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.

Sue’s Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

With my step-mum Sue in Epping Forest in the 1980s

I clearly remember my Dad telling me one summer holidays when I was staying with him in London that he wanted to introduce me to someone special: his girlfriend, Sue. I was about seven or eight years old. I remember being taken completely by surprise but I couldn’t wait to meet her. Particularly because she had hand-sewn me the most exquisite little doll. When I met her, I thought she was a bit like a princess with her long brown hair and her beautiful dresses. Rather like her doll!

For some reason, it wasn’t until I had my first child that it dawned on me how significant a role Sue had played in my childhood. It’s quite common I think for women not to acknowledge what their mothers have done for them until they have their own children. The same was true for me. I saw both my Mum and Sue in new lights.

Whenever I came to stay in London with my Dad during the school holidays, Sue would always make a huge effort with me. We baked together, she helped me make my own dresses, she taught me to play the recorder, she’d take me into the Chelsea Playground where she worked, and we’d play endless games – picture consequences was a particular favourite of mine.

I was 12-years-old when I came to live permanently with my Dad and Sue in London. My twin sisters were just a year old. For me it was all a big adventure; moving to London, getting a new bedroom, starting a new school and meeting new friends. I really never thought about what a massive impact this must have had on Sue’s life: bringing a near-teenager into your home when your hands are already very much full with two little babies. I can’t imagine many people would put themselves forward for that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said a proper thank you to Sue for this. So, thank you. I’ll say it properly in person when I next see you!

And all this is why I’m so pleased Sue has entered this cake into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge. Because Sue knows a thing or two about family and welcoming young people into her home.

Over to Sue for her very special Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake…

Since I first made this cake one June to celebrate my twin daughters’ birthday – or should that be birthdays? – I’ve made it almost every year. Often we waited for their birthday to have the first strawberries of the year – all the better for the waiting! When they were away at university it was something to have when they returned home.

We may not have it quite so often these days but this year – when Lottie returned from Spain and met up with her sister, Maura in London – we shared it again. Cakes are often part of getting together as a family and seem to signify special times or celebrations often becoming a bit of a family tradition. Cranberry muffins on Christmas morning whilst we open the presents is another one in our house.

But as it’s summer and strawberries are still good here goes.

(The Victoria sandwich recipe here is based on one of Mary Berry’s. My mother gave me a copy of book of her cake recipes and it’s one of the most used in the house – much splattered and stained to prove it!)

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

4 free-range medium eggs
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g baking spread, margarine or soft butter at room temperature (or a combination of the two to make the same amount) plus a little extra to grease the tins

For the filling and topping:

At least one punnet of ripe strawberries – some sliced in half (for between the layers), the rest left whole
300ml whipped double cream
450g strained Greek yogurt and whipped cream (see below)
mint leaves for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

If using tins rather than silicone cake moulds, grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins: use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper; to do this, draw around the base of the tin onto the paper and cut out.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread.

Mix everything together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Put a damp cloth under your bowl when you’re mixing to stop it moving around. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins: this doesn’t need to be exact, but you can weigh the filled tins if you want to check. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack.

Set aside to cool completely.

Whip the double cream until thick and stiff. At this point I fold some thick, strained Greek yogurt into the cream; it takes away a little of the richness and makes for a lighter cake. I usually use two-parts cream and one-part yogurt but you can decide on what proportions you prefer.

To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread with about half of the cream mixture. Then arrange the halved strawberries on top – you want to cover the entire surface. Place the next layer of sponge on top – add a little more of the cream if the top layer won’t stick to the bottom one.

Spread the rest of the cream mixture on top and crown with the whole strawberries to cover. Arrange them so that they look pretty.

Finally, decorate with a few mint leaves.

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

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.

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

Easter baking: hot cross buns

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

As regular readers of Bangers & Mash will know, I have a few insecurities when it comes to baking. Probably because around 50% of my efforts are complete flops. I put it all down to not being taught to bake as a child. But enough of the self-psychoanalysis. I am turning my baking life around. Who cares if a cake doesn’t rise occasionally and what’s a burnt biscuit or two between friends? The more I try, the better I get. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

One of my hands down successes recently has been hot cross buns. When I took these little beauties out of the oven, I can’t tell you how proud I felt. They looked just like proper hot cross buns. And they smelled amazing, simply filling the kitchen with sweet, spicy goodness. It’s going to be difficult bringing myself to eat the shop-bought variety again.

So if I can make these bad boys, anyone can.

What surprised me most wasn’t the fact they were easy to make. They were. But how quick they were to make. Isn’t bread supposed to be complicated? I did the first part before ballet lessons on a Saturday morning (OK there was a  15-minute kneading session, but I found that rather enjoyable), leaving the dough to rise while the girls did ‘good toe, naughty toe’. Then they took another ten minutes work when we got back, plus a little more rising time and then into the oven. You just need to factor in time for rising. They also freeze really well, so great to make in advance and simply whip them out when you need them.

This recipe is by The Fabulous Baker Brothers aka Henry and Tom Herbert, which appeared in the April edition of Delicious magazine. I’d been thinking about trying hot cross buns for a little while and when I saw them on the front cover I took it as a sign. I stuck pretty much to their recipe except I swapped zest for mixed peel, only because I still have a big pot left over from Christmas I’m trying to use up.

