Cheat’s strawberry cheesecake biscuit

Food is such a fantastic conversation starter the world round, isn’t it? As a freelancer I’m constantly in and out of different work locations getting to know new groups of people, and I find that food is always a common denominator. Or maybe it’s just me?

Anyway, I’m working for a few months in the marketing team at Bath Spa University where I sit next to the lovely Stef and we talk food quite a bit. It was Stef who passed on this easy peasy idea for livening up manky (or was it skanky?) Digestive biscuits lurking in the bottom of the tin: turn them into strawberry cheesecake biscuits – genius!

That same day, knowing I didn’t actually have any biscuits (neither manky nor skanky) at home, I stopped off on my way back to pick some up just so I could give it a go. I opted for Hob Nobs instead of Digestives as I thought these might be more reminiscent of the cheesecake base.

Stef wasn’t wrong – these really are good. A great way to use up old biscuits or a ridiculously simple sweet treat when you don’t have the time or energy to make a proper pudding. And they take only a minute to make.

No recipe required here – simply take your biscuit of choice and spread with cream cheese, then top with strawberry jam or any other flavour jam you happen to have at your disposal. My girls, Jessie and Mia, made them with me after tea and they were a big hit all round.

I’m only at Bath Spa for a couple more weeks, so I’ll need to get Stef to share the rest of her cheat’s repertoire with me before I move on…

Thai-style cauliflower soup with garlic and coriander bread

There are certain vegetables I get quite excited about when they arrive in my weekly veg box. Like celeriac or asparagus. Or Jerusalem artichokes. But cauliflower? Whenever I see a cauliflower in there I must admit to giving out an internal groan. Cauliflower cheese again? is generally my immediate thought.

But the last time a cauliflower turned up, I decided to try and be a little more creative. I’ve tried making cauliflower curries a few times but they’ve never been wholly satisfying, although I know the idea of spicy cauliflower is a good one. A quick search on the internet led me to this very tasty and spicy cauliflower soup recipe, which elevates the humble cauliflower to heady new heights. I found it on the Oxford Times website but apparently it first originated from a recipe in the Women’s Institute’s book Soup for all Seasons.

It’s incredibly easy to make and, despite looking quite a heavy soup, is surprisingly light and very fragrant. I swapped the Thai green curry paste for the red version, as it’s slightly milder and hence more child-friendly. I also used low-fat coconut milk but feel free to go full-fat if you prefer.

I served the soup with garlic and coriander bread. Again, very simple. Slice your baguette all the way along on the diagonal at intervals of an inch or so, just as you would for normal garlic bread. Fill each slash with a generous spread of butter into which you’ve mashed crushed garlic and chopped fresh coriander. Wrap the baguette in foil and bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes. To brown it slightly, open up the foil for the last couple of minutes. Easy as.

But now back to the main event…

Thai-style cauliflower soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 potato, peeled and diced small
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
400ml tin of low-fat coconut milk
300ml vegetable stock
Small bunch fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Spring onions, finely sliced to garnish

In a large saucepan, gently cook the onion in the oil until golden. Add the red curry paste and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the potato, cauliflower and garlic and simmer for 15 minutes. Leave to cool a while.

Add the coriander to the soup and pour half into a liquidiser. Blitz until you achieve a smooth velvety finish, and then stir this back into the chunky soup in the pan. Check for seasoning and add if required.

Heat through again and serve garnished with a sprinkling of spring onions, and warm garlic and coriander bread on the side.

Chinese sausage and noodle soup

This is not an authentic Chinese soup recipe by any stretch of the imagination. It’s something I concocted using ingredients from the store cupboard in an attempt to liven up another Savoy cabbage to arrive in the veg box.

It also features slices of Chinese sausage, which you should be able to get from an oriental supermarket, but if not feel free to substitute with any cured sausage that takes your fancy.

I made up the dish as I went along and was really rather surprised at just how tasty and moreish it ended up and have made it several times since. As it takes only half an hour or so to rustle up, it’s an excellent contender for a quick mid-week dinner when you don’t want to spend all evening in the kitchen.

