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Cranberry sauce December 9, 2009

Posted by Helen in christmas, miscellaneous.
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I’ve been making this every Christmas for as long as I can remember, and it just smells and tastes like Christmas to me. It’s great with dinner on the big day, but also fabulous with cold turkey or in turkey sandwiches. Although, to be honest, I’d be perfectly happy eating it with a spoon straight out of the jar.













2 cups (475 ml) water
2 cups (380g) granulated sugar
1 orange, peel and juice (+ a little more orange juice if needed)
1 lb (455g) cranberries
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Put the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Peel the orange using a potato peeler, making sure to only get the peel, not the pith. Slice up the orange peel into thin matchstick-length pieces. Juice the orange and try to get ½ cup (118 ml). If your orange didn’t yield enough juice, just top up with some ordinary orange juice. Add the juice and orange peel to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a good 20 minutes until it’s thick and syrupy.

Rinse your cranberries and add them to the saucepan. Put the lid on and wait about 5 minutes until the berries have finished popping – like popcorn, but not as noisy.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a bit before stirring in the Grand Marnier.

That’s it! Then just pop it in some sterilised jars and try not to eat it all before Christmas. Mine yielded about 4 ½ jam jars-ful.


Oat, apple and cinnamon cookies December 3, 2009

Posted by Helen in cookies.
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I get a bit bored with the ubiquitous chocolate chip cookie and I find oatmeal raisin cookies overly sweet, so I loved these spicy, apple-y cookies. They didn’t last long, and I think I’ll have to double this Delicious magazine recipe next time!










100g unsalted butter, softened
70g granulated sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
1 large egg
140g plain flour
50g porridge oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dried, ready-to-eat apples, roughly chopped
Icing sugar for dusting (I skipped this)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Lightly grease 2-3 nonstick baking sheets. Put the butter and sugars into a large bowl and cream together using an electric hand whisk until pale, light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg until mixed together.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, oats, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of salt. Lightly fold this into the butter and egg mixture, along with the dried apples, until just combined into a dough.

Put tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough onto the baking sheets, spaced apart to allow for some spreading. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven. Leave on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar and eat immediately. Or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Mirin-glazed salmon November 28, 2009

Posted by Helen in fish, salad.
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This was this week’s second recipe from Nigella Express, and the second not-quite-success. This had some good flavours, but I was promised a crispy salmon and it didn’t really deliver on that. It was also far too sweet. I think we’ll be putting Nigella back on the bookshelf for a while.

I served the salmon over fine noodles with an oriental cucumber salad (recipe below) and some sushi ginger on the side. The cucumber salad wasn’t Nigella’s recipe and I thought it was actually the best part of the meal.

60ml mirin
50g light brown sugar
2 tbsp rice vinegar
60ml soy sauce
2 spring onions, halved and shredded into fine strips
4 salmon fillets

Mix the mirin, brown sugar and soy sauce in a shallow dish that will accommodate all 4 pieces of salmon. Marinate the salmon for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and marinate 2 minutes on the other side. Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick frying pan.

(I found the marinade far too sweet. I think 50g is too much sugar, but it does help make it sticky. I’m not sure what effect reducing the sugar would have.)

Cook the salmon in the hot, dry pan for 2 minutes, then turn over, add the marinade and cook for another 2 minutes.

(This wasn’t nearly long enough to cook the salmon. After 4 minutes of cooking, mine was still very raw inside. I think I wound up cooking it a good 10 minutes.)

Remove the salmon to the serving plate, add the rice vinegar to the pan, and warm through.

Pour the sticky glaze over the salmon and top with the spring onion strips.


1 cucumber
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 red chili, seeded and chopped finely
1 green onion, chopped finely
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Peel the cucumber and slice very finely. Put the slices in a colander and salt lightly. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes. Then gently squeeze out any remaining moisture with kitchen roll.

Place in a bowl and chill for at least 10 minutes.

Mix all the dressing ingredients together and toss with the cucumber just before serving.

Black bean, sweetcorn and avocado salad November 27, 2009

Posted by Helen in salad.
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This is my favourite kind of meal, and the kind I can only really have when my husband isn’t home. He’s a carnivore and sees a meatless meal as lacking an essential component. But this colourful and zesty salad is my idea of a perfect supper, especially accompanied by a bowl of corn chips. I know it’s very summery and not at all seasonal, but it’s what I was craving tonight. I got the basic recipe from one of the food magazines (I can’t remember which), but have adapted it and added extra things I like.