We ate some of the buns warm from the oven with butter and cheese for a light lunch, and some the following morning with strawberry jam. The rest went in the freezer for some easy homemade home-baked pleasure whenever I fancy!

Hot cross buns

Makes 16

680g strong white bread flour
2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast
10g salt
100g caster sugar
80g soft butter
15g mixed spice
175ml milk, tepid
175ml water, tepid
1 egg
80g currants
80g sultanas
40g mixed peel

For the cross
100g strong white bread flour
Pinch of salt and sugar
25g butter, melted
125ml water

For the glaze
75ml boiling water
1 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of mixed spice

Into a big mixing bowl put the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, butter (make sure it’s really soft), mixed spice, milk, water and egg. Stir well (you’ll need to put some effort in here) until  you have a loose dough. Add a little more water if the mixture looks dry.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes until the dough is smooth. Gently work in the dried fruit and mixed peel. I stretched the dough out flat, scattered on a handful of fruit, folded the dough over and kneaded. And then repeated this until all the fruit was worked in.

Plop your dough back into the big mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 45 minutes until it has doubled in size.

Before...

...and after!

Line a baking tray with good high sides with baking paper. Turn the dough out of the bowl and cut in half using a plastic scraper. Divide each half into half again, then keep repeating until you end up with 16 pieces.

Roll the pieces firmly  in your hands to make pert round shapes. Arrange them in the baking tray in a four by four formation with half an inch between each bun. Cover the tin with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes or so until the buns have doubled again in size.

Preheat the oven to 210ºC/gas mark 6-7.

Combine the dry ingredients for the cross in a bowl and gradually whisk in the melted butter and water until you get a smooth mixture. Pour into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Cross the buns by piping continuous lines across the length and breadth of the tin.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden. While they’re in, make the glaze. Boil the water with the sugar and mixed spice for half a minute, then put to one side. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush the tops with the spicy glaze.

 

The Little Loaf is hosting the Fresh from the Oven challenge this month and as the theme this time is hot cross buns I thought I might enter mine. Now, the Little Loaf is an amazing baker so I’m a little nervous with my amateur offering but hopefully she’ll appreciate my enthusiasm!

Three ways with butternut squash

Lorraine Pascale muffins
Riverford risotto
My soup

A rather large butternut squash arrived in our veg box last week. So as well as making my usual soup, I thought I’d try out a couple of new recipes on the family.

The first of these was a Lorraine Pascale recipe I’d seen her do recently on TV – pumpkin and rosemary muffins.

Pumpkin and rosemary muffins from a Lorraine Pascale recipe

It’s a great recipe, ever so easy, and would definitely recommend you try it. My husband and I enjoyed the muffins one lunchtime. We had them warm, with a little butter and some mature Cheddar cheese on the side.

Unfortunately our daughters were  not so impressed to find them in their lunch boxes at school and nursery. I think perhaps the rosemary was too overwhelming a flavour for them. Oh well, you can’t win them all, but you’ve got to try!

So I put the remainder in the freezer and I look forward to enjoying them at some point, sans enfants.

I won’t write out the recipe for pumpkin and rosemary muffins here but instead direct you to the BBC Food website.

The muffins used about a quarter of the butternut squash. I took another quarter for a squash risotto as inspired by the lovely people at Riverford Organic, who deliver our weekly veg box.

Riverford’s squash risotto

Now this was a success with the whole family, almost. The kids really enjoyed it, wolfing it down in seconds. It’s easy to eat, so very good for toddlers and babies getting to grip with new textures. My husband did quite like it I think, despite a few comments about the lack of meat. Which is normal from him.

This is another simple recipe. I only used half the quantities given in the Riverford recipe and I still had enough to feed two adults and two children, with a couple of portions left over for the freezer.

With the remaining half of the squash I cooked up a big pan of soup. Butternut squash makes for a very satisfying soup and children in particular love it, probably because they’re rather partial to those sweet flavours.

Roasted butternut squash with rosemary

I usually boil the butternut squash with the potato but this time it had already been roasted, as I’d needed cooked squash for the other recipes. I think I prefer it this way. It gives the soup a slightly more smokey flavour which is delicious.

Butternut squash soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced (if you like a thicker soup, add another potato)
1 litre vegetable stock, hot
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Gently fry until golden.

Add the squash and potato and cook for a minute or two before pouring in the hot stock.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Liquidise the soup until smooth using a handheld blender or in a jug liquidiser. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

It’s lovely to have homemade soup ready to warm up when you’re forced to grab lunch at your desk

As butternut squash is in season right now and in plentiful supply, I’ve entered this post into the Simple and in Season blog event for February over at Fabulicious Food.

I love the idea behind this blog event – highlighting the best of what’s in season now and sharing recipes using those wonderful ingredients.

Some gorgeous looking recipes have already been posted, and I look forward to seeing many more over the coming month.

If you’ve got a recipe using seasonal ingredients, you should check it out!