Chinese sausage and noodle soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
½ onion, peeled and finely chopped
3cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Chinese sausage (I used a skinny one about 20cm long), thinly sliced
½ Savoy cabbage, shredded
1.5l hot chicken stock
50ml light soy sauce
50ml Chinese rice wine (Shaohsing) or dry sherry
25ml black rice vinegar
80g egg noodles (I use either medium or fine)

In a large pan heat the oil and gently fry the onion until golden. Add the ginger, garlic and sausage and fry together for a couple more minutes.

Throw in the cabbage and stir-fry for a minute.

Pour in the hot stock, soy sauce, rice wine and vinegar and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave to cook for 10 minutes.

Add the noodles and simmer for another three minutes or according to the packet instructions. Serve and enjoy.

I’m also sharing this soup at the Fantastic Foods Friday supper party over at Justa’s Kitchen.

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

I’ve been swept away on an aromatic love affair with wild garlic in the last few weeks. As well as my delicious wild garlic risotto, it has also featured in many salads and has livened up our mashed potato. But this whirlwind romance is set to end all too soon. While there are still lots to be seen in the local hedgerows, it won’t be long before their leaves wither and the flowers wilt.

I have, however, come across the perfect way to capture this garlicky essence of early spring – by making up a large jar of wild garlic and walnut pesto. Divine.

This recipe comes from River Cottage, who say it will keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks and can also be frozen. They also say it makes 5 x 200g jars but I only got one large jar out of it. It’s not a problem though as I think this will keep us going quite a while.

The pesto tastes fresh and green (if you know what I mean) and packs a strong tasty punch so you don’t need too much of it. For its first outing, I served it very simply stirred through a dish of spaghetti and only needed to  use a couple of spoonfuls to get the full effect. I’m looking forward to trying it as a crostini or pizza topping next and, according to River Cottage, it’s also good stirred into soups and stews.

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

100g wild garlic leaves (carefully washed – I found a couple of slugs in mine!)
50g spring onions, chopped
50g walnut pieces
200ml good olive oil
70g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
spaghetti, allow 75-100g per person

Remove any thick stalks from the wild garlic and put in a food processor with the walnuts, spring onions, and 150 ml of olive oil.

Give it all a good blitz until everything is finely chopped and you have a beautifully thick, vibrantly green salsa.

Stir in the grated Parmesan, salt and sugar. Then pour into sterilised jam jars.

The advice here from River Cottage  is to ensure you press the pesto down well with the back of a spoon to get rid of any air bubbles and leave room at the top of the jar for a layer of olive oil. Every time you use the pesto, mix in the oil before you take a spoonful, and replace with another layer of oil before replacing the lid and returning to the fridge.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain and stir in a spoonful or two of the wild garlic pesto to taste. Enjoy!

Raspberry chocolate mousse

I love chocolate mousse. It’s probably my favourite dessert in the whole world.

I love it even more because it’s just so easy to make and so versatile. You can add fruit or alcohol or a whipped cream topping, and make it with any type of chocolate you fancy.

And this is my favourite recipe for chocolate mousse, which I’ve adapted from one I got from Riverford, my regular source of inspiration these days. As you’ll see from the photo, I last made it for our Valentine supper and I’ll be making it again at the weekend when friends come to stay.

Raspberry chocolate mousse

Serves 4

180g dark chocolate
2 tbsp milk
6 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
2 handfuls of raspberries (you can use fresh or frozen)
Icing sugar to serve

First of all, melt the chocolate. I tend to do this in the microwave – if it’s good enough for Nigella, then it’s good enough for me. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the milk. Microwave on a low setting for a couple of minutes and then give it a stir. Put it back in again for another minute or so if it needs a little longer.

Alternatively use the ‘double boiler’ method. Put the chocolate and milk in a heatproof bowl over a pan of very gently simmering water. Make sure to choose the right sized bowl which doesn’t touch the water. Gently melt the chocolate and take care not to leave it on the heat too long.