1 ripe avocado, cut into chunks
2 sweetcorns
3-4 spring onions, chopped
400g black beans (tinned or in a carton)
200g cherry tomatoes, halved (I used baby plum tomatoes this time as they looked much riper than the cherry toms)
100g sharp cheese, cubed
A generous handful of chopped fresh coriander

For the dressing:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (Chipotle Tabasco, if available)
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Boil the sweetcorn until done. Allow it to cool and then slice the kernels off in big pieces.

Mix together with all the other salad ingredients.

Mix together all the dressing ingredients and toss the salad well.

Budino di cioccolato November 26, 2009

Posted by Helen in chocolate, dessert.
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Budino di cioccolato is, according to Nigella, the Italian name for these very rich chocolate puddings. The recipe is from Nigella Express. Essentially, they’re chocolate mousse without the fluffy egg whites, so you wind up with a very dense pudding instead. Personally, I prefer the bubbly Aero-Bar-ishness of chocolate mousse and I found these a bit too thick and cloying, so I don’t think I’ll be making them again.








250ml full-fat milk
125ml double cream
60g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
35g cocoa powder
2 tbsps boiling water
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

Warm the milk and cream together in a saucepan or in a bowl in the microwave.

Put the sugar and cornflour into another saucepan and sieve in the cocoa powder. Add the 2 tbsps of boiling water and whisk to a  paste. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the warmed milk and cream, then the vanilla extract.

Scrape down the sides of the pan and put it on a lowish heat, cooking and whisking for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens to a mayonnaise-like consistency.

Take off the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate, before pouring into 4 small cups or glasses.

Cover the tops of the cups or glasses with clingfilm, letting the clingfilm rest on the chocolate surface to stop a skin from forming. Once they’re cooler,  refrigerate. Make sure they’re not still fridge-cold when you serve them.

I served mine in small cups and saucers with a dollop of cream (whipped with a little icing sugar) on top and a couple of Amaretti biscuits on the side.

Chicken pot pie November 26, 2009

Posted by Helen in chicken, pie.
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This dish is the ultimate in comfort food. I got the recipe some years ago from Epicurious, and it’s become a real favourite ever since. It’s not your typical creamy chicken pot pie filling; rather the filling has a lighter more broth-like consistency, which I prefer. The use of a bouquet garni in making the sauce also gives it a real depth of flavour which you don’t often get in chicken pies.

This usually gives us another day of leftovers, but we had a hungry supper guest so, sadly, the pie was all gone by the end of the evening.

1 block of frozen puff pastry, thawed
Bouquet garni: 6 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, a handful of celery leaves and 2 bay leaves – tied up in muslin
Knob butter
1 shallot, chopped finely
120g diced celery
700ml chicken stock
680g boneless skinless chicken breast
236ml whipping cream
1-285g potato, peeled and cut into cubes
Handful of sliced mushrooms
140g frozen peas

Preheat oven to 190°C.

Place parsley, thyme, celery leaves and bay leaves on a piece of dampened muslin, gather and tie securely.

Melt a knob of butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and celery and sauté for five minutes. Add the chicken stock and the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Add the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and put on a dish.

Bring the liquid back to the boil and reduce by about a third – for about 15 minutes. Add the cream and return to the boil. Add the potato and mushrooms and simmer for 10 minutes, until the potato is tender. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully spoon out the bouquet garni, squeezing any juices from it back into the saucepan.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan, along with the peas. Season to taste.

Pour the mixture into a deep pie dish or a baking dish.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and place it on top of the baking dish – press the overhand to the sides of the dish. Brush the pastry top with a beaten egg. I use any remaining scraps of pastry to roll out some decorations for the top of the pie – I made three little leaves in the picture above. Place them on the pastry and brush with the beaten egg.

Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. I usually put a baking tray underneath to catch any drips as the filling tends to bubble up and over.

I served it with carrots tossed in a bit of butter with fresh chopped parsley.

Fruit smoothie November 26, 2009

Posted by Helen in drinks.
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I think a fruit smoothie might just be my very favourite breakfast. I make mine very simply as I don’t like milk or yoghurt or any dairy in them. Just fruit and juice. I buy fresh berries, wash and dry them, and store them in bags in the freezer. Then I just blitz whichever ones I want with a banana and some orange juice until all the lumps of frozen berry have been blended well. This one was made with raspberries and strawberries.

