Birthday bangers

This time last year I had absolutely no idea what I was about to launch myself head first into.

Yes, it’s a year ago to the very day that I summoned the courage to hit the Publish button for the first time and with it created Bangers & Mash, complete with hand drawn pictures and dubious photography. (I do cringe a little when I look back at those early food shots.)

So I would like to take this opportunity to wish Bangers & Mash a very happy first birthday! I hope you like my little cake in honour of the occasion.

In my first post, I attempted to justify why we need another food blog? If you’re interested, and I haven’t already bored you senseless on the subject, you’ll find this post lays out my ethos of cooking wholesome, family food using good quality, seasonal ingredients, without it costing you a fortune. I also talk at length, as I am prone to do in a verging on obsessive way about meal planning, particularly how it has helped dramatically reduce our shopping bills and food waste and encouraged us to eat a much more varied, healthy and adventurous diet.

The first recipe I posted on Bangers & Mash wasn’t actually one of mine. It was my husband’s fabulous carrot cake. But in a way, that’s very appropriate, as I hadn’t a clue about cooking until I moved in with my other half. It’s funny to think back to my early 20s when I had no idea how to cook anything really and no inclination to really bother. How things change!

While I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a fully fledged food blogger quite yet, I do believe I have come a long way over the last 12 months.

My recipes and photography are improving all the time. The main reason for that is the feedback and support I get from friends and family, but perhaps most importantly other bloggers. That’s what has surprised and impressed me most – the support network provided by the enormous blogging community out there, through both our blogs and Twitter (a platform I avoided like the plague for quite a long time).

When I started out, I pictured blogging as a rather solitary pastime, sitting alone at a PC and broadcasting thoughts and ideas to an invisible audience. But what I’ve discovered I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction and conversation. I didn’t realise just how much I would learn from others as a result of writing a blog.

But that’s enough of that. The children will be getting up soon – as usual, I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning when the house is still and quiet – and my day must start properly. I’ll be back soon with my latest concoction. And I look forward to hearing about yours!

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 6

So far July has been an interesting month for me as a food blogger. For the first time, I’ve stepped up into the exciting world of hosting blog challenges. It is so lovely to see such a wide range of dishes being entered and getting to meet a whole host of new food bloggers.

Food writer and blogger supremo Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender & Lovage kindly let me loose on her popular Herbs on Saturday challenge this month. Herbs on Saturday is a lovely way for bloggers to share their dishes that celebrate cooking with herbs and we’ve received lots of wonderfully tempting recipes.

My second blog challenge hopes to raise awareness of a fantastic family cookbook produced by a charity called TACT, which is the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity. I’ve worked with the Bristol and South West branch of TACT for the last four years or so, and I am constantly amazed and inspired by the incredible support they provide to many of our most vulnerable children and young people.

The Care to Cook recipe challenge is calling on people to submit their recipes for food they’d cook to welcome someone into their family. We’ve only had a handful of entries so far, but I’m hoping the prize of a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by TV chef Lorraine Pascale (who happens to be TACT’s celebrity patron) might encourage a few more. If you have not entered yet, please do! The closing date is 12 August.

In the kitchen, it’s been rather exciting too. Writing this food blog has pushed me to be so much more creative and adventurous as a cook. And luckily most of my experiments seem to be working out well and the family is enjoying the food. Of course, there are plenty of safe, easy, every day meals in the mix, as you’ll see from the meal plans below. As a mum and a freelancer, I just don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen every day. But when I can, I do like to have a go at something a little bit different.

Recent successes include…

Roast duck and rhubarb compote

Chicken and noodle salad with coriander and mint

Homemade hummus and aubergine dip with olives, salad and pitta bread

Caribbean pot roast chicken

Courgette, carrot and cheese scones

Butternut squash and bacon chowder

Bean casserole

Pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar

As well as some tasty food, I’ve had two other reasons to make me smile recently. The first was when one of the other mums at school came up to me to tell me she’d cooked my chicken and noodle salad after seeing it on the blog, and how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s always lovely to receive positive comments on the blog, but it’s something very special to have someone tell you in person they like your food. That really made my day that did.

And then the other thing that made me chuckle lots was when my daughter Jessie insisted on photographing her dinner plate before she would start eating! She’s just begun work on her very own blog Jessie’s Art and she plans on putting her photo up there sometime soon. Like mother, like daughter it seems.

