Friday, 23 August 2013

Chocolate Courgette Cake

    My friends, it's time for me to leave you for a while. The RJ summer holiday is upon me (it's been a long time coming)  combining the heady weekend that is CarFest South, followed by a week on the mid-Wales coast (don't say a word). But I couldn't leave you without one last courgette-y flourish.

    Peeking out from the tin - don't be shy now!

    The southern venue for CarFest - the brain child of Chris Evans, raising money for Children in Need - is literally on our doorstep at the fabulous Laverstoke Park Farm.  As 'local' residents, we were lucky enough to get first dibs on tickets, and most of our friends will be there. It'll be almost like a village fete, but with everything on a much bigger scale. The kids are looking forward to the bouncy castle city, sing along Jungle Book, the Dancing Diggers, Keane & Scouting for Girls. The Husband is looking forward to the cars, the aeroplanes and The Wurzels. I'm looking forward to fantastic food generally, the Best of British Tent in particular, a silent disco, and the various musical delights of Texas, Keane, Amy MacDonald, Scouting for Girls and Jools Holland. Nothing edgy or out there (we're not talking Glasto, Reading or the Isle of Wight here) but hopefully brilliant family entertainment. And as you can see - something for everyone.

    By the way, after my rant about the Great British Bake Off, earlier this year, I thought it was only ethical and right that I refrained from entering Cakes v Pies which will be judged by no less than Mary Berry & the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood. Besides, moral highground aside, I'd like to have a couple of drinks and a boogy and not have to worry about soggy bottoms...

    That's not to say there isn't cake knocking around the RJ house this weekend. We have 2 lots of friends coming to stay with us for the weekend to join in the jollification, and with the recent rain we've had, the courgettes have put in some more action. There was only one thing for it.

    Chocolate Courgette Cake

    The original recipe got mixed reviews on the Good Food website - as I read down, I felt excited that I would be producing a culinary marvel, and then as the reviews continued, I felt less encouraged, but I made my own tweaks, and soldiered on to produce what I think is a pretty good cake, especially considering it used up 2 courgettes. You might think the addition of custard powder is a bit random, and indeed it was. I didn't have enough cocoa, and then I thought it might make the cake a little less chocolatey if I added in some custard powder as a substitute. In the end, well, I'm not sure if it added anything or just made up the measurement. Give it a go and see what you think.

    One caveat - I'm not entirely sure my scales were working right when I made this (which is one of the reasons why I've included the link to the original recipe), but this is what I think I used...

    It's not a beautiful looking cake in its unadorned state, but looks aren't everything, as I've said before, and once slathered in some chocolate icing, well, does it really matter?

    350g self-raising flour 
    35g cocoa powder
    15g custard powder
    1 tsp mixed spice 
    250g caster sugar
    500ml grated courgettes (measure by volume in a measuring jug, but it's about 2 medium courgettes; if using 1 overgrown one, peel first and take out seeds)
    175ml vegetable oil 
    3 eggs  
    160g toasted unsalted pistachios roughly chopped

    100g dark chocolate
    50ml double cream

    Line a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.

    Combine the flour, cocoa powder , custard powder, mixed spice and caster sugar togeter in a bowl.

    Squeeze the grated courgette to get the liquid out, then mix together with the vegetable oil, and eggs.

    Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then stir through the pistachios. Scrape the (surprisingly thick - which is why I wonder about my scales) batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for between 45 minutes-1 hr till a skewer comes out clean.

    Not a partcularly attactive cake...

      When cool, make the icing - break the chocolate into a bowl, then heat the cream till hot but not boiling. Tip the hot cream over the chocolate and stir till melted and combined. Leave the icing to cool and thicken up, then spread over the cake.

    but with icing, who cares??


    Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    The Ironing Queen Part 2 - and some home truths, thanks to Tefal

    One of the things about getting older is learning and, perhaps more importantly, accepting, truths about yourself.  

    Truths like I am never, ever going to be asked to present Blue Peter (why not?? I'd have been great). Truths like if you eat too much cake you will put on weight, whatever anyone tries to tell you (or you try to convince yourself of) otherwise.

    Truths like, actually, the ironing does matter to me.

    There. It's out there now.

    But honestly, I NEVER KNEW.

    Believe me when I say I'm just as surprised as you are about this. 

    As I said in my first, heady post about the Tefal steam generator iron that I wrote, never did I expect to be so thrilled by an iron. Never did I think an iron would inspire me to re-write an Abba song in its honour. And, let's be honest, I would probably never have considered a steam generator iron purely on basis of cost. Having used one for 3 months ( when I can fight the husband off it ) I really think I'd have trouble going back. It really makes ironing so much easier. And while I'm never going to skip joyfully to the pile of ironing the fact that it will be over so much more quickly due to the power of the steam is a big incentive.

    So here's what I like about my Tefal steam generator iron:

    It has a big tank for water so you don't have to keep refilling

    There's a good number of safety features including an automatic shut off - ideal if you get distracted and wander of - as I frequently do.

