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Thai fish curry – fragrant and not too hot

5 Jul

DSCI0637I love the flavours of Thai food. The freshness of the limes and lemongrass and the warmth of the chillies. This curry is slightly different as it has added depth by the addition of curry powder. The end result is a fragrant curry that is not too hot. It is really easy to make and, as the sauce is made first, you can make this in advance and either finish it off when you are ready to eat or freeze for another day then thaw and continue by adding the fish when the sauce has heated up. This flexibility makes it a great dish to come home to after work or for a dinner party when you can use the free time to socialise with your guests.

Fish curry                  Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 red chilli, sliced (omit the seeds if you don’t like it hot)
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed and bruised
  • 1 heaped tbsp medium curry powder
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • small bunch coriander, stems finely chopped
  • 400g can coconut milk
  • 4 fillets of firm white fish, skinless. I used cod but you could use hake. Cut into 3 inch pieces
  • 200g raw king prawns
  • Juice of a lime
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or skillet and fry the onion until softened, about 5 minutes, over a medium heat. Stir in the ginger, garlic and shrimp pastes and the chilli and lemongrass. Cook over a low heat for 1 minute, stirring so it doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the curry powder and sugar. When the sugar is melted add the coriander stems, coconut milk and 2 tbsp water then bring to a simmer.  You can freeze at this stage if you want to.
  3. Add the fish and the prawns to the sauce then squeeze over half the lime juice. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the prawns are pink. Taste for seasoning and add a little more lime juice if you like. Scatter with the coriander leaves and serve hot with boiled rice.

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Courgettes with pasta, my favourite pasta dish!

1 Jul

 There was a time when I hated courgettes but, over the years and after trying so many delicious recipes, that has all changed.  I love it when there is a glut of courgettes in the shops but, thankfully, you can now buy them all year round.  When we had this recently it reminded me how much we love it, and how long it had been since we ate it!  I can’t remember when we first had this dish, it must be at least five years ago.  I think our first time was because someone had given us a bag full of courgettes, they were not a vegetable I would have actually bought in those days!  The recipe would probably have come from one of the cooking journals I subscribe to and, if I remember, the picture did not look that tantalising.  I am so glad we tried it though.  Sometimes you come across a recipe that you want to make time and time again.  This is one of those times! We absolutely love this pasta dish.  You would not believe how fresh it tastes or how much flavour it packs in.  Before the recipe though, I thought I would look at some food trivia on Parmesan Cheese.

I can remember, many years ago, buying Parmesan cheese already grated and served in little tubs.  It was disgusting and smelled of sweaty socks.  Yuk!!!  The first time I bought fresh Parmesan I could not believe the flavour.  It is so strong, absolutely beautiful.  It really makes you wonder how they manage to transform such a great taste to an imitation of sweaty socks!!  A lot of people will not buy the fresh cheese as it is expensive and they may only use it occasionally.  Believe me, it is worth the expense!  I grate the whole block at a time and freeze it in a well sealed freezer bag.  That way I can take out just as much as I need when I need it.  I even freeze the rind, it gives a great flavour to soups!

Parmesan cheese is the French name given to Parmigiano-Reggiano, and one that most of the UK have adopted.  Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, granular cheese that is cooked but not pressed, and is produced in Italy.  The name is protected under European Law and can only be given to the cheese produced in specified regions of Italy.  Informally it is often called the ‘King of Cheese’.  The cheese is made out of cows milk and any left over whey is used to feed the pigs from which Parma Ham was produced.  Great bit of recycling!!!  The cheese is as pure and organic as possible.  Cows can only feed on grass or hay, giving grass-fed milk, and only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter.  The only additive allowed is salt which the cheese absorbs while being submerged in huge vats of brine made from Mediterranean sea salt, before being left to age for an average of two years.  The end result is a fantastic cheese with a deep, savoury flavour.  It is very strong so, although expensive, you only need a small amount yet still get the full flavour coming through.

