Friday, 28 September 2012

Gotta Love a Cauli...

I know I mentioned this recipe before, in the "Veggie(ish) Delights" post, but as the weather has taken a decidely wintery turn for the chilly, I thought it really deserved a post of it's own.
Anyhow, the poor ole cauliflower - a much maligned vegetable that has really fallen out of popularity. Apparently broccoli has totally stolen the poor cauliflower's thunder (I saw it on telly - more on that shortly!). But yet I remember it being one of the vegetables my mother regularly tried to persuade us to eat - with some marginal success, actually, it was one of the few vegetables I would eat at least a little tiny bit. It's also very popular in Indian cookery - checkout your local Indian takeaway menu, I bet there is an "aloo gobi" on it, it's a cauliflower and potato curry and very tasty.

So, back to that TV show. There I was one evening, sitting with a sick and lacklustre little mini DinnerBaby on my lap, finally asleep after a long fraught day - and the remote control was on the arm of the chair.... Yeah, you've guessed it - the OTHER chair! Needless to say, everytime I tried to stretch across, the DinnerBaby would whimper and fret, so I was stuck watching the channel I was on. (On a sidebar, this is how I became a Jane Austen fan, looking after my little sister back in about 1985 one Saturday afternoon - the programme I was watching finished and of course we had no remote in those days. The 1940 production of "Pride and Prejudice" with Laurence Olivier came on - and I was hooked, I can't tell you how many times I've read it since.)
Anyhow, this particular evening back in 2010, it was BBC2. Whatever long forgotten programme I was watching finished, and on came a show with various celebrity chefs promoting vegetables that have fallen into disfavour. This particular week, it was chefs I never particularly liked, "The Hairy Bikers", promoting a vegetable I didn't particularly like and never bought, the cauliflower.

Well, obviously - considering I am now writing about it! Suffice it to say, I changed my opinion on both the Hairy Bikers (they are so cuddly and cute!) and the much-maligned cauliflower.

This is a recipe is for a cauliflower cheese, but it is substantial enough to eat as a main course for a weekday supper. Him Indoors loves this. Now, this is definitely a step too far for the fussy DinnerBabies in this house (I know, I know - my bad) so I cut this recipe down by half and we polish it all off fairly easily, between the two of us. I turned the other half of the cauliflower into cauliflower soup and I got two lunches out of it too... so it is extremely economical. It would make a good side dish for a roast beef dinner too, as it is gorgeously rich, but I would think a little would go a long way and the half-sized dish would serve 4 or even 6 people as a side.

Here's the recipe; enjoy, folks! I usually made it with cheddar instead of gruyère cheese, as I never have it. This is the cut down "for two" recipe, feel free to double up for more people, or follow this link... (PS - I know 10 minutes seems like a long time to par-boil the cauliflower to us modern Millies schooled to love all veg al dente, but go with it - cauliflower is not something you really want hard, and I promise it won't be mushy)

Perfect Cauliflower Cheese with Bacon and Mushroom

Parmesan crumbs provide a fantastic crunchy topping in this recipe, which is hearty enough to work as a main course


  • ½ head of cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
  • 125g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 1cm strips (I used one part of the double pack of bacon lardons from Lidl)
  • 125g chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced (again, I only had regular ones, although chestnut mushrooms are widely available in supermarkets now)
  • A scant 20g of butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 125ml full fat milk (I often use whatever I have, usually skim - but full fat is nicer)
  • a large pinch of Colman's English mustard powder
  • 100g gruyère (or cheddar) cheese, grated
  • 25ml cream (again, creme fraiche will work nicely, although the cream is lovely)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 25g breadcrumbs (the chaps suggest ciabatta, I used what was in the freezer - usually the end pieces of a stale loaf, whizzed up and frozen)
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated
  • Preheat an oven to 180C
  1. For the cauliflower, cook the florets in a large pan of boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and set aside
  2. Meanwhile, for the béchemel sauce, fry the bacon bits in a dry pan until coloured but not crisp, then remove with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan)
  3. Add the mushrooms to the bacon fat and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown, remove and set aside
  4. Melt the butter in a clean saucepan over a low heat and beat in the flour until smooth, then slowly whisk in the milk until smooth
  5. Stir in the mustard powder and the grated cheese, and then the cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then fold in the bacon and the mushrooms
  6. Place the cauliflower florets in an overnproof casserole dish (for this amount, the one I use is about 22cm x 18cm, or 9" x 7") and pour over the cheesy sauce, then sprinkle with a grate of fresh nutmeg
  7. For the topping, mix the breadcrumbs with the grated parmesan and then sprinkle all over the cauliflower
  8. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for 15 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and bubbling
Serve with a green salad and / or good crusty bread (I don't usually bother and just have two servings instead, greedy gut that I am!)