    You get real steam - no mucking about with little puffs or splutters - this is full on crease-killing steam.

    As a result, it laughs in the face of the Husband's 100% cotton double cuff shirts, yet with a couple of bursts from the steam jet - where (get this) the iron doesn't even have to touch the fabric -  it can make the creases drop out of some of my more delicate tops .

    Short of actually doing the ironing for me, there's not much more I could imagine you'd need in an iron.

    This is all very well, but that doesn't necessarily turn me into someone for whom the ironing matters, only that I am someone who can see the benefits certain innovations can bring to an iron, and by definition, the whole tedious task of ironing.

    So, here's the thing. In July, along with the Tefal Optigrill and the ingenio pans, we were also shown a new range of  'intelligent' steam generator irons. A slightly scary, apocalyptic kind of concept of irons that can think for themselves. There's the easy use iron - one setting, no buttons or dials to fiddle with, irons everything, an 'in between' kind of iron, and a full on bells and whistles type of iron, with every setting and possible combination of settings under the sun. 

    For the purposes of this post, I was sent one of the intelligent 'easy use' steam generator irons. "How can it possibly be so different?" I thought.

    On the left 'my' iron; on the right, the easy use intelligent iron

    Well, it can be different. The 'intelligent' iron irons perfectly satisfactorily, but just not quite as brilliantly as the one I already have. The Tefal demonstrators explained that this was the case with the easy use iron. It's really for someone who knows they need to iron a shirt occasionally, but really doesn't care that much about the extent of the ironing. It's for people who don't sort their laundry, only ever use one setting on the washing machine, and only iron when the need arises. The level of ironing is traded off against the ease of use. In that respect, Tefal have got it bang on. It is incredibly easy to use. Simply turn it on and go. No need to stress about what setting to have it on - no risk of ruining your other half's silk shirt.  There is no temperature control - it just miraculously doesn't shrivel your delicate stuff, while at the same time pretty much gets the creases out of cotton, and has the same automatic shut off features that I like about 'my' iron. If ironing really didn't matter to me, I would be singing the praises of the easy use steam generator iron. 

    But it turns out that I like my ironing to be of a slightly higher level. You see - ironing apparently does matter to me. The easy use iron was OK, but for me the finish wasn't quite as good as the one I've been using for the last 3 months. The shirts weren't quite as crisp, the pillow cases just not quite as flat. But then, if I'm honest, I have been known to use different settings on the washing maching, and to take washing off the line in order (iron then non-iron - but only for the purposes of putting stuff in the airing cupboard you understand).

    The ironing pile - on a good day

    So would I swap? Well, you guessed it - no way. I still don't LIKE ironing, but it turns out that when I do, it matters.

    You can by the Tefal Steam Generator Irons from John Lewis and Argos. The Easy Control model retails at £199, and my favourite, the Pro Express, retails at £279.99.

    Tuesday, 20 August 2013

    Grab & Run - oh yes - it's Chicken Paprika for Random Recipes

    Ok - you have 10 seconds to save 1 - just 1 cook book. You're leaving (for somewhere - a new pad in London, in Dom - of Belleau Kitchen -'s case) and you have time to dash in, grab and run. Which one do you choose?

    Now, from previous participation in Random Recipes, it seems that my collection of cookery books is fairly pitiful compared to some, but even so, it was an almost impossible challenge.

    I tried several times. Well, mentally, at least. I dashed in, stopped, and missed the train/bus/boat. I even pretended the house was burning down - but I stood there and burned alive a couple of times, paralysed with indecision.

    The trouble is, I may not have THAT many books (well, relatively speaking - the Husband would disagree) but I love them all for different reasons. Hugh, Nigella, Jamie. Thomasina, Claudia, Yottam, Rose, Harry, Ruth & Rose, Alain, Sophie, Rick, Delia. They are my friends. Well, perhaps not Delia, but I tolerate her, for I see her worth, but how to choose?

    In the end I had to go back to first principles, and rescued my battered copy of Leith's Cookery Bible by Prue Leith and Caroline Waldegrave. First published in 1991, my mum must have given it to me when I first moved south to London.

    It has come with me everywhere, has lost its back cover, and in fact during the making of this Random Recipe, it actually split in half :-( .
    It is an intensely practical book - with hardly any glossy photos, no suggestion of silky dressing gowns, a Vespa or a football club. What it does have, though, is page after page of classic recipes. It has pages of things to do with chicken, pork, beef. First courses, sauces, puddings. It's where I go if I want to remind myself how many eggs to how much milk a sensible person would put in a quiche; cooking times for meat, fruit to sugar for a summer pudding. 

    I don't tend to get inspiration from this book, but when I have an idea, or a longing for something that I know I've had before, but can't quite remember, this is usually the first place I'll look for an idea of how I might go about it.However, it's not a book that I pore over, drooling, and I don't think it has ever made it to my bedside for night time reading.