In case you need any ideas, here are my meal plans for the last few weeks…

Monday 25 June
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: stir-fried Swiss chard with ginger and noodles

Tuesday 26 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: lamb casserole (F)

Wednesday 27 June
Lunch: rice salad with broad beans
Dinner: ham, egg and chips

Thursday 28 June
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: salad wraps and homemade hummus

Friday 29 June
Lunch:  garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: chicken noodle salad with mint and coriander

Saturday 30 June
Lunch: aubergine dip, hummus, pitta bread, olives and salad
Dinner: fish cakes, new potatoes and vegetables

Sunday 1 July
Lunch: Caribbean pot roast chicken 
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 2 July
Lunch: beans on toast
Dinner: cheese and onion quiche, new potatoes and salad

Tuesday 3 July
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: noodle soup with dumplings

Wednesday 4 July
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: spaghetti Bolognese

Thursday 5 July
Lunch: hummus salad rolls
Dinner: ratatouille and pasta

Friday 6 July
Lunch: rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts
Dinner: bangers and mash

Saturday 7 July
Lunch: roast duck with rhubarb compote, rice, broad bean and parsley salad
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 8 July
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: Chinese chicken and rice

Monday 9 July
Lunch: Marmite and cucumber rolls
Dinner: egg fried rice with courgette and peppers

Tuesday 10 July
Lunch: garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: warm new potato and sausage salad

Wednesday 11 July
Lunch: potato and sausage salad
Dinner: bean casserole

Thursday 12 July
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: butternut squash and bacon chowder

Friday 13 July
Lunch: courgette, carrot and cheese scones
Dinner: pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

Saturday 14 July
Lunch: sausage and cabbage bake
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 15 July
Lunch: pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar, new potatoes, beetroot and nectarine salad
Dinner: salad wraps

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 5

The last few weeks have been as busy as ever in the Bangers & Mash house. I jetted off to Amsterdam and London for work leaving my darling Mashettes to fend for themselves for a few days. I’ve never been apart from my family for that long before but of course when it came to food they were all sorted, as I’d left them with a trusty meal plan…

That’ll be me then. In the Dam.

Amsterdam was wonderful. The last time I visited I was in my early twenties and it felt quite strange going back all grown up and all professional. I was there for the Meet the Blogger event for interior design bloggers at the simply stunning Conservatorium Hotel. If you’ve ever seen my home, you’ll know how incongruous I felt being at a conference for glamorous ladies talking about the latest in home design trends. But my role there was to tweet and blog about the proceedings, and I’m always happy when tasked with writing. There is a lovely short film documenting Meet the Blogger if you’re interested…

As I was there in a work capacity I didn’t have much opportunity unfortunately to really explore Amsterdam’s restaurant scene, although I did enjoy a rather splendid steak somewhere I can’t remember the name of at the end of a very long day. And I was also taken to a lovely bakery for a quick bite of lunch on my way back to the train station. De Bakkerswinkel bakes superb bread, as well as pastries, cakes, pies and all kinds of baked delights. I only had a simple ham and cheese roll but it was sensational and a delicious way to end my stint in the Dam.

De Bakkerswinkel in Amsterdam

A day after getting back from Holland, I had to head off to London for a trade show where I was helping out as a press officer on a client’s stand. I can’t say the event was all that exciting but it was a good chance to catch up with my Dad and step-mum Sue the night before as they live in Tottenham. And I finally got to see their amazing new kitchen, which they’ve been talking about and planning for oh, only the last 20 years or so. I am now green with envy. I want a new kitchen. Now.

My step-mum Sue in her beautiful new kitchen

But back to the food. I’ve been trying out some really rather good recipes lately. Initially I was rather disappointed with my attempt at a lamb and rosemary crumble. When it came out of the oven it just didn’t look particularly appetising and so I didn’t bother taking any photographs. Yet it tasted surprisingly good. I’m to work on it a bit more to see if I can make it look as good as it tastes.

My rhubarb, strawberry and lemon tart creation went down rather well, although this was another dish that wasn’t much of a looker.

Strawberry, rhubarb and lemon tart

Another tart that turned out well was a butternut squash tart with blue cheese, spinach and ricotta. It was one of those very simple affairs where you roll out some ready-made puff pastry, smother it with a few choice ingredients and bake. Hey presto! You have a tasty supper.

Butternut squash, blue cheese and ricotta tart

Pasta is always popular in our house, particularly as a quick dinner after a busy day at work and school. We all loved this yummy sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti. Definitely a dish we’ll be making again. And again.

Sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti

Pasta makes another appearance in my list of highlights. Broad bean tops arrived in our veg box the other week. I have to admit I had no idea you could eat them but they are quite delicious; like a cross between pea shoots and chard. I used them in this recipe from Riverford for pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint, which was very good indeed. We are growing broad beans in our vegetable patch, so I look forward to experimenting some more with this new ingredient.

Pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint

Egg fried rice is an excellent speedy supper and so versatile too. You can throw in whatever you have to hand or need to use up. I cooked up a big wok full of egg fried rice the other night with peas and red pepper, served up with lashings of soy sauce and hot chilli oil. My kind of fast food. Yum.

Egg fried rice with peas and peppers

Last but not least comes the Full English pizza. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Pizza topped with all those staples of the traditional cooked English brekky: sausage, bacon, tomato, spinach and egg. I wanted to use mushroom as well but my daughter Jessie hates them with a passion. You’re probably thinking it sounds completely OTT and you’re probably right, but it was so tasty and very, very moreish. I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before.