Enjoy the weekend - and good luck to Galway in the All-Ireland Hurling final replay this weekend.... COME ON, THE TRIBESMEN! Gaillimh abú (nailing my colours to the mast, here!), show them all how to skin those Cats!

Sarah xx

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Take a Chance on Chutney

Who knew - but honestly, chutney is the EASIEST thing in the world to make! Seriously. I only found out because I was told. Nigella Lawson told me, in "How to be a Domestic Goddess" there is a chapter entitled "The Domestic Goddess's Larder". The opening line of the chapter introduction was good and drew me in; "there are few things that make us feel so positively domestic as putting food in store". And the whole chapter itself; pickling, preserving and all that; seems so "English" somehow. I was living in London at the time, and married to an Englishman (well, he is at least half English). He confirmed my suspicions of pickling being a very English kind of activity when he told me that he's extremely English grandfather used to make chutney on a regular basis.

Anyhow, I read the first chutney recipe in the chapter out of curiousty, I had no intention of making my own chutney - it's the 21st century and I'm an emancipated woman, I cried to myself! But honestly, the recipe was so ridiculously easy, I paused for thought. As the lady herself says, "chutneys, you should know before reading further, are a breeze to make. You simply chuck everything in one pan for about 30 minutes until you've got a pulpy mass." And it really is that simple.
The only "difficult" thing about this recipe (and I use that term loosely) is organising yourself to go out and buy all the spices. And once you have them in the store cupboard, you'll be a long while using them up, they last ages and yield plenty of chutney.

I make this chutney regularly, I've tried a few others from the book, but this is our firm favourite. I love it on a plain ham sandwich, it's fantastic with sausage rolls and also great with Cornish pasties (but I don't make those that often, they are a faff - although I have all that left over turnip from the shepherd's pie... hmm... !).

Give it a go - it'd be a great and inexpensive present for people around Christmas time and would be gorgeous with the Christmas leftovers, and a whole heap less bother than making fiddly little mince pies for everyone.

PS - regarding jars, I consider jars fresh from the dishwasher as beautifully sterilized, but if you have greater qualms than me, feel free to stick them in the baby's bottle sterilizer, or follow some of the more traditional methods.

Spiced Apple Chutney

Ready to be cooked
  • 500g cooking apples (I often use a couple of apples extra)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 bird's eye chillies
  • 250g demerara sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of chopped or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 350ml cider vinegar (or indeed, white wine or other white vinegar will do fine)
  • 4 x 250ml jars, or equivalent
Bubbling and thickening nicely
  1. Peel and roughly chop the apples, and finely chop the onion
  2. Chop the chillies finely - whether or not you deseed the chilli is up to you. The original recipe says to deseed, but I found that a bit sweet and lacking in bite. Last time, I left them in. It really was not very spicy at all, there was just a mild glow (and believe me, I am a chilli wuss!) so I'd suggest leaving them in
  3. Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil, then cook over a medium heat for 30 - 40 minutes (without a lid), until the mixture thickens a little, then spoon into jars and put them in your store cupboard (or "kitchen press", as we like to say here in Ireland)
Anyhow, enjoy - I guarantee, everyone will be mightly impressed with your domesticity; to the point where no one will believe your protestations of how simple it all is. Of course, I should have a gorgeous picture of a jamjar full of chutney with a pretty, crimped Cath Kidston type floral paper lid (and I'm not at all surprised to find that her site has a "jamjar sticker kit" for sale!) - but honestly, it never lasts long enough in our house to take such a picture...

