Beef and Guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

beef and guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

When Solange at Pebble Soup suggested vanilla as the theme for this month’s Spice Trail, which she is very kindly guest hosting for me, my mind went into overdrive. I simply had to come up with a way to use this gorgeous spice in a savoury dish. And this deeply dark and delicious beef and Guinness pie is what I came up with.

beef and guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

My husband was the inspiration. He thought vanilla might work well in our favourite braised pig cheek recipe. I’m sure that would be heavenly but, as I’ve only recently featured the dish here on the blog, I couldn’t really go with that again. So the idea of pairing vanilla with slow cooked with meat in a rich, warming sauce evolved instead into this sumptuous beef pie.

Vanilla and Guinness are a genius combination. Soft and rich and ever so slightly sweet, but without being cloying. The vanilla flavour is subtle; just enough sweetness to be warm and comforting. Teamed with tender beef and vegetables – I opted for butternut squash and celery to continue the sweet them and some chestnut mushrooms for texture and a touch of earthiness – and topped with buttery puff pastry, this dish is definitely my idea of foodie bliss.

beef and guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

Beef and Guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g braising beef, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp corn flour
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
440ml can Guinness
260ml hot beef stock
large handful fresh thyme, picked
1 vanilla pod
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
375g ready rolled puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and fry the beef until browned on all sides. Stir in the corn flour to coat the meat.

Add the onion, mushrooms, celery, butternut squash, Guinness, beef stock and thyme. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Add the seeds to the pan, along with the pod. Season to taste and give it all a good stir.

Bring it to a gentle simmer. Pop the lid on and place in the oven for at least three hours until the meat is beautifully tender.

Remove the stew from the oven and leave to cool.

Turn up the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6.

Transfer the stew to a ovenproof pie dish (around 2 litre). Brush the edges of the pie dish with a little beaten egg and carefully lay the ready rolled puff pastry over the top of the stew. Knock the edges with the back of a knife so they stick to the dish and trim off the excess pastry.

With a sharp knife, cut a little hole in the middle of the pastry to allow the steam to escape and brush the top with beaten egg.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Serve with vegetables and creamy mashed potato to soak up all that meaty vanilla-flavoured gravy.

beef and guinness pie with vanilla and thyme

I am entering this pie into The Spice Trail, which is of course being hosted this month by Solange over at Pebble Soup, and where the spice theme this month is vanilla.

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And as this pie also contains lots of lovely fresh thyme, I shall also enter it into Cooking with Herbs, hosted by the brilliant Karen at Lavender & Lovage.

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Braised oxtail with smoked bacon

oxtail

Other than tinned oxtail soup as a child (which I don’t think really counts), I hadn’t eaten oxtail until just the other week when I got hold of some at my local butcher and decided it was time to try it out on my family.

I’ve been meaning to cooking with it for quite some time but for one reason and another hadn’t got round to it. It’s a wonderfully cheap cut and I’d heard how full flavour and “unctuous” it can be when cooked long and slow – perfect for us as we cook in an Aga.

And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I turned to that classic Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which I always tend to consult when faced with a new cut of meat, and found a recipe for a slow-cooked oxtail, cooked very simply with soffritto (onion, carrot, celery and garlic), white wine and pancetta, or in my case beef stock and smoked bacon.

The result was truly unctuous. So it might not be the prettiest of plates but it tastes divine. A properly rustic kind of dish which demands eating with fingers to make the most of all that gorgeously sweet meat clinging to the bones, with plenty of cartilage to be gnawed and marrow to be sucked. The vegetables seem to soak up the gooey, marrow-rich sauce making them beautifully soft, and a large helping of creamy mashed potato is just wonderful served on the side.

What did disappoint was how squeamish the children were about getting stuck in. This isn’t normally a problem in our house, where we’re used to sticky fingers and dribbly chins. Perhaps I left a little too much fat on the oxtail or maybe it was simply the idea of eating a beast’s rear appendage, but I was surprised at how much encouragement my kids needed to finish their plates.

Don’t worry, I never give up on the first attempt. This is definitely a dish I’ll be trying on the clan again soon. I loved it so much, it’s now my mission to make my family love it too.

oxtail

Braised oxtail with smoked bacon

850g oxtail, cut into pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
3 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500ml hot beef stock
salt and pepper

Remove any excess fat from the oxtail and then soak in cold water for three hours, changing the water a couple of times. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel.

Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.

Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof dish, add the bacon and fry for 5 minutes until coloured.