    I decided to choose the recipe where the book fell open, which gave me 2 options Jambonneaux de poulet or Chicken Paprika.Chicken paprika won on the grounds that I really didn't want to bone out chicken thighs, and we needed something for Sunday dinner.

    Basically a pot roast chicken in a tomato and paprika sauce, the chicken was lovely and moist, and I thought the sauce was lovely, if a slightly alarming shade of orange.

    "...a slightly alarming shade of orange..."

    For reasons far to complicated to go into here, I didn't take any pictures of the finished dish, only of the left over sauce - of which there was a lot, but then, we only ate about half the chicken. 

    Guess what we're having for supper this evening? Chicken Paprika Pasta.

    Chicken Paprika

    Serves 4 with plenty leftover depending on age and appetite of the '4'

    10g butter plus a tablespoon
    10g flour
    pinch mustard powder 
    145ml milk
    salt & pepper

    1 tablespoon of oil
    1 chicken (mine was 1.9 kg)
    1 onion, finely sliced
    2 tbsp smoked paprika
    200g can chopped tomatoes
    100ml white wine
    500ml chicken stock
    1 bay leaf
    2 slices lemon
    handful of parsley stalks

    First make a white sauce: melt 10g butter, then stir in the 10g flour & mustard powder and cook out for a minute.

    Off the heat, carefully stir in all the milk a little at a time, then return to the heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, season with salt and pepper, then set aside. You can put a piece of greaseproof paper onto the surface to stop a skin forming if you like.

    Pre-heat your oven to 200C.

    In a frying pan, heat the oil and remaining butter, and brown the chicken all over, then put into a casserole which has a good fitting lid.

    Add the onion to the frying pan and cook till it's beginning to brown, then reduce the heat and add in the paprika. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, wine and stock, followed by the bay leaf, lemon slices and parsley. Season.

    Bring the sauce to the boil then carefully pour over the chicken. Put the lid on the casserole and put the whole lot in the oven for about an hour, or when the chicken is cooked. Mine did take just over an hour.

    Remove the chicken and set it aside. Take out the lemon slices and bay out, and remove as much of the fat from the surface of the sauce as you can. Liquidise the tomato paprika sauce, then beat in the white sauce you made earlier until the sauce is smooth.

    Serve with the chicken. We had it with new potatoes and a medley of beans from the garden but it would be good with rice too, I think.

    Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Guilty Pleasure - Montezuma's Sea Dog

    Sshh! Can you hear the silence?

    The Husband has taken the kids into town leaving me to catch up on some work, but I'm just going to take 5 minutes with a cup of tea and enjoy the peace.

    Just to make it all a little bit more pleasurable, I'm going to have a little bit of chocolate, if that's alright with you?

    When I was au pairing in France, the mother of my charges always insisted that the kids had a 'siesta' after lunch. They didn't necessarily have to sleep but they had to have some quiet time reading in thier bedrooms. Peace would descend, coffee would be brewed and the chocolate would come out. Just a taste - a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate, or, if a box was open, a truffle of some description. Heaven.

    Montezuma chocolate represents just this kind of 'moment of peace and indulgence' chocolate to me. I am a chocolate lover. Chocolate makes me happy. I love peeling off the foil - with a 'Charlie Bucket' type anticipation (although I know there;s never going to be a golden ticket in there), the smell, and finally the taste.

    I've always loved chocolate but I have reasonably highbrow tastes these days, and I can be quite picky about what I choose for my moments of chocolate pleasure. Montezuma is made with great quality chocolate, and exciting flavours - if you want them. Dark chocolate comes variously with piced peanuts, chilli & lime, orange and geranium, dragon ginger - or as it is, with different cocoa content depending on what you want.

    Not only is the chocolate incredibly lustworthy, the company has impeccable credentials, which makes me even happier. May be I like them because like me Helen & Simon Pattinson who founded the company in 2000 are lawyers who 'saw the light' (as I like to think of it!), but they also have a strong code of ethics covering everything from how they work with suppliers, how much packaging they use, how they dispose of rubbish to how ingredients are farmed. Pretty good if you ask me: they seem to really live what they say. They also continue to make the chocolate as a small family business in West Sussex.

    I've been eyeing up the Sea Dog for a few days now: lime and sea salt. Not overpowering, more a hint of the flavours, that linger on your tongue after the chocolate has gone. 

    A Charlie Bucket moment

    Delicious. Chocolate ecstasy.

    May be I'll just have another cup of tea. And a couple more pieces...

     I wasn't paid or sent chocolate to write this - I just thought you might like to know about it. I'm nice like that.

    Saturday, 17 August 2013

    Easy apple & almond cake - or what to do with a rogue can of apple compote

    The scoutwives hate to waste food.

    At the end of every camp we go through the left overs that have come back and divvy it up - what can be saved for the following year (or for other scout activities through the year) and perishable stuff that needs to get used up.