Sarah xx

3rd Oct. 2013 
Just a quick edit / add-on to say: I used 3 bird's eye chillis in the recent batch I made, and I left the seeds in. It has resulted in a chutney with quite a nice tingle, so if you fancy your chutney with a bit more of a chilli kick, then that's the way forward.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's pie, cottage pie - you know, it's all a bit "you say tom-ay-to, I say tom-ah-to" as far as I am concerned. I know that, technically, it should be called shepherd's pie if made with lamb mince and cottage pie if made with beef, but honestly, life's too short for such minor quibbles... We always called it shepherd's pie no matter what it was made from, so I'm going to continue in that vein for this post. Feel free to use your own preferred term in your head as you read, and of course feel free to make which ever version you prefer, use beef or lamb mince, as you wish. 
Anyhow, I posted on our Facebook page yesterday to say that I'd made shepherd's pie for dinner - wow, I got a lot of likes! Now, I know most people already have their own recipe for shepherd's pie, but I thought I'd give you mine, to give you some ideas to adapt into your own recipe.

I won't pretend that shepherd's pie is the quickest dinner in the world; although not in any way difficult, it does take a bit of time and is a bit of a faff, cooking meat and potatoes first and then cooking it all again in the oven. However, it is a "two dinner" dish, in that I definitely get two days out of it.

The original recipe I used was a made up version - and you know, it was never that great; either too tomato-ey (bolognaise with mash on top would be one description... yuck! If I want bolognaise, that's what I'll have! Not some weirdy hybrid thing) or else way too much gloopy gravy swimming around the plate - ugh.

So off I went to check out my favourite source for "basic" type recipes - Delia Smith of course. I followed her recipe slavishly for a few years. However, as the mini-DinnerLadies weaned onto solids and became fussy (yes, I know it was of my own making and now I'm having to undo all my own mistakes - let the parent who has not made a single error in raising their own offspring judge me) I realised that cheese encrusted leeks was never really gonna be a runner for us! I was also never convinced with the addition of a ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon in the dish - it's extremely little, so I went with it to enrich the flavour, but I could always taste it and really, mains-meets-dessert is never a good taste. I loved the turnip though, so that made the final cut in last night's version.

Silver service shepherd's pie
Then, at our Lidl press event we attended a couple of weeks ago, I tasted celebrity chef Paul Flynn's version, available from the Lidl Ireland website and in-store on recipe cards. Wowzer - gorgeous! He included parsnip in the mash and bacon bits / lardons in the meat sauce. Of course, I couldn't find my recipe card when I was creating last night (and never thought to look at the website - in my defense, I was running late... nothing new there!). I knew there actually was a pack of lardons in the fridge (available in Lidl in a handy double pack - no fridge should ever be without them) and a couple of aging parsnips in the vegetable rack, so I thought I'd risk it. I did used to always include lardons (or "chopped up rasher", as it was known back in the day!) in my bolognaise, but that had long ago fallen foul of the fussy mini-DinnerLadies in the past. But we've done so much work recently with the girls and food and had such success that I thought I'd risk it again, especially as the pieces are big enough to be picked out, if needs be.  I only used half the pack, in case (I didn't want to spend the evening searching through cooked dinner looking for random pieces of rasher!), but I got away with it. However, they were lightly smoked so quite strong in flavour and so I was glad I'd only used half the pack. I do however still blitz the vegetables - small steps here with these girls!

A last quick word regarding grated cheese on top - I do love this, but my children actually don't, it gets too hard I think, so I leave it off. Also, I really think that if you are making it to last two days, you should leave the cheese off - re-heated melted cheese is hard and nasty, in my opinion. As we eat later than the girls, I tend to just grate some cheese on the adults' portions before popping them in the oven to heat through for about 10 minutes before serving.

Anyhow, enough of the waffle - here's the recipe...