Carrot, coriander and ginger soup

Soups are wonderful. They’re so simple to make and great for a quick lunch with crusty bread, and at tea time I often give my girls a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

Carrot and coriander soup is one of our family favourites. Now and again I add ginger to give it a little extra zing, perfect to warm the bones on a chilly day.

I like to cook up a big pot of soup on a Sunday to warm up for lunches through the week.

Ingredients

1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 piece of ginger about as long as your thumb, peeled and finely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 litre vegetable stock, hot
1 large bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Salt

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Gently fry until golden, then add the ginger and cook for two minutes.

Add the carrots and potato and cook for a minute or two before pouring in the hot stock.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the coriander (reserving a little for garnish) and cook gently for another minute.

Liquidise the soup until smooth using a handheld blender or in a jug liquidiser. Taste and add a little salt if needed.

Serve with a little chopped coriander on top.

Sausage and cabbage bake

The poor old cabbage. It’s got itself a bit of a bad name, hasn’t it? Probably all those memories of terrible school dinners, when it was boiled for hours and hours before being inflicted on us poor suffering children.

It’s completely undeserved of course. Savoy cabbage in particular is a wonderful vegetable and is at its best during the cold winter months. It is quite different from the white or green cabbage and, in my opinion, is far tastier.

The beauty of savoy cabbage is that it doesn’t need dressing up in fancy recipes to make it interesting. For an easy side dish, steam some chopped savoy for a few minutes and then serve with a knob of butter, salt and pepper.

Or how about this simple sausage and cabbage bake? It might not sound at first like a culinary delight and, no it’s not the prettiest dish, but trust me. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll make it again and again.

It’s based on a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis, who in turn got the recipe from Jane Grigson. They serve theirs with mashed potato but I’ve added sliced potato to my version to create a fantastic one-pot supper, perfect at the end of a hectic day of work and school.

Please buy the best quality sausages you can afford for this dish, ones with a good high meat content. Cheap sausages just aren’t worth bothering with.

Sausage and cabbage bake

Butter
1 large savoy cabbage, cored and shredded
8 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
8 fat pork sausages
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.

Lightly butter a large overproof dish – one that has a lid.

Bring a large panful of salted water to the boil and cook the cabbage and potatoes quickly for five minutes until just tender. Drain and run under cold water to stop any further cooking.

Slit the sausage skins lengthways with a sharp knife and squeeze out the sausage meat. My youngest daughter likes to help me with this job.

Place a layer of cabbage and potatoes at the bottom of the ovenproof dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover this with a layer of sausagemeat. Repeat to use all the meat and vegetables, ending with a layer of cabbage and potato.

Fleck the top with butter. Cover with greaseproof paper and then the lid.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the top is browned and crispy.

A real winter warmer if ever there was one!

I am entering my sausage and cabbage bake into the In Season Challenge, set by Carol over at Make It, Bake It. Her challenge this month is to come up with a recipe featuring savoy cabbage, so of course this seemed to me the perfect dish.

If you’ve got a favourite savoy cabbage recipe, you should enter the challenge too. But there isn’t long – the deadline is 5 February 2012.

Beef stew and parsley dumplings

I could never live permanently in a hot country. OK, so I have been known to moan about the cold weather from time to time. But if it were always hot, we’d never be able to eat warming winter grub like sticky sponge puddings, hearty meat pies or rich, slow-cooked casseroles. We need the seasons in order to eat well I reckon.

Stew and dumplings, a proper winter warmer

This beef stew with rib-sticking parsley dumplings is one of my favourite winter warmers. It’s a proper old-fashioned kind of meal, like your gran would make.

I like to include sweet potatoes in the stew to give it a lovely sweet, creamy flavour, but the real beauty of stews and casseroles is that you can use whatever root vegetables you happen to have in. It’s cooked nice and slowly so the meat and the vegetables are gorgeously tender. If your children aren’t big fans of veggies, this is a great recipe for sneaking a few past them.

Beef stew and parsley dumplings

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
500g stewing steak, diced
2 carrots, sliced
1 parsnip, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp corn flour
25o ml hot beef stock
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
small bunch rosemary, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

For the dumplings

110g self-raising flour
salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
50g shredded suet

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

In a large casserole heat the oil and fry the onion until golden. Add the beef quickly and fry until browned.

Next add the root vegetables and garlic and cook together for another few minutes. Sprinkle over the corn flour and mix in to cover the meat and vegetables.

Pour in the beef stock, tomatoes and add the rosemary and a little salt and pepper to taste – depending on how well seasoned your stock is. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and put in the oven for around four hours.

When the stew is almost finished cooking, make up the dumplings. Mix the flour, a pinch of salt and pepper and parsley in a bowl. Add the suet and quickly combine but don’t rub in. Mix in cold water, a little at a time, until you can pull the ingredients together to make a stiff dough that leaves the bowl cleanly. Shape into eight dumplings.

When the stew is ready, that is when the meat is tender and falls apart easily, place the dumplings carefully on top of the stew and spoon over some of the liquid. Cover again and put back in the oven, increasing the temperature to 220°C/Gas Mark 7, for about 20 minutes until the dumplings are cooked through.