The Full English Pizza

Well I think that’s it for now. I’m rather pleased to be able to look back and see the highs far outweigh the lows. I’m definitely getting better at this cooking lark, I think. Now, time for those meal plans…

Monday 11 June
Lunch: pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint 
Dinner: Bangers & Mash bake (F)

Tuesday 12 June 
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: butternut squash tart with spinach, blue cheese and ricotta

Wednesday 13 June
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: sausage and courgette pasta carbonara

Thursday 14 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: baked potatoes with garlic mushrooms and salad

Friday 15 June
Lunch:  pasta salad
Dinner: egg fried rice with peas and red peppers

Saturday 16 June
Lunch: cheese and tomato on toast
Dinner: courgette and summer greens pie and salad

Sunday 17 June
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: cold courgette and summer greens pie

Monday 18 June
Lunch: hummus, pitta bread and salad
Dinner: lamb and rosemary crumble with new potatoes

Tuesday 19 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: the Full English pizza with salad

Wednesday 20 June
Lunch: cous cous salad
Dinner: red Thai curry with tofu and vegetables

Thursday 21 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: chicken and ginger stir fry with noodles

Friday 22 June
Lunch: wet garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella on toast
Dinner: pasta with pesto and cream cheese

Saturday 23 June
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: pork chops with rice, asparagus and carrots

Sunday 24 June
Lunch: homemade ham with Finnish mustard and herby focaccia
Dinner: cheese omelette

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 4

It’s been a busy but fun couple of weeks in the Bangers & Mash household. Despite racing around like a crazy thing most of the time, life feels good at the moment.

The sun has been shining, which always puts people in better moods. Our veggie patch is thriving; the hedgerows are full of beautiful wild flowers; the housemartins have returned to rebuild their nest in the eaves of our roof; the Olympic flame has passed through Somerset (my husband took the girls to see it in Wells); the bunting and flags are up and everyone’s getting excited about their Jubilee celebrations; and yours truly is becoming a bit of a local celebrity as a result of being a finalist in the MAD Blog Awards.

There’s been a piece on me in the local paper and I did an interview on BBC Radio Somerset’s breakfast show. I was terrified beforehand but actually rather enjoyed the interview in the end. The host Matt Faulkner was very easy to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in the ins and outs of meal planning and feeding a family on a budget.

Talking of budgets, ours got a little tighter this week. I’ve just finished my temporary stint at Bath Spa University, which is sad as I really enjoyed it there. But working from home again will make life a lot easier. And my husband has just finished working at a local primary school and is about to start retraining in IT. So on one hand it’s fantastic that we’ll both be at home much more and able to spend more time together as a family, but on the other hand we’re going to have to be incredibly careful with the pennies. Cheap eats are definitely the order of the day.

Foodwise I’ve been keeping things pretty simple because I have been rushing about so much and haven’t wanted to spend hours in the kitchen when it’s been so hot. Saying that, my mum and I did spend an afternoon baking this Jubilee cake on one of the hottest days of the year.

Jubilee party cake

Yes, it’s completely OTT but I think it’s a great cake for children’s Jubilee parties.

Another culinary highlight was this delicious Oyakodon, a Japanese chicken and egg rice dish, the recipe for which I found at Under The Blue Gum Tree. As my mother is half Chinese, we tend to eat lots of oriental flavours in our house and with mum visiting for a weekend I thought this would be a good dish to try. It was a big hit all round, although the flavours were quite different to what I was expecting; much softer and more subtle, very clean and light. I could eat this dish again and again, and probably will.

Oyakodon from Under The Blue Gum Tree

With the mini heatwave in the UK, it’s only natural that salads have featured highly on our menu. One simple meal we had recently was fried chicken served with a red cabbage and beetroot slaw. The chicken was fairly dull really, but the slaw was very tasty and such a beautiful colour. It keeps well for a couple of days, and we used up the leftovers at our barbecue.

Beetroot and red cabbage slaw

 Our herb patch is looking glorious. The rosemary, thyme and oregano are all in full bloom and the sage flowers are set to open any day now. I read somewhere recently that oregano flowers work well in salads, so I decided to add some to a lovely salad I made with courgette, mozzarella and baby plum tomatoes. It looked and tasted fantastic.

Courgette and oregano flower salad

Rice salad is a regular in our lunch boxes and I try to play around with ingredients so the kids don’t get bored. This week I included grilled chicken (marinated first in a mustard vinaigrette) and artichoke hearts. The lunch boxes came home empty. Need I say more?

Rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts

Always on the look out for new meat-free dishes, I came across this spinach roulade on Thinly Spread. Initially I thought the rolling of the roulade was going to be a bit of a tall order for me; I’m a walking disaster zone when it comes to dainty presentation. I really am the clumsiest person I know. But it was actually incredibly easy. And oh, so tasty. I’ve got to make this dish again when friends come over as it looks so much more difficult to pull off than it really is, and so a great one for impressing dinner guests.