Shepherd's / Cottage Pie 

(With thanks to Delia Smith, Paul Flynn and Lidl Ireland)
Sarah's Shepherd's Pie
  • 700g minced lamb or beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 4-6oz turnip (a large slice)
  • About 4 small mushrooms
  • About half a 125g pack lardons
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
  • 1 level tablespoon plain flour
  • 400ml beef stock (made with one stock cube)s
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
  • 900g (2lbs) potato
  • 2 or 3 parsnips, peeled and chopped roughly
  • Grated cheddar (optional)
  • salt and pepper, and oil for frying, and some butter for the potatoes
  • Preheat the oven to 200C, and you will also need a large baking dish - I used a rectangular 32cm x 24cm enamel dish but slightly smaller would've been fine
  1. Firstly, pop a large saucepan or "le creuset" type casserole pot on a medium heat and warm some oil, while you blitz the vegetables in a food processor - do them in stages, as they won't all fit at once. I do the onion and celery together first (as they take the longest), scrap into the pot to start frying gently along with the bacon bits, while getting on with the rest of the vegetables except the parsnips, adding to the pot as you go along, cooking them for a good 5 minutes or so, until  softened, then remove to a bowl
  2. Turn up the heat on the pan and brown the meat (in batches, if your saucepan isn't big enough), using a spoon to break the meat up
  3. While the meat is browning, stick on the spuds - if you are using Ireland's favourite floury potatoes (golden wonder, rooster, queens) you are really better off leaving them whole and in their skins, then peeling afterwards, otherwise they get too water-logged. If you are using a waxier variety (desirée or king edwards, for example), you can peel them and chop into chunks. Either way, they will take about 20-30 minutes boiling (I find  Roosters, the reddish ones that are most common in the supermarket, need a good 30 minutes or even more, boiling gently to avoid them breaking out - do NOT stick a knife in to check them, then they will break out. Trust me and leave them 30 mins at least on a gentle boil)
  4. With about 10 minutes to go on the potatoes, add the parnsips to the potatoes
  5. Once browned, season the meat well with salt and pepper and return the vegetables to the pot, adding in the herbs as well
  6. Stir in the flour, to soak up the juices, and then gradually add the stock bit by bit until all incorporated
  7. Stir in the tomato purée, stick a lid on the pot and let it bubble gently on the lowest heat for 20 minutes
  8. When the potatoes are done, strain (and if using floury potatoes, pop a sheet a kitchen paper on top for a couple of minutes, to absorb some of the water), then peel the potatoes, season with salt, pepper and a knob of butter, and mash with the parsnips. Don't add any milk to the mash, as you want it firm enough to sit on top of the meat sauce
  9. When the meat is ready, spoon it into the dish and then distribute the potato on top (do this lightly, don't throw it on with a big spoon and a heavy hand, or it will sink)
  10. Sprinkle grated cheese on top (if using) and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes
Now, what to do with all that leftover turnip?! You can use any mix of vegetables you like, of course, but I think the turnip gives a delicious depth to the sauce, and a sweetness. I never add peas - I still hold it against peas that, as a slightly fussy child, I was constantly told that everyone likes peas.... well, I didn't, so there! Plus, there's no hiding them, they are green and obvious - and if the fussy Small People start looking at the peas and trying to remove them, then they'll find the bacon bits, and then spot the carrot flecks - at which stage, I probably loose the will to live.

The last word goes to the elder of my two mini-DinnerLadies, who is 5½. She scraped her plate and finished first for the first time in her life (she is a phenomenally slow eater), pronounced it all delicious, asked why we didn't have it more often and then said, "you're the best cooker, Mummy". What more could a mother ask for?!

Sarah xx

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Thank you...

It was with tremendous excitement last night in Dinner Ladies HQ that we found out we'd been shortlisted for the Food Food Blog Category by the Irish Blog Awards...

We've come a long way from the two tentative Mammies, meeting in person for the first time, in Avoca Rathcoole back in February of this year. Of course we knew each other before that, five years of posting on a parenting website invariably means you get to know each other very well indeed (yes, ladies, I'm talking about 'youz') But after all those years of slipping recipes and tips in amongst the cures for nappy rash and tantrums, and inspired by dear friend Strictly Baking's venture into the blogosphere, we had a hazy idea that we might start a food blog.

Coming away from that meeting, all we had was a title, a dream and a very vague idea of how we might carry it out. You see, Sarah's the real cook amongst us. Married to the lovely Nick (a chef - lucky Sarah!) there's no recipe this girl won't both have a stab at. I, on the other hand, am an accountant by day and budding novelist by night who really should have asked her Mammy more questions about cooking while she still had the chance - someday I'll catch up...

But then, the very ethos of the Dinner Ladies is to encourage people (like me) to listen to people (like Sarah) and give it a shot. Our aim from the start was to encourage the 'can't-cook-won't-cook' brigade into the kitchen. With a combination of our own made up recipes (ok, that's usually me) and ones taken from places like the Irish Times, Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson and other 'proper cooks' (Sarah specials) we attempt to break them down into easy doable steps that even our children could (and do) follow. Yes, our blog posts can tend to ramble a bit and we're not always about the 'dinners' but if more people decide to rustle up a sponge instead of buying one from the corner shop, then thats still a victory for us.

