Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Perfect Pulled Pork with Barbecue Sauce

Pulled pork has become very popular in the last few years on the London and general UK restaurant scene, and as with all things delicious, once I've enjoyed it out - I'm always looking to create my own version at home. I've played around with a ton of recipes and this is my absolute favourite version. It makes for unbelievably tender, melt in the mouth tasty pork and the bbq sauce just ups the ante even more.

I start with a dry rub and and have found that left for about two hours minimum gives the best result. If you can, try and leave overnight as all of the delicious, sweet and smoky flavours will really permeate into the meat. I must warn you, this is utterly addictive!

This can be served with a variety of accompaniments but my favourite way is slathered in a bun, with sweet potato wedges and some cooling slaw. Enjoy!

Pulled pork with barbecue sauce

The meat:
2.5kg shoulder of pork

The dry rub:
1.5 tbsp smoky paprika
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon

The barbecue sauce:
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or jar of passata
2 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
2 red chillies, seeds left in
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp chipotle paste
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp muscavado sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper

Firstly combine all of the dry rub ingredients and then literally rub it all over every outside surface of the pork shoulder, ensuring every bit is covered, then place in an oven-proof dish or on tray, loosely cover and pop in the fridge.

Dry rub

Whilst the pork is marinating you can pull together your barbecue sauce. Firstly chop the onion and chillies and crush the garlic and add to a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil and pop on a low heat.

Once slightly softened, add the tomatoes or passata, soy sauce, honey, chipotle, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and give a good stir to combine.

Barbecue sauce

Leave to slowly cook down for 30-40 minutes then remove from the heat and set aside until you need it later on. You can of course blitz this in a blender if you want a completely smooth sauce, but I tend not to bother.

Once ready to cook the meat, pop the oven on a low heat - around 150-160 degrees, and place the pork in the oven, still loosely covered with foil but not touching the meat.

Cook on this slow heat for 3.5-4 hours, checking every 30 minutes to make sure the outside isn't becoming too charred - although you are looking for crispy skin. For the last 20 minutes of cooking, remove the foil.

Although you are cooking for a long time, the meat shouldn't become dry as it has a good fat content which keeps it nice and moist - plus you are going to re-hydrate (or as the Americans call it - give it a mop) with the barbecue sauce. Leave it to rest and cool down for 15-20 minutes and then transfer it to a chopping board.

The pork before shredding

Now return the barbecue sauce to the heat to slowly warm through again.

With a knife and fork, shred the meat - this shouldn't be at all laborious as it should fall apart easily after all that time slow-cooking - if not it should probably go back into the over for 30 minutes and then re-test.

Once completely shredded, place into a serving dish and pour over the warmed barbecue sauce and gently stir through. You can re-heat at this point but it should be warm enough as is.

The pulled pork before the sauce is added

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Baby Bites: Carrot and Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Dipping Sauce

This makes for a wonderful finger food for little ones, and you can experiment with herbs and spices and different mince to make all sorts of variations too but this one is a classic take and lamb makes for great meatballs as it has a good fat level so they remain nice and juicy.

This recipe makes enough for 16 small balls, which is plenty for four to five portions. I freeze them raw in a sealed bag, and then pop out to defrost on the morning I need them and cook fresh each time.

The tomato sauce is a basic one and makes enough for 6-8 portions which can also be used with other foods too such a chicken or fish goujons or even as a pasta sauce. This again freezes well in sealable pots or bags. 

For the meatballs:
250g lean lamb mince
2 carrots
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper

For the sauce:
2 leeks
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp olive oil

Firstly combine the lamb mince with the pepper, oregano and paprika in a large mixing bowl.

Peel the carrots and coarsely grate them straight into the mince. Use your hands to thoroughly mix together and then slowly form the balls.

Place any you are freezing into sealable bags and pop straight into the freezer.

Leave the ones you are cooking to one side for the minute.

To make the sauce firstly chop the leeks and saute in the olive oil to soften.

Add the tomatoes, the balsamic vinegar, sugar and paprika and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes and using a wooden spoon to break down the tomatoes a bit.

While the sauce is cooking away, place a sheet of tin foil on the grill and pop the meatballs on top. Then turn on the grill to a medium heat and cook until the meatballs are browned all over - this should take about 5-8 minutes.

Once the meatballs are cooked through, remove from the grill and place on a plate with a couple of sheets of kitchen towel and roll around - this is to absorb any excess oil or fat.

Allow the meatballs to cool a little and in the meantime, pour the tomato sauce into a blender and blitz to a smooth consistency.