Anyway, I’ve tried to trace the recipe to a website and failed so I have written it out for you below.  I really hope you give it a try, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Courgettes with pasta and herbs.    Serves 4       About 530 calories

  • 12 oz/350g  spaghetti
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 650g/1lb 7oz courgettes, cut into thin ribbons (a vegetable peeler is great for this)
  • 25g/1oz butter cut into pieces
  • 50g/2oz freshly grated parmigiano-Reggiano (or Grand Padano if you can’t get it)
  • Handful each of chopped fresh basil and flat leaf parsley
  1. Cook the spaghetti as per packet instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the garlic and cook gently for a few seconds until it becomes fragrant.  Be careful not to let it burn or it will be bitter.  Tip in the courgettes, stir to coat in the garlic oil then cook gently for about 4 minutes.  They need to be softened but not soggy.
  3. Drain the spaghetti and add to the courgettes, along with the butter, cheese and herbs.  Toss them gently until the butter has melted, the spaghetti is coated with the cheese and herbs and the courgettes are evenly distributed.  Season to taste and serve immediately.  You can drizzle with a little extra olive oil if you like.

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Beef in Oyster Sauce, better than a take away

19 Jun

DSCI0632OK, so all my followers will know by now that I love Chinese food.  I also like Ken Hom recipes so this dish was a reasonably safe bet to turn out well. I was not disappointed.  Mind you, I did go all out with the beef and bought fillet steak. Some may think this was a waste but my husband is really fussy about meat and hates chewy bits in recipes where the meat is in a sauce and so they are well disguised.  This beef just melted in our mouths and was absolutely delicious. In actual fact, there wasn’t that much difference in the price of the fillet to other steaks so I feel my choice was justified.

Another essential is your choice of oyster sauce. Some oyster sauces taste fishy so buying the best you can afford always pays in the end. Ken Hom recommends Lee Kum Kee sauce found in most major supermarkets.

The dish is very savoury so goes well with plain boiled rice.

Here is a link to the recipe on the Good Food website: 

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Lamb Tagine – prepare ahead for an easy life!

15 Jun

 I picked up a leg of lamb today. half price. from the supermarket and I am going to make a Lamb Tagine.  The recipe looks easy enough and I can prepare it ahead. I think it will actually improve with standing and it will give me a chance to use my new Tagine pot!  Lots of good reasons then to make it.

Tagine is a dish from North Africa, named after the earthenware pot it is cooked in.  The traditional Tagine has a flat circular base with low sides and a dome-shaped top.  The top is shaped like this to allow the steam to condense and return to the stew below, keeping the moisture in.  There is a knob at the top to facilitate easy removal of the top to allow additions to the stew whilst it is cooking.

Moroccan tagines are slowly braised at low temperatures.  This results in meltingly tender meat in aromatic sauces.  This cooking process is ideal for cheap cuts of meat so many recipes will use cheap cuts of lamb or chicken.  You will often find they include sweet ingredients such as dried fruits, preserved lemons and honey.  They will always, however, include spices, traditionally these will be a mix of  cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and paprika.  I used a leg of lamb, boned and cut into cubes, because my husband hates fat or chewy lamb.  The cooking time was almost halved, but I have kept the recipe as intended, ie, using cheaper cuts of lamb.

For years I would avoid cooking this meal.  I am not a lover of stews that combine meat with dried fruit and nuts.  What a fool I was!  The end result is absolutely gorgeous!!  Tagines are usually served with couscous.  I have never had any success with couscous and usually find it bland and tasteless.  This time I cheated and gave a ready mixed Moroccan couscous a try. All I had to do was add water and it was delicious.  I may have a go at making my own like this another time.  If you don’t like couscous, try serving it with rice or Orzo. I’m sure these would be just as good!

Here is the recipe.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine         Serves 6

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1-2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1.5 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2.5 lbs boned lamb, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1.2 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, finely chopped
  • 6 oz ready to eat dried apricots
  • 3 oz toasted, flaked almonds
  • 1 tbsp clear honey
  • 1/2 pt tomato juice
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 pt hot lamb stock
  • chopped coriander to garnish
  1. Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3.Mix the spices together in a small bowl then add to the lamb, mixing to coat well.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in an hob to oven casserole on a high heat. Brown the lamb in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, adding extra oil for each batch.
  3. Turn down the heat to low and add the remaining tbsp oil. add the onions and cook until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and salt towards the end of cooking.
  4. Return the lamb to the casserole and stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and transfer to a tagine or cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 2 hours or until the lamb is meltingly tender. Check occasionally and stir to ensure it is not drying out.
  5. Serve sprinkled with the coriander.