    This year, when we got back from camp, we decided
     we had to do something with some tins
    of apple compote that had come back from the Netherlands with us in 2011 from a jamboree we took the scouts to. The tins are very much still in date (good till 2016 no less), but somehow we've never got round to feeding the contents to the scouts. Having taken the tins on 2 camps since Holland, on our return from Derbyshire, we decided enough was enough, and each of us took possession of a tin.

    Nigella has a recipe in Feast for a damp apple & almond cake, one of her fantastically easy, whizz it all up cakes, which has no butter, and no flour in it, so possibly a good one for those with gluten issues. The amount of ground almonds, eggs and sugar probably negates any benefit the lack of butter might otherwise have had for any one, so don't try and kid yourself otherwise.

    It does have fruit in, though, so not all bad -  the puree of 3 tart eating apples. Bingo. I consulted Google and Lo! there is a website which gives an equivalent apples to puree quantity. But of course there is. 

    It was American, so in cups, but I have cup measures, and all was well.

    Of course, it didn't use up the whole tin of apple compote, but made a good inroad into it, and I gave the rest of it to the kids. They loved it.

    The cake came with us as our contribution to a dinner party last night. I sifted some icing sugar over it and served it with some double cream which I whipped up with a couple of teaspoons of cointreau in it.

    Apple & Almond Cake

    11/3 (one and a third) cups apple puree/compote
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    375g ground almonds
    250g caster sugar
    8 large eggs
    50g flaked almonds

    Grease a 23cm springform cake tin with vegetable oil and line the base.

    Whizz up all the ingredients apart from the flaked almonds, in a food processor.

    Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake. Nigella says 45 mins but check after 35. Mine needed about 50 mins.

    Thursday, 15 August 2013

    Blue reviews "The Burger" (Ka-pow)

    When I was at Britmums a few weeks ago, one of the bits and pieces I picked up was The Burger, published by Love Food, an imprint of Parragon books. It's set out comic book style, billed as "An Action Packed Tasty Adventure" and I picked it up with the intention of cooking with Blue. Blue loves burgers, and while I (luckily) have no problem at all getting him to read, I thought the book's style would particularly appeal to a 9 year old boy.

    So here we are, on a rainy afternoon in the school holidays, Pink off giggling with 2 friends at a sleepover, and Blue and I cooked burgers. Actually, Blue did most of the preparing and making the burgers, and the only thing I really did was putting them on a hot griddle and actually cooking them (I had visions of griddled boy which prevented me from giving him free reign with the cooker). And mighty fine burgers they were too - but let me say no more, and hand over to Blue, who was the chef today.

    "I like the whole set out of the book and it's very encouraging for children to read 'cos it's like a comic book.

    I chose to make the blue cheese stuffed burgers because they sounded appealing to me because I like blue cheese - A LOT.

    They were easy to make although it was a bit tricky to squidge the meat up over the cheese,

    They were blimmin' brilliant and the best burgers I've ever had."

    So there you have it - praise indeed from the child who talks longingly of the one time we ate at Burger King. The burgers were easy to make and tasted delicious.

    I was a bit doubtful at the idea of simply stuffing seasoned mince with some blue cheese, but my lovely butcher's mince did Blue proud, and they tasted really good The only disappointing element was the buns, which Blue chose in an unsupervised trip to the local Co-Op. The book has its own burger bun recipe, and while it would have been a step too far today, we will definitely try making our own next time.

    Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers

    Makes 4 

    550g minced beef - the best quality you can justify 
    freshly ground salt & pepper
    70g blue cheese, cut into 4 chunks
    4 burger buns
    lettuce leaves
    tomato slices
    red onion slices 

    Get your toppings ready first - so if you haven't already done so, slice your tomatoes and red onion up (slice the onions as thinly as possible). 

    Put the mince in a bowl with some freshly ground salt and pepper, and gently mix it all together.

    Divide the mixture into 4, roll into balls, then use your finger to make a hole in each ball, and stuff the cheese inside. Squidge the mince back over the top of the cheese to seal in, then flatten the meat into burger patties.

    Heat a ridged griddle pan over a medium to high heat, wipe over with a little oil, and cook the burgers for 4-5 minutes on each side until brown and cooked through.  

    Put the burgers into the buns, add the lettuce, tomato and onions, and perhaps some mayo or ketchup, and eat immediately. 

    Wednesday, 14 August 2013

    TEFAL ingenio - and sort of Tartiflette for tea

    Tefal have recently launched a new set of pans to the UK market and as a member of the Tefal Innovation Panel I have received a 4 piece set to review.

    The key feature of the pans for me is the fact that they don't come with fixed handles, but with a handle attachment which can be used for all the pans. 

    This handle device snaps on and off very easily, making the pans easier to stack and then store - no handles to get in the way. If storage space is a premium, this would be very useful. The other advantage is that if you're using the pans from hob to oven, you can get a bigger pan into the oven as you don't have to accomodate the handle. You simply use the handle to get the pan to the oven then snap it off.

