Friday, 30 December 2011

Poached Salmon with Herb Dressing.

Now this is a lovely light, healthy and refreshing dish to counteract all the excesses of Christmas.

For Random Recipes this month, Dom asked us to make space for new Christmas pressies by choosing a cookbook to donate to charity and cooking a random recipe from it before giving it away.  I did have a look at all my books but as we moved house this year, we had already done a massive clear out and the only books we had left were ones we really wanted to keep.  

I did, however, remember that a friend of mine had been clearing out some of her old copies of Everyday Food magazine by Martha Stewart and had given me a great big bag of them.  I had intended to go through them all and pass the ones I had finished with to another friend of ours.  Well, it had been some time since I had passed any on to her so I thought I could use one of them for this challenge and get started passing on the magazines again.

The recipe randomly chosen was from Issue 51 of Everyday Food from Martha Stewart and I have changed it quite a bit. The original recipe can be found on the Martha Stewart website here.

Recipe - Poached Salmon Salad with Herb Dressing.
Serves 4.

4 skinless salmon fillets
zest of 1 lemon, peeled into strips
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
sea salt and ground pepper
1 clove of garlic
200g creme fraiche
1 handful fresh tarragon leaves
1 handful fresh parsley leaves
1 packet of baby salad leaves
1/2 cucumber diced or handful cherry tomatoes, halved

1. Place salmon in a pan and cover with cold water.  Add lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil over a high heat.  Cover, remove from the heat and let stand until salmon is opaque throughout, about 15 mins.
2. In a blender, combine creme fraiche, lemon juice, garlic, tarragon and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  Blend until smooth and set aside.
3. Divide salad and cucumber/tomatoes over four plates.  Top with poached salmon (leave whole or flake) and drizzle with dressing.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Food Bloggers Unplugged.

Susan from A Little Bit Of Heaven On A Plate started this series in November to have a bit of fun and get to know some of the people behind the food blogs better.

I have be kindly tagged by C from Cakes, Crumbs and Cooking and the lovely Little Macaroon.

I have to answer ten questions and they don't look easy!!!  Here goes - 

1. What, or who inspired you to start a blog?
To be honest, I really can't remember what went through my mind and made me start one.   I think I just wanted to keep a kind of journal of my boys growing up and helping us in the kitchen.  It was supposed to be just for me to look at and was probably born of my compulsive need to record photos of them along with my obsession with food.  I had no idea then what a wonderful community it is.  I certainly had never heard of all the challenges there are.  Nowadays this blog is really a vehicle for me to be involved in the challenges - making the same thing as other people (sometimes something I wouldn't have thought of making if left to my own devices) and having people to share our chat about the recipe and how it went. I notice, however, that my second ever post was a restaurant review - not sure why I wanted to do that.  I LOVE reading reviews in the weekend papers but can't think why I wanted to start doing my own.  I'm certainly not a writer.  I would like to improve my writing, photography and cooking skills but am happy to do that over the long term as the main priority for my time just now is my boys (then my dog, Bob, then my husband (Sshhhh - don't let on he came after Bob!) and then I suppose work has to be prioritised to some extent).

2. Who is your foodie inspiration?
Hmmm.  I think my love of food ultimately stems from my parents.  They are not hugely into cooking but they can both cook and both fed me very well as a child.  They do LOVE their food and sharing food has always been central to our family life.  My Grandma inspired me greatly.  She grew huge amounts of her own fruit, vegetables, herbs, cut flowers until she was well into her 80s.  She made huge stores of chutneys.  We used to bake together but my favourite memories are of just spending time with her and my Granda in their garden eating strawberries or peas or whatever straight from the plant.  I'm sorry my own children don't really have that.  I think I'll have to make more effort for next year.  Maybe I could grow some peas in a container?  They were my favourite.
And, of course, my favourite food writer is Nigel Slater.  He speaks to me.