Add the oxtail pieces and brown all over.

Stir in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and fry together for a few minutes before pouring in the hot beef stock. Add enough hot water to just cover the ingredients and season to taste.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven to cook for three to four hours, until the meat comes easily away from the bone and the juices have thickened.

Serve with plenty of creamy mashed potato to soak up all that delicious sauce. And make sure you have napkins to hand.

family-foodies

Oxtail is a very inexpensive cut of beef and so I am entering this dish into May’s Family Foodies challenge (hosted by myself and Eat Your Veg), where the theme is ‘Cheap and Cheerful’.

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I’m also entering into Credit Crunch Munch, co-hosted by Camilla at Fab Food 4 All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, and this month guest hosted by Gingey Bites.

Jacki’s Hungarian goulash

goulash

We ate this goulash for Sunday lunch the other weekend. It was absolutely delicious but sadly I can’t take credit for the recipe. It was sent to me by my Twitter pal Jacki Harrison-Stanley for entry into The Spice Trail challenge, which this month is celebrating paprika.

As Jacki isn’t a blogger, I happily volunteered to post the recipe for her and just had to try out the recipe on my family. They loved it. And it was very simple to make, which is always a big bonus.

Jacki recommends serving her goulash with rice or a baked potato. We happened to have a whole load of spuds that needed using up, so I opted for mashed potato instead, made with plenty of butter and some of the leftover soured cream.

goulash

Jacki’s Hungarian goulash

Serves 5-6

700g braising steak, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
1 rounded tbsp paprika
400g tin Italian tomatoes
1 medium green pepper, cut into strips
150ml soured cream
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the steak on a high heat.

Remove the meat. Reduce the heat and cook the onions for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and return the meat to the casserole dish.

Sprinkle in the flour and paprika, and give it a good stir to soak up the juices.

Add the tomatoes and season to taste. Bring slowly up to simmering point and then cover with a tight-fitting lid.

Place the casserole dish in the Aga simmering oven for 2 hours or in a conventional oven at 140°C / gas mark 1.

After 2 hours, add the chopped pepper and then cook for a further 30 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the soured cream to give your goulash a beautiful marbled, creamy look.

Sprinkle with a little paprika, and serve with rice or a baked potato.

My thanks again to Jacki for another brilliant recipe. 

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As Jacki’s goulash is flavoured with paprika, it is being entered into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, a monthly event hosted by me!

Jacki’s Moroccan lamb tagine

tagine

This recipe comes from Jacki, one of my foodie friends on Twitter. Jacki is a fellow Aga owner and BBC 6 Music listener, and we share a passion for hearty, slow cooking. She was keen to enter her lamb tagine into the Spice Trail challenge, as it features this month’s spice, cinnamon, but as she isn’t a blogger herself I offered to share her recipe here.

In Jacki’s words, it’s “very simple but lush”. I can’t wait to try it out on my family – it looks like a delicious winter warmer.

Jacki’s Moroccan lamb tagine

500g lamb steak, diced
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 can chopped tomatoes
small carton passata
150g dried apricots, chopped
handful of flaked almonds
1 tsp honey
250ml vegetable stock
seasoning to taste

Combine the lamb with the oil and spices and marinade overnight, although shorter is OK.

Fry the meat to seal and colour, and place in your tagine.

Fry the onions and garlic until soft, then add all remaining ingredients to the pan. Bring to a simmer and pour over the meat in the tagine.

Cook in the Aga simmering oven for 2 hours or so – or in a conventional oven at 180°C for 1½ hours. Remove the lid for the last 10-15 minutes.

Serve with couscous.

Inspired by a ‘Select Lincolnshire’ recipe in The Good Taste magazine Lincolnshire.

If you have a favourite cinnamon recipe you’d like to share in December’s Spice Trail challenge, you’ll find more information here. And you might just win yourself a Tasting Experience for two courtesy of the good people at Buyagift.

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Chilli beef pie with spicy potato wedges

chilli beef pie

This chilli beef ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s a proper winter warmer, pretty much all cooked in one pot. The beef is slow cooked so it practically falls apart in your mouth and is flavoured with delicious cumin, chilli, cinnamon and oregano. It’s topped off with crispy, spicy potato wedges. Oh and it’s got melted cheese on top too. Really, what’s not to like?