Dish up and serve to little one once the sauce has cooled enough for him or her to handle.

Be warned, these meatballs are moreish so make extra as the parent feeding them may get tempted too!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Spanish Prawns with Chorizo, Tomatoes and Peppers

This is a really lovely Spanish inspired meal that can be on the table in 20 minutes.

I served it last night with a part-baked ciabatta that I baked and allowed to cool for five minutes before serving, some leftover salad from Sunday with Manchego and a quick garlic mayonaise (just crush a clove of garlic into a couple of tablespoons of mayonaise and a pinch of paprika). This served two of us with some left over, but if served with a couple of plates of other Spanish themed treats, it could easily serve 4. 

1 packet raw prawns
2 cooking chorizo sausages
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
Handful of cherry tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 tbsp fresh parsley
Good glug of olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

Firstly add the olive oil to a pan or wok and place on a low heat.

Chop the onion and chilli and crush the garlic add to the pan to gently cook down and flavour the oil.

Slice the peppers and chop the tomatoes in half and add to the pan. Season generously and use a wooden spoon or spatula to move around to evenly coat.

Chop the parsley and set aside for a moment.

Chop the chorizo into little £1 coin sized discs and add to the pan. The chorizo will exude plenty of flavour and oil and mixed with the existing ingredients this will start to form a sauce. Allow to cook for 5-10 minutes until the chorizo is cooked through.

Finally add the prawns to the pan and again move around to ensure even cooking. These will cook in a matter of 2-3 minutes, and you can tell as they will turn pink in colour.

As soon as they are cooked remove from the heat and scatter over the parsley.

Plate up onto a sharing plate or platter and then squeeze over the lemon juice and give a final sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste.

A London Lunch: Pork Katsu Sandwich from Zou

Zou is a street food vendor, along Leather Lane among the plethora of street food stalls, towards the Farringdon end and directly opposite the Vietnamese Chef - or at least it is Monday-Friday.

The lunch in question was a pork Katsu sandwich, and was frankly one of the best sandwiches I've ever tried.

The pork katsu, was not dissimilar to a schnitzel; fillet of pork, flattened and coated in panko breadcrumbs and then deep fried. Very greasy and I have to say I did bookmark it for the next time I have a hangover as the stodge from the bread plus the grease seems to be perfect day-after fodder.

The bread itself was like a ciabata roll, generous in size but not unmanageable and very good quality. The pork went on the bottom half of the bread and was then layered with pickled cabbage and a slathering of ginger-infused mayonaise, a condiment that seems to have been sent from the Gods, so good!

This is then smeared with Japanese BBQ sauce, sticky, sweet and with a great tang to it.

Everyone marries together just beautifully and I can say this is one of the best things I've eaten off of Leather Lane in a long time and is a steal at only £5 a pop.

Baby Bites: Carrot and Parsnip Mash

This makes a great puree for when you’re starting out the weaning process, but once your little one can handle lumpier textures, this is such a simple dish to prepare.

If it becomes a little too bland for your little one after they’ve been introduced to some bolder flavours, you can always blitz up some cooked chicken or turkey to go with.

The below makes enough for about 8-10 portions, and freezes really well too. Just pop a tub out on the morning you wish to use and this will be completely defrosted come lunch or dinner time.

Two large carrots

Two large parsnips

Drizzle of olive oil

Firstly bring a pot of water to the boil.

While the water is boiling, peel the carrots and parsnips and chop into equal sized pieces.

Add to the pan once the water has boiled and allow to cook until soft to the touch – about 20 minutes should do it.

Drain away the water and give a good shake to make sure all of the water is drained away.

Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil and mash with a potato masher.

Portion up accordingly and if serving immediately, allow to cool a little first so you don’t burn little one’s mouth.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Baby Bites: Scrambled Egg on Toast

Once baby reaches six months old, you can officially introduce eggs to their diet. These must be cooked thoroughly up until 1 year old though, so no runny eggs.

Scrambled egg on toast has become a favourite with my daughter and when making this, I tend to adhere to Bill Grainger's method and make for my partner too, as I'm not keen on eggs myself. Whilst this produces a rich and creamier scrambled egg that some will be used to, I think this is preferable as an occassional treat, rather than mundane eggs with milk throughout the week. You can of course, replace the cream for milk if you prefer though, but the eggs will be less creamy once cooked. Also do cook slightly longer that Bill does to ensure eggs are completely cooked so baby can tolerate them.