3. Your greasiest, batter - splattered food/drink book is?
I have an old jotter from my Mum's school cookery class.  I don't make much out of it but it does contain my favourite truffle recipe.  It is a mess.  I also have my Grandma's old book where she noted down recipes - well, I think my Dad must have it somewhere.  I'll need to ask him for it.  I would like to recreate my Grandma's chutney next year when the gooseberry season comes round.
I also have a very old book called Cookery In Colour which belongs to my Mum and has the recipe we use for Christmas cake.  I made my cake from it last month and am feeding it sherry.
Of the books which actually belong to me, I think Nigel Slater's Appetite is the most used.

4. Tell us all about the best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it, what was it?
I am not a particularly well travelled person.  The main reason is that I have always had a dog or dogs so we tend to holiday in Scotland.  I have been abroad a few times when in between dogs or only for a weekend when my Mum and Dad could keep the dog.  Does England count as another country?  If so, we had a meal at Gordon Ramsay's at Hospital Road.  It was a special treat to us both for our 30th birthdays from family and friends who clubbed together.  It was very special.  We were allowed into the kitchen where we chatted to Mark Askew, his executive chef, while watching Claire Smyth do her thing at the pass.  I must say the service was outstanding.  Jean-Claude Breton welcomed us and immediately made us feel at ease.  We didn't feel at all intimidated and were made to feel very comfortable.  A really special one-off meal.  Notice I haven't mentioned the food much.  It was outstanding but meals are particularly special to me because of the occasion and who I share them with.  That weekend was when my second son was about 9 months old and so having time to have a meal just Stephen and myself was one of the most amazing parts of it.  

Another memorable meal was pork, black beans and rice in Cuba.  A really simple, almost peasant meal but it was our honeymoon so, again, filled with wonderful memories.

5. Another food bloggers table you'd like to eat at is?
Well, Little Macaroon's.  I have already had the pleasure of eating at her table several times but she has been away for nearly two years and we miss her.  She likes the same sort of food as I do and she is very much about family times.  She would have our two families eating together with the children sharing what we were eating.  In fact, before she left she set up a "supper club" and invited ourselves and other friends round for a meal where we all contributed something.  It was great fun.  It would have continued if they hadn't gone away.  I wish I could remember how she had worded her philosophy behind it.  Oh actually - I have just managed to find the original message on facebook.  Hmm should I quote her or is that a bit cheeky? Okay, here's what she said (hope you don't mind Macaroon, but I love this and it sums up what I'm trying to say in the whole waffly paragraph), "It’s about wanting our kids to grow up with fuzzy memories of homes always filled with colourful, merry, creative and interesting people."  

6. What is the one kitchen gadget you would ask Santa for this year (money no object of course)?
I would like a meat thermometer and digital scales.  My analogue scales were a wedding present and I love them but the kids have been playing with them and I can no longer get them to weigh anything under 100g with any kind of accuracy.  In fact, I don't know if they weight anything at all with accuracy.  I'm happy enough just guessing, though, just now.  

7. Who taught you how to cook?
My Mum.  I can make a lot of good basics - bolognaise, chilli, lentil soup, broth, mince and tatties.

8. I'm coming to you for dinner what's your signature dish?
No idea.  I'll probably panic a little but go for something really easy - something made ahead and then just brought out of the oven to the table so I don't have to stress about cooking while you are here.  I might make a lovely oxtail stew.  Not if you're vegetarian, of course.  Hmm what would I make if you are vegetarian?  Probably something from Shaheen's lovely blog. You see, I am not having people around often enough to have tried and tested signature dishes.  I have my Mum and Dad round from time to time but I tend to experiment on them and make something different every time.

9. What is your guilty food pleasure?
I have plenty of these.  Not sure I have any particularly interesting ones.  I suppose a mince pie from the baker's (a Scotch pie) is something I love and only have every now and then as it is a health disaster.  A buttery (or rowie or Aberdeen roll) is the same.  Aberdonians LOVE them but they will kill your arteries, I'm afraid.  Worth it, though!

Here's a photo from

10. Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn?
I'm diabetic.  I'm insulin dependent and was diagnosed when I was 17.  I do not eat any differently to anyone else.  I choose to adjust my insulin to accommodate my eating.  I do, however, have to take quite a bit of effort over that to ensure I am not damaging my health and I don't think it would necessarily suit everyone.  If you are an insulin dependent diabetic and are interested, ask your diabetes doctor about the possibility of getting on a course called DAFNE - dose adjustment for normal eating. 