Spinach roulade from Thinly Spread

And finally, because it looks like the weather has turned again and the rain is pattering against the window as I type, I include a picture of our barbecue last weekend when mum was over from Spain. Come back mum and bring the sunshine back with you!

Bangers from the barbie – lovely!

So time for those meal plans…

Monday 14 May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: spinach roulade with new potatoes and salad

Tuesday 15 May
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: lamb meatballs and rice (F)

Wednesday 16 May
Lunch: pitta bread with hummus and salad
Dinner: pork chops, mash and vegetables

Thursday 17 May
Lunch: cheese and cucumber rolls
Dinner: omelette and salad

Friday 18 May
Lunch:  rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts
Dinner: pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

Saturday 19 May
Lunch: baked sausages with fennel and butternut squash
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 20 May
Lunch: kohlrabi and spinach gratin
Dinner: carrot and coriander soup

Monday 21  May
Lunch: olive and mozzarella muffins (F)
Dinner: courgette, mozzarella and oregano flower salad with crusty bread

Tuesday 22 May
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: wild garlic pesto and spaghetti

Wednesday 23 May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: poached eggs on toast with asparagus

Thursday 24 May
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: Oyakodon with steamed pak choi

Friday 25 May
Lunch: garlic mushrooms with salad
Dinner: southern fried chicken with beetroot and red cabbage slaw and potato wedges

Saturday 26 May
Lunch: pub lunch
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 27 May
Lunch: barbecued sausages and chicken with salads
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 3

Talk about highs and lows this week – more like the sublime to the ridiculous!

I just can’t stop smiling!

I haven’t come down from the ceiling since Thursday when I discovered I am a finalist for a national blogging award. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about it again here. I’ve been doing enough of that already on this blog and on Twitter, so suffice to say I am really rather chuffed.

I’m not the only spod in the family though. Just a few days earlier my daughter Jessie received a Blue Peter badge for a poem she had sent in. She’s already working out how to achieve her next one. I was a huge Blue Peter fan when I was little, so as you can imagine I’m a very proud mum…

But back to the food. I’ll get the hideous low out of the way first.

We had good friends over to stay at the weekend, who have really encouraged me in my blogging antics. There was a lot of good humoured banter in the week running up to their visit about high expectations of the culinary delights in store.

So I thought I’d impress them with a retro feast of posh ham, eggs and chips. While the home-baked ham was very good, my homemade chips were an absolute disaster. They completely disintegrated on attempting to serve. Wrong kind of potato possibly, or was the oven too hot or too cool? Serves me right trying to make my own chips for the first time instead of doing what I usually do and cooking the shop-bought frozen variety. At the last minute I had to send the lads out to the local fish and chips shop in order to salvage the meal. Whoops.

Thankfully though the ham got a big thumbs up. I did Nigella Lawson’s ham in cola again – I last tried it at Christmas and absolutely fell in love with it. I know it sounds crazy but baking a ham in coca cola is fantastic and you end up with a beautifully moist, smokey, almost barbecue-flavoured piece of meat.

My next high point in the kitchen was a potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup. I accept it doesn’t sound exactly like food porn but it was incredibly tasty and very satisfying.

Another highlight was my oregano and roast tomato pizza. I slow roast the tomatoes for about five hours in the bottom oven of the Aga, giving them an incredibly intense flavour and gorgeously sticky, slightly chewy texture. Simply sublime.


So now time for the detailed meal plans. Oh and if you do have any tips for homemade chips (in the oven rather than a deep fat fryer), I’m all ears!

Monday 30 April
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: pasta with wild garlic pesto

Tuesday 1 May
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: sweet potatoes stuffed with cream cheese and spring onions

Wednesday 2 May
Lunch: pitta bread with hummus and salad
Dinner: fish pie

Thursday 3 May
Lunch: wraps with carrot, sultana and coriander salad
Dinner: potato, cabbage and smoked bacon soup

Friday 4 May
Lunch: Thai-style cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: chilli con carne

Saturday 5 May
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: cola ham, egg and chips followed by raspberry chocolate mousse

Sunday 6 May
Lunch: pub lunch
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 7  May
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: oregano and roast tomato pizza

Tuesday 8 May
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: wild garlic pesto and spaghetti

Wednesday 9 May
Lunch: pitta bread, hummus and salad
Dinner: cous cous, courgette and broad bean salad

Thursday 10 May
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: bangers and mash bake (recipe to follow)

Friday 11 May
Lunch: grilled chicken and rice salad with artichoke hearts
Dinner: mushroom omelette

Saturday 12 May
Lunch: slow roast beef, roast potatoes and vegetables, followed by rhubarb crumble
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 13 May
Lunch: warm bean and potato salad with leeks and smoked bacon
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 2

I’m so happy to report a fortnight of consistent highs in the Bangers & Mash kitchen. I think I’m getting better at tackling more adventurous dishes at the weekend when I have more time, and keeping things very, very simple on the more hectic week days.

