made up the quantity of stock to what I needed using a couple of ham stock cubes as well, and you can of course make it just using stock cubes - Knorr do a good ham stock cube, and it's gluten and dairy free as well.

I was originally planning on this being a simple smooth soup (which is why I didn't add any actual ham meat to it, but of course you could easily cube some ham and add it at the end to warm through - especially if you cooked a big joint for Christmas or the New Year and want to use it up!) - however, as you can see, it's not, because when I tasted it once the lentils were cooked, it was so good I decided to leave it just as it was! See what you think... I may yet blitz a batch up, just to find out if it tastes as good smooth!

Serves eight, for 172 calories per serving (approximately 300-350g depending on how much liquid evaporates / is added).

Easy Ham and Cannellini Bean Soup (Gluten and Dairy Free)

A tasty, healthy soup that you can throw together for a nutritious light meal

Well, this was going to be ham and lentil soup, until I realised that my dried red lentils weren't actually gluten free (my daughter can't eat gluten) and I had to think of a quick substitute as things were already cooking away and I didn't want to waste my precious ham stock from cooking the Christmas ham (Knorr stock cubes are good too if you don't happen to have your own ham stock lying around)!

Luckily there are always various tins of beans in the cupboard here, so I substituted some cannellini beans in part of the broth so she could eat it, and put the lentils in the remainder (next blog!) for the rest of the family. You don't have to use cannellini beans, you could use butter beans, haricot or any other mild and creamy tasting white bean. It turned out really tasty, so I thought I'd share the recipe!

Serves four to six, from 93 calories per serving for a smaller portion (six smaller portions at around 250g each, or four larger portions at around 400g each - exact weight depends on how much liquid has evaporated overall) or 139 calories for a larger portion.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Festive Beard Oil Recipe

A subtly fragranced beard oil with a hint of Christmas scent from the frankincense.

This doesn't just have to be a Christmas gift, it's a great gift to give to your favourite bearded men any time - at other times you could switch the frankincense oil for a change (suggestions below).

Makes six 10ml bottles of beard oil, or four 15ml bottles of beard oil - you can easily halve the recipe if you like. Do not be tempted to increase the ratio of essential oils to carrier oils.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Salted Caramel Fudge (for the Thermomix)

This was without a doubt everyone's favourite fudge last year!

I'm pretty sure there's a reason salted caramel in one form and another has become so prevalent everywhere - and that's because it tastes absolutely divine!

This is my version, tweaked to our preferences and mostly blogged for my own ailing memory, and for my children to be able to find my recipe (because who knows where those scraps of hastily scribbled on paper disappear to!). If you're cooking strictly gluten free, check the chocolate label carefully to ensure it hasn't been made in a factory handling wheat etc. See the notes at the bottom for some nutty suggestions!

If you want to make a selection of fudge, why not try my Chocolate Cookies and Cream Fudge and Festive Fudge with Cranberry and Pistachio recipes too?

Chocolate Cookies and Cream Fudge (for the Thermomix)

Fudge is one of those deliciously decadent treats that people love to make at Christmas - both to eat themselves and as gifts for others. 

Who doesn't love chocolate, and cookies, which make a great monochrome combination that looks very attractive when cut up into cubes and popped into pretty packaging for gifts.

This is my version, tweaked to our preferences and mostly blogged for my own ailing memory, and for my children to be able to find my recipe (because who knows where those scraps of hastily scribbled on paper disappear to!).

If you want to make a selection of fudge, why not try my Salted Caramel Fudge and Festive Fudge with Cranberry and Pistachio recipes too?

Festive Fudge with Cranberry and Pistachio (for the Thermomix)

Fudge is one of those deliciously decadent treats that people love to make at Christmas - both to eat themselves and as gifts for others. 

Cranberry and pistachio makes a really delicious and colourful combination, which looks beautiful when cut up into cubes and popped into pretty packaging for gifts.

This is my version of festive fudge, tweaked to our preferences and mostly blogged for my own ailing memory, and for my children to be able to find my recipe (because who knows where those scraps of hastily scribbled on paper disappear to!). If you're cooking strictly gluten free, you will need to ensure you have an appropriate brand of white chocolate (check the label for 'may contain...', as some chocolate is processed in factories handling wheat etc.), and also check the nuts to be on the safe side.

If you want to make a selection of fudge, why not try my Salted Caramel Fudge and Chocolate Cookies and Cream Fudge recipes too?