Wow, that was quite hard going.  I hope I haven't bored you all to death.  If so, you can blame C and Macaroon. ;-)

Now, I have to tag 5 other people to do this.  If I tag you, please take part if you want to but don't worry if you don't - there is no pressure associated with this at all. And sorry if you have already been tagged.  We're all a little inbred round these parts. ;-)

Chris from Mince and Skirlie
Kelly-Jane from Cooking The Books
Maria at The Goddess's Kitchen

Just What The Doctor Ordered...


Yes, after my last post trying to get the world to eat more fibre, it was timely indeed that this week's Short and Tweet challenge was to make Dan Lepard's Rye and Apple Cake.  The recipe can be found in Dan's new book, Short and Sweet, or by searching on the Guardian website.  

Choclette mentioned that she uses rye flour when baking her cakes and I realised I have never tried it and almost always use plain white flour in my baking.  Well that is to change right now.  This apple cake is one of my favourite apple cakes and I was very taken with the rye flour.  The uncooked mixture tasted absolutely beautiful - like caramel apple porridge.  I was particularly surprised by how soft the cake was.  It was very decadent and didn't at all taste like something you would expect to be good and wholesome!  I even treated myself to two large slices for breakfast this morning.  And how smug do you think I feel when I give my boys a lovely slice of delicious cake and laugh up my sleeve at how much fibre there is in it?

  Now I can't wait to try Dan's chocolate brownies made with rye flour and I also want to try some breads. Zeb Bakes has lots of good information on baking breads with different flours. 

So, I have made a few things from Short and Sweet now.  Using and enjoying this book seems to make me rather more on-trend than I am used to being.  The fact that everyone is raving about the book makes me want to find faults with it so I'm not just going along with the fashion but it really is a very good book.  I imagine that is because he has been baking these things and adjusting the recipes for years and he does know a thing or two about baking.  It really is a book written by the expert rather than a celebrity offering hastily put together.  If you don't know Dan Lepard's recipes I would suggest looking through them on the Guardian website and maybe trying one or two of them.  You will soon be hooked and decide to buy the book.  Personally, I think the book is set out very well and with lots of useful information and tips.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Wholemeal Loaf.

Our computer died.  Oh how I struggled without it.  I do a lot of work from home so it was a bit of a disaster.  It also means I am behind with my blogging and I missed two of the challenges for Short and Tweet

It's okay, though, as I managed to get up and running in time to post this wholemeal bread.  Now this is not a very exciting or flashy recipe.  But it works, it is easy, and it is wonderful.

Obviously this is a recipe from Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet.

I won't post the recipe but obviously you can find some of Dan's recipes on the Guardian website.

Now, this bread is made with entirely wholemeal flour which made me worry it would be quite dense.  It's not.  It is lovely.  It has a crunchy crust which contrasts with the soft and light bread inside.  I first had it with butter - perfect - then for breakfast with strawberry jam.  The lovely chewy and nutty flavoured bread is the perfect partner to sweet strawberry jam.  I then made ham sandwiches for my lunchbox and they were beautiful.  I much prefer wholemeal to white bread.  It has more taste and more texture and then there are the obvious health benefits. 

But are they so obvious?  

Wholemeal bread is a great source of insoluble fibre which pulls fluid into the stool and decreases the transit time of food through your digestive tract (doing exactly what many laxatives do - would you rather a tablet or horrid drink or just a great piece of bread?).  This helps to reduce constipation (and therefore things like anal fissures and piles) but also reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.  I know that I'm probably preaching to the converted but you would be amazed how many children I see in my surgery with constipation caused by a diet poor in fibre.  These children have all sorts of problems now - constipation is a very painful problem, some children then get encopresis which is an unpleasant leakage of faecal matter (imagine how much of a social problem this is for tired Mums constantly having to clean soiled pants to older children who are ridiculed for pooping in their pants or being smelly) and, of course, -  in later life they will suffer from the discomfort of piles and a higher risk of bowel cancer.

