Easy tagliatelle and summer berry tarts

Recently we’ve been eating rather a lot of tagliatelle. Tagliatelle with sweetcorn, peas and bacon. Sometimes twice a week, and maybe again at the weekend. Oh, and fruit tarts too. Lots and lots of fruit tarts. That’s what happens when one of your kids makes it through to the finals of a young chef competition. You have to get in an awful lot of practice. Continue reading “Easy tagliatelle and summer berry tarts”

Chilli beef pasta with Savoy cabbage and caraway for the #OrganicUnboxed Challenge

cat in a box 2

Like many of my fellow food bloggers, I’ve been taking part in the #OrganicUnboxed challenge this last few weeks. The idea of the challenge is simple. Organic UK is sending bloggers a big mystery box of organic produce to see what easy, every day dishes they might come up with to inspire more people to switch to organic. In my excitement I failed miserably to get a picture of the organic goodies being unboxed. Which is why I’ve brought you a gratuitous shot of our cat Tango in the box instead. Now, hasn’t that brightened your day? Continue reading “Chilli beef pasta with Savoy cabbage and caraway for the #OrganicUnboxed Challenge”

Springtime tagliatelle with chicken, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli

 

When the first spears of asparagus appear in the garden or in our weekly vegetable box, there is only ever one way to eat them: simply steamed and served with melted butter and sea salt. There is something so beautiful in this simplicity, focussing completely on the heavenly fresh green taste of the fresh, crisp asparagus, it needs nothing else.

Then as the English asparagus season continues, the recipes become more varied and asparagus makes an appearance in all kinds of meals. We tend to eat as much of it as we possibly can this time of year. This easy pasta dish, which sees the asparagus partnered with tender stems of purple sprouting broccoli, also at its best in late spring, is a firm family favourite. Continue reading “Springtime tagliatelle with chicken, asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli”

Bangin’ books: Chop Sizzle Wow, plus my girls cook penne with meatballs

PENNE WITH MEATBALLS

This tasty and very satisfying pasta dish is brought to you courtesy of Chop Sizzle Wow; a new cookbook bringing together 50 quick and easy classic Italian recipes from the bible of Italian home cooking, The Silver Spoon, in a fun and engaging cartoon format.

chop sizzle wow front

I was sent a review copy, and as the press release said it is perfect for cooks young and old, I decided to put the children to work testing out one of the recipes.

Our chosen recipe was rigatoni with meatballs. Except we didn’t have any rigatoni, nor did the corner shop, so we went with penne instead. Jess and Mia loved the cartoon concept of the book and found the recipe fairly easy to follow, but they definitely needed some adult assistance from time to time; such as when they couldn’t get the meatballs to fry and brown without them disintegrating. At this point I stepped in and cooked up the meatballs in a separate frying pan.

But all in all the dish was a resounding success and the end result was very good. I think it’s one the kids will want to cook again. Oh, and they also have their eye on several recipes in the desserts section, such as the Chocolate Delight and the Stuffed Peaches.

The recipes in Chop Sizzle Wow are brilliantly simple and very easy to follow, although you probably do need a little kitchen nouse to fill in some of the gaps.

The book is divided into five sections: appetizers, pasta, main courses, deserts and baking, and extra stuff. There’s also a witty introduction giving an overview on how Italians cook and eat.

The illustrations by Brazilian illustrator and artist Adriano Rampazzo (a recent graduate of London’s Central St Martin’s art college) are fantastic and I’m sure this book will appeal to comic book fans, as well as those looking for an easy introduction to Italian cookery. I think it would make a great Christmas present for students returning to their uni digs after the holidays.

PENNE WITH MEATBALLS 2

If you’d like to try those tasty meatballs yourself, here’s the recipe…

Pasta with meatballs

300g minced meat (our pack was 400g and we used all of it)
Half a clove of garlic (we used a full one – who saves half a clove?)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
1 sprig parsley (we decided this wasn’t enough, and used a small bunch)
1 sprig rosemary
1 egg
350g rigatoni (we used penne)
plain flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
400ml passata
25g grated Parmesan

Serves 4

Thinly slice the onion.

Chop the garlic.

