The Care to Cook Recipe Challenge, plus Bernadette’s Caribbean Pot Roast Chicken

What dish would you cook to welcome someone into your family home? Share your favourite recipes and you could win a copy of TACT’s cookery book, signed by the charity’s patron Lorraine Pascale, who has personal experience of both the care system and adoption.

For the last few years I’ve been working with a wonderful charity called TACT, which provides fostering and adoption services to help some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the UK. Their aim is to help these youngsters find loving homes and a fresh new start in life.

In this time I’ve had the privilege to meet many amazing carers, adopters and staff who are making an incredible difference to the lives of the young people they work with.

The concept of family is very important to TACT; providing a safe, stable and caring home environment is so crucial and it makes a massive difference in supporting children and young people who find themselves in the care system for all kinds of reasons. Young people need to feel valued, made to feel special and loved, and need to be listened to when they are ready to share. That is what family is there for.

One of the simplest ways to bring family together and welcome new people into our home is through food. Family meals all too often are something children in care have missed out on. Because the family meal is so important, TACT has launched its very own cook book called Care to Cook, packed full of delicious starters, mains and desserts kindly donated by TACT’s adopters, supporters and staff.

The cost of the book is £3 and all proceeds directly benefit adopted children and their new families.

To help raise awareness of Care to Cook, Bangers & Mash is calling on food bloggers and food lovers to submit their own favourite family recipes, and one lucky person will receive a copy of the cook book signed by TACT’s new celebrity patron, TV chef and best selling cookery writer Lorraine Pascale.

Lorraine Pascale, patron of TACT, TV chef and cookery writer

How to submit your recipe

  • If you are a blogger and would like to enter the Care to Cook Challenge, simply post a recipe on your blog with links to both this page and the Care to Cook page on the TACT website and include the Care to Cook Challenge logo somewhere in your post.
  • The recipe can either be one of your own or somebody else’s but do remember to clearly credit your sources. You can republish an old blog post but please include information about the Care to Cook Challenge.
  • Your post can also be entered into other blogging challenges, so long as this complies with their rules.
  • If you mention your post on Twitter please mention @BangerMashChat and @TACTCare and use the #CareToCook hashtag. We will retweet all we see.
  • Please also email a link to your entry to vanesther@reescommunications.co.uk.
  • If you aren’t a blogger, don’t worry – you are still welcome to enter. Simply email your recipe (and a photo if you have one) to the above address and I’ll upload it to the Bangers & Mash blog for others to see.
  • The closing date for entries is Sunday 12 August 2012, and a round-up of all recipes submitted will feature here on Bangers & Mash and on TACT’s website the following week.
  • The winning entry will be chosen by one of TACT’s looked after children in the Bristol and South West region.

We can’t wait to see your family favourite recipes and please feel free to enter the challenge as many times as you like. Thanks for your support!

To get things started, here’s a fantastic recipe for Caribbean-style Pot Roast Chicken taken from Care to Cook. I tried it out on my own family last weekend and it is extremely yummy and very, very moreish. My daughters loved it – they asked for seconds and then thirds!

As my husband was tucking in to his, he asked where I got the recipe and I explained it had been donated by a TACT adopter for their cookery book. In between mouthfuls, Jason nodded and said: “Whoever Bernadette has adopted is very, very lucky. Her food is great!”

Pot Roast Chicken – Caribbean Style
By Bernadette Biscette, TACT Adopter

Serves 6

1 whole medium free range chicken, cut in half
½ medium onion, peeled and chopped
1½ tbsp all purpose seasoning
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp mild bajan or jerk seasoning
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar

For the gravy

Cup of hot water
1 tsp cassareep or molasses
1 tbsp tomato puree
½ medium onion, peeled and chopped
½ tsp all purpose seasoning

Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2.

Place the two halves of chicken in a large bowl and add the onion, all purpose seasoning, mixed herbs, paprika and bajan or jerk seasoning. Rub the seasoning into the chicken with your hands making sure it is well covered.

Pour the olive oil and brown sugar into a large iron or Dutch pot and heat until the sugar starts to brown. Place the two halves of chicken in the pot and slowly brown the surface by turning in the oil for around 15-20 minutes. (I had to do the two halves separately as I don’t have a pan large enough.)

When the chicken is well glazed, let them simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pot and place in a deep roasting pan and set aside.