It’s the first dish I’ve tried from the Higgidy Cookbook and I’m now looking forward to working my way through the rest of the book. The lamb shank pie is another I’ve got my eye on.

chilli beef

Chilli beef pie with spicy potato wedges

Serves 6

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp dried oregano
750g braising beef, cut into chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stalks separated and chopped
2 green chillies, chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
400ml beef stock
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp black treacle
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 x 400g tin black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper

For the wedges

4 large baking potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
good pinch of smoked paprika
large handful of grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Crush the cumin seeds and chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar and then pour into a large bowl. Stir in the cinnamon, oregano and 1 teaspoonful of salt. Add the chunks of beef and toss well to completely coat the meat.

Place your casserole dish over a medium heat and add a tablespoonful of the oil. Brown the beef all over in batches. Don’t let the spices burn or they will turn bitter. Put the browned meat in a bowl.

Pour a little water into the pan, scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen all those lovely tasty bits, and then pour this over the beef.

In the same pan, heat the rest of the oil and then gently fry the onion, garlic, coriander stalks (reserve the leaves) and chillies until soft. Add the puree, stock, tomatoes and hot stock, and give it all a good stir. Cook for a minute or two.

Add the beef and bring to the boil. When the stew comes to the boil, remove from the heat and cover tightly with the lid. Cook in the oven for two hours.

Add the pepper and black beans, stir well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and then return to the oven with the lid back on for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir in the coriander leaves. Keep to one side with the lid on to keep warm.

Increase the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6.

Cut the potatoes into chunky wedges and boil in salted water for around 8 minutes until just tender. Drain well and put into a roasting tin. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with paprika and salt and bake for half an hour until crisp and golden.

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Scatter the wedges over the top of the stew, top with grated cheese and pop it under the grill until the cheese has melted.

Serve with soured cream. Enjoy!

chilli beef pie

As this stew-slash-pie features my favourite chilli, I’m entering it into The Spice Trail challenge, which has chilli as this month’s theme.

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And as this pie-slash-stew is cooked almost entirely in one pot, I’m entering it into the Four Season’s Food challenge, hosted by Eat Your Veg and Delicieux, where the theme this month is Soups, Stews & One Pot Wonders. If you’re looking for more winter-warmers, head over there for some great inspiration.

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Star Wars sausage stew

Somehow I completely failed to spot that this week is National Sausage Week here in the UK. Now if anyone should be celebrating the humble sausage, it clearly should be Bangers & Mash. The amount we consume in our house contributes significantly to supporting the British sausage industry, I’m sure.

Thankfully, I had this very tasty sausage dish waiting in the wings to appear on the blog – a perfect winter warmer for all the family on these darker, colder days.

So bumped up the running order a little, I bring you the ‘Star Wars’ sausage stew, a recipe my children (and us grown ups too) adore, which I discovered in my old Blue Peter Book of Gorgeous Grub, circa 1980. The topping of crushed up plain crisps and grated cheese takes me back to my childhood when crisps seemed to appear in hot dishes all the time.

As a child I was a committed fan of the BBC children’s programme Blue Peter, winning a total of four badges over the years in various competitions. I was forever pestering my mum for old boxes, loo roll holders and sticky backed plastic so that I could make the latest Blue Peter creation.

But for some reason I never tried to recreate any of their recipes. It was my dad who recently dug out this cookbook, which, to be totally honest, I can’t remember having as a child as I wasn’t really all that interested in food back then. Oh how things change! So I’m rather enjoying working my way through all the recipes that were submitted by Blue Peter viewers, answering the call from presenters Simon Groom, Chris Wenner and Tina Heath.

According to eight-year-old Elspeth Bruford from Edinburgh who sent in this recipe…

We called it this because it was invented when we wanted a hot meal waiting for us when we came home from seeing the film ‘Star Wars’.

I wonder where Elspeth is now and whether she still makes her Star Wars sausage stew?

Star Wars sausage stew

Serves 4 to 5

1 tbsp vegetable oil
450g sausages (Elspeth cut hers into slices; I left mine whole)
2 onions, chopped
175g bacon, chopped
1 small tin baked beans
1 small tin sweetcorn (I used frozen)
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 packet of plain crisps, crushed
50g Cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and brown the sausages, then remove to one side. Add the onion and bacon to the casserole and gently brown. Throw the sausages back in, as well as the beans, sweetcorn and tomatoes. Add the bay leaf, season well with salt and pepper and give it all a good mix.

Top with the sliced potatoes and season again. Cover with a lid or foil and cook in the oven for around two and a half hours.