    Snap it on

    Easy to snap off

    To further improve the storability of the pans, the accompanying lids have rather nifty fold down handles, and the set also comes with very handy 'fridge lids' which fit the pans and allow you to store food in the pans in the fridge without fiddling round with clingfilm etc. Unfortunately, we weren't provided with lids or the fridge lids to trial, which is a shame, as this was one of the things I was really excited about when the pans were demonstrated, but c'est la vie, as they say.


    The pans can be used in the oven as well as on the hob, and are induction friendly too. I finally got over my distrust of putting these non-stick pans in the dishwasher too, and they came out very well. 

    rubbish pic, but see - there's a handle...
    ...and now there's no handle!

    I used the medium sized frying pan to make a sort of tartiflette for dinner. Actually, any self-respecting Frenchman would probably turn in his grave at the suggestion that this is anything like tartiflette, due to a lack of reblochon cheese, but I made it in French pans (Tefal is a French brand), and I stayed true to the layering of sliced potatoes with an onion/bacon mix, although added in some chicken breast for good measure (and because it was left over).

    The ingenio pan was great for the initial frying of the onions, garlic, bacon and chicken, and the pan performed well as transferred to the oven with the final dish. I also used the small pan to make up the sauce. Not only did the non-stick coating mean I didn't need to add any additional oil to the meal, but it cleaned very easily.

    Hmm food on the inside...
    As pans go, they are great. Not too heavy, and the handle attachment, which is supposed to be able to bear 10kg in weight, felt secure as I transferred it from pan to pan. 

    If I was being picky, the one thing I would say about the handle attachment is that if you are a messy cook, like I am, and you clip the handle on to part of the pan which has food on the side, it means you get food on the inside of the handle which is a little tricky to wash off. The other thing is that I'd be worried about losing the handle attachment, although you can keep it stacked inside the pans when not in use because everything fits together.


    The Husband thought it was a bit gimmicky - people have been accomodating pans with handles for years - but I think that in these days of smaller houses and certainly smaller kitchen spaces, these pans could be a real bonus.

    Sort of Tartiflette

    serves 4 at least

    750g waxy/ new potatoes, sliced quite thinly
    1 onion, quite finely chopped
    1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
    2 slices of smoked bacon (I used back because it was what I had in the fridge; streaky would be god, or pancetta/lardons if you had them) chopped small
    2 chicken breasts, sliced
    500ml semi-skimmed milk
    3 tbs cornflour
    150-175g low fat soft cheese with garlic & herbs (I used Philadelphia)
    salt & pepper

    Boil the potato slices till they are al dente, then drain well and set aside.

    In a frying pan that you can transfer to the oven, fry the bacon on a gently heat, then when the fat is realeased, add the onion and garlic and continue to cook till softened. Add the chicken, and cook for 5 minutes or so till pretty much cooked through. 

    Set the cooked onions, bacon and chicken aside in a bowl and wipe out the frying pan.

    Mix together the cornflour with 3 tbsp of the milk, then pour the rest of the milk into a small pan and heat gently till just before boiling. add a couple of spoons of the hot milk to the slaked cornflkour mixture, then pour it all back into the pan and stir over a gentle heat till the sauce thickens. Stir in the cream cheese, add salt and pepper as necessary then set aside.

    Put a layer of potato over the base of the frying pan, then scatter over the onion, bacon & chicken mixture, then spoon over about 1/2-2/3 of the sauce. Add another layer of potato over the top, then spoon the remaining sauce over the potatoes, grind over some salt & pepper, then pop in a pre-heated oven at around 200C for 20-30 minutes till bubbling and golden on top.

    It's quite rich, even without the Reblochon, so serve with a rocket & watercress salad.

    Sweet peas optional!

    Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    Philippa Fairycake and the Secret Pet's Tea Party by Sarahjane Funnell

    Dogs and tea parties - sound like the ideal combination to me, but as the book was more for Pink's age group, I handed it over and asked her what she thought.

    And I can do no better than hand over to Pink:
    Phillippa and her friends had a tea party. Suddenly Little Miss Whiskers started running and they chased after her. As they turned around there was a dog show. There was everything a dog could wish for. After a wander around, they got ready for the show.Little Miss Whiskers was best in show even though she was a cat! Secretly the owners tried to trap them but they quickly got away.

    Brilliant book.  I liked the story and the pictures
    ********** 10/10

    Inspired by the Scouts & a little deception - yes really - Courgette Pesto Pasta Bake

    Well we're back on the courgettes I'm afraid, after a brief respite over the weekend. Courgettes and weetabix, would you believe.