There was an almost-low at the weekend when my butternut squash gnocchi threatened to go pear-shaped at the last-minute. I’d spent an age preparing the squash and potato: first baking the veggies; passing it through a sieve before making the dumplings; gently simmering; and finally frying off. Of course when it came to the frying stage, my non-stick frying pan was in the dishwasher so I resorted to the non-non-stick pan.  And my gorgeous little dumplings instantly stuck to the pan and turned to mush. Quite infuriating. However, I don’t give in that easily.

Butternut squash gnocchi – so nearly a disaster but turned out quite gorgeous in the end

I retrieved the expensive frying pan and started again, and all the effort was worth it. A beautiful dish but quite a faff! I’ll post the recipe soon, but make sure you have a whole afternoon free if you fancy trying it out.

So on to singling out some of the highs. First up was a Thai-style cauliflower soup with coriander garlic bread. This made a perfect easy supper for a Meat Free Monday. It’s not one of the prettiest dishes I’ve ever come across but it tasted so good. My Mum wants the recipe, so I’m under orders to post it very soon on the blog.

Thai-style cauliflower soup with coriander and garlic bread

My Dad and Step-Mum came to stay for the weekend so I cooked wild garlic risotto again, after making them forage for the ingredients with the kids en route to a spot of Pooh Sticks. It seemed to go down very well. I followed it up with a simple plum and stem ginger fool, using Greek yoghurt instead of double cream, and it was absolutely delicious.

Plum and stem ginger fool, made with Greek yoghurt instead of double cream

A perfect dish for a busy week night is this grilled chicken parmesan from Karista’s Kitchen. Very simple grilled chicken breast with mozzarella (slightly confused about where the parmesan was though), which I served with steamed rice and stir-fried spring greens. I think this one could become a bit of a staple mid-week supper.

Grilled chicken parmesan (or should that be mozzarella?) from Karista’s Kitchen

Then there was the fantastically easy asparagus with poached eggs. What more need I say? New season asparagus with dippy eggs. Perfect.

A super speedy mid-week supper: asparagus with poached egg

Although this blog is called Bangers & Mash, I’m conscious I haven’t posted nearly enough sausage-related recipes, despite them being fairly fundamental to our family food. This week I made two very tasty but very different banger-based meals, showing the brilliant versatility of the humble sausage. The first was a quick and easy sausage and fennel bake, and the second was an indulgent slow-cooked spicy sausage penne, which I cooked when friends came over for dinner on Saturday night. Very good with a couple of bottles of red wine.

Sausage and fennel bake

Slow-cooked spicy sausage penne

Now, over to the last fortnight’s meal plans…

Monday 16 April
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: kids – ratatouille and rice (F) adults – Thai-style cauliflower soup and coriander garlic bread 

Tuesday 17 April
Lunch: tarragon chicken pasta (F)
Dinner: kids – fish fingers, chips and peas (F) adults – purple sprouting broccoli with Thai dressing

Wednesday 18 April
Lunch: sweet pepper and mushroom cous cous 
Dinner: kids – salmon fish cakes (F) adults – Chinese sausage and noodle soup

Thursday 19 April
Lunch: salad wraps
Dinner: kids – tasty chicken rice (F) adults – steamed asparagus and dippy poached eggs

Friday 20 April
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: cottage pie

Saturday 21 April
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: wild garlic risotto and salad; plum and stem ginger fool

Sunday 22 April
Lunch: spaghetti carbonara and salad 
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 23 April
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: cottage pie (leftovers from Friday)

Tuesday 24 April
Lunch: red slaw (recipe to follow)
Dinner: kids – ratatouille and rice adults – grilled chicken parmesan

Wednesday 25 April
Lunch: rice and chicken salad
Dinner: pork, black pudding and apple pie (F)

Thursday 26 April
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: baked sausages and fennel

Friday 27 April
Lunch: carrot and coriander soup
Dinner: spicy spinach and potato, chapatis and raita

Saturday 28 April
Lunch: falafels, pitta bread, tzatsiki and salad
Dinner: slow-cooked spicy sausage penne; rhubarb and stem ginger fool

Sunday 29 April
Lunch: butternut squash gnocchi with garlic butter
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 1

There have been lots of highs and not too many lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen in recent weeks.

I’ll get the lows out of the way first.

The first  was a dish that really should have been too easy to mess up: a simple Swiss chard and potato tortilla. Then I went and left it in the oven just a tad too long and the egg turned to dry rubber. Not nice. But lesson learned for next time.

More disappointing though was the fact I messed up my husband’s birthday cake. He requested a boston creme pie from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. I’ve had a few baking successes recently and so perhaps I got a little cocky and over-ambitious.

Boston creme pie – but where did all the filling go?!

Well, the cake and ganache were delicious, but the creme anglaise filling was an absolute disaster. I should have known it wasn’t thick enough but I was in a rush and used it anyway. So when I put the second tier on top, it all slowly spilled out to leave a dry cake. Ah well, another lesson learned.