Remove the lid or foil and turn up the heat to 190ºC / gas mark 5 and cook for another half an hour to brown the potatoes.

Finally top with the crushed crisps and cheese and return to the oven until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

Easy ratatouille

Along with my tasty chicken rice, this easy ratatouille is my go-to meal when I’m stocking the freezer with quick weekday meals for the kids.

Now that I’m working over in Wells four days a week, ratatouille appears regularly on my meal plans. It’s particularly good for those days when I’m not back home til late and my husband has little time to get the girls back from school and fed before taking them off out again to their various clubs and activities.

My girls have been eating ratatouille since they were very little, when I’d mash it up for them a bit. They still love it today, served either on its own with a hunk of bread to mop up the juices, with rice, pasta or a baked potato and sprinkled with cheese, or as a veggie accompaniment to sausages or chops.

This is one of those recipes you can play around with. If you’ve got herbs to hand, throw in some of those. If you don’t like cumin, leave that out. The quantities of aubergine, courgette and pepper vary each time I make it, but this should give you the general idea.

Easy ratatouille

Makes 8-10 servings

2tbsp olive oil
½tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 courgettes, chopped
2 aubergines, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / gas mark 6.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish and fry the cumin seeds for a minute or so.

Add the onions and fry gently until golden, then add the garlic and fry for another minute before throwing in the red and yellow peppers.

Saute the peppers until they have slightly softened and then add the courgettes. Continue to saute for a couple of minutes and then add the aubergine. You may need to add a little more oil to the pan at this stage. Keep stirring the vegetables until they’ve started to colour, and then add the bay leaf, tomatoes and season to taste.

Put the lid on your pan and pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes. If it’s a little too liquid for your liking, remove the lid and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Leave to cool before dividing into freezer bags.

Destination Rio de Janeiro for Feijoada – Traditional Brazilian Stew

The fourth stop in my virtual Around the World in Six Suppers culinary tour finds us in Rio de Janeiro, the party capital of Brazil.

Back in my early 20s, when I was working in a PR agency in Bristol, I went on the jammiest press trip ever. I took some local business journalists all the way to Brazil for almost a week, just to see a fleet of new British Airways aircraft on the production line in Sao Jose dos Campos. We only needed to spend half a day in the factory, but due to flight schedules we had to stay for five days. A real shame that.

After our stint at the factory, our host Embraer put us up at fantastic hotels, firstly in Sao Paulo and then Rio de Janeiro, to make sure we got a really good impression of Brazil. It was incredible. We were wined and dined like royalty. I got to see football in Sao Paulo, sunbathe on Copacabana and Ipanema, hang glide close to Corcovado, take a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain (imagining I was in a Bond film), dance to Bossa Nova beats in the clubs and drink way too many caipirinhas. I’ve been on many a press trip since but none has ever come close.

And so, to take me back to those days of luxury in Rio and Sao Paulo, I’ve ironically cooked up what actually started out something of a peasant meal, and is now seen by many as Brazil’s national dish. It’s similar to a French cassoulet and is thought to originate from the slaves in Brazil who would cook up big pots of stew from black beans and the parts of the pig the landowners discarded.

It isn’t the prettiest dish in the world, stews rarely are, but it tastes so good. It’s rich and earthy, smoky and very, very satisfying.

Feijoada – Traditional Brazilian Stew

Serves 6

500g dried black beans
2tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
130g smoked sausage – I used kabanos
600g pork ribs, cut into chunks
200g smoked gammon, cut into chunks
5 bay leaves
salt and pepper

Cover the black beans completely in cold water and soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2.

In a large casserole, heat the olive oil and sweat the onions and red pepper until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so before adding the drained black beans, smoked sausage, pork ribs, gammon, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Stir briefly before covering with cold water and bringing to a gentle simmer.

Cover the casserole with a lid and place in the oven to cook slowly for around two hours, until the meat falls off the bone.

Serve with boiled white rice and sliced spring greens fried with a little chopped onion and garlic. It’s also traditional to serve with slices of orange, but I completely forgot this bit – I can’t say I missed them.

Care to Cook: The Winner is Announced!

When I put out a call a month or so ago for people to send in their favourite family recipes for the Care to Cook recipe challenge I had absolutely no idea what kind of response to expect. Care to Cook is a challenge I set up with a fostering and adoption charity I work with called TACT in order to promote their cookbook, which they’re selling to support adopted children and their families.

