Thursday, 30 January 2014

Toad in the hole: rainy English weather food

So it's 5 days to go until I head off to Australia for a month. I can't wait for the Asian inspired food and fresh fish over there. I thought I'd leave with a scrummy English meal for you all to make while cuddled up with the rain lashing down: Toad in the Hole...

So, first, I part roasted the sausages and made the Yorkshire pudding batter to go with it (225g  plain flour, 4 eggs, 250ml milk). Heat oil in the dishes for 15 mins in a hot (180 degrees) oven. When oil is hot, put the sausages in and pour the batter around them. Bake for 30 mins until the batter is all puffed up.

To serve, mash some carrots and suede. Onion gravy goes down well here.

Enjoy the cold weather!

ZP x

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Banana and nut cake: the easiest cake in town

Now this is one dessert that I don’t need to weigh anymore. I love my banana cakes and it’s different every time. To make it easy, use a simple Victoria sponge mix then add banana, mix nuts, and dried fruit. This time I creamed butter and sugar, beat in 2 eggs and then sieved in flour with a little baking powder. I mashed 3 very black bananas and then added them in with some vanilla extract and chopped up my leftover nuts and fruits from the cupboard. I baked until it smelt good and when it didn’t pull any raw cake out when pricked with a skewer.

Leave to cool for as long as you can and then serve with raspberries.

ZP x

Monday, 27 January 2014

Staying in vs. going out: a liquid diet

Searching through charity shops can lead to many exciting look what I found. It's a juicer!

I've been having fruit juice mixes for breakfast and it’s amazing! Orange, grapefruit and lemon/lime is a winner so far. Health kick for the morning, plus only £7 from a charity shop in Witney. Bargain.

On the other hand, when I fancy a treat, cocktails or drinks out are just what you want. When there's nothing impressive coming out the kitchen, skip dinner, and go for cocktails in some local bars down Little Clarendon Street in Oxford. It’s the best place for cocktails in town and you can spend the evening trying some cocktails tailoured to your tastes. Ask the barman and he’ll make you anything…just be prepared to have some stodgy food the following day to cure the drink blues! Blueberry pancakes and a steaming hot sweet tea is my cure (along with lots of cuddles!).

It was a brilliant evening, plus we bumped into my Mum coming out of the New Theatre on the way home…strange coincidence!

(8 days until Australia!)

ZP x

Friday, 24 January 2014

Coffee table platter: lazy, romantic dinner for two

Stuck for dinner tonight? Simply raid the deli at your local market or supermarket and pick up bread, pate, cheese, meats, olives, marinated peppers, hummus and anything else you fancy. I had some pickled aubergines sent down by the neighbour so I used these.  They were amazing – pickled in garlic, oil and all sorts of yummy herbs. I warmed up some pitta/ciabatta. You can dive in with your fingers and eat lots while watching a great movie or catching up with the events of the day. Amazing dinner with no cooking – all you need to do it just make it look pretty on bread boards!

Serve with red wine and coffee for after.

I decanted some red wine so it could breathe a bit (and then had the Burgandy after!); it's amazing what a few hours does to wine. If you don't have enough time to let the wine breathe, then I would pick a lighter red like a Pinot Noir. It doesn't have many tannins in so it's not a wine that necessarily needs to breathe - it's great straight out the bottle!

Have a great weekend!

(10 days until Australia!)

ZP x

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Asian noodle broth: the realistic 15 minute meal

Following on from yesterday's post, I made Asian noodle broth for the neighbour. By adding Asian flavours (soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc...) you can transform a normal noodle soup into an amazingly tasty meal that is very filling.

Leave the dry noodles in boiling water to cook in the heat (read the packet if it comes with one). In a big pot, add sliced carrot, onion and mushroom and fry slightly in sesame oil (but not very long as you want to veg still slightly crunchy). A good tip here would be to slice all the vegetables and get all your ingredients out ready to go and within reach.

Add the noodles to the slightly fried veg along with a stock cube (veg or meat depending on the people eating), then add soy sauce, oyster sauce, few spoons of sugar, salt (not much as the sauces have salt in), fish sauce, chilli flakes and anything else you think would go well. You'll probably have to add a bit more water from the kettle as the water from the noodles probably won't be enough. Add as much water as you like (depending on how watery you want it to be) and simmer with some sliced meat/tofu and finely sliced coriander roots for a couple of minutes.

Remember to try some of the broth and add more soy/sugar if it needs it. Good cooks always try their food before serving! Serve with a sprinkle of coriander leaves and a trickle of soy. A squidge of lime would go well here too if you fancy it.

This meal can easily be done in 15 minutes - it's so easy and tasty. Even better is that it's comforting and to get a light broth to be comforting is a great thing indeed!