But let’s forget about those blips and move on to the  highlights. First on the list is a lovely springtime dish using ingredients foraged from the local hedges – wild garlic risotto. This was so good I’m making it again this weekend when my Dad and Step-Mum come to stay.

Wild and free – wild garlic risotto!

Who doesn’t love a good Sunday roast? Especially when it’s delicious free range pork with proper salty crackling, lashings of apple sauce and a cheesy leek bake on the side. This is what I made for my husband’s birthday meal on Easter Sunday. So although I ruined the pudding, he couldn’t complain too much because the main course had been so tasty!

Roast pork and crackling

Sometimes it’s the most basic meals that turn out be the tastiest. One Monday evening I cooked us all a super speedy supper of stir-fried spring greens with noodles. Something seemingly worthy and virtuous was also exceptionally appetising, thanks to lots of ginger, garlic, Chinese rice wine, black vinegar and soy sauce.

Stir-fried spring greens with noodles

Tarragon is fast becoming one of my favourite herbs. I really like it in chicken dishes, such as the scrummy chicken pasta I made when my good friend Sarah came over during the Easter holidays with her kids. It’s an easy meal which also includes leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and cream cheese.

Tarragon chicken pasta with purple sprouting broccoli and leeks

When a recipe featuring black pudding appeared on my Twitter timeline recently I just had to try it. It was a pork, apple and black pudding pie and the perfect way to use up the leftover roast pork from Sunday lunch. Black pudding is a real guilty pleasure for me. Maybe it’s down to my Dad’s side of the family coming from Lancashire. Anyway the pie was absolutely delicious served with onion gravy and wild garlic mashed potato.

Pork, apple and black pudding pie

Finally to the spicy lamb meatballs. My family adores meatballs but I’ve only ever made them with beef or pork mince. I’ll definitely make this lamb version again, complemented so well by the spices, apricot and fresh mint. Next time I might serve them in warmed pitta bread with salad and tzatsiki.

Spicy lamb meatballs – a firm family favourite

Now onto the meal plans for the last fortnight in full detail…

Monday 2 April
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: noodles and stir-fried spring greens (recipe coming soon)

Tuesday 3 April
Lunch: baked potatoes
Dinner: kids – tasty chicken rice (F) adults – chard and potato tortilla

Wednesday 4 April
Lunch: brie and salad rolls 
Dinner: kids – beef casserole and rice (F) adults – bacon and tomato pasta

Thursday 5 April
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: broccoli, potato and walnut salad with homemade garlic bread

Friday 6 April
Lunch: grilled chicken breast wrapped in garlic with beetroot and nectarine salad
Dinner: carrot and coriander soup

Saturday 7 April
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: OUT

Sunday 8 April
Lunch: roast pork with apple sauce, roast potatoes and vegetables
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 9 April
Lunch: wild garlic risotto and salad
Dinner: sandwiches

Tuesday 10 April
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: kids – tasty chicken rice adults – leek and cheese bake with rosemary crumbs

Wednesday 11 April
Lunch: baked potatoes
Dinner: chicken and mushrooms in cream with rice and steamed broccoli

Thursday 12 April
Lunch: tarragon chicken pasta (recipe to follow)
Dinner: kids – fish fingers, chips and peas adults – garlic mushroom omelette and salad

Friday 13 April
Lunch: cheese rolls
Dinner: spicy lamb meatballs with rice

Saturday 14 April
Lunch: pork, apple and black pudding pie
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 15 April
Lunch: picnic
Dinner: OUT

= from freezer

Meal plan: 1 April 2012

Easy meals have been the order of the day in the Bangers & Mash kitchen now that I’m working pretty much full-time. Life is manic; it feels like everything has stepped up a gear. Or two. Or three.

Of course, the extra work is a good thing. As a freelancer, and particularly in the current economic climate, work is very much welcome. But it does rather tend to put a strain on family life.

So my latest meal plans have been full of quick suppers and pre-prepared meals from the freezer. I’m not a naturally organised kind of person, but I’ve learned it does pay to plan ahead. On a day when you do have the time, cook up some big batches of tasty grub and freeze them in individual portions. There’s something very rewarding about getting home after a hectic day at work and simply heating up a homemade pie or stew.

One Monday evening I spent a good few hours in the kitchen with a few glasses of wine and some banging tunes on the stereo. As well as cooking that evening’s supper, I also made a big pot of ratatouille, the girls’ favourite chicken rice, and a vat of spicy cauliflower soup. I know it sounds a bit full on to do so much cooking in one go but it’s worth the effort and helps me to retain my sanity.

Here are the latest ups and downs in the Bangers & Mash kitchen…

Cottage pie is one of my all time favourite meals, especially when my husband makes it. That’s part of the beauty of meal planning. Not only do I get to decide what we eat, but who cooks it and when. For some reason my husband’s best dishes generally feature minced beef: cottage pie, Bolognese, chilli con carne. Is it a bloke thing? Anyway, that made for a delicious mid-week supper after a long day in the office.

