Thursday, 29 December 2011

Comfort food - Creamy Vegetable Soup

It's no secret that I love soup, I'd have it 4 out of 7 days if I could.  I really fancied some vegetables and something healthy for tea on Monday night, but when I saw we had double cream patiently waiting to be used up I couldn't resist splashing some in.  Then I saw the Stilton....

8 small potatoes, skins left on, chopped into quarters
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 small red onion
1 medium brown onion
florets of broccoli
2 pints of vegetable stock
dollop of double cream
sprigs of thyme
fresh parsley

Chop the onions and potatoes while some vegetable oil warms in a large pan, when the oil is hot enough add some garlic (as much as you like in soup - we have some ready chopped in a jar, I added half a teaspoon).  Leave the onions and potatoes to cook while you cut off some florets of broccoli and make up the vegetable stock.

When the onions are cooked add the stock and the herbs, season and then throw the pan lid on and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.

I dithered over if I should have a chunky or smooth soup, but in the end went for smooth, so when the vegetables were cooked I blended the soup until smooth using a hand blender.

I added the cream in and let it gently warm into the soup while I organised the bowls and some Stilton for me.

I was generous with my Stilton portion.... you could use more restraint than I have when adding yours....

This soup was delicious and just what I wanted for a cold, wet and windy Monday evening.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Comfort Food - Shepherds Pie

I'd regard myself as a winter cook, so I like nothing better than a portion of some delicious and comforting food on a cold dark night.

Lean minced beef
1 large onion
3 sticks of celery
1/4 pint of beef stock
1 carton of chopped tomatoes with herbs
squeeze of garlic puree
couple of fresh tomatoes
1/2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
1 large sweet potato
2 medium mashing potatoes
grated cheese

Peel the potatoes and chop into cubes, add them to a pan of boiling water and leave to cook.

Chop the onion and celery, warm some oil in a large pan and when hot add a squeeze of garlic puree and then the onion and celery, turn the heat down low and cook for five minutes.

Add the minced beef and cook until brown. Roughly chop the fresh tomatoes and then add them to the pan.

When the beef is brown pour in the stock and the chopped tomatoes.  Sprinkle over some sugar to sweeten, and season with salt and pepper.

Leave the tomato and beef mixture to cook slowly for as long as possible.

When the potatoes are done drain and then mash and retain until the base of the shepherds pie is cooked.

I left mine to cook for 35 minutes then transferred the base to a large dish, smothered with the mashed potato and sprinkled a generous helping of grated cheese on the top.

Pop this into the oven at 180 for 20 minutes, then transfer to the grill to brown for 8-15 mins, depending on the strength of your grill (they seem to vary as much as ovens do!).

Serve with green vegetables and await a lovely warm feeling.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Recent happenings and eats

I've had a busy week this week (I don't seem to have any other kind of week at the moment).

I had Wednesday - Friday off from work, on Wednesday I did a huge chunk of Christmas shopping, and I committed a food sin.

I had a McDonalds.  I know.  We'll say no more about this lapse of judgement and move swiftly on.  I had Fajitas for tea, but they weren't exciting enough to photograph. Fajitas are fajitas.

On Thursday I went to Wales with Phil, we had a coffee each and a bacon butty in the services and it cost a whopping £15.  Unbelievable.  Lesson learned - picnic next time!  We got back late and didn't want to cook so we had a takeaway pizza.  More naughty food.

On Friday it was my Christmas party, I had my nails doing and hair doing lined up for the morning, with a lovely window of an hour to pop down to Bottega Milanese on the Calls for a couple of coffees and a millionaires shortbread.

Shiny nails

After my hair doing I dashed over to the Corn Exchange for the second Friday Picnic, this one having a ginger theme.  I had a hot toddy, a samosa, a ginger cheesecake and then some sushi from Fish&, as well as having a good old catch up with some of my favourite Leeds peoples.

sushi from Fish&

I dashed home and had a couple of hours rest before getting ready and heading back out to my christmas party.