Chop the carrots and celery.

Chop the parsley.

Chop the rosemary.

Lightly beat the egg.

Mix the meat, parsley and garlic. Then season and mix in the egg. Shape into small balls. Dust with flour.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a low heat.

Cook the onion, carrot, celery and rosemary for five minutes on a low heat.

Increase the heat to medium and add the meatballs. Cook until lightly browned all over. (This is where I had to jump in and rescue the meatballs because they were falling apart. I fried them in a separate pan and then added them back to the vegetables.)

Season and add the passata. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for 10 minutes, or according to packet instructions.

Drain the pasta, then add to the meatballs. Gently stir together and serve, topped with pasta.

Delizioso!

Chop Sizzle Wow is available from the Phaidon online store and costs £12.95.

family-foodies

As this dish is a perfect one for older children to make themselves, I am entering it into the Family  Foodies challenge, which I host with Eat Your Veg, where the theme for October is Cooking With Kids.

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of Chop Sizzle Wow from Phaidon Press for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Bolognese for ballerinas

spaghetti bolognese

We’re nearing the end of the school half-term holidays. It’s been a lovely week of movies (Mr Peabody and Sherman in 3D at the cinema and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 on DVD, both of which get a big thumbs up from my girls), baking (my eight-year-old Jess created a superb Victoria sponge with her very own recipe mango buttercream topping, while Mia elected to make double chocolate chip cookies although Mummy did most of the work), library outings, times tables testing, story writing, soft toy safaris, Sir Frances Drake research, and dance shows.

Baking Collage

Jess and Mia have been rehearsing for months and months for their big dance show with the Susan Hill School of Dancing. This finally culminated in much-anticipated performances at the end of the half term break at the Forum Theatre in Bath. The girls and their friends had a day of dress rehearsals on Thursday, followed by matinée and evening shows on Friday and Saturday. I helped out back stage on the Thursday and Friday, which was great fun but truly exhausting. I thought being responsible for two children was full on, but looking after a group of 13 five-year-old girls was something else, and not to be repeated too quickly!

Sadly, Jess was forced to miss her Saturday performances as she fell ill with a bug – she was absolutely gutted, but at least she got to dance on the Friday. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see her as I was back stage, although friends who were in the audience tell me she danced beautifully. So this weekend, poor old Jessie has spent most of the weekend on the sofa under a duvet. She’s off her food – always a sure-fire sign she’s unwell – although I have succeeded in tempting her with a little fresh melon and chicken soup with rice. I’ll post the recipe for the soup very soon.

Dance Collage

Earlier in half-term week my mission had been to feed my two ballerinas with lots of nourishing food to keep their energy levels up for all that dancing. And so the obvious dinner after their gruelling Thursday of dress rehearsals had to be their all-time favourite, spaghetti Bolognese.

Spaghetti Collage

Spaghetti Bolognese has been both of their favourite meals since they were old enough to pick up a fork and spoon. Whenever I make it, I always make sure there’s some left over to go in the freezer for an easy supper another day.

spaghetti bolognese

Everyone has their own Bolognese recipe. Mine varies depending on what I have in the house.

Sometimes mine will have a drop of red wine in there, and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes there will be peppers or mushrooms (much to Jessie’s dismay as she’ll have to pick them out), or perhaps some smoked bacon. If I have a Parmesan rind lurking in the fridge, I’ll chuck that in during the cooking to give it a scrumptious flavour boost. I don’t always add caraway seeds, but I thought I would this time so I can enter it into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, which has caraway as its theme. I think the caraway adds a lovely intense and slightly sweet flavour to the Bolognese, and I quite often use it in casseroles and other slow-cooked meat dishes.

Bolognese sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
500g minced beef
400g tin chopped tomatoes
beef stock cube or pot
½ tsp caraway seeds
dash Worcestershire sauce
Parmesan rind (optional)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the chopped onions, carrots and celery until soft – around five minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a couple more minutes before adding the minced beef. Stir to break up any lumps and cook for two to three minutes until browned.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes. Half fill the tomato tin with hot water and pour into the pan. Sprinkle in the beef stock cube, or ‘plop’ in the stock pot. Add the caraway seeds, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and the Parmesan rind if you happen to have one left over.