My husband’s cottage pie – complete comfort food

You may recall me raving recently about a recipe for Chicken Thigh Yakitori from Dom at Belleau Kitchen: sumptuously tender chicken in a sticky leek  and soy sauce. When I saw his next chicken thigh recipe post I just had to give it a try; Moroccan Chicken Thighs. It was very good but didn’t compare to the Yakitori I’m afraid – just a tad too sweet for me. I did like the idea of it though, so will try again but may leave out the apricot jam and carrots next time…

Moroccan chicken thighs

If you want a quick supper, cous cous is perfect. I started making this chicken, courgette and cous cous dish when my oldest daughter was getting to grips with proper solid food. It’s an adaptation of an Annabel Karmel dish. It started out as something I’d make especially for Jessie but when I realised how good it was, it became a regular family meal. Plus it’s perfect when you’re short of time.

And here are those weekly meal plans in all their glory:

Monday 19 March
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: Moroccan chicken thighs

Tuesday 20 March
Lunch: scallion and sweet potato soup (F)
Dinner: cottage pie

Wednesday 21 March
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: chicken and courgette cous cous

Thursday 22 March
Lunch: spicy cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: kids – tasty chicken rice (F); adults – wraps with beetroot, carrot and apple salad

Friday 23 March
Lunch: hummus, breadsticks and salad
Dinner: cauliflower cheese and garlic bread

Saturday 24 March
Lunch: sausage and cabbage bake
Dinner: garlic Portobello mushrooms and salad

Sunday 25 March
Lunch: Mia’s birthday party picnic
Dinner: ratatouille and rice (F)

Monday 26 March
Lunch: hummus and salad sandwiches
Dinner: Flamiche (Belgian leek pie)

Tuesday 27 March
Lunch: baked potatoes, ham and cheese
Dinner: beef casserole (F) with rice and broccoli

Wednesday 28 March
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: cauliflower curry (F) and onion bhajis

Thursday 29 March
Lunch: spicy cauliflower soup (F)
Dinner: chilli con carne (F)

Friday 30 March
Lunch: carrot and coriander soup
Dinner: grilled chicken and salad

Saturday 31 March
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: pappardelle with courgette, basil and lemon

Sunday 1 April
Lunch: roast chicken followed by rhubarb crumble
Dinner: bread and cheese

F = from freezer

Meal plan: 18 March 2012 (and how to poach eggs)

In the words of dear Britney, oops I did it again.

It’s been a fortnight since I last posted a meal plan. And I’m ‘supposed’ to put them up at the end of each week. I don’t suppose the world is going to crumble as a result now though is it?

The last couple of weeks have been really busy. I’m working full-time at the moment, three days in-house for a client and the remainder working from home on a number of freelance projects. It’s proving really rather challenging fitting in the blogging around the working and the cooking and the being a mum and a wife. And trying to fit in some semblance of a social life.

But what I have discovered this last fortnight is just how much I enjoy blogging. When I haven’t very much spare time, I’ve found that blogging has been one of the things high up on my priority list. What started as a bit of an experiment is turning into a bit of a passion.

But something I’ve also promised myself is that I won’t beat myself up on the days when I find it hard to fit in the blog.

Anyway, time for the highs and lows of the last couple of weeks in the Bangers & Mash kitchen…

The highs

It was my birthday last weekend and to celebrate my husband cooked one of my favourite dishes: Elizabeth David’s poulet a l’estragon. It was a gorgeously summery dish on a beautiful spring day. Superb.

Tarragon chicken for my birthday lunch cooked by my husband. I'm a very lucky girl.

Everyone knows how popular sausages are in our house. They appear regularly on our weekly meal plan and I’m always looking for new ways to cook them. We tried out this sausage, onion and potato bake from Lavender & Lovage and it was an instant hit and one I’m sure we’ll be cooking again and again.

Sausage potato and onion bake. Cheap and cheerful, this truly is fabulous family food.

Eggs are in my eyes a real super food. If you have a carton of eggs in the cupboard, you can fix yourself a meal in minutes. I love eggs cooked all ways but think I’m addicted to poaching these days, particularly for a weekend breakfast or brunch.

Just a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have dared poaching an egg. But at Christmas I offered friends staying with us a cooked breakfast in the morning and asked how they wanted their eggs, fried or scrambled. Jake asked instead for a poached egg. When he saw my face, he went on to give me the best ever instructions on how to do it.

I'm rather partial to a poached egg

There are no tricks other than using the freshest eggs possible. Simply crack your egg into a pan of boiling water and cook for three minutes. Don’t worry about how it looks. When you come to serve it, the egg white all comes together on your serving spoon. I was amazed at how easy they are. No vinegar. No swirling the water. And now I’m making them all the time.

Pasta appears regularly on my meal plans as a quick mid-week meal when my husband and I are both working. I tried this pasta, peas and pancetta dish from the Legal Tart, and highly recommend it. It’s very easy and very tasty.