Make sure the veg are nice and crunchy to keep that freshness. I've even got some left for my lunch at work today. Can't wait for midday food time.

So dive into your cupboards today to transform your usual meals into something you'd find on the other side of the world. Tasty food for hardly any extra calories.

Get experimenting!

(11 days until Australia!)

ZP x

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Mexican wraps: healthy-style with salsa and guacamole

So, another meal with the neighbour, and this time it’s hand rolled lettuce Mexican style wraps. Replacing tortilla wraps with lettuce or cabbage is a great, healthy alternative (I'll be hitting Bondi beach soon so trying to stay low on the carbs!)

Frying the beef mince off (I had some left over from a spag bol), I mixed in fennel seeds, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, chili flakes and onion seeds, along with diced onion and carrot to use them up. It was like dry spicy spag bol mix – which is what I wanted. I made up bowls of tomato salsa (recipe is here); guacamole (mashed avocado, juice of 2 limes, a pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar); sour cream; and cheese, then we wrapped it all up in one iceberg lettuce wrap.
We kept going until the lettuce had gone…yum. There was even some mince left to give to Dad for his jacket potato dinner.

Tonight, I'm cooking Asian noodle broth for Gabi, it's going to be a thinly sliced vegetables and pork with stock and some Asian flavours. Healthy, clean eating is the way to go until back from holiday!

I also made thai glass noodles the other day (little pic shown below) with rendang curry paste, coconut milk, sliced beef, fish sauce, mushrooms, peppers, and some other bits. The paste is normally meant to make curry but I only had beef slices and some spare noodles and veg so I made my own little concoction. Using spices is a great way to infuse flavour into food without all the calories.

ZP x

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Bunk Inn, Curridge: beautiful food and great service

A local pub close to my Dad’s house in Hermitage called The Bunk Inn deserves a post after the lovely food and atmosphere it creates. The locals love the newly refurbished pub and it's perfect for either a pint during a country walk, a Sunday roast with the family, or a romantic meal in the evenings.  I have been there quite a few times for dinner (coincidentally I will be going there tomorrow evening for my Sister's birthday meal) and I am always impressed with how delicious the food is. Follow The Bunk Inn on Twitter, or here on Facebook.

When I first visited, they described their dishes as English country tapas and we continued to order pretty much every plate on the menu. We were all in awe of their amazing lunch platter that they served (see left). We had sliced potato chips, potato popcorn, garlic bread, chicken wings, pork scratchings, rabbit, and lamb cutlets.

They were all served with various dips and sauces and it was all fabulous. The lamb and the rabbit shone as the best dishes, the delicate rabbit meat eased off the bone and the lamb cutlets (right) went with the blackberries perfectly.

I also loved their genius way to serve salt and pepper: carving out a hole in a block of wood for the salt. Salt crystals are my favourite so they won me over straight away!

The second time I visited I had the Buffalo burger (without the bun as I'm on my beach holiday diet!) and the chips (I have to treat myself somehow!) were soft and fluffy inside and crunchy on the outside. The slaw that came with it was just tangy enough and there were also pickled cornichons and onions to perk the buffalo meat up a bit. I ordered extra salad as I love the mustard dressing so much! The red wine that the barman chose was perfect and a nice full red was well received on a blistery cold evening.

We always leave The Bunk Inn very full and very happy. Thanks to the lovely staff, and of course, the kitchen. I can't wait to get back there tomorrow and eat again!

Follow The Bunk Inn on Twitter, or here on Facebook.

ZP x

Baked breakfast: easy, healthy, and cheap!

A few months ago, a work colleague brought in extra apples from his garden for people who were interested. Free fruit?! Yes please! Me and another colleague were intrigued and we tried baked apples for breakfast. What an unbelievable breakfast.

We sliced the apples, added brown sugar, raisins and a few splashes of water. We cooked them in the microwave for 7-8 minutes until soft, and then added yoghurt, almonds, and a pinch of cinnamon at the end. 

Serve with a morning smile and a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon. It really is an amazing start to the day.

Only 2 weeks today until Australia!

ZP x

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mackerel fishcakes

There's only a few weeks left until I will be flying half way round the world to Australia. My cousin is getting married and asked me to be her bridesmaid. No-one could turn that opportunity to travel to a new country, especially with the heatwave that's souring out there at the moment. 46 degrees is a little too hot for a girl that's used to the mild English climate but I'm sure I'll get used to it. The bonus is we get to see these pretty awesome sunrises on frosty winter mornings:

So, as a result of pretty much being in a bikini for the next month, I'm on a healthy plan. I'm running more and eating better (I can't quite say no to wine though...but we all need our treats!)

I've done many healthy recipes (although I do love butter and cream) where it's great to feel refreshed and not stuffed after a meal.