The below makes enough for an adult and a baby sized portion.

Two free range eggs
6 tbsp
Knob of butter
1 small slice of granary bread

Place the knob of butter into a pan on a low heat and allow to melt and pop your bread into the toaster or under the grill.

Crack the eggs into a jug or bowl and whisk up with the cream until the entire mixture is combined.

Place into the pan and allow to sit without touching for 20-30 seconds only.

Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the mixture, as if you could when making a cake, lift and fold in all around for a minute.

Allow to sit for another 20 seconds, then repeat the process until all runny bits have combined.

Butter the toast (using unsalted butter or spread) and then soon over some of the scrambled egg,

Baby Bites: Spiced Cod with Sweet Potato

This is a meal I made for Bridget when Glen and I had the grown up equivalent. I thought the flavours might be too strong for her so made her a small portion as an experiment but she absolutely loved it.

The cod has a delicately aromatic flavour from the yoghurt marinade and is another good introduction of bolder flavours in the weaning process. The light spicing is complemented by the sweet potato.

This freezes really well and the below makes enough for 3-4 portions. Allow to cool completely before placing into the freezer and simply remove and defrost on a plate on the morning of the day you need to - it will be defrosted in 3-4 hours. 

Spiced Cod with Sweet Potato

1 fillet of cod approx 150g
1 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 thumbnail of fresh ginger
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 clove garlic
1/2 lime
1 sweet potato

Firstly pop the oven on at 180 and place the sweet potato in to bake.

Next try to remove any obvious bones from the cod.

Create the marinade by combining the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, lime and spices in a bowl and stirring to evenly distribute all of the flavours.

Pop the cod into the marinade and turn over a couple of times and spoon marinade onto the top to ensure the whole fillet is covered and absorbs the flavour. Leave for 15-20 minutes.

Towards the end of the squash cooking time, place the cod into an oven proof dish and loosely cover with some foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Mash the cooked potato and flake in the fish, portion up accordingly and then allow to cool enough before feeding.

Friday, 15 May 2015

5:2 Diet Creamy Saffron and Paprika Chicken with Vegetables

This is a quick and simple dinner that can be on the table in less than half an hour and for a 5:2 fast day dinner it's a winner. 

Admittedly it means scrimping on food for most of the rest of the day, but I tend to find it easier to have one big meal and then just graze on salad 

Chicken in cream with mushrooms is not unusual, but with the addition of saffron, paprika and sherry plus a host or peppers, chilli and spinach - this makes for a delicious dish with a slightly Spanish influence. 

The below makes enough for two people and it comes in at 421 calories per portion. Serve it simply in a bowl if you are dieting and it still makes for a filling and satisfying meal. If you're hungrier, serve with some crusty bread or some basmati rice. The chicken dish

1 large leek
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
100g mushrooms
2 chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sherry
100g creme fraiche
100g spinach leaves

Firstly pour in the olive oil into a pan or a wok and place on a medium heat. 

Slice the leek and chilli and crush the garlic and add to the pan to slowly soften and flavour the oil. 

Chop the peppers and add to the pan. Slice the mushrooms and once the peppers have started to soften, add to the pan for 2-3 minutes, turning with a wooden spoon or spatula to ensure they get the flavour from the oil all over.

Sprinkle in the paprika and stir to distribute. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl for the minute.

Chop the chicken into small, bite sized chunks as evenly as possible and add these to the now empty pan. If it sticks you may need to drizzle in a little extra olive oil. Allow to sear on all sides, again moving around with a wooden utensil and once all sides are whitened, pour over the sherry. This will bubble up quite quickly so reduce the heat and allow to slowly evaporate and in the meantime return the vegetables to the pan.

After a few moments you should be left with a sticky looking slightly browned gravy substance. At this point add the creme fraiche and stir through generously.

Steep a pinch of saffron, only a little is needed, in a tablespoon of boiling water in a small bowl or cup, and then add to the pan and again stir through. Season generously too at this point.

After another five minutes of cooking, add the spinach to the pan - simply place on top of everything else, it will cook from the heat in a couple of minutes and then stir through and remove from the heat and you are ready to dish up.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

5:2 Diet Pork Fillet with Bean Stew and Rice‏

When partaking on the 5:2 diet as I have been on and off for the past few months in an attempt to ditch the baby weight, I have found that the hardest part of fasting days is the boredom.

Sticking to 500 calories two days per week isn't particularly difficult especially with useful tools such as MyFitnessPal to calorie count for you. But coming up with different ways can be the hard part.