Me, all dolled up

We had our Christmas party at Carluccios and all headed there with great expectations.  I was a little disappointed though, but as it's Christmas will give them the benefit of the doubt and head back in the new year some time.  We had antipasti to start, which was good, not the best I've ever had but certainly not the worst.  For main I had chicken wrapped in bacon.  My chicken came butterflied, with some bacon on the top, and smothered in an extreme amount of a buttery sauce.  It made it slimy.  I didn't eat it all.  For dessert I had the cheeseboard.  There had been a large amount of office excitement about the cheeseboard.  Our hopes and dreams were dashed when we were presented with a plate with three lumps of cheese on, and an abnormally large cracker.  We'd envisaged platters to share in the middle of the table.  It was very disappointing.

Yesterday I headed out to Bingley to see my friend Chrissie so she could give my laptop a tune up and so we could have a catch up before the festive period.  We went out for tea to the Airedale Heifer  I wish I'd taken some pics but I dived straight into eating.  I had goats cheese and blackpudding to start, but that was a huge portion and almost filled me up.  For main I had Cod Mornay which was delightfully cheesy and fishy, but I could only eat a smidgen of it before my IBS reared it's ugly head and ruined my meal.  I'm finding I can only eat small portions at the moment, if I eat anything too big, or too spicy, then it sets off my IBS.  It's putting me off food a bit.

Today I've been baking.  I'm debating over doing a post on these, they didn't go quite to plan.  My buns didn't rise, and then my second icing wouldn't set and I ran out of icing sugar.  I went ahead and used it anyway.

These are Spiced buns with a swirl of plain buttercream, then a dollop of satsuma buttercream, with edible orange glitter for extra festive sparkle... 

You can just about see the one at the back that I dropped a bucketload of glitter on...oops!

This evening I've had beef stew in a homemade giant yorkshire pudding.  Just what I needed after eating out so much!

I'll be eating fairly lightly next week in preparation of gorging (as much as I can gorge) over the Christmas weekend.  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Very Berry Vodka!

Very Berry Vodka...

This year with my huge amount of Blackberries I foraged I have made Blackberry Chutney which I cant wait to try with a little goats cheese, wensleydale but preferably deep fried breaded brie or camenbert...

Last year I had the idea of sloe gin... but I adapted this for my ''very berry vodka''.

I got a few litres of vodka and had a little drink from each (well I had to make room for the berries) I put a big hand full of good quality plump blackberries in with a large heaped spoonful of sugar. I did this a few weeks before Christmas - at month is good but a little longer if possible.
I then tipped the bottles up and back round everytime I saw them, I think a minimum of once a day is good.

Soon enough the vodka turned in to a very berry colour... near christmas I strained the vodka and rebottled with some decorative home-made festive labels and gave to appropriate boozy relations!

Hope you like this idea - A good way to use up the black berries too!

Homemade Christmas! by LuttyRR

Hi All,

I am Rach's Cousin and she has asked me to contribute to her blog with some festive Homemade Goodies and Ideas! We have all decided at my mums that this year we are making our Christmas Gifts for each other so here is my list of things to make...

So far I have made:

  1. Blackberry Chutney

  2. My own recipe - 'Lovely Festive Chutney' - Apple, Tomato and Cranberry

  3. Some popcorn goodies to go with my movie night present package - a gift experience they should all love! I hope x

  4. Lots of Red and White pompoms - not exactly sure what for yet - maybe decorating the presents instead of ribbons.
To be made:

  1. Canvases for my mum and dad and sister and fella... saying 'We <3 Mummy and Daddy' with tiny hand prints and 'We <3 Grandma and Granddad' with tiny hand prints.

  2. Wheaty Hand warmers

  3. Decorated Candles with picked Holly for Christmas Centre Piece.

  4. Christmas Pudini's - Nigella Recipe

  5. Brittle Peanut - Nigella Recipe

  6. Cloved Oranges - as a bit of a joke!

  7. A Pasta Collage - take u back to primary school - also a joke!
So let me know if you interested!

Tea and Cake at Christmas

I was asked to write a blog post for a campaign currently running for Twinings, talking about tea and cake at Christmas.