But I had nothing to worry about. You lot rose to the challenge splendidly, supplying a fantastic assortment of family favourites, both savoury and sweet. The task set was to suggest a dish you would cook to welcome someone into your family home. For many children in care, family meals are simply something they are not used to. Each and every dish submitted into the challenge is one I know would make a vulnerable child or young person feel special, valued and welcomed.

Before I announce the winner, here are each of those delicious entries in turn. Warning – this list is guaranteed to make you hungry!

First in was this tasty little number from Under The Blue Gum Tree, which looks far superior to its McDonald’s namesake: Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips”.  The fillet is served in lovingly prepared carrot and cumin bread rolls, with potato skins covered in paprika and cayenne pepper, and some salsa and soured cream on the side. Now, who could resist that?

Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips” from Under The Blue Gum Tree

Next we have French Madeleines from Crêpes Suzettes. These pretty little cakes look so tempting and perfect for goûter, the snack French kids have at around 4pm. I think my children must be a bit French as they are always starving when they come home from school too!

French Madeleines from Crepes Suzette

For Reluctant Housedad, what to cook for this challenge was a bit of a no-brainer. It had to be his Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Doesn’t it look incredible? I love puddings that combine sweet and salty and absolutely anything that contains peanut butter, so this is going straight to the top of my must-bake list.

Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from Reluctant Housedad

My fabulous mother Cheryl suggested this next dish Hokkien Mee, which she remembers eating as a girl growing up on the Malaysian island of Penang. It’s a hot and spicy noodle dish, featuring both meat and seafood, common in many South East Asian dishes. It’s a little different to the Singapore version but, as my Mum would tell you, much more delicious!

Penang Hokkien Mee from Cheryl Leembruggen (photo via vkeon.com)

Karen from Lavender & Lovage offers up these ‘frugal but comforting’ Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats, which I think look incredibly tasty and very satisfying. It’s a real family-favourite in Karen’s house; her daughter loved eating this when she was little, and still does now she is all grown up!

Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats from Lavender & Lovage

My little sister Elly surprised me with her cooking skills with this next entry, her Nonya Chicken Curry from Malaysia. I just assumed she would submit a recipe for something sweet and sticky – she’s a great baker you see. But no, this is her curry dish that got a big thumbs up from her boyfriend’s dad. He’s from Malaysia himself and apparently not an easy man to impress!

Nonya Chicken Curry from Elly Rowe

Pasta and Pesto Sauce is our next entry which comes from A Trifle Rushed. Pesto is always a favourite in our house but I must admit it’s normally a meal-in-a-hurry using dried pasta and jarred sauce. Here Jude and her daughter lovingly make fresh pasta by hand and blend their own pesto in a pestle and mortar. I bet it tastes incredible; it certainly looks wonderful.

Pasta and Pesto Sauce from A Trifle Rushed

Louisa at Chez Foti now lives in the French Pyrenees and likes to cook classic French dishes whenever friends and family come to visit. This Boeuf en Daube is a particular favourite and I can see why; it looks so sumptuously satisfying! It’s one of those meals you can prepare in advance and leave to slow cook in the oven, so that your visitors arrive to the most glorious aromas emanating from the kitchen. Yum!

Boeuf en Daube from Chez Foti

When I received this next entry from Lavender & Lovage for Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs I had to try it straight away. We had it for brunch one Sunday morning, and it was perfect with our bacon, eggs and beans. I like the fact this is a traditional family recipe, and one that Karen’s grandmother used to make. I think it might just become a tradition for our family too.

Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs from Lavender & Lovage

Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheese from Sian at Fishfingers for Tea is next up. Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in satisfying comfort food and I do love this version, beefed up with tasty bacon and spinach and finished with slices of tomato and crunchy cheesy breadcrumbs on top. Another great dish for preparing in advance and popping in the oven just before your visitors arrive.

Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheese from Fishfingers for Tea

My Nana Barbara sent in two dishes for her entry: Courgette Bake followed by Vanilla Cream Terrine. She says the courgette bake works well both as a starter and as main course served with large hunks of crusty bread. My Nana is fantastic in the kitchen and as a kid I would love staying with her and Grandad as it always meant getting to eat lots of lovely cakes and pies.

Barbara’s Courgette Bake – perfect for anyone with a glut of courgettes on their hands

Chicken Basquaise is the delicious entry from Helene at French Foodie Baby. She warns that it might differ from traditional recipes but that’s what she likes so much about her mother’s cooking; she cooks from the gut. I love the way Helene relives her food memories through her blog and brings them into the present day as she cooks for her little boy Pablo.