Sorry, I didn't mean for this post to turn into a big nag but it is so important to prevent these problems and so very easy.  I say easy but I am well aware of how difficult it is to get children to eat what you want them to eat.  I do think it helps if they see their parents eating a diet high in fibre and eventually you should be able to persuade them to do the same.  As you may be able to tell, I am slightly obsessed with getting my boys eating lots of fibre.  I'm not perfect at it but I am trying.  We very rarely eat white bread.

I hope I haven't upset anyone who wasn't quite expecting to be told about yucky stuff like this when they came to read about bread but maybe it is better that we talk about these things. 

If anyone is having any problems with their child being constipated or soiling - please see the fantastic resources from ERIC

And for another good 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cake Slice Bakers 14 - Fail.

This month we were to make Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake from our new book The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.  First off I notice it is decorated with ginger spiced pumpkin seeds and I don't do ginger but no problem, I can just leave that out.

Next I have to worry about getting the canned pumpkin.  I imported some for last year's Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake (my first ever bake with The Cake Slicer Bakers but I didn't really want anything else from the US so didn't fancy paying the delivery charge just for this one thing.  However, a friend let me know of a place that sells US things quite near by.  (Mains Of Drum for anyone local who is interested - quite a nice selection of classic American goods.)  So, I took the boys for a trip to get some and managed to get two tins of pumpkin.  All set to make the cheesecake.

Somehow, though, I just kept putting off making it.  There was always something more important to do.  I finally decided that I had to get it done and it dawned on me that I wasn't getting on with it as I didn't really fancy pumpkin cheesecake and wasn't sure that anyone else in the house would particularly want it either.  But I had bought the pumpkin.  

It suddenly became clear - I would use the pumpkin to make last year's cake instead as we had all loved it.

I made two of the Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cakes.  The only difference from last year's one was that I changed the walnuts to pecans and I used a bar of dark chocolate chopped into rough chunks instead of the chocolate chips. Oh, and I had enough batter to make about 8 cupcakes too. 

I must say I would choose cake over cheesecake any day.

If you want to see the cheesecake, though, please go and have a look at the Cake Slice Blog Roll.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Cheesy Buttons.

This is my second recipe from Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard for Short and Tweet, the Twitter challenge by @EvidenceMatters.

The recipe was originally published in the Guardian in 2008.  I don't know why I didn't make them at that time because this is right up my street!  Anyway, I made them today and will take a box of them round to my friend's house for our book club tonight.  I think they are a really classy little nibble and they were amazingly quick and easy to put together.

These are rather moreish.  I'll have to leave for book club soon or there will be none left to take with me.  Dan Lepard says this is a great recipe for using up odd bits of cheese you have in your fridge and I can see me doing these quite regularly.  Certainly the perfect thing to take to book club.  Does anyone else have any good suggestions for nice quick easy nibbles for a book club gathering?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


I got some lovely munchkin pumpkins mainly for decoration for the house over Halloween.  I also meant to use them for styling for blog photos but didn't get round to it.  However, once Halloween was past, it came time to eat the things.

I saw this recipe from Eat Like A Girl posted on iVillage

The only thing I did differently to the original recipe was to scatter on some grated gruyere for the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Oh, and I made different sizes so put the bigger ones in the oven to start with and added the teeny tiny ones after 10 minutes or so.  The teeny tiny ones were perfect for the boys.

We loved this dish.  I really thought we would just eat it as a way of using up the decorative pumpkins but, in fact, I would buy the munchkins just to make this dish - it was yummy.  The roasted pumpkin had a lovely nutty taste and each one tasted slightly different to the others.  The cream and cheese were so comforting and then there was a lovely little kick at the end from the chilli. And how unbelievably cute are they to serve to the wee ones?  

Monday, 7 November 2011

Roast Onion Soup with Thai Spices (RR 10).

A bit of cross-breeding in blog challenge world has resulted in Random Recipes Does No Croutons Required or No Croutons Required Does Random Recipes depending on which host you visit.  So this month we all have to make a soup randomly chosen from our recipes at home.  This challenge runs to the end of the month so plenty of time to join in for anyone who fancies a bowl of warming soup.  Just click on either of the links.  