Add a cup of hot water to the juices in the pot and all the ingredients for the gravy. Stir over a medium heat for 5 minutes and then pour over the chicken, cover with foil and cook for 2 hours in the oven, removing the foil for the last half hour. The chicken should be tender and well cooked.

Serve with salad and boiled rice for a hearty meal.

And now it’s your turn – what would you cook?

The Entries

  1. Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips” from Under The Blue Gum Tree
  2. French Madeleines from Crêpes Suzettes
  3. Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from Reluctant Housedad
  4. Penang Hokkien Mee from Cheryl Leembruggen
  5. Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats from Lavender & Lovage
  6. Nonya Chicken Curry from Elly Rowe
  7. Pasta and Pesto Sauce from A Trifle Rushed
  8. Boeuf en Daube from Chez Foti
  9. Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs from Lavender & Lovage
  10. Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheese from Fishfingers for Tea
  11. Courgette Bake followed by Vanilla Cream Terrine from Barbara Hamer
  12. Chicken Basquaise from French Foodie Baby
  13. Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake from Sue Hamer
  14. Hainanese Chicken Rice from Bangers & Mash

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

Chicken with cous cous

I’ve been making this simple cous cous dish since my first-born Jessie was about a year old. Based originally on an Annabel Karmel recipe, it’s a perfect dish for little ones who are getting to grips with solid food and new textures; just make sure you cut the meat and vegetables into smallish pieces. As they get older, the pieces can get bigger.

I used to make it just for Jessie until I realised how tasty it was, so I now regularly make it as a speedy supper dish for the whole family. We usually eat this hot but it’s also a great lunchbox filler.

Chicken with cous cous

Serves 4

200g cous cous
450ml hot chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 chicken breast, diced
1 courgette, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tomatoes, diced
Handful fresh basil, roughly torn or chopped
Salt and pepper

Put the cous cous in a large bowl, add the hot stock and leave to one side while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently saute the onion until golden. Add the chicken and cook until the meat turns opaque. Then add the courgette and garlic and cook until soft and starting to colour. Check the chicken is cooked through, then throw in the tomato and basil and stir in to heat through.

Fork through the cous cous to break up the grains and then mix in the chicken and vegetables. Season to taste and serve.

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: 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

Meal plan: 12 February 2012

Another week, another meal plan. And some rather tasty meals. Here’s the week that was in the Bangers & Mash kitchen…

Highs

My other half has requested that I let him cook more often. Since I’ve been meal planning, I’ve tended to choose dishes I’ve fancied cooking and my husband is feeling a little left out when it comes to happenings in the kitchen. His wish is most definitely my command, in this instance anyway.

For ages he’s been talking about having a go at a chicken tikka massala. You know, like they do in Indian restaurants. It took him three days but he got there. And it was bloody gorgeous. Thanks to The Curry Guy for the recipe.

Chicken tikka massala

Another high was a delicious pasta and aubergine dish I read about on Feeding Boys and a Firefighter, Pasta alla Norma; one I’ll definitely be making again.

Lows

I felt such a domestic goddess on Saturday night, when the rest of the family were tucked up in bed, stirring up the mixture for  spicy corn bread to bake in the morning for breakfast. While it was very tasty, the corn bread just didn’t work first thing in the morning with our bacon and eggs. Just too stodgy. So we decided it would be best to eat the remainder with a meaty stew later in the week.

Spicy corn bread

So here is a day-by-day guide to our last week of food…

Monday 6 February
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: salad wraps with haricot bean and garlic dip

Tuesday 7 February
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: squash risotto

Wednesday 8 February
Lunch: hummus and roasted vegetable wraps 
Dinner: Pasta alla Norma

Thursday 9 February
Lunch: cottage cheese with pineapple rolls
Dinner (kids): fish fingers, chips and peas (adults): ham & cheese omelette and salad

Friday 10 February
Lunch: olive and mozzarella muffins
Dinner: ratatouille with garlic bread

Saturday 11 February
Lunch: chicken tikka massala
Dinner: sausages and mustard mash

Sunday 12 February
Lunch: AWAY
Dinner: Bread, cheese and salad

F = from freezer

Meal plan: 5 February 2012

It’s been a rather good week for food in our house. Plenty of pies, bakes, soups and stews to keep us warm. Plus there was the added bonus of some rather tasty meals at my sister-in-law’s at the weekend whom we visited to help celebrate her 50th birthday.

Highs

The award for my food highlight of the week has to go to braised pig cheeks.

Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

Most people I’ve mentioned this dish to have given the same rather squeamish response but it is truly an amazing meal. You’ve got to try it. And it’s so cheap too. I got six pig cheeks from my butcher for just £4 and that’s enough to feed four people.

You slow cook the cheeks in red wine and vegetables until they are sumptuously tender and practically melt in your mouth. Pure heaven on a plate. I’ll post the recipe on the blog very soon. I promise.

Another food highlight, a regular in our house during the winter months, was the sausage and cabbage bake. Savoy cabbage is particularly good this time of year and so I entered my bake into the In Season Challenge over at Bake It, Make It, where you’ll find more recipes using this marvellous vegetable.

Lows

It’s been a tricky task coming up with what I’d call a low this week. So I’m plumping for what was more of a disappointment. Not in the dish itself but in my daughters’ reaction to it. I baked Lorraine Pascale’s pumpkin and rosemary muffins. My husband and I thought they were delicious but the kids weren’t convinced.

So here’s what we ate last week:

Monday 30 January
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: sausage and cabbage bake

Tuesday 31 January
Lunch: carrot, coriander and ginger soup
Dinner: cottage pie

Wednesday 1 February
Lunch: pumpkin and rosemary muffins 
Dinner: braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

Thursday 2 February
Lunch: butternut squash soup, ham salad rolls
Dinner (kids): spaghetti bolognese F (adults): beef stew and parsley dumplings F

Friday 3 February
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: baked potatoes, garlic mushrooms and salad

Saturday 4 February
Lunch: stir fried spring greens and noodles
Dinner: AWAY

Sunday 5 February
Lunch: AWAY
Dinner: butternut squash soup and bread rolls

F = from freezer

Homemade pizza

As you can see, Mia is into basil on her pizza

Pizza has to be one of the best things to cook with children, and homemade pizzas always taste so much better than the ready-made variety. Children, well mine anyway, seem more inclined to eat something if they’ve been involved in the making of it.

OK, so it might turn into a slightly messy affair. I used to come close to panic attacks when I first started cooking with the kids and ingredients would go flying everywhere.

But I’ve learned to just go with the flow; it can all be cleaned up afterwards.

It really is worth it to get your children used to helping make meals and forming a positive relationship with food.

I much prefer to make my own dough but I am not too proud to admit to cheating now and again. I generally keep some shop-bought pizza bases in the freezer too; perfect for when little friends stay for tea unexpectedly. My daughters think it’s great to make pizzas with their friends and having some frozen bases on standby means we can always rustle some up at a few moments’ notice.

If you have a little more time though (pizza dough takes an hour to rise), I would strongly recommend making your own dough from scratch. It is so incredibly easy and I’ll never get over the magical feeling of seeing the dough increase to double its size. It’s like a science experiment in the kitchen.

What ingredients you put on top of your pizza is very much down to personal taste and, of course, what your children like to eat. If you make a little pizza each, everyone can choose their own favourite toppings.

And don’t forget, cold pizza is great the following day in a packed lunch, so always a good idea to make a bit extra.

We like a lot of topping in our house!

Homemade pizza

Makes four pizzas

For the dough:

400g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 tsp dried oregano
250ml luke warm water
1 tbsp olive oil

Passata, about half a jar

Jessie and Mia’s favourite toppings:

Cherry tomatoes, halved
Small red, green or yellow pepper, chopped small
Fresh basil, torn
Pitted black olives
Ham or salami, chopped
Capers
Artichoke hearts, quartered
Mozzarella (a couple of balls, around 250g each, should be enough for four pizzas)

To make the dough, put the flour, salt, dried yeast and oregano into a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Make a well in the  middle and pour in the lukewarm water and oil. Gradually work the flour into the liquid, making a soft dough. If it’s too dry, add a drop more water. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

Flour your surface before tipping the dough onto it. Knead the dough by stretching it away from you, then pulling back into a ball. Do this for five minutes or so, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover loosely with cling film and put in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Jessie demonstrates how to eat pizza

Uncover the risen dough and punch it back down. Flour the surface again and divide the dough into four balls. Stretch or roll out each ball until you have a thin circle about 22cm across. Place the pizzas onto slightly oiled baking sheets.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of passata onto each pizza, smooth out with the back of the spoon, and then let the artist in you run free while you apply your choice of toppings, leaving the mozzarella until the end.

Bake your pizzas for 15-20 minutes and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before devouring.