Times are tough out there now. Shopping budgets are lower than ever, and working hours are longer. But its at times like this that we should all be cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients. We should be doing our stock takes (thank you @wholesomeie) and be making lists of what we need and sticking to them. Everyone should be planning out their meals for the week, raiding their freezers and store cupboards for inspiration. People should be shopping wisely, yes it takes a bit more time to go to more than one supermarket/butcher/greengrocer but that's what we all have lunchtimes for. It is still possible to eat well on a shoestring, ok it might mean subsituting ingredients for whatever you have or can find - but so what?

Just do it.

So what are our plans for next year? Well, Sarah's hunt for a 'proper' job continues (form a queue now everyone!) and I hope to finally publish my novel - so no real change on last years plans then... Well we also hope to focus a bit more on growing your own vegetables and herbs (on a limited scale) I know that having a few herbs in pots this year has saved me a fortune and encouraged me not to discard a recipe just because it asks for fresh mint or tarragon. We'd also like to tackle the batch cooking issue and how best to utilise the household freezer (all riveting stuff, we promise!). There's also a big event looming on the horizon that starts with 'C' that we are ridiculously excited about. Now we know its too early, but in the coming weeks there will be blog posts on stuff people can be doing to spread both the expense and work load in the months leading up to this 'most wonderful time of the year'...

We also have another hazy idea that if I ever do manage to shoehorn my way into the world of publishing that we might someday squeeze all our thoughts in between two glossy covers, but thats probably taking the day dream a bit far for now.

But then our dreams have served us well so far... Shortlisted for a blog award, I ask you...

In the meantime, thank you so much for coming with us on our journey, for following us on Facebook, for chatting to us on Twitter and for reading our ramblings on here. We're having a ball and we hope you are too...

& Sarah

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Last Days of Summer - let's fire up the barbie!

With the weather forecast looking to be at least reasonable for Friday and Saturday, I know that I will be hauling the old barbecue out of the shed and scrubbing it down this weekend. I even bought a bag of coals today in preparation!

I think everyone has their own favourite thing to barbecue - for me, I think lamb burgers are the way forward as I think beef burgers dry out way too much and become hard little testicles, whereas the higher fat content in the lamb makes for a much tastier BBQ experience. I highly recommend Lidl - the chicken breasts are monstrous and great value, they also do pre-packed lamb burgers that are as good as any I've had and for Himself, sausages are a must. Being half-German and half-English, this means a pack of German Bratwurst and also a packet of the "Deluxe Irish Traditional Style" will hardly break the bank at €2.99 and €1.99 respectively ... and did you know that sausages freeze beautifully, so if - for example - you find that only one member of the household likes a particular variety (no names being mentioned here!) then the remainder will freeze nicely for the next event, be that BBQ or brunch. And for a treat, their 2-pack of "Deluxe Hereford Fillet Steak" comes in around €11.99 and they are fantastically tasty (especially when their new celebrity tie-in chef Paul Flynn from the Tannery Restaurant in Co. Waterford cooks it for you, as we did at the Lidl press launch for their new "produce of Ireland" range last week - wowser, is all I can say! Find the recipe here).
Chef Paul Flynn's fillet steak for Lidl

This post isn't so much about meat to prepare, or even marinades to use, but actually more about the sides - a passion of mine. So often, the side dishes are totally secondary to the meat event, but for me the salads and sides have the power to make or break a BBQ. A simple green salad of fresh leaves, chopped tomato, cucumber and scallion dressed with a straight forward vinaigrette is a great foil to all that meat - I love some fresh herbs thrown in there too (a friend donated me a sample of their fresh herbs from the garden and it's inspired me to organise a raised bed for next year), and you can add whatever else you like - grated carrot, chunks of avocado, olives, a handful of nuts or seeds for crunch - it's great stuff. Incidentally, Delia Smith's website has a great "how to" section, including simple directions on how to make regular vinaigrette; I had to print it off and tape it to my fridge, as I was so fed up of vinaigrette that was either eye-wateringly sharp or like an oil slick on the tongue... 
Home-made coleslaw is also good, as mentioned on the Veggie(ish) Delights post, great with burgers.