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Chicken Chow Mein

3 Jun

DSCI0658Whenever we go to a Chinese restaurant I am drawn to the Chow Mein section of the menu. I know it sounds boring but I do love this style of Chinese food. I have tried many times to capture the same authentic flavour and have never quite made it but not this time! this dish tastes divine. It is very authentic and, if anything, actually tastes better than the ones I have eaten in a restaurant.  The recipe is very easy but, as with all Chinese recipes, make sure you have all the food prepared beforehand as the cooking takes no time at all and many end results are spoilt because someone has to chop a food and the rest is overcooking in the wok.

The word means ‘fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing’.

This is a Ken Hom recipe so how could it fail?  Here is a link to the recipe on the Good Food website:

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Mussels in a creamy curry sauce – divine!

30 May

They say every cloud has a silver lining.  For me, when summer is over, it means that for 8 months there is a ‘R’ in the month and I can get fresh mussels.  It never fails to amaze me how many people have never tried mussels because they are put off by the look of them.  For me, they are the most delicious of all the sea foods.  I know they come bottled in vinegar and you can buy them ready cooked in the supermarket.  You can even get them vacuum packed and ready to cook, but there is absolutely no comparison to the wonderful, soft, melt-in-your-mouth morsels that are cooked from raw.

I have been making this mussel recipe for years and yet, every time I make it, the fantastic flavours still surprise me.  This time was no exception.  I could almost hear myself purring as I dipped my crusty french stick into the delicious sauce.  Wonderful!

So lets take a look at why I can’t buy mussels in months without an ‘R’.   Mussels are often regarded as poor man’s shellfish because they are cheap and plentiful. In the wild, they grow on coastline rocks and stones but the majority of mussels available in the UK are farmed in suitable coastal waters. Mussels are one of the most environmentally sound types of fish or shellfish available. There’s no hefty price tag and, what’s more, these little creatures are in abundance.  They have two shells (bivalves) through which they filter water and feed on the algae and plankton they find in it. Plankton in the water for a shellfish is like grass in a field for a cow. In this way, the shellfish are grazing upon the sea. What they’re grazing on are tiny (as small as 1/50th of a millimeter) aquatic life forms called flagellates.  One reason for this old saying is that during the summer months the flagellates bloom and become more prolific.  At this time they can create ‘red tides’ and it is these that have been associated with poisoning from shellfish.  If the mussels are farmed it is unlikely this is the cause of not being available.  More likely it is because the mussels themselves are reproducing along with the fact that it is much easier for mussels to go bad during high temperatures.

There are a few golden rules when cooking mussels.  Firstly, always wash them well and remove any ‘beard’ you see poking out between the shells.  Only ever cook mussels that are closed when raw but do not discard them until you have tried tapping them sharply with a knife.  If the mussel is still alive the shells will close as it will think this is the beak of a bird trying to eat it.  If it remains open throw it away, its dead and may well be toxic.  Once cooked, only eat the mussels that have opened sufficiently for you to see them nestled between the shells.  This last point has not really been proved but I am not going to argue with the experts.

Anyway, I really hope you give this recipe a try, it is absolutely wonderful!

Mussels in a creamy curry sauce                     Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1 kg/ 2lbs 4 ozs fresh mussels
  • 150 ml/1/4 pt dry white wine
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 25 g/1 oz butter
  • 1tsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp madras curry paste (I use Pataks)
  • 100 g/4 oz creme fraiche (you can use low-fat if you are watching your weight but the sauce will be slightly thinner
  • a small handful of parsley
  1. Prepare the mussels as discussed above.  Put them in a large pan with the wine.  Cover, bring to the boil then cook over a high heat for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened.  Shake the pan a few times during this process and be careful not to overcook them.
  2. Strain the mussels over a bowl so you capture the cooking liquor.  You will need this for the sauce so don’t throw it away.  Cover the mussels with a cloth to keep them warm while you make the sauce.
  3. Fry the shallots in the butter in a frying pan until it is soft and not browned.  This will only take a couple of minutes.  Stir in the flour and curry paste and mix well.  Cook for about 1 minute.  Add the cooking liquor carefully so as not to disturb any gritty bits which will have sunk to the bottom.  Discard the last of the liquor to avoid this going into your sauce.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the creme fraiche until the sauce is thick and glossy.  Check the sauce is hot then add the parsley.  Divide the mussels between two large bowls and pour the sauce over.  Serve with large chunks of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

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Home made faggots – make a batch and freeze some for another day!