This meal was one I devised for a weeknight when I'd had a busy day and needed to feel substantially full on something other than salad or soup. It comes in exactly 400 calories and if you take it without the rice, just 314 calories according to packet information and using MyFitnessPal.

The pork fillet is cooked under a grill to save on some calories and I'd saved some calories by skipping breakfast so was able to add two tablespoons of ready cooked rice to the equation which significantly helped.

The meal below makes enough for 2 portions, I served a larger portion of the entire meal with rice to my partner for his dinner but you could just as easily freeze the stew and save it for another fast day. 

4 pork fillets weighing approx 200g in total (100g per person)
1 red onion
1 green pepper
1 tin butter beans
1 clove garlic
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Ready Made Rice - I used Tesco Pilau Rice - once cooked 62g is sufficient for a Fast Day
Cooking spray (

Firstly place a saucepan on a low heat.

Finely chop the onion and crush the garlic, spray the pan and add the onion and garlic to gently soften.

In the meantime, chop the pepper into bite sized pieces and also add to the pan.

Add the tomatoes and drained butter beans and stir through. Now allow to cook for 20-30 minutes.

Pork fillet of this size, takes around 15-20 minutes to cook under a grill. I would generally place some foil on the grill tray to catch any fat, but as the fillet is a very lean part of the pig, this should be minimal. Turn the meat over after about 8 minutes of cooking, it should be getting nicely charred. Once cooked, allow to rest, wrapped in foil for 4-5 minutes.

If you are having rice, this is the time to cook according to packet instructions.

Finally plate up half of the stew first then add the pork fillet and rice and enjoy a filling meal on a fast day.

Baby Bites Mushroom Risotto

Whilst I love cooking, I know for some it's a chore and the thought of creating mini meals for the weaning process can be off putting in this instance. This dish of mushroom risotto, can be made for the whole family, whilst you can't use salt during cooking, this can, of course be added at the end.

This my be somewhat controversial too, but I add a flourish of white wine to the rice after it has soaked up the flavoured oil at the beginning and before adding any stock. This will, I know be completely evaporated during cooking but of course if you' rather not add it when making for little ones, simply leave it out.

I use Baby Bites Vegetable Stock here too as it's devoid of any salt where most stocks have quite a bit, but use what you see fit. Using Vegetable Stock also makes this a completely vegetarian friendly meal too.

This makes enough for two adult portions and two mini meals. I've found that this one doesn't freeze as well but is fine in the fridge for a couple of days.

Baby Bites Mushroom Risotto

200g basmati rice
1 white onion
1 clove garlic

2 tbsp white wine or Sherry
200g Chestnut mushrooms
1 pint Baby Bites Vegetable Stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tbsp creme fraiche
Generous glug of olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
20g Hard cheese such as Parmesan or Cheddar

Firstly add a good drizzle of olive oil to a pan and place on a low heat.

Finely dice the onion and crush the garlic and add straight to the pan to saute. Finely chop the mushrooms into baby bite-sized pieces and add to the pan.

Once the mushrooms have started to soften down, add the rice and with a wooden spoon stir around and allow to fry for a few minutes, soaking up the oil.

Add the wine, if you are using, and allow to completely evaporate. Finally, add a generous pinch of black pepper and the dried thyme and then just cover the rice with Vegetable Stock.

Keep stirring every minute or so, and once the rice has absorbed the stock, add a further ladle full, and repeat the process for fifteen minutes. Taste the rice to see if it is cooked through enough, it should still have a slight bite to it and not be completely mushy.

Once you are satisfied that the rice is cooked, stir through the creme fraiche and the chopped parsley and grate over the little bit of cheese, which will also add a further element of flavour and will hopefully make up for the fact it is salt-less for the adults.

Allow the rice to absorb the creme fraiche, then remove from the heat and serve. Obviously allow to cool down enough for baby to be able to tolerate first.

Mediterranean Makeover Cottage Pie

This is a twist on the classic comfort dish, cottage pie. Aside from giving it a sweet potato lid topped with a combination of Cheddar and crumbled feta cheese, the filling has been given a tomatoey Mediterranean makeover too.

Not only is this a delicious alternative to a family classic for the grown ups and any older children, but made as it is here without salt, it's a great weaning dish once little one is past the six month mark and certainly went down well with our little Bridget.

The addition of cinnamon to the browned steak mince gives a lovely delicate flavour and it works well served with salad or as I have done here with Lemon & Chilli Brocolli Spears (simply blanch, drain and roast with a drizzle of oil, garlic, lemon zest, chopped chillies) and topped with a single 1cm square of feta crumbled over.