    I'm in school holiday fug, now that scout camp is over and the kids are back home having spent a week at my mum's - trying to juggle work and make sure the kids have a good time as well as getting their dreaded 'holiday scrapbooks' slowly filled up so that they have something to take back with them in September. While I'd like to stand back and just let them get on with it (or not), I know that Blue in particular would leave it all till the last minute and then want to do it all at once, find the task impossible and collapse, sobbing, about how he can't possibly go back to school because he hasn't done his scrapbook. All nonsense of course, but I can't get away from the need to gently (and frequently) remind him that little and often is probably the way to go. Beyond that, of course it's up to them. I am (mostly) way passed the point of it being 'my' holiday homework. 

    But back to the courgettes.

    I had 3 sneak up on my over the weekend, so took inspiration from a recent Good Food recipe which I saw in the mag, but looking online now, it has 2 fairly damning comments after it. Good job I'd already fiddled with the ingredients and added parmesan into the mix. Garlic would probably be good too, possibly some chilli.It's very, very easy and the kids ate it, which for now, makes it a winner.

    The smoke and mirrors involved was rather impressive. "What are we having for supper?" "Pesto Pasta Bake" "??" "Mmm well you like pesto, it's got basil and pine nuts and parmesan in it " (I can rather smugly report that Pink gets very excited about high end ingredients like this). "Ooo goody". Come the actual meal - "Has this got ... COURGETTE in it?" (adopts outraged tone at possible deception) "Ah but it's grated - you like grated courgette." "Oh yes." Eats food. 

    The mind boggles.

    I didn't have any bread in the house and no breadcrumbs in the freezer so I had to improvise for the crunchy topping. Eventually I was inspired by the scouts. Yes really. One of the activities we run on camp is a 'patrol' Ready Steady Cook night where we give each patrol (that's about 6 scouts) them some basic ingredients, and then a small sum of money (and a trip to the supermarket) to supplement and cook an original recipe which will feed them all. We judge on things like it actually all being cooked and tasting reasonable - nothing higher than that, but we get some really great results. This year, the standard was particularly high (stop sniggering will you) and the overall winner really surprised us by stepping away from the usual stir fry/chilli type meals and making turkey nuggets and chips with a tomato dipping sauce. They were brilliant. The killer ingredient was crushed up cornflakes mixed with some fajita mix to coat the pieces of turkey. Inspired.

    I didn't have cornflakes or fajita mix, but I did have some 'whole wheat biscuits' in the cupboard. Great for breakfast and when you're out of superglue, it turns out crushed up, they also make a passable crunchy topping for a pasta bake.

    Courgette Pasta Bake

    serves 4 hungry people - you coould probably get away with 300g of pasta

    400g pasta
    250g courgettes, grated
    150-200ml half fat creme fraiche
    150g pesto
    2 'whole wheat biscuits'
    25g parmesan or other hard cheese
    olive oil

    Pre-heat the oven to 180

    Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water till al dente, reserve a ladleful or so of the cooking water and drain.

    While the pasta is cooking, grate the courgette, and mix it with the pesto and creme fraiche and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir it all into the pasta with the cooking water, and add a little more creme fraich if you think  it needs it.

    Tip into a baking dish, crush the while wheat biscuits over the top, finely grate the cheese over that (or you could crush the cereal into a bowl, stir the grated cheese through and then sprinkle that over the top - hindsight is a wonderful thing)

    Drizzle with some olive oil and bake for 20-30 minutes till crunchy on top.

    Friday, 9 August 2013

    Courgettes - a Retrospective

    I was going to call this post "Courgettes - I've had a few" then realised that I'd already used that post title last year.
    That's the thing about blogging, isn't it? Trying to make things new and different, when the inevitability of having a veg patch means that if it's August, there will be courgettes - and pretty much nothing else. I've been burbling away here for over 2 years now, which means that this is the third year I've moaned about the courgette situation.

    This week has been a quiet chez RJ. The kids have been at my mum's, and the Husband and I have been working away and doing exciting things like cleaning the carpets. 

    We've also been eating lots of courgettes.

    A griddled courgette salad on Sunday to take to a post-camp BBQ - based on this recipe from Veg Everyday, the courgettes are griddled and spiked with a dressing of chilli and lemon juice. There's some mint in there, and spot the crafty (skinned) broad beans that I snuck in. Very tasty indeed. Not like eating courgette at all really.

    On Monday, thanks to some frozen crab meat I found lurking in the freezer, we had courgette, crab and chilli pasta. No picture, I'm afraid, other than of grated courgettes in the pan, which I am sure you can do without, but the idea came from this blog among other.

    On Tuesday, we had a Spanish style omelette with potatoes & shallots from the garden as well as courgette.

    On Wedesday, we had courgette (well, marrow, really) and chorizo tart - you know the score: smear some puff pastry with pesto, layer on some thinly sliced courgette and some pieces of chorizo and bake. Or over bake, as I managed to. Still. It was quite tasty.

    And Thursday. What courgette-y delight to Thursday bring? Well, my friends, mindful of the fact that the Husband's eyes had well and truly rolled heavenwards when the courgette tart appeared on Wednesday (I mean, he grows them - what does he expect??), I cast caution to the wind, and visited Kev the butcher for some steak.

