Awards and anniversaries

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When I hit the ‘publish’ button on my first blog post exactly three years ago today I had absolutely no idea what I was doing nor what a brilliant adventure I was embarking on.

I did virtually no research into the world of food blogging before I got going, and in a way I’m rather thankful I didn’t, as I probably wouldn’t have plucked up the courage to do it if I had. There are so many amazing food blogs out there, I’m constantly amazed that anyone ever bothers to read mine. Whenever someone likes a post, leaves a comment or better still makes a recipe and comes back with feedback, I am absolutely thrilled and surprised.

It’s been a brilliant three years working on Bangers & Mash. It’s developed organically and I’ve learned so much along the way. I work pretty much full-time and have a family who take up much of the rest of my time, so the blog is definitely a hobby I must squeeze in, rather than a business enterprise.

From my funny little hand-drawn illustrations and dodgy photos with bad lighting, I’ve improved massively as a photographer over the years and finally this year invested in a digital SLR camera. Some of my photos are now getting accepted by the likes of Foodgawker, which I still can’t quite believe. My food and abilities as a home cook are improving all the time as a direct result of the blog, and I’ve made some really good friends along the way. Food bloggers are an incredibly supportive and friendly community, which is something I really wouldn’t have anticipated before I started down this road.

And so, lovely reader, as I celebrate three years as a food blogger, I’m asking for your support.

I’m very chuffed to have had Bangers & Mash shortlisted for two (yay, two!) awards and it would absolutely make my day (nay, year!) to make it through to the finals. And I need the public to vote for me – could you possibly throw a vote my way?

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The first are the UK Blog Awards – the national industry awards for bloggers, in which Bangers & Mash has been nominated in the Food & Drink category. Voting closes on Wednesday 3 December 2014.

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And the second awards are the Food Magazine Reader Awards – which celebrate the best foodies in the South West. So if you know this part of the world, you can also vote for your favourite local restaurant, chef, deli etc while you’re at it. Voting closes on Wednesday 14 January 2015.

With both awards, voting gets blogs through to the finals but the overall winners are selected by a panel of judges. If you can help me get in front of the judges that would be amazing.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement over the last three years, and thanks also to everyone who has voted for me so far. Here’s to many more years of food writing and cooking!

Black pepper chicken

Black pepper chicken

I’d love to tell you some story about how I first came across this black pepper chicken curry when I was backpacking around India, or how I discovered it in some wonderful Keralan restaurant. But in fact this was the first time I’ve tried this recipe and it was the result of looking up inspiration for pepper recipes online.

When I started researching something to cook for this month’s Spice Trail challenge, which has peppercorns as its theme, Kerala-style dishes came up again and again. I suppose this isn’t surprising really, since black pepper is thought to originate from the rainforests of Kerala in southern India and it’s still one of the main producers of the spice.

Fish curry appears to be a popular Keralan dish, but sadly my husband can’t eat fish so I couldn’t give that one a try. Instead I decided to give this black pepper chicken curry a go. There are hundreds of different recipes for this dish on the internet, so I kind of amalgamated a few together, simplifying it down to what seem to be the core essential ingredients.

While I honestly can’t tell you how this compares to an authentic Keralan pepper chicken, it definitely works for me. Surprisingly, it went down well with the rest of the family too. Surprisingly because it packs quite a punch heat-wise. There’s no chilli in this curry, but all that pepper means there’s some gutsy fire in its belly – although not enough to blow your head off. Just enough to be darn tasty and really rather moreish too.

Black pepper chicken

Black pepper chicken

Serves 4

8 free-range chicken pieces (thighs or drumsticks, or both, with skin on)
2 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 tomatoes, quartered
thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
200ml water
salt
handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Cut slashes into the skin of the chicken, place in a bowl and rub in the black pepper and turmeric using your fingers.

Put the onion, tomatoes, ginger and garlic into a food processor and whizz up until you achieve a smooth(ish) puree.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the spices. Fry for a minute before adding the onion puree. Cook gently for about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any black pepper and turmeric left in the bowl. Cook the chicken for 5 minutes, giving it a good stir now and again.

Then add the water, mix well and bring to a gentle simmer.

Put a lid on the pan and transfer to the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 10 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken a little.

Serve with boiled rice or chapatis and garnish with chopped coriander.

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This black pepper chicken is my entry into November’s Spice Trail challenge.

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Brussels sprout and red cabbage slaw

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People are often taken aback when I tell them my children enjoy Brussels sprouts. A few months ago I was invited on BBC Radio Bristol as a parenting expert (me, a parenting expert!) to talk about fussy eaters, and when I mentioned both my girls like sprouts the presenter was flabbergasted.

Perhaps it’s because we eat them all year round and not just at Christmas. Or maybe it’s because I don’t overcook them until they turn to soggy green mush. Of course, there are plenty of other foods they’ll turn their noses up at, but their love of sprouts does make me a teeny bit proud.

If your kids don’t like cooked sprouts, they might possibly prefer them raw, as in this simple slaw. Here’s they’re chopped up fairly finely, along with red cabbage, dried cranberries and a few nuts and seeds. It’s a great way to use up all those extra sprouts you always seem to end up with in the fridge at Christmas time.

