The Versatile Blogger Award

It seems awards are a little like buses. Nothing for ages and then three come along at once.

In the last week three wonderful bloggers have nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I knew all the yoga and pilates would pay off eventually…

So thank you to Gary at The Greedy Fork, Terri at Terri’s Kitchen and Nicola at Cooknote for adding me to the VBA roll of honour.

The Bangers & Mash blog has only been going three months and I’m just starting to find my feet. So to receive this award was a bit of a surprise. But a very lovely one.

I haven’t won anything for quite a few years. As a child though I was really quite competitive, forever entering some competition or another.

The first competition I remember entering was when I was about five. It was a painting contest at my local youth club and I won first prize. I was so excited to find out that my prize was a voucher but when it arrived a little while later in a small envelope I was absolutely gutted. I had completely misheard you see, and thought my prize was going to be a vulture. Why on earth a five-year-old child would want to win a vulture I really can’t explain but to this day I can still recall that bitter feeling of disappointment.

There you go. A random fact about me. According to the rules of the Versatile Blogger Award I must tell you seven random things about me. So here are six more…

  • As a child my favourite TV programme was Blue Peter. Over the years I won four Blue Peter badges.
  • I always wanted to be an actress. My first stage role was the Angel Gabriel in my primary school nativity. I was taller than Joseph and therefore denied the role of Mary.
  • I studied Drama at Bristol University where I finally got to play Mary in our modernisation of From Creation to Nativity, a medieval Passion play, in which Mary ‘won’ the Baby Jesus as the star prize on a game show hosted by the Angel Gabriel!
  • My parents invented my name. Well reinvented it. They liked the name Vanessa and discovered that Jonathon Swift created the name for his poem Cadenus and Vanessa. It was a pseudonym for his ‘squeeze’ Esther Vanhomrigh. My folks decided they preferred the combination of Van and Esther rather than Essa, so that’s how my name came into being. I’m forever having to spell it as you can imagine and most people call me Ness for short.
  • I am allergic to kiwi fruit and avocados.
  • When I am drunk I can speak fluent German.

Now it’s my turn to pass forward the award to 15 of my favourite bloggers. Ahem. Drum roll please…

Breakfast by the Sea

Curly and Candid

Feeding Boys and a Firefighter

Fishfingers for Tea

Frames of Reference

Gourmet Mum

Jaynerly

Lavendar & Lovage

mythineats

One Man and his Hob

Pea Green Pantry

Red Ted Art’s Blog

Soup Tuesday

The Diary of a Domestic Disappointment

The Little Loaf

So now it’s your turn.
Add the award to your blog.
Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
Mention seven random things about yourself.
List the rules.
Award to 15 bloggers.
Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blog.

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

I think celery is a wonderful ingredient for soup. It can seem on the surface a bit of a nothingy vegetable; great for adding a bit of crunch to a salad but not particularly interesting in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong. I love celery in a salad but it is usually a bit part player.

But when cooked, it is transformed. The flavour deepens and intensifies. And combined as in this soup with the saltiness of smoked pancetta and a strong blue cheese, such as a Stilton or Blue Vinney, I really don’t think you can achieve much more pleasure in a bowl of food than this.

I make my celery soup with chicken stock plus a sprinkling of crispy pancetta to serve, but for a vegetarian version simply leave out the pancetta and use vegetables stock instead.

This is a perfect soup for a light but indulgent lunch and is also interesting enough for a starter when you have friends over for dinner. Its taste belies how simple it is to make. My children will eat it quite happily, but only if I omit to tell them there is any blue cheese in it.

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

Serves 4

Large knob of butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
5 large sticks of celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
800ml chicken stock, hot
75g blue cheese
50g pancetta, diced

In a large pan melt the butter and gently fry the onions until golden. Add the celery and potatoes and toss in the butter for a couple of minutes.

Pour in the hot stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the celery and potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile fry the pancetta in a little more butter until crispy. Place on some kitchen towel so they are not too greasy.

Liquidise until smooth and then return to a gentle heat. Crumble in the blue cheese and stir until it has melted in. Check for seasoning at this point, but I’d be surprised if you need any.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of crispy pancetta. Soup doesn’t get sexier than this!

Meal plan: 19 February 2012

Meals are getting better and better in the Bangers & Mash household.

Firstly I put it down to the meal planning, which has made me think much more carefully about what and how we eat.

And secondly, it’s due to writing this blog, which I’ve been doing for almost three months now. It’s certainly helping to keep me on my toes, forcing me to be more creative in the kitchen, try out lots of new recipes and even develop my own dishes.