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christmas Spiced Honey Roast Almonds (includes Thermomix instructions)

A delicious treat, perfect for serving up to guests with festive drinks, or packing up for Christmas gifts in pretty jars.

Beware, these are incredibly more-ish! And pretty easy to make too, so don't say I didn't warn you!

They do last a few weeks, but I don't think you'll be needing to worry about that - more about not eating them all in one sitting!

You can substitute your favourite nuts if you'd rather not use almonds, just keep an eye on them in the oven. Skin on almonds work particularly well, as the glaze adhers to the crinkly skin of the almond nicely.

Christmas Pudding Truffles (can be gluten free, includes Thermomix method)

Fun canapes, or a festive gift.

Inspired by pretty truffles I'd seen made last year with leftover Christmas pudding, I wanted to make something similar, but using the small fruit cakes that are widely available - and also available gluten free so making it even more accessible (do check the labels on the chocolate you use though, as some bars are prepared in factories handling wheat)!


If you don't want to use alcohol, you could just use pure apple, orange or pomegranate juice depending on your preference. I recommend using foodsafe gloves to roll up the balls as I feel it is much easier to handle them as well as being more hygienic, and you won't get into a sticky mess!

Makes around 25 truffles.

Mincemeat Stars (including Gluten Free alternatives)

A delicious alternative to traditional mince pies at Christmas time!

Several years ago, I saw these beautiful little traditional Finnish Christmas tarts called 'joulutorttu', which are traditionally filled with prune jam, that I thought would work wonderfully as a mince pie alternative filled with mincemeat instead.

I played around with them, trying different ways of making sure they didn't burst or come apart during baking, and looked pretty, and this is what I came up with.

You could make your own mincemeat and my easy (gluten free) puff pastry (Thermomix methods for both), or you can simply use a pack of pre-rolled puff pastry and a (411g) jar of mincemeat if you're pushed for time and want the easy alternative. Either way they'll have a lovely home-made look, keep well, and are perfect to offer to unexpected guests that drop by over the festive period, so make a nice little stash as they're very more-ish!

Makes either 20 mini mincemeat stars (my preference), or you could make eight large ones.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Gingerbread Men / Christmas Gingerbread Shapes (includes Thermomix method)

For many people gingerbread is synonymous with the festive period, and it's also pretty easy to make and fun to decorate!

As well as being delicious, it also keeps well, so makes wonderful gifts and even decorations for your tree (providing you haven't got any sneaky snackers in your household!).

Gingerbread my son made for his friends - see, it's that easy a child can make it!
With the icing sugar, if you're making these for anyone who has a compromised immune system, is pregnant or elderly etc., you can either purchase cartons of pasteurised egg white from most supermarkets, or buy powdered egg white in packets to make up, as an alternative to using a raw white egg white.

Gingerbread drizzled with white chocolate and shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate.

As an alternative they are also nice drizzled with white or dark chocolate. I've made them drizzled with white chocolate before, and packaged up with shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate, which made a really pretty contrast.

My son rolling out his final tray of gingerbread, there were three trays altogether.

This yields three baking sheets of biscuits - so approximately 30 larger shapes, or 60 small and medium mixed shapes.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Bigos - Polish Hunter's Stew

This tasty treat is known as Poland's national dish and possibly one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten made with cabbage in it!

I first discovered it... well, let's just say a few years ago (OK, two decades ago!) when I went to the Polish club in Melton with some friends, where they served it at the bar from a huge pot onto paper plates, and you'd get a generous portion with a couple of kabanos sausages on the side. I never knew that cabbage could be so tasty!

Being the curious cook I am, as with many dishes, I felt that I had to replicate it myself with the help of a bit of research, and some tips from a Polish friend, and I have been making it ever since with the odd tweak here and there over the years. Generally speaking, bigos is made with a base of meat (usually a mixture of game and/or pork shoulder, and smoked Polish sausage), sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, and a few other things - although it is said that there are as many recipes for bigos as there are cooks in Poland, so as you can see it is perfectly acceptable to substitute or omit ingredients to your taste!

Now, I like cabbage, but it's not my favourite vegetable cooked, and my other half doesn't even like it. My children are not overly fussed either way. However, by the time this stew has braised, it looks and tastes like no cabbage you have ever had before - an inviting coppery colour, tender and moist with deep, rich smoky flavours from the meat juices, sausage, wine and other delights in there, like the wild mushrooms which add a real depth. Everyone loves it, even the cabbage haters! So, even if you're dubious about it, I urge you to give it a try - you won't regret it and it's a brilliant winter warmer and very convenient to heat up quickly! See the notes at the bottom for slow cooker or pressure cooker suggestions.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Easy Cold-Smoked Mackerel Fillets

Got the cold smoker going? Why not pop on some quick-cured mackerel while you're at it!