Chicken Basquaise from French Foodie Baby

This Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake comes from my step-mum Sue and is the cake she bakes every June to celebrate my twin sisters’ birthday. I’ve always been very jealous of them having a summer birthday when strawberries are in season! Now wouldn’t you like this for your birthday cake each year?

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake from Sue Hamer

The final entry is one of mine: Hainanese Chicken Rice. It’s a dish I loved to eat when I was a little girl on trips to Penang with my mum and little sister. I had no idea how to make it so I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family for a helping hand, and my Aunty Lorene and Cousin Sisi did the honours by providing this recipe. How would I ever survive without Facebook?!

Hainanese Chicken Rice from Bangers & Mash

There you have it – a fine collection of family recipes if ever I saw one! But there can only be one winner in the Care to Cook challenge, and the unenviable task of selecting a winner was given to 15-year-old Josh, who lives with one of TACT’s foster carers in the South West of England.

Josh says it was a very difficult decision to make and he sat deliberating – and salivating! – over the list for quite some time and really struggled to choose just one winner. He really liked the look of both the Penang Hokkien Mee and the Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake, but in the end it was the Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from the Reluctant Housedad that won his vote.

So a huge congratulations to Keith at the Reluctant Housedad for your fabulous entry, which Josh found he simply couldn’t resist! As winner of the Care to Cook family recipe challenge he will receive a copy of TACT’s Care to Cook recipe book, signed by the charity’s celebrity patron Lorraine Pascale.

Choosing one winner wasn’t easy but in the end our judge Josh couldn’t resist this Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from the Reluctant Housedad

And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their favourite family recipes, helping to raise awareness of this very worthwhile charity, which is working so hard to improve the lives of children and young people across the UK who haven’t had the best starts in life. More information of the work of TACT is available on their website.

Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

If you’ve never eaten pig cheeks, you really should give them a try. They are cheap and tasty and perfect for a family meal.

Please don’t be squeamish about this cut. I’m not asking you to cook tongue after all! When pig cheeks are slow cooked as in this dish, they have the most divinely succulent and unctuous texture and taste like they should cost a fortune. They’re actually cheap as chips. My butcher sold me six cheeks for just £4.

Pigs cheeks might not be that easy to find though. You probably won’t come across them in the supermarket and I don’t know of any butchers around us that would have them on display. I always order them in advance from our local butcher in Frome.

The first time he got them in for me, I was given almost the whole side of the pig’s head complete with ear (times six), and had the rather daunting task of removing the little cheek cushions from within these mounds of skin and sinew. Needless to say I learned from this experience and now always ask the butcher to remove the meaty morsels for me.

The pig cheeks, prepared by my lovely butcher

This dish sees the pig cheeks slowly cooked for four hours in vegetables, stock and wine and is the ideal comfort food for a chilly February evening. The addition of caraway gives the sauce a beautifully rich and intense flavour. The cheeks are served simply with a celeriac and potato mash. I’ve based my recipe on one by Anton Edelmann.

My whole family loves it – yes even my daughters who are six and three. Perhaps they are too young for the thought of eating cheek to be off-putting. Next I have to persuade my mother to try it when she comes to visit at the end of the month.

Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

Serves 4

6 pig cheeks, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 leek, washed and cut into 1cm chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
2 celery sticks, cut into 1cm chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
100g tomato puree
½ bottle dry red wine
300ml beef stock, hot
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 bay leaf

For the celeriac mash

Half a celeriac, peeled and chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
100ml milk
50g butter

Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.

Season the pig cheeks and dust with the flour. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the cheeks until golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a plate.

Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onions, leeks, celery, carrots and garlic and fry gently until just beginning to brown. Pour in a little of the red wine and the tomato puree. Cook gently to reduce the wine and caramelise the puree. Gradually add the rest of the wine, reducing down each time until you have a lovely rich dark sauce.

Return the cheeks to the pan and pour over enough stock to cover. Add the peppercorns, caraway seeds and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for four hours. Stir occasionally and add more stock if it begins to dry out.

Towards the end of the cooking time, boil the potatoes and celeriac in a pan of salted water for around 10 minutes. Add the butter, milk and a little seasoning, and mash well.

When cooked, take out the cheeks and keep warm. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Bring the sauce to the boil and reduce until it is good and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the cheeks on the mash and generously spoon over the sauce. Enjoy!