The below gives three adult sized portions or two plus 3-4 weaning portions. 

2 large sweet potatoes
20g Cheddar or alternative hard cheese
50g feta cheese
200g lean steak mince
1 red onion
1 courgette
1 carrot
50g mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or jar of passata
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil

Firstly pop the oven on and place the two whole sweet potatoes in to bake. You could of course peel, chop and boil to create mash, but as you'd need to pre-heat the oven anyway, this way saves you using another saucepan.

Next add the olive oil to the pan and place on a low heat.

Finely dice the onion and crush the garlic and add to the pan.

Peel and dice the carrot and add this to the pan too and allow to soften.

In the meantime, dice the courgette and slice the mushrooms too.

Once the carrot, onion and garlic are softened, add the steak mince and brown off. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to move around and break up so it doesn't all stick together in a nasty clump.

Once browned all over, add the pepper and cinnamon and allow to cook through for a further couple of minutes.

Add the courgette and mushrooms, the tin of tomatoes and the oregano and stir through. Leave cooking for as long the potatoes take to be soft centred.

Once the potatoes are ready, remove from the oven, slice open and scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Use a fork to gently mash, although this shouldn't be too laborious as the flesh should be very soft and smooth.

Transfer the meat and sauce into an ovenproof dish and then evenly top with the sweet potato. 

Grate over the little bit of Cheddar or other hard cheese and then crumble over the feta into uneven pieces - which will result in some being meltingly oozing and others caramelised - in short, a deliciously contrasting topping.

Pop the dish onto a baking sheet and then place into the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and the top has started to brown.

Remove from the oven, allow to stand for a few minutes, then dish up and enjoy. 

When serving as a weaning dish, I don't mash this up as it is a fairly soft consistency anyway and my seven and a half month old copes just fine with the texture, but if you prefer to blitz in a blender or hand-mash then do so and of course allow to cool down enough before serving to baby.

Baby Bites Spiced Mince with Sweet Potato

Once you start introducing your little one to meat, you'll probably find there's no stopping them - at least that is what we have found with Bridget.

Starting with blander flavours to get them used to various textures is the norm, but there's no reason why what you give has to remain bland. I slowly introduced bolder flavours to my daughter with a sprinkle of cinnamon on eggy bread, some fresh herbs and various other gentle spices. This dish uses some more delicate spices and does pack a slight punch so add the spices a little at a time if you're nervous to offer spicier food. Again combining it with the sweetness of the potato will tone it down anyway.

The below makes enough for 10 portions and this freezes well. Just pop out a portion on the morning you need it and allow to defrost fully outside of the fridge before re-heating. 

250g lean steak mince
2 carrots
1 red onion
1 small clove garlic
1.5tsp cinnamon
1tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 heaped tbsp frozen peas
1.5 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tin of tomatoes or passata
Olive oil
1 large sweet potato

Firstly place the oven on at 180 and place the sweet potato inside to bake. If you are in a hurry you can pop it into the microwave for five minutes before putting into the oven and this will speed up the cooking time.

Next add a drizzle of olive oil to a pan and place on a low heat.

Finely dice the onion and carrot and crush the garlic and add this to the pan, allowing it all to soften.

Next add in the mince, using either a wooden spoon or plastic spatula to break up and ensure no nasty lumps are formed during cooking, keep moving it all around and allow to fully brown.

Once lightly browned, add in all the spices (paprika, cinnamon, coriander and turmeric) and stir through.

Add in the frozen peas and stir to evenly distribute amongst the mince.

Finally add in the tomato puree and passata or tinned tomatoes and stir once again. Now allow to cook slowly for 30 minutes or so.

Once the potato has been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove it, discard the skin and place the flesh into a bowl and gently mash with a fork or potato masher.

Once the mince mixture has cooked for 30 minutes, remove from the heat and add to the sweet potato and stir to combine.

Allow to cool a little if serving right away and portion up into your freezable containers. Allow to fully cool before placing into the fridge or freezer.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Baby Bites Spiced Sweet Potato Chips with Cherry Tomatoes

This is a great finger food to introduce to your baby with some gentle smoky spicing from paprika and I serve with two large and juicy cherry tomatoes cut into quarters - no ketchup needed here! 

It is very low maintenance and you can increase the amount if cooking for the family and add dried chilli flakes or fresh, chopped chilli if you prefer a little more bite.