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Brussels sprouts and red cabbage slaw

250g Brussels sprouts
¼ red cabbage
40g dried cranberries
handful of mixed seeds and nuts (such as pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper

Trim and finely slice the Brussels sprouts and red cabbage and throw into a large bowl, together with the cranberries and mixed nuts and seeds.

Make up the simple dressing by mixing together the yoghurt, mayonnaise and pomegranate molasses, and season to taste.

Pour the dressing over the sprouts and red cabbage and toss together well.

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This month the Family Foodies challenge, hosted by Louisa over at Eat Your Veg, has gone veggie, and so I’m linking up my Brussels Sprout and Red Cabbage Slaw. I’d love to know if you try this out on your children and what they make of it!

I’m also entering my slaw into Shaheen’s Eat Your Greens challenge at Allotment 2 Kitchen; the Extra Veg challenge hosted by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy; the No Croutons Required challenge hosted by Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa’s Kitchen; the No Waste Food challenge hosted by SliceOffMe and Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary; and finally the Simple and in Season challenge hosted by Ren Behan and Feeding Boys and a Firefighter.

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8 perfect pickles and preserves

There’s nothing finer served up with some thick, crusty bread and a big hunk of cheese than a tasty, spicy pickle. Especially when it’s of the homemade variety. Here are some delicious pickle recipes from food bloggers around the world you’ve just got to try out; all entries in last month’s Spice Trail challenge.

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Chicken tortilla bake

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With Jack Frost nipping at our toes, the time for warming, hearty comfort food is most definitely here. And if it’s quick and easy to rustle up, so much the better.

This simple Chicken Tortilla Bake is a firm family favourite, and so easy to throw together with a few frozen veggies. It’s basically a lasagne with flour tortillas replacing the pasta sheets. Continue reading

Chocolate fruit cake for Christmas

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Today is Stir Up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent and traditionally the day for making Christmas puddings and cakes. We, however, are breaking slightly with tradition here at Chez Bangers. Instead of making our usual Amaretto Christmas cake, this year we’ve gone for something slightly different.

Rich fruit cake is quite a grown up taste, so I wondered if I could make it a little more appealing for children. And the most obvious way to do that, it occurred to me, would be the addition of chocolate. So this year, that’s what I’ve done.  While I was just photographing the end result, my girls came in and sampled a few off cuts. Their verdict? They like! And so do I. It’s rich without being intense, the chocolate adds a lovely dark, sweetness without being overwhelming, and it’s beautifully moist too.

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OK, so it does contain booze. So perhaps this cake is not completely for kids, but a smudge more kid-friendly than your standard Christmas cake. This time I’ve gone for Marsala wine, but it’s only a tiny amount and the kids didn’t seem to notice. I’m wrapping up our cake now and storing it until Christmas, taking it out once a week or so to feed with a drop more Marsala, which I’d say goes really well with the dark chocolate and juicy fruits.

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Chocolate fruit cake with Marsala wine

100g prunes, chopped
150g currants
250g sultanas
100g dried figs, chopped
100g candied orange peel, chopped
125ml Marsala wine, plus extra to feed
125g soft butter
125g demerara sugar
4 eggs, beaten
130g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
50g ground almonds
100g dark chocolate chips
25g crystallised ginger, chopped

Preheat the oven to 140C / gas mark 1. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.

Put the dried fruit and candied orange peel in a large pan with the Marsala and bring to the boil gently. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to one side.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa onto the butter and sugar mixture. Add the mixed spice, ground almonds and salt. Fold these dry ingredients carefully into the wet ingredients. Give the soaked fruits a stir and add these, along with the chocolate chips and ginger. Mix it all together well.

Pour the mixture into the tin and smooth the surface. Bake for an hour, before covering with foil and baking for another half an hour or so. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

With a skewer, poke some holes deep into the cake, and generously brush the surface with more Marsala. Remove the cake from the tin and with the baking parchment still in place, wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.

Feed again with a little more Marsala once a week until Christmas. I must admit, I haven’t decided how to decorate my cake yet. Cover with marzipan and royal icing, or simply decorate with nuts and glace cherries – what do you think?

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Bangin’ books: Men’s Pie Manual, plus a hearty oxtail and beef cheek pie

Mens Pie Manual

If you’re looking for a gift for the foodie bloke in your life, can I recommend this latest title from Haynes. Yes, that’s right. Haynes, as in the publisher of the popular car manuals.

Following on from their success with the Haynes Baby Manual , they’re now taking a foray into the world of cookbooks, namely in the form of manly pies. The Men’s Pie Manual is written by food journalist and author, Andy Webb, who has also been a judge at the British Pie Awards since 2011, so he should know a good pie when he sees one.

They’ve got the look and tone of the Men’s Pie Manual just right – that 70s DIY manual feel is all there. And with a quote on the cover from the blokiest of TV chefs, the gert lush Tom Kerridge, Haynes clearly feel there’s a booming market out there for lads, as opposed to chaps, in the kitchen. Continue reading