These fishcakes are so easy and very cheap to make. I buy the smoked or peppered mackerel in the vacuumed packet from the supermarket. My Mum would be shocked to hear me using it as it used to make me feel sick when I was younger but now, knowing how healthy it is for you, my taste buds have changed and it's great.

So, break up the smoked/peppered mackerel into a large bowl then add mash potato. Fry diced onion and add in too once cooled a little. Add an egg, salt, pepper, dill, any other herbs you have, maybe some horseradish or mustard. Shape with hands into fat disc and coat in flour. Fry off until golden on all sides. They can be baked in the oven also if you don't want to fry. It's as easy as that!

Serve with broccoli and lemon.

Oh and one last thing, in my previous post about dinner parties, I mentioned that I was going to a big dinner party/get together and planned on doing chilli con carne. I chose well as it went down a storm. I also made a side of nachos using salsa, cheese and jalapenos and serving with guacamole and sour cream on the side:

ZP x

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Dinner parties and eating in

Christmas, new year, and all the days around this festive period are, for me and my friends and family, about spending time with each other. We all tend to get together and bring a course each or we just gather and bring any leftovers to come together in one massive picnic/help yourself buffet.

For a dinner party before Christmas, I was asked to bring my famous New York cheesecake to finish a meal. I get bored making things in the same way twice, so I added raspberries into the mix and baked it off in the same way. It worked out a right treat. We loved it. Here's the recipe:

150g digestive biscuits, 75g butter. Crush biscuits into fine crumbs, add melted butter and bake in tin for 15 mins.

Beat 3 big tubs of full fat cream cheese (philly works well here but make sure everything is room temperature otherwise you'll have arms the size as Arni at the end) with 200g caster sugar then mix in 200ml of sour cream (I used crème fraiche because I had no sour cream) and 3 tbspn flour. Gradually add 3 eggs and 1 egg yolk and mix in with 2 tspn of vanilla extract.

Once all combined, stir through zest of 1 lemon and a punnet of raspberries. Pour on top of biscuit mix and then bake for a 45-50 mins on a lower temp (160).

It should be slightly wobbly in the middle when you take it out as it will continue to cook when you bring it out.

Serve with more raspberries and cream – or just out the tin if you can’t wait!

I'm meeting up with lots of friends this Friday so I'm thinking of how to cook for us all. I'm thinking of making a massive pot of rice and then serving two separate dishes with it. At the moment, I'm thinking of a veggie coconut curry and a chilli con carne with guacamole. I'll let you know what I cook and how it goes down.

ZP x

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Staying in while the storm blows

So England is having a hard time fighting the storms with all the rain coming our way. Not to mention the cold freeze that has taken a hold of America. I hope you're all keeping warm over there! What a perfect time to stay in, wrap up warm, watch movies, read, write, and cook!

I used my new quill. Great way to write and hark back to old days when all they had would have been a quill and a candle to write with ( I do think sometimes that I would have loved to have been living like that - simple pleasures and all that!) Makes me appreciate what we have now and how lucky we are.

Going back to warming up on these blustery evenings, I find hearty soup one of my favourites. It fills you up and gives you a hug. 

I simply boiled up the chicken carcass with lots of water, onion, carrot, celery, leek, bit of bay leaf from the garden, and peppercorns, then strained after a few hours. It's best to roast off the bones first to get the most flavour out of them. Putting the strained golden liquid back on to boil, simmer with lentils and other pulses (I use the soup mix you can get from health food shops) and then finish off with left over torn chicken, finely diced carrot, and thin slices of leek. Bit of crushed garlic wouldn't go amiss either. Season to taste: 

Serve with crusty bread and an evening snuggled up with a book.

Have a great weekend readers.

ZP x

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Neighbourly love: a friendship bonded through food

Happy new year to all my readers! I thought I'd dedicate this post to a good friend and my neighbour: Gabi. 

Gabi and I have a close thing in common: we love to eat but we probably love to cook even more. Every couple of weeks, we have dinner round each other's houses where we cook, gossip, watch movies, and of course, eat.

Here are some of my favourite delights we've cooked for each other since I moved next door in June. Some of the recipes are already published on my blog (linked with each title) and some are in the pipeline (come back soon for the recipes):

Beetroot and goats cheese salad
Mexican lettuce wraps

Fillet steak with mushrooms
Pork chops with pesto

Apple and blackberry pie
Banana cake with raspberries

Mackerel fishcakes

            Fresh Egg pasta

Chocolate and vanilla cakes

Marinated BBQ steak with wedges

Looking forward to our next meal Gabi, and for many more foodie delights in the future!

Get knocking on your neighbour's doors and see what you have in common; you might find a great friend you never knew you could have.

ZP x