Pasta with peas and pancetta - a great quickie dinner

The lows

I’m quite pleased to say that from 14 days of eating I could only come up with one low point. I cooked a beef pie and had very high hopes for it.

In the morning I put the casserole in the aga to slow cook while I was out at work and it was smelling fantastic when I returned home. I popped on a simple pie crust and I was almost there. I had the camera out ready to get some great close-ups when it came out of the oven. And then I went and burned it. It was still edible. Just. But not particularly pretty.

And now it’s time for those meal plans in blow-by-blow detail…

Monday 5 March
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: homity pie with spring greens

Tuesday 6 March
Lunch: hummus and cucumber rolls
Dinner: Chicken with mushrooms and cream, boiled rice

Wednesday 7 March
Lunch: tuna pasta salad 
Dinner: grilled chicken breast with baked fennel

Thursday 8 March
Lunch: carrot and coriander soup (F)
Dinner: cauliflower cheese

Friday 9 March
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: beef casserole and cornbread

Saturday 10 March
Lunch: leek and potato soup with garlic bread
Dinner: sausage onion and potato bake

Sunday 11 March
Lunch: poulet a l’estragon
Dinner: cream tea

Monday 12 March
Lunch: chicken sandwiches
Dinner: spaghetti with tomatoes and peas

Tuesday 13 March
Lunch: cheese and salad rolls
Dinner: pasta with peas and pancetta

Wednesday 14 March
Lunch: chicken pasta salad
Dinner: beef and vegetable pie

Thursday 15 March
Lunch: hummus, breadsticks and salad
Dinner: chilli con carne

Friday 16 March
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: pumpkin and parsnip cassoulet (F)

Saturday 17 March
Lunch: hot cross buns with Cheddar cheese
Dinner: homemade pizza

Sunday 18 March
Lunch: pub lunch for Mother’s Day
Dinner: cheese and beans on toast

F = from freezer

Meal plan: 4 March 2012

Oh dear. My good intentions to post my family’s meal plan at the end of each week have gone to pot recently.

I blame my mother. She came to stay for four days and distracted me with shopping trips for clothes and perfume and drinking lots of red wine.

So I have two week’s worth of meals to share with you now. I promise I’ll be good from now on.

The Highs

Chicken thigh Yakitori from Belleau Kitchen has to have been one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten. You’ve got to try it. Salty, sticky and scrumptious. Even better, my husband cooked it. So, simple too.

Roast vegetable lasagne – lovely

Roast vegetable lasagne is a bit of a family favourite; really satisfying and so full of flavour. I’ve entered this recipe into the Pink Whisk Challenge to raise awareness of Save The Children’s No Child Born to Die campaign. Why don’t you submit one of your family favourites?

I was surprised at just how good my Chinese style soup turned out

I had a go at creating my own Chinese style soup using Chinese sausage, noodles and Savoy cabbage and it was surprisingly good.

For a quick and cheap mid-week supper we tried  a recipe for creamy bacon and leek linguine from the fantastic Gourmet Mum. I didn’t have any linguine so used penne instead. It was very simple and very tasty.

Chicken and pea risotto. The perfect way to use up leftovers from a roast dinner.

And my final high of the fortnight was another very simple dish - chicken and pea risotto, using leftovers and stock from a roast chicken a few days earlier.

The Lows

It’s been a very good fortnight for food but there was one big fat dud. I tried making a goat’s cheese and onion tart and it was simply terrible. Bland and boring. I’d bought a cheap goat’s cheese on ‘special’ and it tasted of absolutely nothing. I won’t be doing that again.

Right then, time for the full breakdown…

Monday 20 February
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: mutton casserole and rice (F)

Tuesday 21 February
Lunch: hummus and cucumber rolls
Dinner: Pancakes (cheese & ham and lemon & ricotta)

Wednesday 22 February
Lunch: chicken and pea risotto  
Dinner: Chinese sausage and noodle soup

Thursday 23 February
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: baked Portobello mushrooms with garlic butter, baked potatoes and salad

Friday 24 February
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: creamy leek and bacon linguine

Saturday 25 February
Lunch: beans and cheese on toast
Dinner: beef casserole with celeriac mash

Sunday 26 February
Lunch: Chinese chicken, spare ribs, pak choi and egg fried rice
Dinner: Bread, cheese and salad

Monday 27 February
Lunch: ham and salad rolls
Dinner: chicken madras and rice (F)

Tuesday 28 February
Lunch: cheese and salad rolls
Dinner: ratatouille and rice

Wednesday 29 February
Lunch: olive and mozzarella muffins (F) 
Dinner: roast vegetable lasagne

Thursday 1 March
Lunch: scallion and sweet potato soup
Dinner: chicken thigh yakitori

Friday 2 March
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: left over lasagne

Saturday 3 March
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: carrot, beetroot & apple salad and wraps

Sunday 4 March
Lunch: sausages and winter vegetable colcannon
Dinner: left over chicken and colcannon

F = from freezer