Give it all a good stir and allow to simmer for half an hour or so. If it starts to look dry, add a little more water. Before serving, give it a taste and add a little salt and pepper if needed, and remove the Parmesan rind if used.

Serve with pasta, ideally spaghetti, and a grating of fresh Parmesan cheese on top.

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I’m adding this Bolognese to February’s Spice Trail, hosted by yours truly, as it features caraway seeds.

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I am also sharing this with February’s Family Foodies, hosted by Eat Your Veg and me, which this month has a Love theme. Spaghetti Bolognese is definitely a dish cooked with love for my loved ones, big and small.

Spicy sausage pasta

spicy sausage pasta

This is my go-to recipe when we have friends coming over for dinner but I just don’t have time to cook anything too elaborate. It’s such a simple pasta dish – it’s central ingredient is the humble sausage after all – but honestly, it tastes a million dollars and always impresses. It is full of deep, smokey flavours – rosemary, oregano, chilli and paprika – while the cream and Parmesan give it a wonderfully indulgent edge.

With a large glass of Chianti, this is my perfect dinner party dish. Just make sure you buy the best pork sausages your budget can stretch to.

The children love it too, but I generally ease back on the dried chillies when I cook it for them.

spicy sausage pasta

Spicy sausage pasta

Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
6 good quality pork and herb sausages, meat removed from skins and broken up
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 dried chillies, crumbled
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
250g dried fusilli
4 tbsp double cream
100g Parmesan, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until soft.

Add the sausage meat, rosemary, bay leaves, chillies, oregano, paprika and garlic, and fry together over a medium heat. Stir well to break up the sausages. Continue to fry for around 5 minutes until the sausage is browned.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, give it all a good stir and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring every now and again to help break up the tomatoes.

Meanwhile cook the fusilli according to the packet instructions, and drain thoroughly.

Stir the double cream into the sausage sauce. Pour the pasta into the sauce, along with half the Parmesan, and mix well to make sure all the fusilli is well coated in the sauce.

Serve with the rest of the Parmesan sprinkled on top. And tuck in immediately. Or keep warm until your guests arrive.

spicy sausage pasta

Paprika is one of the key ingredients and so I am entering this spicy sausage pasta into this month’s Spice Trail challenge.

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Roast vegetable sauce for pasta

roast vegetable sauce for pasta

I have been cooking this sauce, or versions of it, since I was weaning my two girls onto solids. They are now five and eight and still enjoy it just as much, although the portion sizes are considerably bigger now. Back in the early days, they would eat the sauce on its own and as they grew older I started stirring it into penne or fusilli to make a delicious pasta sauce. They still love it this way, especially with a huge heap of grated cheese on top, along with a drizzle of olive oil.

It’s one of the easiest sauces in the world to make. All the ingredients are simply roasted in one pan and then blitzed in a food processor with some stock. I don’t even bother to peel the garlic.

vegetables

It’s extremely adaptable too and you can experiment with whichever vegetables take your fancy – or whichever vegetables you might be trying to sneak past your unsuspecting fussy eater.

I generally cook up a big batch of this sauce and freeze it in individual portions; perfect for a quick tea after school when the kids have clubs to rush off to.

roast vegetable sauce for pasta

Roast vegetable sauce for pasta

450g tomatoes
1 butternut squash, chopped into large chunks
1 red pepper, cut into large chunks
1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
3 sticks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 courgettes (zucchini), chopped
3 garlic cloves
glug of olive oil
500ml vegetable stock (low salt)

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Place the tomatoes, chopped vegetables and garlic into a large roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and give it all a good mix to make sure everything is thoroughly covered. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender and beginning to char a little.

Put the vegetables into a blender with the stock and blitz until smooth. Job done.

Simply stir into cooked pasta for an easy peasy supper.

Freeze the remainder of the sauce in individual portions. You should get around 12 portions out of it.

family-foodies

As this pasta sauce is an ideal way to introduce your children to vegetables and entice them to eat a few they might not be so keen on, I’m entering it into this month’s Family Foodies challenge, where the theme is ‘Hidden Goodies’.