    We ate it rare, with chips, garlic and parsely mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. And no courgette whatsoever. Bloody lovely it was too.

    And what did I do with the rest of the courgette? Chutney. That's what.

    Thursday, 8 August 2013

    Dining with a Difference for Fairtrade

    In the dim and distant past, somewhere before I was cooking for scouts and being eaten alive by midges in darkest Derbyshire, I had some girlfriends round for dinner.

    Normally, 'entertaining' chez Recipe Junkie involves easy crowd pleasers, many children milling around and slightly too much wine on a weekend lunchtime, or an evening dinner party, adults only, still too much wine. If I'm getting together with girlfriends, we usually take any opportunity to escape the shackles of domesticity and go to the pub.

    When the lovely Fairtrade press office contacted me and suggested that I 'Dine with a Difference' and hold a dinner party in aid of the Fairtrade Foundation, well, it seemed like a great opportunity to do just that.

    The idea is to host a dinner party and cook with as much Fairtrade produce as possible. 

    I was sent some coffee produced by a women's co-operative. This is massively significant. In the coffee growing regions of Kenya, men own both the land and crops. This carries with it status and decision-making powers, and means the earnings from the whole family’s work goes to the man.

    That is, until now. In one area, Fairtrade convinced men to give their wives legal ownership of some of the family's coffee bushes, to cultivate and sell the coffee beans in their own name.

    The result? The women's bushes are yielding more coffee beans, there's more money in the household purse for school fees and to put food on the table, and there's more say for women in the household.

    In the spirit of these women, I decided immediately that my dinner would be a girls only affair - and in the interests of keeping the garden under control, I designed a menu that would encompass Fairtrade produce and also the abundant veg that the garden was producing. It also had to be easy and relatively quick to prepare.

    Fortunately the weather held, so we could dine al fresco .

    Just because it was summer, we started off with a lovely apple, elderflower and gin cocktail that I'd spotted in a Good Food mag. Not much Fairtrade I'm afraid, but very delicious, all the same.

    To start, we had a Middle Eastern red pepper dip known as Muhammara created by Kate Hayter of Moro. Very delicious, with lots of Fairtrade nuts, sugar and olive oil. I served it with pitta bread crisps, which are basically pittta breads sliced up, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and baked till crisp. 

    For a main course, we had a tomato & goats cheese tart (a sheet of puff pastry smeared with sundried tomato paste, sliced tomatoes and topped off with some lovely goat's cheese, baked for 20 minutes or so. I also did a couple of salads from Veg Everyday which gave me the opportunity to incorporate lots of Fairtrade goodies: a tahini dressed courgette and green bean salad,

    and a rocket, fennel and puy lentil salad. 

    While most of the veg did come from the garden, I found Fairtrade green beans in a supermarket and Fairtrade tahini in the Ethical Superstore.

    For pud, well, I made a cake that I'd seen on twitter (who'd have thought it) - created by the rather enigmatic Gentleman Baker, this Hazelnut Cappucino cake was the perfect medium for both the coffee, and the oodles of Fairtrade baking ingredients in my cupboard - vanilla, sugar, chocolate... It was lovely with a dollop of creme fraiche, although controversially, if I made it again, I might (gasp) leave out the chocolate chunks. Or may be not.

    Needless to say, after the gin cocktails, we hit the Fairtrade wine...

    A great evening, and £40 raised for the Fairtrade Foundation. Marvellous.

    If you'd like to hold your own Dine with a Difference dinner, you can find loads to help you on the Fairtrade website including great recipes. Cook up a storm, then ask your friends to donate to the Fairtrade Foundation to help people like these women in Kenya who produced the delicious coffee I was sent to earn a far price for their produce and improve their communities, and standard of living accordingly.

    Just in case you missed it, I was sent a pack of Fairtrade Coffee by the Fairtrade Foundation in preparation for my Dine with a Difference Diner party, but have received no other payment in respect of this post. Just saying.

    Monday, 5 August 2013

    Recipe Junkie in tinned potato shocker!!!

    If someone had told me beforehand all the things that I'd do as I moved from my 20s into my 30s and on into my 40s (where I now find myself - but only just) you know, well some of them, I'd have had no problem anticipating. Some I'd have raised an eyebrow and got on with it, and some, well, the mind boggles.

    A husband, two kids, a dog and some chickens? No problem. Being part of a team of adults taking 32 scouts (plus assorted small children) to Derbyshire for a week of abseiling, climbing, watersports, eggy bread, corned beef hash - hmm. Probably would have merited an eye brow raise. 

    Using tinned potatoes? TINNED POTATOES??? Reader, the mind would have boggled hard. However, combine scout camp, and the challenge of producing a curry feast, and tinned potatoes it was. You'll be pleased to know, though, that we did make the sauce from scratch, and we had fresh coriander...