I'm a big tea fan, although rarely get to drink anything more exotic than Tetley, but if I fancy something a little delicate and special then I always pick up a Twinings box to try.  I drink more tea in winter, and certainly eat more cake in winter too, particularly around Christmas when I give up the pretence of dieting for a few weeks and eat and drink anything I like.

Twinings have a selection of Christmas tea gifts in their tea shop.

I love the willow baskets that house all the goodies in the hampers.  If I was picking one as a gift I'd pick the Christmas Spice Hamper which contains two teas- one being the mulled spice tea, some chocolates, a Christmas pudding and two candles.

If, like me, you don't have the budget for a hamper then the Mulled Spice Tea Caddy might be of interest.  I love the warmth and spices of mulled wine, so would love to try a mulled spice tea.  I love the presentation of the caddy too.

Would you try the Mulled Spice Tea?

All photographs courtesy of

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ten questions....

I was tagged by the lovely FayC to complete this ages ago and have only just got round to it - sorry!

All you have to do is answer the 10 questions, tag a few people, then return to the original post and comment so that the tagger knows you have completed your mission.

Describe yourself in seven words
Bossy, Loud, Short, Irritable, Passionate, Loyal, Kind

What keeps you up at night?
Insomnia mostly.  I struggle to switch off, I can lie and worry for hours on end about inconsequential things all the time.  I can feel so weary before turning the light out, then once it's me and the darkness the worries start to creep in and things start ticking over in my mind. 

Who would I like to be?
I'd like to be me, but a better version of me.  One who is thinner, more attractive, taller, calmer and less easily irritated.  I'd like to be one of those people who can shrug things off and say "whatever", but I don't think I ever will be.  The little things get to me all the time.

What are you wearing now?
Blue jeans, white tshirt with a red wine stain on it - I hadn't noticed that when I was dressing, orange jumper (covering the wine stain), underwear and Phil's socks.

What scares me?
(I'm not sure if this means do I know what scares the person who tagged me, or what scares me? I'll go with me.)
I'm scared by everything.  Birds, fish, sharks, alligators, snakes. Then things like not being successful, reaching 30 without having achieved anything, not having my own children, being left on my own and as such a burden to my family.

What is the best and worst things of blogging?
The best things are having a space in the world to showcase talent, or usually in my case lack of talent.  The opportunity for some creative outlet, and also for the sense of community involved in blogging.  I love going to events and catching up with other bloggers, having a blog has opened up a whole world I didn't really know existed.

The worst thing for me would be the sense of competition that surrounds blogging, I stress myself out worrying that I'm not putting in as much effort as others - even though I know my blog is a hobby, it isn't a platform to anything else for me.  I'm not a writer, nor am I particularly talented at cooking, I'm  under no illusions that I should have a cookery book/show/column or anything else, I just like cooking and eating.  The blogging community can also be fiercely competitive.  I always recommend other food bloggers for campaigns/events etc, but very often never receive any thanks or acknowledgement for that.  I don't know any food bloggers that return that favour either.  

What was the last website you looked at?
Facebook.  I'm such a nosey parker.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
My weight.  I'd take away 2.5 of the extra 4 stone I weigh that my BMI tells me I shouldn't.  If I was 8 stone again I'd be a size 8, and look like a child, I don't want to be that thin, so if I could get to 10, or maybe 9.5 then I'd be happy.  I think that's going to have to be a goal for next year.

Slankets, yes or no?
Why not.

Tell us something about the person who tagged you.
Fay is an inspirational lady, battling with weight, going through cancer treatment, yet always looking for reasons to be cheerful.  She's also lovely and friendly on twitter too.

I'm not going to tag anyone as such, but if you fancy answering these questions then go ahead.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Perfect Sunday

Sunday lunch at the Midnight Bell.  Putting up Christmas decorations. Wrapping Christmas presents.  Drinking wine. Watching films and trashy tv.