Allow the melted chocolate to cool for a few minutes, while you whisk up the egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Beat the egg yolks and then stir these into the chocolate. Then gently fold a few spoonfuls of the egg whites into the chocolate until no traces of white remain. Continue folding in a little egg white at a time until it’s all combined into the mousse mixture.

Place a few raspberries at the bottom of four ramekins or small dishes or glasses, before spooning over the mousse. Chill for at least two hours (or overnight) and top with a couple more raspberries and a little icing sugar before serving.

Pappardelle with courgette and basil

In the last year we have dramatically reduced the amount of meat we eat in the Bangers & Mash household. Don’t get me wrong, I could never give up meat entirely. I enjoy it far too much.

But there is no getting away from the fact that meat is expensive, both on the pocket and as a global resource. Good quality meat that has been responsibly reared and farmed is not cheap to produce. And I refuse to buy cheap meat because I dread to think what conditions the animals have been kept in.

So a major part of reducing the cost of our weekly meals has been to reduce the amount of meat we consume: less of it but good quality stuff when we do. I’m sure this must be much better for us from a health point of view too.

At first it was difficult, especially I think for my husband who has taken a little while to convince that you can have a fully satisfying meal without any meaty component. But for me it’s turning into quite an adventure, discovering a whole new world of vegetarian cuisine.

This pasta dish, pappardelle with courgette (zucchini) and basil, is one we eat quite often, particularly in the summer when courgettes are in abundance. I have actually been making it for years – it has been my staple dish whenever veggie friends came over for a meal. Now we eat it with or without the vegetarian guests.

It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. He makes it with tagliatelle but I tend to use whatever pasta happens to be in the cupboard. Pappardelle is my favourite for this. Oh yes, and I use much more garlic than Jamie.

Pappardelle with courgette and basil

5 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 courgettes, sliced very thinly
juice of 1 lemon
handful of fresh basil, torn
400g pappardelle (or pasta of your choice)
salt and pepper
100g parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Gently fry the garlic in 4 tbsp of olive oil for a minute, then add the sliced courgette and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and basil and cook for a few more minutes until the courgette is tender.

When the pasta is ready, drain and combine with the courgette. Season to taste, add most of the parmesan and remaining olive oil and mix well. Serve with some more torn basil and a sprinkling of parmesan.

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.

Pork, black pudding and apple pie

I remember my Nana Barbara taking me to Bury Market when I was a little girl. I must have been about six or seven. What I remember most was seeing a pair of the most amazing sparkly, silver, strappy shoes. With heels. And I wanted them so, so much. But of course I didn’t get them. If I did, it wouldn’t be one of those memories that stayed with me forever I suppose.

If you took me to Bury Market these days, I don’t think I’d be looking at clothes or shoes, even of the silver variety. It would be the food stalls that would receive my undivided attention.

One item in particular I couldn’t leave without would be some proper Lancastrian black pudding. So it might be one of those food stuffs you don’t want to think too much about what goes into (it’s largely pork blood and fat, if you were unsure), but it’s a food I’ve loved since I was a child, especially as part of a cooked British breakfast. It’s probably due to my northern roots on my Dad’s side.

When I saw a recipe featuring black pudding on my Twitter timeline recently, I knew immediately I’d have to try it. @seldom_seen_boy had seen Brian Turner cook a pork and black pudding pie on that British institution of daytime television known as This Morning. I made a mental note there and then that the next time we had roast pork, I’d use the leftovers to make this pie.

So that’s precisely what I did, and it was very, very good. I wasn’t 100% sure whether the rest of the family would like it. My husband’s never been all that keen on black pudding and I thought the kids might turn their noses up at it too. Overall though it got a thumbs up. Only my seven-year-old was a little unsure, and about halfway through she started picking out the black pudding. But at least she had a go.

Personally I loved it. Who needs silver shoes when you have a black pudding pie, eh?

Pork, black pudding and apple pie

Serves 8

1 tbsp vegetable oil
30g butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, grated
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
300ml chicken stock
350g roast pork, shredded
250g black pudding, diced
2 apples, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
500g ready made shortcrust pastry
1 egg, lightly whisked

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan, and gently cook the onion, garlic and carrot until they start to colour.