1 small sweet potato
Drizzle of olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika

Place the oven on at around 180. 

Chop the potato into chips or wedges that will be easy for your little one to manage and handle her/himself. 

Place into an oven-proof dish and drizzle with the olive oil so each has a little coating.

Sprinkle over the paprika and then place into the oven to cook for 25 minutes or until starting to char.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough so baby can handle and serve with a couple of quartered cherry tomatoes.

Baby Bites - Cauliflower, Broccoli and Cod Cheese

This has become a favourite for Bridget - fish with cauliflower and broccoli in a cheese sauce and baked in the oven. I originally made this as a weaning dish, but have since prepared it as a meal for myself and my partner too with bigger quantities - it's delicious.

This amount makes for 6-8 portions, depending on how big your little one's appetite is and is very nutritious. It freezes well too which is a bonus, just pop into sealable pots and place into the freezer once completely cooled, them remove them 3-4 hours prior to needing them and ensure they are fully defrosted.

Cauliflower, Broccoli and Cod Cheese

1.5 tbsp unsalted butter
1.5 tbsp plain flour
300ml milk
50g Cheddar
Half a cauliflower
Half a broccoli
120g cod loin fillet

Firstly preheat the oven to 180ish.

In a pan, melt the butter and once fully melted, add in the plain flour stirring in with a wooden spoon or a whisk.

Once combined add the milk a little at a time and continue to stir constantly.

Grate the cheese into the sauce and keep stirring whilst also allowing to thicken. Once it resembles a sauce and seems thick and creamy, remove from the heat and set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the broccoli and cauliflower, cutting into small florets and removing the thick parts of the stalks.

Place the vegetables into a saucepan, cover with boiling water and cook for ten minutes, then drain.

While these are cooking, cut the cod loin into small, baby bite-sized pieces.

Place the drained broccoli and cauliflower into an ovenproof dish, scatter the cod all over and them pour over the cheese sauce. Use the wooden spoon to move the vegetables around to make sure each piece has a good coating of sauce.

Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and remove. I tend to them mash with a normal potato masher to remove any larger lumps and portion up.

If you are serving this right away, of course allow to cool to a comfortable temperature for your little one.

Fillet Steak with White Bean Mash and Creamy Peas and Lettuce

I got the idea for this a few weeks ago, watching an old episode of Nigella Bites. Nigella used a sirloin 'minute' steak but as I made this just for myself on an evening when my partner was out with clients for a meal, I thought fillet steak was in order. I also added some vegetables to the equation as just steak and beans felt too plain for when I wanted something a little decadent, and the addition of creme fraiche to the veg just upped the ante a little further. I served simply, with a little whole grain mustard on the side and it was absolutely delicious together.

You could of course use sirloin or your own preferred cut of steak but I say if cooking for yourself, go fillet and treat yourself.

The wonderful thing about this dinner too is that it's completely low maintenance, it can be on the table in fifteen minutes, including marinading the steak but tastes terrific. 

1 fillet steak or steak of your choice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 spriggs of Rosemary
Pinch of coarse sea salt
Pinch of black pepper

White Bean Mash:
1 tin of cannelini beans, chickpeas or butter beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Zest & juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of black pepper

Creamy Peas and Lettuce: 
2 tbsp frozen peas
1 little gem lettuce
1.5 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tsp grain mustard

Water from a recently boiled kettle

Firstly marinade the steak in the oil, Rosemary, seasonings and the crushed garlic and leave to infus or five minutes, or longer if you have it.

Get your steak griddle or pan on a low-medium heat to warm it up.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, drizzle in the oil and place on a low heat. Crush the garlic and add to the pan for 30 seconds just to slightly soften.

Open the can of beans of your choice, I used chickpeas here, drain the liquid and add to the pan.

Grate the zest of the lemon and squeeze out the juice and keep to one side.

With a wooden spoon keep moving the beans around, gently smooshing them downwards, after only a few minutes they will start to burst open, and their soft centres will start to take on the flavour of the oil. Now is the time to season and add the lemon juice and zest. Keep on stirring and smooshing downwards until the whole thing comes together and resembles mash. Then leave on the lowest heat and stir every few minutes to prevent any sticking to the pan and to make sure it stays hot.

My fillet steak was about 3cm thick and this is how I cooked it for blushing pink and rare inside, please check depending on your preference for steak and which cut and size you have to gauge cooking time.

Sear your steak for two minutes in the now hot griddle or pan without moving - if using a griddle this is what will give you those lovely griddle marks that I think make a steak that little bit more appealing.