Chicken salad November 24, 2009

Posted by Helen in chicken, salad.
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Yet another way to use up a bit of the inevitable leftover roast chicken – this is what happens when your husband insists on a roast every Sunday.

Shred bits of chicken with mayonnaise, chopped fresh tarragon, green seedless grapes cut in halves, a good handful of sunflower seeds and salt and pepper to taste. I served it over baby gem lettuce.

Pan-fried chicken breast with goat’s cheese November 20, 2009

Posted by Helen in chicken, pasta.
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This Gordon Ramsay recipe was a bit of a risk, given that I have a husband who doesn’t like either pasta or cooked cheese. But I took the chance and it was delicious! The husband’s verdict was, “It wasn’t horrible,” which is high praise indeed for a pasta dish. I’ll definitely be making this again.

The photo here is a cheat. I forgot to take a picture, so this one is from the Channel 4 website. Mine actually looked exactly like this, which is pretty rare!:








2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed in their skins
4 skinless chicken breasts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
75g butter, plus a few knobs of butter for the chicken
300g dried penne (or other pasta)
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
A few rosemary sprigs, needles picked and finely chopped
250g runner beans, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
Extra virgin olive oil
150g firm goat’s cheese log
50g pine nuts (Gordon Ramsay didn’t mention toasting his, but I’d never use pine nuts untoasted!)

Infuse the oil with the garlic in an ovenproof pan over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Pat the chicken breasts dry with kitchen paper then season with sea salt and black pepper. Fry the chicken for 5-6 minutes then turn over and continue to cook the other side for another 5-6 minutes. Add a few knobs of butter towards the end of cooking and baste the chicken with the pan juices and oils, until cooked through and golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling water according to pack timings or until al dente.

Meanwhile, melt 75g butter in a large pan, add the chilli and rosemary and warm over a low heat for 1-2 minutes to let the flavours infuse. Turn up the heat, add the runner beans and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. (I cooked them longer than this, and they still had a nice bite to them. The timings recommended here weren’t enough to cook the beans through at all.)

Drain the pasta and toss with a little extra virgin olive oil, then tip into the pan with the beans. Toss together then remove from the heat. Slice the chicken and add to the pan. Crumble the cheese over and mix well, adding a splash of boiling water if the sauce is too thick. Finally, season to taste and scatter with the pine nuts. Serve in warm pasta bowls.

Rick Stein’s fish pie November 18, 2009

Posted by Helen in fish.

This is my favourite fish pie recipe. Rick Stein never disappoints, especially when it comes to fish. The recipe doesn’t include prawns, but you could easily add them – I don’t because I’m allergic.










(Apologies – half-eaten fish pie does not photograph well!)

1 small onion, thickly sliced
A few cloves
1 bay leaf
600ml milk
300ml double cream
450g cod or haddock fillets (or any other similar white fish) with skin on
225g undyed smoked cod or haddock fillets
4 eggs
100g butter
45g plain flour
5 tbsp chopped parsley
Freshly grated nutmeg
1.25kg peeled floury pototoes (Maris Piper or King Edward)
1 egg yolk
Salt and white pepper

Stud the onion slices with a few cloves and put in a large saucepan with 450ml of the milk , the cream, all the fish and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes.

Lift the fish out onto a plate using a slotted spoon, and strain the cooking liquor through a sieve into a jug. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break it into bite-size chunks, discarding the skin and any bones you might find. Sprinkle the fish over the bottom of a large oven-proof dish.

Hard-boil the eggs for 8 minutes, then chop into quarters and scatter on top of the fish.

Melt 50g of butter in a pan, add the flour and cook for one minute. Take the pan off the heat and very gradually add the reserved fish liquor, stirring constantly. Return it to the heat and slowly bring it to the boil, still stirring all the time. Let it simmer gently for about 10 minutes to cook out the flour.

Remove from the heat once more. Stir in the parsley, and season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Pour the sauce over the fish and leave to cool. Once cool-ish, refrigerate for about an hour.

Boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes. Drain and mash with the remaining butter and the egg yolk. Season with salt and white pepper. Beat in enough milk to make a soft, spreadable mash (softer than normal mashed potatoes).

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Spoon the potato over the filling and mark the surface with a fork. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until piping hot and golden brown.

I usually serve it with peas or carrots.