Add the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer gently without a lid for 15 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork.

In a separate pan, fry the black pudding and apple until slightly browned. Then stir this into the rest of the pie filling. Season, bring to the boil, and then leave to cool.

Roll out half the pastry into a thin circle the same size as an ovenproof dish. Grease the dish and then lay over the pastry. Pile on the pie filling.

Roll out the second half of the pastry into a circle the same size as the first. Egg wash the rim of the pie and lay the lid over the filling. Press the rim, scallop the edges and cut a tiny air hole in the centre of the pastry. Brush with egg wash and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with mashed potatoes and onion gravy.

Maple syrup and banana cupcakes

My two girls almost ate us out of house and home during the Easter holidays. And now that they are back to school and nursery, they are coming home in the afternoon absolutely ravenous. There’s no way they can keep going until tea time without a quick snack as soon as they get through the front door.

These maple syrup and banana cupcakes are perfect, and they’re also good as a lunch box treat. They contain wholemeal flour and fruit so they’re also vaguely healthy!

Maple syrup and banana cupcakes

Makes 12

150g self-raising flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g Demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
1 tsp cinnamon
60g margarine, very soft
2 large ripe bananas
50g sultanas
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp maple syrup
4 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6 and line a bun tin with 12 paper cake cases.

Mix together the self-raising and wholemeal flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the soft margarine and mash it into the flour using a fork until well combined.

Mash the bananas using a fork and stir this into the mixture, along with the sultanas.

Add the beaten eggs, maple syrup and milk and beat until the mixture is well combine and dropping consistency.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and sprinkle a little Demerara sugar on top of each one.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool. Eat them as they come or make into more of a pudding by eating warm drizzled with more maple syrup.

 

Spicy lamb meatballs

There’s something about meatballs that makes them a family favourite the world over. Why do we, young and old alike, go crazy for food in bite-sized morsels? From the ubiquitous chicken nugget to the classy vol au vent, we all love food we can pop in our gobs.

And I’d say meatballs fit this category. Mini (or, if you make them like me, not-s0-mini) mouthfuls of meaty pleasure, smothered in a rich tomato sauce and served with anything that takes your fancy really – spaghetti or rice, in a warm pitta, or simply with a salad.

I normally make my meatballs with beef mince but, as I’ve been looking at a few Moroccan-style recipes lately, I thought I’d try making them with lamb. Of course this led me onto the traditional Moroccan accompaniments of mint, apricot, cumin and coriander.

We’re lucky that our daughters like spicy food. I’d always taken this quality for granted but I’ve eaten with a few friends and their children recently who really don’t like strong flavours, which has made me wonder why our girls do go for them in such a big way. I suppose it’s because spices have always been an essential part of my cooking. During both pregnancies I ate a lot of spicy food, even more so in the latter stages when both girls were overdue and I was trying to encourage things along!

If you’re thinking of making this recipe for children who aren’t into spicy flavours, you’ll probably want to consider cutting down (or out) the cumin and coriander and perhaps reducing the amount of garlic. But if I were you, I’d try the recipe as it stands – you might be surprised.

As this was one of our favourite meals last week, I’m entering it into The Best Thing You Ate link party organised by Justa at Frugally Delicious. Justa is a woman after my own heart: she’s into her weekly meal planning and, as the name of her blog suggests, she’s into frugal food that is seasonal, fresh and inexpensive.

Spicy lamb meatballs

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 x 400g can chopped plum tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
20g fresh mint, finely chopped
400g lean lamb mince
handful dried apricots, finely chopped
40g breadcrumbs

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and gently soften the onions until golden. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a couple more minutes. Put half the onion mixture into a bowl and leave to cool.

To the remaining onions in the pan stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for ten minutes until the sauce has thickened.

When the onions have cooled, add the mint, lamb, apricots and breadcrumbs. Season well and mix together with your hands. Shape into ‘bite-sized’ meatballs.

Heat the remaining oil and fry the meatballs until golden brown. Stir in the sauce and cook gently until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve with boiled rice and a green salad.