After searing, allow to cook for 2-3 minutes further on each side, then remove and place onto a plate to rest. You can wrap with foil here to keep the steak hot, but remember the heat will keep the steak cooking, I tend to place onto a steak and then position a bowl over the top instead.

Remember to keep stirring the white beans throughout the steak preparation.

Finally you can prepare your vegetable accompaniment. Slice your little gem and wash then drain with a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper and leave to one side.

Place the peas into a small saucepan and then cover with boiling water and cook for two minutes.

In the meantime drizzle in the olive oil into a final pan and place on a low heat. Add the lettuce and allow to very gently saute.

Drain the peas and add these to the pan with the lettuce, also adding the creme fraiche and some seasoning. You can also add a little garlic here, but as the meal was already heavy on garlic I omitted here. Add the grain mustard and stir through. Once the creme fraiche has reduced down to a more liquidy form, this is ready - it takes no time at all.

Finally you are ready to plate up and enjoy this wonderful plate of food. Allowing the steak to rest for 4-5 minutes whilst getting the vegetables together will allow all of the juices to return and make for such a beautifully tender piece of meat.

A final flourish of coarse sea salt and pepper onto the steak before eating will again, up the ante. Enjoy!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Stella Di Mare - Sharm El Sheikh

Recently (February) the family and I visited the 5* Stella Di Mare Hotel and Spa in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for a two-week holiday in celebration of my Mum Vicky's 50th birthday.

There were six of us in total, my partner, Glen, and I and the baby, my brother Daniel, and of course my parents occupying three rooms.

Set in the Naama Bay area of Sharm, the hotel is in a peaceful and tranquil location and our fortnight here was a truly relaxing holiday. We occupied two double rooms and one twin, and each was adequately comfortable. Ours had a king sized bed, a couple of mini armchairs and a small table plus adequate clothing space in the wardrobe, dresser and bedside tables. We were also afforded a spacious bathroom with bath and shower. Each room was allocated a particular man who would do the room cleaning each day and who was happy to assist with any other particulars - we needed extra clothes hangers and the hotel hadn't yet put in a travel cot for Bridget for example, but these were soon remedied. Our rooms were cleaned every day, and they, like the rest of the hotel were kept immaculately clean at all times. 

Beautiful grounds of Stella Di Mare

In the lead up to Stella Di Mare

There are two main pool areas, one a family area and one a more grown up, couples and group area with swim-up-bar and loud music. We mainly kept to the family pool but did frequent the other one a few times too. Staff at both were excellent. Towels are provided for the pool or beach areas every day too. There was an animation team who put on various activities each day - as we were in a group we didn't really get involved but it's nice to know it's there if you are so inclined - also they didn't harrass you to join in either as in some resorts. 

My brother and I did join in with the daily stretching that took place a couple of times, this always attracted a large crowd and took place on some of the grass area of the grounds that overlooked the sea - a beautiful place for some yoga-esque activity. 

View over the pool from the bar

Daily stretching

The hotel has a built in spa with free use of the gym including daily exercise classes, steam rooms and sauna plus a heated outdoor jacuzzi pool which was lovely - and is adults only too, so very relaxing indeed. We also made use of the paid for spa activities, booking a course of massages for the family and my mum visited the hair salon for blow dries a few times too all of which were of good value for a five-star hotel. 

Jacuzzi pool beside the spa

In addition my Dad, Les took the PADI diving course at the on-site dive school too which was around £450 and which he thoroughly enjoyed. Food at the hotel could be taken in different places. There was the main buffet restaurant of the hotel where breakfast and lunch was served and then the evening meals tended to be themed to various nationalities which didn't much appeal to us, but we were happy with the alternatives.

Breakfast was always a fantastic offering of various nationalities dishes. A vast array of bread and pastries were baked on site daily and were excellent, there was a pancake and waffle station with every type of topping one could wish for and I can certainly vouch for these as I was a regular at this station - the man who made these daily was very friendly and accomodating too - he was happy to cook for a little longer if, like me, you prefer your pancakes a little more crisp than anaemic. There was also lots of fruits, cereals, yoghurts, granolas and the like too - all of good quality. On the hot stations you could find the likes of eggs benedict, turkey bacon, chicken and beef sausages and various types of beans too and there was of course the egg station where you could order a fresh omelette, or eggs any way you fancied. So a great selection and the staff in this restaurant were again really accommodating and they made such a fuss over Bridget too, which we thought was a nice touch.