Tagliatelle with lamb’s liver and a sage, chilli and garlic butter

Tagliatelle with liver text web

Could you come up with a meal for at least two people for under £3? That’s the challenge set by the leading food charity The Trussell Trust in partnership with Buyagift with the aim of raising awareness of just how difficult it can be to eat well on a limited budget.

I managed to come up with a dish but it wasn’t easy, and I really wouldn’t want to have to work with this budget every mealtime. But for so many people in this country, it is the reality they face each and every day. While the UK might be the seventh richest country in the world, many people here struggle to put food on the table.

You can help raise awareness of the work of The Trussell Trust and the urgent need for us as a nation to tackle food poverty by taking part in the challenge and coming up with your own recipe. You can also visit the charity’s website for more ways to support their work, from donating to your local foodbank to raising money for them as you do your online shopping.

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For my dish I decided to use liver as it is relatively inexpensive. Obviously a vegetarian pasta dish would have been cheaper still, but I wanted to see if I could manage a meat dish on this tight budget. I managed to buy 370g of lamb’s liver from my local butcher for just £1.48 and I only used half of it. A little liver goes a long way.

OK, so not everyone likes liver but I’m sure that’s because it’s generally been overcooked when they have tried it. In this dish it is sliced very thinly and fried for only a few minutes, so it is beautifully moist and tender. My husband doesn’t normally eat liver but he enjoyed this. Plus it was cooked in a very generous amount of butter, with lots of chilli, garlic and sage, so absolutely packed full of flavour. It actually tastes quite luxurious despite the cheap ingredients.

Tagliatelle with liver2 text web

Tagliatelle with lamb’s liver and a sage, chilli and garlic butter

Total spend: £2.21½

250g dried tagliatelle (47½p)
1 egg (24p)
170g lamb’s liver, thinly sliced (74p)
2tbsp olive oil (13p)
75g butter (36p)
1 red chilli, finely sliced (22p)
2 cloves garlic, crushed (5p)
6 sage leaves, finely chopped (free from the garden)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the tagliatelle in salted, boiling water according to the packet instructions.

Beat the egg in a shallow dish, add the liver and coat well, and leave for a few minutes.

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the chilli, garlic and sage and fry for a couple of minutes.

Drain the liver and add to the frying pan. Increase the heat to medium and fry for three to four minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Season to taste and remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss well to coat the pasta in the butter and distribute the pieces of liver. Serve immediately.

As well as entering this dish into The £3 Challenge, I’m also sharing it with The Spice Trail (where the theme this month is chilli), Credit Crunch Munch (hosted by Dinner with CrayonsFab Food for All and Fuss Free Flavours), Cooking with Herbs (hosted by Lavender & Lovage) as it features fresh sage, and Pasta Please (hosted by The Spicy Pear and Tinned Tomatoes) as it contains garlic.

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Posh macaroni cheese

posh macaroni cheese

I posted a recipe for my macaroni cheese a little while ago. It’s a firm family favourite in the Bangers & Mash household. But I also had to bring you this version. It’s not my recipe. It’s from the acclaimed Australian chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill; a beautiful tome of a cookbook, as much a coffee table book as a practical guide for the kitchen. If I actually had a coffee table, this would certainly take pride of place on it.

I received the cookbook courtesy of Qantas, who as well as offering flights to Australia are passionate about spreading the word about Australian food. In addition to running restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth , Neil Perry is the chief consulting chef for Qantas.

Rockpool Collage

The recipes in Rockpool Bar & Grill are more aspirational than every day; the kind of dishes I’d probably only attempt if I were cooking for a special dinner party. Not surprising though as the aim of the book is to show you how to create restaurant-style dishes at home. It’s impossible to stop your mouth from watering as you turn the pages, which also provide a behind-the-scenes account of life in the Rockpool restaurants, as well as stories about the producers and suppliers who inspire Neil Perry’s menus.