I opted to use to get a number then counted along my cookbooks and landed on Real Cooking by Nigel Slater.

Look how young Nigel looks there!

Anyway, I went to the index and found that there are 10 recipes listed under "soups" so I used the random number generator again and it chose Cream of Roast Onion Soup with Thai Spices.

Nigel calls it "Sweet, sour, hot and creamy.  A soup to invigorate".  I have to agree.  This was absolutely delicious.  Amazingly easy to put together and tasted like it took way more effort.  I love the Thai flavours here (I missed out the ginger) and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's a funny soup - both comforting and warming, and also refreshing and zingy - really hots the spot.  Glad I made this recipe.

Recipe - adapted from Real Cooking by Nigel Slater.
Serves 4.

Ingredients - 
4 medium sized onions
4 plump cloves of garlic
1 L of vegetable stock
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (Nam pla) - now this recipe is supposed to be vegetarian for the challenge so you can just miss out the Nam pla unless anyone has any great ideas for a vegetarian substitute for me?
2 small red chillies, seeded and chopped
400ml tin of coconut milk
Grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 2 limes

Method - 
1. Cut the onions in half vertically, skin and all.  Place in a roasting tin and roast at 200C/GM6 for about 45 mins, turning once.
2. Add the whole garlic cloves after about 20 mins.
3. When the onions are golden and soft, peel off the skin and slice into big chunks - whatever you think you can eat without making too much mess!  Nigel doesn't slice his at all - just separates the layers but either my onions were too big for that or my mouth too small. 
4. Drop into a deep saucepan.  Add the roast garlic, squeezed from the skin, the stock, the fish sauce and chillies.
5. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
6. Stir in the coconut milk, bring back to simmering point, then taste for seasoning. Add salt or soy sauce if needed.  I added some of my posh soy sauce for the depth of flavour and a little sea salt for an extra kick of saltiness.  
7. Add the lime zest and juice just before serving.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Short And Tweet.

I have joined the world of Twitter.  Still finding my way but enjoying some of the chats between my fellow food bloggers and meeting new ones.  I have been following @dan_lepard who writes the "How To Bake" section in the Guardian Weekend.  I also noticed that a few of my fellow bloggers were raving about his new book, Short and Sweet  - ummm Vanessa, are you being paid by Dan for all the promoting you have been doing? ;-).  I bought the book a few weeks ago and have been enjoying flicking through it.

It seems to be a comprehensive baking book and has obviously come out at just the right time with all the news reports of a spike in sales of baking products on the back of The Great British Bake Off.  I believe Paul Hollywood's book will be coming out in about a year (yes, I follow him on Twitter too) so I hope that its release coincides with an equally popular new series of GBBO.  Knowing me, I'll probably get myself a copy of that too - will be good to compare the two books.

Anyway, I have joined Short and Tweet, a weekly bake challenge using recipes from Short and Sweet (obviously). This challenge is run on Twitter by @EvidenceMatters.  What a great way to get me using the book.  I won't be able to do it weekly but will join in when I can.  In fact, I missed the first one which was to bake Chocolate and Almond Fudge Cake but I managed to do the second and baked Olive Oil and Potato Flatbread.

I did this today.  Dan says it is a focaccia-style dough and the method involves a long rising time with intermittent stretching and folding which should give you those lovely big open holes in the dough. (Remember how keen on those Paul Hollywood was in GBBO?)

Unfortunately, I just didn't have the time to follow his schedule exactly so missed out some of the rising and folding.  However I still ended up with a lovely focaccia-like bread.  I had some medium sized holes in my dough and the bread was quite chewy with a crispy, salty crust. I did struggle to get it out of the tin - it was a very sticky dough - and even with plenty of olive oil on the tin, it stuck a bit.  I may have made the dough too sticky.  I sliced it up and got on with making my soup for Random Recipes which I'll post in the next few days.  This was a big mistake.  I couldn't stop eating it as I worked in the kitchen so by the time I served the soup to my family, there was only about half the bread left!  I suppose that shows that it was a great bread!  Or maybe just that I'm a greedy pig.  Steve and the boys enjoyed it too.