I absolutely love smoked mackerel, although sometimes I find hot-smoked shop bought fillets a little chewy on top - if you cold smoke your own, you can avoid this part and have delicious, juicy smoked mackerel fillets ready to cook under the grill whenever you fancy! 

Just look how juicy it is inside when you flake some of the flesh away!
You can generally pick up fresh mackerel for very low prices, and once cured and smoked they will keep well in the fridge for several days if you vacuum pack them, or you can freeze them either raw or cooked. If you're using your cold smoker for something else (e.g. bacon... home made smoked bacon, mmm! See here for my home made bacon recipes) it makes perfect sense to utilise what space you have available in the smoker to smoke other things at the same time. Conveniently hard cheese (e.g. cheddar, gouda) and butter cold-smoke perfectly in 4-6 hours too (and you could also pop things like garlic, salt, paprika et. in there as well if you have any more space). 

You can of course just hot smoke or BBQ the mackerel once you've cured them, as it is quicker and then they're ready to eat; but I quite like the versatility of having them cold smoked, so I can cook them in whichever way I choose.

Easy Home Made Bacon - Plain, Old Fashioned, or Sweet Maple Cure.

Who doesn't love bacon? OK, apart from the obvious... but bacon just makes everything better, right?

Have you ever thought about having a go at making it yourself?

Then looked around and felt a bit overawed by the different recipes and methods?

Me too. So, after seeing someone I knew making some rather mouth-watering bacon and egg muffins from their own home made bacon, I was inspired to make the leap, do plenty of research (as is my wont) and have a go at making my own. It's actually surprisingly easy to make your own delicious bacon, and you don't need any special equipment to be able to make it - although there is the odd gadget that makes life easier, such as a meat slicer! So don't be afraid to give it a go - my step-by-step guide is further below!

My friend kindly shared the recipe they'd used with me, which was an American one using cup measurements. I'm happy using those in general, but when using things like salt, sugar and sodium nitrate, the mathematician in me feels much happier using weights (as crystals can vary in size, therefore one kind of salt is not of an equal weight to another by volume), and of course using something like sodium nitrate you need to weigh it out extremely accurately, as it can be toxic if too much is used, and if you don't use enough, you negate its powers of preventing pathogens occurring in your bacon. I strongly recommend using digital scales to ensure accuracy.

My bacon and tomato buttie... for bacony heaven, add some tomato wedges to the pan
at the end until a little camarelised, and put a smear of ketchup on the bread. Mmmm!!

It is your choice whether you choose to use a sodium nitrate product - using it ensures a higher level of food safety by preventing things like botulism, and maintains the pink colour of meat in the bacon which most of us are used to. If you don't use it, your bacon will have the normal grey colour of pork when cooked, which is purely an aesthetic detail, but you will not have quite the same bacteria killing properties in your cure. However, this blog is purely about making bacon, rather than further debating whether to use sodium nitrate or not and I can only vouch for the safety of preparing bacon using my method if you use the core ingredients as suggested in the appropriate measures.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Comforting Creamy Tomato Soup (Includes Thermomix and Instant Pot instructions)

A deliciously comforting tomato soup to take you back to your childhood...

There's nothing like a bowl of tasty tomato soup to comfort you on a cold day. It floods the house with delicious smells too, as it cooks. If you want to be really indulgent, you can't beat having a toasted cheese sandwich on the side!

I made this so my daughter could enjoy it too, as she is on a gluten free, lactose free diet (you could make it dairy free too, by using appropriate 'milk', e.g. rice, oat or nut milk, or and extra 500ml of stock - although we are avoiding oats for her as well - if you do this and cut out or substitute the honey, you can make it vegan too) - but if you're not restricted in your diet, there's nothing stopping you from adding a splash of cream at the end to make it ultra-indulgent!

If you'd rather avoid potatoes, you could substitute sweet potato or squash instead (although maybe don't add any kind of additional sweetener until after you've tasted it for seasoning). As we're a family of four, I do tend to cook in large quantities so we'll enjoy this two days on the trot then freeze the rest in portions - but you don't need to make this much if you don't want to - it's very easy to just make half the quantity.

Yields: approximately 4.5 to 5 litres; 16 servings (approximately two ladlefuls for a serving) - easily halved!
Calories: 101 calories per serving.

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