What could be a more perfect Sunday?

 I'd shouted out on Twitter yesterday morning for Sunday lunch recommendations, I had Town Hall Tavern, Milo and the Midnight Bell recommended.  Town was a bit chaotic, and we were parked in the excessively expensive NCP, so we decided to grab the car and head round to the Midnight Bell.  We were very lucky and grabbed a table before a rush of people and settled down to have the 2 course Sunday lunch.

I opted for Whitebait to start, my only complaint with it would be I'd have liked more of the mayo, other than that it was spot on.  Phil had the pate, which was lovely.  Because I'd mentioned we were sharing our waitress brought us extra toast, which I thought was good.  I had the Turkey for main and Phil went for the beef.  The turkey was OK, but the beef was the star of the show, gorgeous flavour, pink and tender.  We were absolutely stuffed after the two courses so I was glad we didn't opt to do three!

We left there and headed back to Phil's, he put the tree up, with my token gesture of hanging three baubles and then we wrapped some Christmas presents before settling in front of the TV to watch Brief Encounter and Love Actually.

During the week I'd won a bottle of wine from Latitude Wines in Leeds, we popped down yesterday and picked it up.  I wasn't overly keen on it, I'm just not a Chardonnay fan, but drank it anyway... Then drank the Prosecco we had in the fridge... and then sent Phil out for another bottle of wine.  We were pretty sozzled come 10pm.... but it's Christmas, it's allowed!

I'm not sure a Sunday can get much better than yesterday!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Stroppy Stew

Phil was on call all last weekend, and I took it upon myself to try to be the perfect housewife for him.

TRY being the word.

On Saturday night I managed to spill half of our spaghetti down the sink, and then on Sunday threw a Baxter strop rating 8.5 on the Baxter Strop Scale.... In my defence I had raging PMT and terrible IBS last weekend, so no wonder that resulted in EBS (Epic Baxter Strop).

I set about making us a beef and ale stew, with dumplings.  The recipe I found for stew and dumplings tried to fox me by telling me to cook the dumplings for three hours... Luckily I asked twitter and was reassured they didn't take 3 hours and would be done in 20 mins.

I browned the beef then removed that from the pan and added half an onion, three carrots and 2 leeks.  The leeks and onions as finely chopped as I can manage.  For the fussy eater in my life I need to start being able to chop the onion finer...  Phil didn't have a peeler so I had to use a knife.  I am very bad at peeling with knives and my carrots ended up looking very deformed...

Irritation implemented...

As I was in Tadcaster I opted for a York Brewery beer.

After the vegetables had cooked I added a tablespoon of plain flour, allowed time for that to absorb and then added the beer and some beef stock.  I added the beef back to the pan and left it to simmer.

Therein was my first problem.... My Crueset gets so hot that things stick to it, even when I'm simmering.  I knew that but still failed to think about putting it in the oven.  So I had to keep coming back and stirring it and relieving the bottom of any sticky bits.

Temper rising....

After two hours I went back into the kitchen and made the dumplings.

Then added them into my pan with 20 mins of cooking left to go, and popped the potatoes on to cook.

But the stew was sticking again, so I had to stir.  The stirring started causing the dumplings to break apart...

Anger rising further...

When the potatoes were done I managed to drain them, without spilling half in the sink, and then looked around for the potato masher.

No potato masher.

Temper volcano eruption....

It tipped me over the edge.  I attempted to mash with forks.  That was scratching the pan.  I spied the rolling pin and set about the pan like a demon, chucks of potato flying everywhere...Swearing that would have made Gordon Ramsey blush... Even a small screech of irritation....

Luckily Phil can handle the Baxter Strop very well and came and asked me if I'd finished having a paddy, which made me laugh.

I wasn't finished there though.

I dished up, sat down and then refused to eat mine.  I refused to even take a picture of it.  Upon calming enough to eat a smidgen I declared it unfit for human consumption, and that the stew was like dog food...

Phil had three portions just to placate me.