I might try it again some time when I feel I have the time to do the recipe properly but it won't be a bread I make very often.  Will need to stick to my quicker, easier every day loaves while I have such young children.  Mind you, if I was in for most of the day, it only means a minute or two of attention every half an hour or so - maybe it was just trying to get it done today to be on time for the challenge that was the problem.  It certainly is a very tasty bread, though with a fantastic chewy texture and I am extremely pleased with it.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Halloween Party.

I have mentioned my group of friends from our antenatal class before.  Well, I have to say, we throw fantastic parties between us.  We share out what needs to be done so we all bring a dish or two, someone brings drinks, someone else does party bags, someone does the games.  We have had so many brilliant parties over the last 4-5 years.  Here was last year's Halloween Party

This year's Halloween on was at our house.
I made savoury pinwheels and meringue ghosts with forest fruits and cream and Steve made a pumpkin soup.
Others brought a parsnip and apple soup, spooky jellies, home-made toffee apples, spider biscuits, hot chicken dip, vegetable crudites, hot spiced cider and other bits and pieces.  We ended up having a real feast.  All the kids were so cute in their costumes.  We also had fun and games for several hours and then finished off with brilliant party bags.

This is such a fab time in my life.  So much fun. 

Okay, so my meringue ghosts I copied from a cut out from a magazine that I saved from last year.  I can't now remember what magazine it was.  I did try searching the net for the original but didn't find it.  However, there are loads of recipes on the net and videos showing how to do it too.  The Art Of Being Perfect did them this year too and she has a recipe on her post.

I got the idea for my savoury pinwheels from this post.  I thoroughly recommend Utterly Scrummy Food For Families. I get loads of ideas for easy meals here.  I recently made her pumpkin pasta bake too and may post about that later.

For my versions of the pinwheels, I made one with pesto, olives and parmesan and one with a tomato pasta sauce, sundried tomatoes and cheddar.  They were very easy to assemble and made a lovely little party dish.

So, off to another Halloween party today and it's not even Halloween yet.  We like to stretch celebrations over several days.  Hope the ghosties don't get any of you tomorrow night.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Honey And Pear Layer Cake.

I decided to go a little more grown up for Dad's birthday cake this year after his last two novelty cakes!
I went for taste and chose the honey and pear layer cake from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.  I got this book from my two boys on Mother's Day but haven't made an awful lot from it yet.  I felt this cake was seasonal and knew my Dad would love the flavours.

The recipe worked very well and the cake was beautiful.  It has caramelised pears on the top of each of the four layers and a lovely honey buttercream in between the layers.  I even just decorated the cake in the same way they did in the book.  I hadn't made these wee crystallised fruits since I was in a wee craft class in the community centre when I was at school.  Brought back memories of all the lovely little projects we made there.  I think there were only about 4 regular members of the class but we did loads of different things.  I don't know who the people were who took the class but I am so appreciative now when I think back on it.  I really hope I showed my appreciation at the time!  

Anyway, back to the point.  This is where I would normally publish the recipe.  Sometimes I have varied the recipe a bit and other times not.  I always reckon that if I give good publicity for the source of the recipe, it's okay for me to give it here.  I guess, I have always had my doubts about that, though, and recent discussions on Twitter have made me really think hard about it.  Maybe I really shouldn't be copying other people's recipes on here.  I didn't vary at all from the recipe for this one so I am not going to publish it.  Especially as this book is fairly new and still available.

I would, however, really appreciate your opinions on this.  Should I continue to write out the recipes I use or should I only write out recipes if I have made them up myself or significantly changed the original?

What I can do, however, is let anyone who doesn't know how to make these crystallised fruits.  It works well with edible flowers too and the leaves in the picture are just mint leaves from the garden.
It is really simple.  Lightly beat an egg white.  Brush a light coating of egg white over your chosen fruit, flowers or leaves then sprinkle some sieved caster sugar over the fruit.  Leave on some greaseproof paper overnight to dry.