I adore also whole sweetcorn done on the BBQ. Simply stick it on and let it char slightly on the outside - make sure the salt cellar and butter dish are to hand when serving, fantastic!

Another favourite here is mushroom - if you remove the stalk from a large flat / portobello / breakfast mushroom and pop in a large pinch of salt,just leave that on the BBQ and let the magic happen. The salt draws all the moisture out of the mushroom and it is just delightful. You can also roast red peppers easily on the BBQ; just rub them in oil and pop them onto the cooler part of the BBQ, and as they cook move them in towards the centre so they don't burn. They do take quite a while though - up to 15 minutes. They are done when charred on the outside, but you don't want that to happen too quickly or they will be too hard on the inside.

Some sort of carbohydrate is also required / expected. That can be as simple as a bread roll to go with the burgers and sausages (and I personally far prefer the soft white floury bap type roll to the standard burger bun or hot dog roll) or you can upgrade it. Potatoes are lovely done in the BBQ but take forever - I usually parboil them for 20 minutes first and then wrap in tinfoil and give them about another 20 minutes on the BBQ. Potato salad is also great, although with a German in the house, we tend to do it German style - boil baby potatoes and either leave whole (if small enough) or chop into bite-sized chunks. Season with salt and pepper and stir in a spoon of mayonnaise and then also add in some chopped pickled gherkins, leaving the rest of the jar on the table as a condiment. It's that simple. Again, Lidl and indeed most supermarkets these days, stock gherkins. My own favourite are the small little ones.

I have a great cous cous salad that I do - it was a recipe from the "dinner at a dash" section in the free paper Metro that I used to read on the Tube each day on my commute into London, back in the early 2000's. Simply "cook" the required amount of cous cous according to the packet instructions (usually means leaving in boiled water for about 5 minutes). Pop a tablespoon of raisins into cup of water to soak and plump up for a few minutes while you get on with chopping vegetables - plenty of cucumber, tomato, carrot, red pepper and scallion all finely chopped quite small (I think this is key ... a bit of a pain, especially with the carrot, but it's worth it). Toss these in with the cous cous and add the raisins, some chopped mint and parsley. Pour over some good olive oil and a the juice of one lemon and that's it - tasty as.

A good school friend of mine does a great Asian noodle salad that is great to ring the changes as well - again, the quantities here are a rough guide, for you to play around with as you see fit.
  • 100g smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tbsp lime juice  
  1. Blend the sauce ingredients above together, and mix with cooled noodles / pasta, chopped scallions and chopped red pepper or mange tout / garden peas, and lashings of coriander, to taste
  2. You can add chopped salted peanuts for garnish and nice salt hit and I also toast some sesame seeds on a dry pan and add these, they give a nice flavour

My dad also could not even contemplate a BBQ without a grilled banana - wrapped in tinfoil and seasoned lightly with ground black pepper, it is very good in a retro "chicken maryland" sort of way. Alternatively, you could leave out the pepper and instead stick a flake bar in the middle and have it for dessert - both rock!

A last word - dessert. I think the most appropriate thing here is ice-cream sundaes! Yummy. Some good quality vanilla ice-cream, layered up with some toasted hazelnuts (you can them toasted and chopped from the bakery aisle of the supermarket, or you can toast them in a pan yourself, just dry with no oil for 3-4 minutes), some good quality chocolate sauce (recipe below, or use a shop bought one), a couple of crumbled Oreo cookies, more ice-cream, more sauce, a blob of whipped cream, a mini-flake and a last sprinkle of nuts - you won't move for a week!

Hot Chocolate Fudge Sauce
  • 150g dark chocolate  (Just a note on the chocolate here - I use a minimum of 60% cocoa solids, with the addition of golden syrup to the recipe, it's sweet enough even for children)
  • 25g butter
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 150ml cream (unwhipped, just pouring cream)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Place all ingredients together in a pan and heat gently on a low flame (otherwise the chocolate will burn) until the chocolate and butter have melted
  2. Stir together well and keep warm
  3. Re-heat if necessary, again over a gentle heat, stirring constantly
Lastly, the only comment I will make on gas versus charcoal BBQ is this - if, like me, you have the old-fashioned charcoal burning type BBQ, it's great to be able to pull it over beside you and throw some small pieces of wood or even turf on it to keep you warm and enjoying the garden as late as possible - even my garden looks romantic at 10pm when lit by lots of tealights in jamjars!