Lunchtimes in this restaurant too were perfectly adequate but as with most buffet restaurants, we found that you had to get in there early to enjoy hot food, so we mainly eat in the other areas where food was cooked to order - but that said, we did enjoy some fantastic food in there at times. Dishes of note included the whole baked salmon with a dill flavoured Hollandaise sauce and the roasted chicken which was beautifully and delicately spiced and moist and juicy throughout. Lunch could also be ordered at the beach bar and in the Asian restaurant which also overlooked the sea so we headed to these most days. This was a varied menu ranging from salads, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, wraps and the like. I must thoroughly recommend the chicken sharwarma wrap which was excellent and the chicken wings which we ordered every day for the table to share as they were just so delicious and crisp on the outside but with tender and juicy meat.

Evening meals could, as I've mentioned be enjoyed buffet style in the main restaurant or there were two other options, both waiter service style. The Asian restaurant which had dishes such as Thai Green Curry, Seabass and vegetables in a ginger sauce, Pad Thai and a few other dishes. We eat here a few times and I have to say on the days where a little too much alcohol had been consumed the night before, the Green Curry was an excellent hangover cure.

Our favourite though, was the Mediterranean restaurant where the food was fantastic and was matched only by the service. As we eat in here a lot, we got to know the waiters well, and our favourite was Ali, a 20 year old who literally couldn't do enough for anyone and could be seen working at breakfast, lunch and dinner and always with a smile - they do work hard.

Dishes enjoyed in this restaurant included the fillet steak, sea bass with roasted peppers, prawns in a saffron sauce, duck breast, seafood pasta and an array of other delicious items. We didn't once have a bad meal here. There was a singer in this restaurant too and it made for quite a romantic and elegant setting. 

Beef carpaccio

Seabass with roasted peppers

Prawns in a Saffron sauce

Fillet steak

Entertainment was provided in the ballroom each night but as we were in a group we preferred to enjoy a quieter drink in the main lobby area and chat among ourselves, enjoying the gentle piano music - the pianist was there every evening too and really did set a wonderful scene. 

We enjoyed ourselves whole-heartedly at the Stella Di Mare and would definitely return - it's the perfect backdrop to some guaranteed winter sunshine.

Creamy Leftover Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pie

This recipe is more of a thrown together Monday night dinner, perfect the day after cooking roasted chicken. 

It's quick and easy to prepare but delivers on flavour and comfort-food credentials. I can admit to never making my own puff pastry, instead I rely on shop-bought, and for this kind of meal it is utterly perfect. I only add a pastry lid too rather than all round the pie, to keep the calorie count down a bit.

Also I use dried tarragon rather than fresh, which always goes so well with chicken and adds a lovely, slightly aniseed element. 

Whilst it's a thick and creamy centre, this is created by making a quick roux, rather than the addition of any cream and I serve simply with vegetables and perhaps a sweet jacket potato - all very low rent. 

This serves 3-4 people.

200g leftover chicken
1 red onion
200g mushrooms (I used Chestnut as I had them in the fridge, but you can use any combination)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp white wine (I used Pinot Grigio as it was open in the fridge - but use what you have in stock - also a splash of either sherry or brandy would work as well)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 pint milk
1 tbsp tarragon (I use dried)
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
Sheet of puff pastry
1 tbsp milk

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180-200.

Slice the red onions and mushrooms and crush the garlic. Add the onions and garlic to a pan with a drizzle of olive oil on a low heat and allow to soften. Add the mushrooms and the wine, sherry or brandy and cook until the alcohol has cooked off and then remove from the heat.

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, or shred if easier and add to the pan with the onions and mushrooms. 

In a different pan add the butter on a low heat and allow to completely melt. Add the flour a little at a time and stir continually with a wooden spoon, keep adding more until it's all combined and then slowly add the milk in the same method, stirring all the time. Add the salt, pepper and tarragon and keep cooking on a low heat for ten minutes or until the sauce has thickened. This is your roux.

Transfer the chicken, mushrooms and onion mixture to the roux, stir through to combine and then transfer the mixture to your preferred pie dish or other oven-proof dish. 

Place the pastry over the top, then cut off the excess around the edges. Crimp the sides any way you prefer and then brush the 1 tbsp milk over with a pastry brush. Finally with a knife, cut in a couple of slits in the top, to allow the steam to rise through the pastry during cooking. 

Place into the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is nicely golden. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for a few minutes as the centre will be piping hot. Then serve with your preferred accompaniments and enjoy!