It's not often I throw an epic strop over something so small, the stresses of moving, work, PMT and then having the worst episode of IBS I've had in years certainly didn't help things.

I'm pleased to report that sanity has (almost) been restored, and I have no urges to batter the hell out of any potatoes with the end of a rolling pin today.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Mrs M's Creamy Garlic Mushroom Spaghetti

I saw Mrs M's recipe post and was inspired to have a go myself.

My only revisions were to use Pancetta, Forestière mushrooms (très fancy - oui) and then to spill half the spaghetti in the sink while attempting to strain it...

A very simple recipe and a lovely quick Saturday evening tea.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas Star Buns

I was contacted by Baking Mad and asked if I'd like to have a go at making some Christmas Cupcakes.  I haven't done any baking in ages so thought why not.  There's loads of cupcake recipes to choose from on the website, but I was taken with a recipe for Chocolate and Vanilla cupcakes.

My only amendments to the recipe were to use dark muscavado sugar and a teaspoon of baking powder.

I've never baked using sunflower oil or creme fraiche so I was interested how they'd turn out.

I overfilled the bun cases, so ended up with almost muffins.  But who minds a big bun?

They aren't incredibly Christmas looking, but they have a festive star, and tasted lovely, especially with a brew.  The only thing I wasn't happy with was that the bun was really crumbly.  I did like the chocolate chips though.

I'm tempted to have a go and make these Christmas Cupcakes from the Baking Mad website next weekend, the bun should be nice and Christmassy with the mixed spice.  These snowman cupcakes are really cute too.

I still don't really like calling buns cupcakes, or to cover the whole bun with icing.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cardamom Black Opening

I was invited to attend the opening of Cardamom Black in Harrogate yesterday evening.  I wasn't told much about the event in the invitation to it, and assumed it would be a smallish gathering of press/bloggers etc.  It was actually an evening of shmoozing and being seen for the Harrogate Glitteratti.

We arrived at Cardamom Black and patiently waited to give our names and be told what was happening.  It was absolutely heaving in the bar area, so we were asked to go upto the restaurant and find a seat and told that food would be served at 8pm.  

I walked into the main restaurant and was amazed at how sparkly and lavish it was.

The restaurant area filled up very quickly and a large, noisy group sat next to us.  Phil went to get us some drinks and we chatted and enjoyed a few canapés.  We were also entertained by a magician, and I almost saw some dancing until it became too crowded to see!  

8pm came and went and I decided to head to the bar and ask the girl from the PR agency what was happening.

I waited for at least 15 minutes at the bar, and was completely ignored whilst other people's orders were taken.  I was a bit annoyed by that, but being short it can happen quite a lot to me.  I had a word and found out it would be a buffet that was being served.

A buffet when there's at least 300 people at the opening - chances of there still being food there after queueing for an age - slim to none.

The owner tried to give a speech, which I really wanted to listen to and find out more, but he was drowned out by the group next to us talking loudly, and most of the rest of the room talking.  Incredibly rude in my book especially considering everyone was eating and drinking for free.  Very disrespectful.

That was the final straw for me, and after a brief trip to the incredibly posh, glamorous loos I decided to leave.   I can't deny that the atmosphere and buzz about the place was great, but it seemed that people were there more to be seen and schmooze than actually find anything out about the restaurant, or be bothered about the food.

The restaurant interior is probably the most bling I've ever seen a restaurant interior be, it certainly has the wow factor.  I can image it would be very good for weddings and functions.  I would have loved to have tried some food but really couldn't face a chaotic queuing session, or put up with the crowds for any longer.  I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity for me really, if I'd known what it was actually going to be I possibly wouldn't have gone.  But I suppose I should learn from that and ask more questions about what's going to be happening!  That being said I hope I'm not sounding ungrateful for the invitation. I'm always very honoured to be contacted and invited to events.

Best of luck to the owners of Cardamom Black, I hope the restaurant is a fabulous success and that everyone who enjoyed the hospitality and generosity last night become regular customers.

Update - I reviewed Cardamom Black in January 2012