    I always like to be of service, so in case you too ever find yourself in a field, tasked with producing a curry feast for 44, may I suggest the following menu which accomodates vegetarians, nut allergy suffers, a non-pork eater and, it turns out, most of the fussy eaters we took with us...

    How is anyone expected to cook on these conditions???

    Chicken Curry, Cauliflower and Pea Curry, Bombay Potatoes and Dahl

    Serves 44 pretty much bang on. Amounts in brackets are for 4 if you're not mass catering - just don't even think about using tinned potatoes...


    vegetable oil
    18 (3) onions
    16 (2) cloves of garlic (or as many as you can be bothered to peel & crush)
    2 jars (2 grated tbsp) lazy ginger
    1.5kg (250g) red lentils
    3.6kg (drained weight) tinned potatoes (500g potatoes, peeled and cubed - you're not going to get away with tinned if you're only feeding 4)
    4.2 kg (400g) chopped tomatoes
    3 (1 small) cauliflowers
    2 refill sachets (2 tsp) turmeric
    1 refill sachet (1 tsp) each of paprika, cumin, garam masala and mild chilli powder
    fine sea salt
    42 (8) chicken thigh fillets

    1 kg (200g) frozen peas
    7 (1) tsp cumin seeds
    fresh coriander 

    To serve: Rice if you have enough pans left - about 1.5 kg, 50 poppadums, 3 jars of mango chutney,1 jar of lime pickle (for leaders only), Tabasco (it is scout camp, and the chilli powder is only mild)

    You will also have to manage this on a 3 burner petrol camping stove and a large gas fired paella pan, unless your Husband and scout leader manages to get the 2 burner petrol stove you also have available working again. I'll leave you to weigh up the benefits of the extra stove as a against the silent cursing that will accompany the attempts to fix the stove...


    Chop 16 of the onions as finely as you can, bearing in mind you have no liquidizer handy. Crush the garlic - ditto

    Heat the paella pan up and add enough oil to generously coat the pan, then tip in the onions and garlic and the lazy ginger, and start to cook as gently as the heat settings will allow.

    Put the red lentils into as large a pan as you can find, and add 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil. This may take ages. Try not to panic.

    Open the tins of potatoes and tomatoes. Try not to cut yourself on the visciously sharp edge the rubbish tin opener will have left. If you don't cut yourself, make sure you don't strain your thumbs on said rubbish tin opener. Get someone to halve or may be quarter the potatoes, then put them into a pan big enough to take them.

    Stir the onions every now and again, and trim the cauliflowers and break into florets. Cover the florets with water in a smaller pan, bring to the boil and cook till tender. This could also take ages. 

    Don't panic.

    At this point, the onions may have softened enough to stir in 1 sachet of the turmeric, plus the sachets of paprika, cumin, garam masala and mild chilli powder, plus 6-7 tsps of salt. Stir and cook for a minute - OK a couple of minutes while you relocate the opened tins of tomatoes, and frantically try and repressurise the petrol stove that should be cooking your lentils and the cauliflower.

    Add the tomatoes to the onions, then fill the empty tins with water and add to the pan aswell, then simmer gently for as long as you can get away with, stirring occasionally.

    Check the lentils - if they are now boiling, skim off any scum that has accumulated, add the other sachet of turmeric and about 5 tsp salt, and continue to cook for 20 minutes or so, giving it a vigorous stir every now and again. This breaks down the lentils and allows you to vent any mounting irritation you might feel if any scouts appear asking when dinner is going to be.Once it's looking thick, put a lid on and remove from the heat.

    Panic that the cauliflower still isn't cooking, then realise it is nearly on the way to being mush. Drain and return to the pan. Pour in the frozen peas and set aside.

    Get someone to slice up the chicken into halves or quarters depending on what you think is a reasonable size. Do a quick (ha!) wash up because you have now run out of knives, chopping boards and pans (did I tell you not to panic ???)

    Stir enough of the sauce through the potatoes to coat them and set aside with a lid on.

    Stir about 1/3 of what's left into the cauliflower & peas before you add the chicken to the pan - remember you are catering for vegetarians... Put the lid on and set aside.

    Bring what's left of the sauce up to a simmer and add the chicken. Yes, I know it would be nice to brown it off first, but you will have run out of pans, if not burners.

    Remember the finish for the dahl - find a pan - any pan - and heat some oil in it. Beg the senior scout wife to finely slice the remaining 2 onions. Add the cumin seed to the hot oil first, and then chuck in the onions once they are sliced, and cook till they look tasty - just don't worry about it - the scouts are starting to queue... Stir the onion and cumin seed through the dahl.

    Now, as the chicken is cooking, rotate your pans of Bombay potatoes, cauliflower and pea curry and dahl over the remaining burners so they are good and hot. The frozen peas should have cooked when the hot sauce was added, but do make sure.


    Double check that the chicken is cooked, then you're ready to go. Chuck the coriander about as you see fit.

    Acquire a ladle and serve.

    No scouts were harmed in the production of this curry