This week, I think, has been a particularly good one mealwise. Lots of highs and not a single low.

As it was the half term holidays, we got to enjoy some big meals at lunchtime with lighter meals in the evening. I much prefer eating this way. We even had roast chicken for Friday lunch, which is always such a treat.

The first high has to be our romantic Valentine’s meal, once the children were tucked up in bed. We enjoyed a scrumptious pan-fried duck breast salad with mixed berries and walnuts from a recipe by the wonderful Karen Booth over at Lavender & Lovage.

Pan-fried duck salad from Lavender & Lovage

I can’t plan a romantic meal without chocolate featuring on the menu, so we followed the duck salad with a gorgeous chocolate and raspberry mousse, adapted from a recipe I found on the Riverford website.

Chocolate and raspberry mousse

Later in the week I cooked a delicious celery and blue cheese soup. I don’t mind admitting it was out of this world. I know soup isn’t normally something to get excited about, but there was something really quite sexy about this one. Again I promise to post my recipe in the next few days.

Celery and blue cheese soup with crispy smoked pancetta

I tried out some lemon and ricotta pancakes as a mid-week pudding, ahead of Shrove Tuesday, and these were a fantastic success. I adapted a recipe I found in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook, which I borrowed from the library at the weekend. I look forward to testing out and playing with more recipes from here in the coming weeks.

Lemon and ricotta pancakes

And my final legal high of the week was a spicy chorizo and butter bean soup I made for a light supper on Saturday evening. I wasn’t really expecting much but it was packed full of gutsy flavour. Yet again, recipe to follow shortly.

So here it is then. Last week’s meal plan in its entirety…

Monday 13 February
Lunch: butternut squash soup (F)
Dinner: tortilla and salad

Tuesday 14 February
Lunch: ham salad rolls followed by love heart jam tarts
Dinner: (kids) beef casserole and baked potato (F) (adults) pan-fried duck breast salad with mixed berries and walnuts, followed by chocolate and raspberry mousse

Wednesday 15 February
Lunch: hummus and salad wraps
Dinner: pumpkin & parsnip cassoulet with homemade garlic bread

Thursday 16 February
Lunch: celery and blue cheese soup followed by lemon and ricotta pancakes
Dinner: chilli con carne (my husband made a mild version for the children)

Friday 17 February
Lunch: roast chicken, roast potatoes and steamed vegetables
Dinner: leek and potato soup

Saturday 18 February
Lunch: baked potatoes and salad
Dinner: Spicy chorizo and bean soup

Sunday 19 February
Lunch: mutton casserole and spicy corn bread (F)
Dinner: Bread, cheese and salad

F = from freezer

Haricot bean and garlic dip

I am rather partial to wraps at the moment. I like to eat them stuffed full of salad, cheese and different dips. They make for a really simple supper at the end of a busy day.

This haricot bean and garlic dip is  one of my favourites to have in a wrap. It’s also great served as part of a mezze. Similar to hummus, it is very cheap to make. The garlic is roasted with rosemary giving the dip a soft smoky flavour, which isn’t overpowering.

Haricot bean and garlic dip

4 heads of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 (400g) tin haricot beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp ground cumin
5 tbsp soured cream
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to 190°C/gas 5.

Toss the garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then loosely wrap in foil along with the rosemary. Bake on a tray for around 45 minutes until the garlic is soft and the skins come off easily.

In a saucepan, heat the remaining oil and fry the onion until it is golden brown.

Squeeze the garlic out of their skins into a food processor with the onion, haricot beans, cumin, soured cream, lime juice and a little of the rosemary. Season well with salt and pepper. Blend until it resembles porridge. You don’t want it too smooth; it’s good to have a bit of texture. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Pour into your serving dish and garnish with a sprinkling of paprika.

Olive and mozzarella muffins

I seem to be going through a bit of a phase a the moment baking savoury muffins for our lunch boxes, and this is my latest creation.

It actually started life as a pizza muffin. My daughter Jessie loves pizza toppings and asked if we could make a muffin with these same ingredients. So we gave it a go. But despite being very tasty, they just didn’t quite taste like pizza. Which is why we’ve named them olive and mozzarella muffins instead.

Olive and mozzarella muffins

Makes 12

60ml sunflower oil
180g self-raising flour
130g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
Salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
130g black olives, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100ml plain yoghurt
275ml milk
1 tbsp tomato puree
125g mozzarella, chopped

Preheat oven to 200°C/gas 6. Oil and line a 12-hole muffin tin with baking paper or muffin cases.