So while I was rather taken with dishes like scampi ceviche, Wagyu beef bolognese, octopus braised in red wine and strawberry tart with balsamic vinegar ice cream, it might be a little while before I work up to trying these at home, particularly as they’d probably blow my weekly food budget in one meal. Instead it was the Rockpool’s take on good old macaroni cheese I felt would go down well with my family. This is what Neil Perry says:

Pasta and cheese is the best combo. My daughter Josephine can polish one of these off for dinner any night of the week. I first started making this years ago. I loved going to America and having mac ‘n’ cheese, more often than not at steakhouses. I began with a recipe from a great friend and truly one of the world’s great chefs, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se. If you start with that kind of pedigree, you’re going to end up with a great dish, and a great dish I did end up with. It’s a perfect marriage with a good steak but is equally at home with all of the other meats and poultry we serve at the restaurant. Use good cheese, really good quality hard Italian pasta and a smoky bacon. Your efforts will be well rewarded.

I was curious to see how different restaurant-style macaroni cheese would be from what we usually make. And I have to say it is very good. Very, very good actually. My husband and the girls wolfed it down greedily and it really does work well with a decent steak. We enjoyed ours with griddled sirloin and a simple salad instead of our usual Sunday roast, and it was a rather special meal indeed.

Oh, and there’s are some heavenly-looking lemon meringue cupcakes in there that I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a go at very soon too.

posh macaroni cheese

Neil Perry’s mac ‘n’ cheese

Serves 4 as a light meal or a side

400g dried macaroni
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 rashers smoked bacon, diced
500ml single cream
125g Cheddar cheese, grated
250g Gruyère cheese, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
2 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g Parmesan cheese, grated
80g fresh breadcrumbs

Cook the macaroni in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and refresh in iced water. Drain again and place in a large bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden. Drain on paper towel, then add to the macaroni.

Return the pan to the heat, add the cream, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and gradually add the Cheddar and Gruyère, stirring until melted.

Combine the garlic, paprika and mustard to form a paste, then stir into the cream mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add to the macaroni mixture and stir through.

Heat a grill to high. Divide the mixture between individual heatproof bowls or a 1.5 litre capacity baking dish. Sprinkle over the Parmesan, then the breadcrumbs. Grill until the top is golden.

posh macaroni cheese

Disclosure: Qantas provided me with a complimentary copy of Rockpool Bar & Grill for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.

Fusilli with broad beans, mascarpone and thyme

 

We’re getting a steady crop of broad beans from our veg patch at the moment, along with peas, sugar snaps and courgettes. The cucumbers don’t look far off from picking either; it’s the first year we’ve tried growing them from seed and they’re proving much easier than I thought they would. Those are famous last words of course. They’ll probably develop some nasty disease now I’ve said that and get completely wiped out. Let’s hope not.

The children are really enjoying all the homegrown vegetables. When they’ve been involved in the sowing and the planting, they seem so much more up for the eating too. They’re loving the broad beans in salads, particularly potato salads with big chunks of sausage, and in soups. As they’re both big pasta fans, it was only a matter of time before I tried broad beans in a pasta sauce. I mashed some up with mascarpone cheese, thyme and lemon juice to coat fusilli and the girls gobbled it up greedily. My husband Jason was rather keen too and even ate the leftover cheesy-beany mash cold from the fridge! Note to self: try it as a sandwich filling next time…

fusilli with broad beans

Fusilli with broad beans, mascarpone and thyme

Serves 4

1kg broad beans, podded
250g mascarpone cheese
juice of half a lemon
handful of fresh thyme, picked
salt and pepper
olive oil
500g dried fusilli

Quickly boil the broad beans in salted water for two to three minutes until just tender. Run under cold water to stop them cooking further and to cool them down a little before double-podding. Yes, it’s a bit of a faff but it’s well worth it. Then mash the beans roughly, using either a fork or a potato masher.

In a bowl, mix the mashed beans with the mascarpone, lemon juice, most of the thyme, a good amount of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cook the fusilli in a large pan of salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain and mix with the broad bean and mascarpone mixture. Add a little olive oil if it seems a little too dry or thick.

Serve with a little more thyme sprinkled on top. Summer on a plate – delicious.

fusilli with broad beans

And as this dish features lovely fresh thyme, I’m entering it into this month’s Cooking with Herbs event hosted by Karen over at Lavender & Lovage.

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