Enjoy the good weather everyone, and here's hoping it lasts all weekend.
Sarah xx

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"Not Chicken AGAIN, Mum..... "

Do you ever look in the fridge come dinner time and think, "oh no, not chicken breasts again?" It's a familiar feeling here. I don't like to cook red meat on week nights really (think of the cholesterol levels!) and although I love fish, it does require a certain amount of effort to have in and to think about what to do with whatever might be available. So chicken features often in our house, as I'm sure it does in most. 

We all have a repetoire of the few dishes that we rotate on a regular basis, but boy oh boy - they get boring sometimes! And while the internet is a great source of inspiration (I've mentioned the Delia Smith website before, and the BBC Food site is great) but it's so handy to get a recommendation of a quick and easy recipe from a friend (and I'd like to think we qualify in that category by now). 

So here's something different for you to try - it's sort of a variation on the "coronation chicken" theme, in that the sauce is mildly curried. It's actually the first savoury dish I ever cooked, precipitated by a panicked call from my mother who had spent longer having a coffee with a friend one afternoon than planned and was now late for putting the dinner on! It went on to become a staple dish of mine, becoming (in another first) my first ever "dinner party dish" - a bit of a high falutin' term, considering it was little more than a few friends / colleagues from my first ever job, eating at my kitchen table in my rented flat in Galway. But it was a success, and still is today. It's evolved a lot over the years, form the original "can of Campbell's mushroom soup and spoon of curry powder stirred over some chicken breasts" to the current recipe. As a result, it's a very "a-bit-of-this, a-bit-of-that" which is not the way I usually work (the baker in me likes precise instructions!) but give it a go, you won't be disappointed it.

Chicken and Mushroom in a mildly spiced sauce

·         4 Chicken breasts – either on or off the bone
·         Punnet of mushrooms – ideally breakfast / Portobello large mushrooms, sliced
·         A spoon of mayonnaise
·         A tub of crème fraiche (of course cream would work perfectly here too!)
·         A few teaspoons of curry powder
·         Grated cheese, maybe some breadcrumbs and melted butter too (if pushing the boat out)
Pre-heat the oven to180°C
1.       If using chicken fillets, there is no need to fry them first, but if you are using part-boned breasts, then it is a good idea to brown them first in a hot pan, then arrange in an ovenproof dish
2.       Pan fry off the sliced mushrooms (much easier to do in a non-stick pan, you use much less oil, as otherwise the mushrooms suck it all up)
3.       This is the imprecise bit – add a large spoon or two of mayo to the mushrooms, mix it in and then crème fraiche – it’s hard to say how much, it depends, but you don’t want the chicken to be swimming / drowning in sauce
4.       Stir well and then add a few teaspoons of curry powder, to taste. Ideally not too much, it’s just meant to be mildly spiced. It depends also on whether you have mild or hot curry powder… I normally use 2 or 3 teaspoons of medium curry powder.
5.       Pour the sauce over the chicken, top with cheese and breadcrumbs, and pop in the oven for about 20 – 30 mins (again, longer if using more meat, or if the breasts are on the bone – if with bone, then I’d leave it for the cheese and crumbs til 40 mins). If there is a lot of chicken and you’re leaving it for 40 mins, I’d probably not add half way through, or later (don’t want them to burn)
6.       I usually serve with pasta and mango chutney and green veg, although potatoes or rice would work equally well

It was the perfect recipe for tonight - we've had a lot of "grilled chicken and salad" over the summer, and I'm totally browned off with it, so inspiration hit me in the supermarket this evening that this would be something delicious. I should, of course, have some sort of green veg to serve it with, but unfortunately when I got home I discovered that the veg I had were curled beyond redemption, so we went without.

PS - in other great "chicken" news, my sister-in-law tells me that the excellent Cork based curry spice company Green Saffron have started to do a stir-in sauce range. Literally, she poured the jar of jalfrezi sauce over the chicken and produced a curry as any I got in of my favourite haunts in London. Definitely one for the store cupboard. 

I really have to dash now - I have to get this eaten before I go out to the first school parent's association meeting of the new school year.

Sarah xx