Sift the self-raising and wholemeal flour into a large bowl, along with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in the salt, oregano and black olives.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, yoghurt, milk and tomato puree. Pour these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and very gently combine together. Carefully stir in the mozzarella pieces, keeping back a few pieces to place on top.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and pop some extra bits of mozzarella on top of each one.

Bake the muffins in the oven for around 25 minutes until they well risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Eat warm or cold.

I’ll keep working on the pizza muffins and I’ll let you know when I’ve sussed them!

Lemon and ricotta pancakes

If you are looking for a twist on the traditional pancake this Shrove Tuesday, why not give these delicious lemon and ricotta pancakes a go?

Adapted from a recipe in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano, they are temptingly light and fluffy with a hint of citrus zing.

Lemon and ricotta pancakes

Serves 4

4 eggs
250g ricotta cheese
35g plain flour
50g caster sugar
2 unwaxed lemons
50g butter for frying
Honey to serve

Separate the eggs into two large bowls. Whisk up the egg whites until they form soft peaks and put to one side.

Give the egg yolks a quick beat. Zest the two lemons and add to the yolks. Sieve the flour onto the yolks, then add in the ricotta and sugar. Gently mix together.

Fold in the egg whites gently so you don't lose all that air

Spoon a quarter of the egg whites into the rest of the pancake mixture and carefully fold in. Once combined, gently fold in the remainder of the whites.

Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of your frying pan. Spoon in the pancake mix. You need around a tablespoon of mixture for each small pancake, and you should be able to cook around four at a time, depending of course on the size of your pan.

Fry your dainty pancakes until golden

Fry the pancakes for a couple of minutes until tiny holes appear on the surface. Flip them over and cook for another two to three minutes until a gorgeous golden colour.

Keep the pancakes warm until you’ve cooked them all. Then serve immediately with a drizzle of honey and a good squeeze of lemon.

Chicken tikka masala

Food snobs will roll their eyes to see a recipe for chicken tikka masala. It’s not an authentic Indian curry, is it? No-one in India actually eats it, do they?

But I really don’t care. Chicken tikka masala is one of my favourite dishes to order in an Indian restaurant. It’s so moreish and familiar and comforting. And I think it deserves its place as one of Britain’s favourite meals.

And it’s the restaurant style chicken tikka masala my husband recently decided he wanted to have a go at making at home. We came across a recipe by The Curry Guy, aka Dan Toombs, and Jason just had to give it a go.

Dan’s recipe is excellent and, if curry is your thing, I really recommend you try it. It’s a good family meal as it’s creamy and softly spicy rather than fiery hot. But it’s not a quick dish to throw together. If you want to make it the way they do in restaurants, there’s quite a lot of preparation involved.

But when it comes to preparation, my husband Jason is undoubtedly your man. He’s measured and methodical, whereas I am messy and impatient. At the end of one of my cooking sessions, you’d think a tornado had blown through the kitchen. But when Jason is in charge, order and serenity reign.

Talk about tidy in the kitchen...

His first job was to make up a big batch of curry gravy, which Jason reckons took him about two hours. And when I say big, I mean big.

This curry gravy will keep us going a while!

This sauce forms the basis of many of the curries you’ll come across in an Indian restaurant. Apparently you can use it to “make everything from mild kormas to violently hot phall curries in no time”.

Dan’s recipe makes enough gravy for eight curries and it freezes well. So one down, seven more to go! I’d quite like to give his recipe for madras a whirl next time.

Anyway back to the tikka masala. Once you’ve got the gravy, you then need to pre-cook your chicken. Again you can freeze this and use in a number of different chicken curry recipes.

However this time Jason decided to scale down the quantities (our freezer couldn’t take much more!) and made just enough for this one dish. This stage took around another hour.

So once you’ve got your gravy and your chicken, you’re then ready to bring these together with more spices and cream. This final stage takes another hour.

Stirring in single cream

And – if you really want it to look like the chicken tikka masala you’d order in your curry house – you can also add a few drops of red food colouring.

Now doesn't that look a fantastic colour?

So all in all, it’s quite a complicated recipe and it takes time. Jason spread the different stages out over three separate days. But it is worth it. It is exactly like a chicken tikka masala you’d have in a restaurant. Both our daughters, who are aged six and three, really enjoyed it too. We served it with cucumber raita just in case it was too hot for them, but the spice wasn’t a problem for either of them.

A big hit with all the family

And we’ve now got lots of lovely gravy in the freezer all ready to transform into seven more curries in the coming weeks. Can’t wait!

If you’d like to give this chicken tikka masala recipe a try, you’ll find it here on Dan Toombs’ website.