22 May

 I remember some time ago, my friend Pam asked if I had a recipe for faggots.  At the time I said no and that I thought it was too much of an effort to make faggots when you can buy them in the butchers ready-made.  How wrong was I!  This faggot recipe is wonderful.  Not only do you know what is going into the faggots ie no rubbish, but they taste better than any faggots I have ever eaten. I was absolutely amazed at how authentic they were and how they retained their shape, even when cooked in the delicious onion gravy.  The recipe makes a tray of 24 faggots.  Don’t panic! They can be frozen in packs of four (or however many you want, in foil containers and then cooked from frozen when you want them.  They are so easy I think they would make perfect food for a Bonfire or Halloween party, served in plastic dishes with a spoon of mash.  Perfect!!!

When I was a child we used to have Savoury Duck.  I have no idea why it is called this.  It appears to be something you can only buy in the north of England.  If I had to describe it I would say its a sort of savoury mix of subtle spices, probably some form of starch and bits of meat that usually do not get eaten.  Mum used to slice it and cook it in the fat left over from frying the bacon for breakfast.  She would remove it from the pan then reheat tinned tomatoes in the same pan so they picked up some of the lovely spice infused oil.  My favourite breakfast!

I spent some time in Guildford when I left school but could not buy Savoury Duck anywhere.  That is when I first came across faggots.  I would cook them the same as Mum did and, although their flavour is stronger, I found them to be just as delicious.  According to Wikipedia, faggots and savoury ducks are one in the same.  Not true, I can definitely tell the difference!

I believe most countries will have a similar foodstuff that uses up lots of meat left overs, probably first cooked years ago when meat was expensive and to prevent waste.  The Scottish Haggis springs to mind and, in Greece, there is Kokoretsi.  I love them both!!   Apparently there is also a similar dish in Portugal called Almondega.   I will need to give it a try when I next go there.

Anyway, the recipe was in one of my Good Food magazines, here is a link along with a slideshow for each step I made when making them.  Shaping the faggots is a bit messy so wear an apron.  You will find it is well worth it.  

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Cheese and potato pie – a really simple recipe with shortcuts!

14 May

 Before we start, the picture is of the pie before it was cooked.  It was so delicious we had eaten it before I remembered to take one of the finished product!

When I started writing this blog my intention was to help all those who wanted to cook but needed help.  I had been one of those people myself when I first married, even though I had years of cooking with my Grandma to help me.  Confidence in cooking is so important.  Without it the  opportunity to experience happy moments of sharing good food with friends are missed and, of course, so is the ability to prepare healthy food from scratch for yourself and your family.  I was reminded of this fact recently when my daughter-in-law asked for advice on cooking.  With that in mind I am sharing this very simple, yet delicious pie recipe.  I think it was perhaps one of the first things I cooked for myself when I was a student.  I can remember sharing it with some of the girls, served with a very simple salad.  A great meal and a great memory.

I have used bought prepared shortcrust pastry for the recipe.  Trust me, there is no shame in that and, nowadays, it is so good I am sure you could pass it off as your own.  Oh dear, I can almost hear members of the WI screaming in horror! In the past I have always used bought puff pastry as this is more complicated to make at home, but would never entertain the idea of buying shortcrust as it is quite easy to make.  I think my snobbery has wasted a lot of time and, although I still make my own on occasion, when time is short and you need to knock up a meal in a hurry, bought is perfect.  Nowadays you can buy a whole range of ready-made pastry from most large supermarkets.

  • Sweet shortcrust – perfect for fruit pies and flans etc
  • Shortcrust – great for pasties, pies and savoury flans etc
  • Puff pastry – perfect for great looking meat of vegetable pies, or vol-u-vents etc
  • Butter puff pastry – gives pies that extra richness
  • Filo pastry, perfect for a lower calories pie topping, scrunched over fruit or meat, or for Greek spinach pies, samosas etc

Well, here is the recipe.  Eat it hot or cold, perfect for picnics or a buffet.

Cheese and potato pie                                         Serves 6 – 8

  • 1 x 500g pack chilled, ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 200g new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 200g cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge before you start to prepare the filling.  It will give it time to soften and will roll out without cracking or breaking up.
  2. Put the potatoes and onion in a pan of boiling salted water.  Bring back to the boil then simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes until just tender.  Do not allow the potatoes to boil rapidly as they will break up.  Drain and leave to cool.
  3. While the potatoes are cooling, cut the pack of pastry in half and need each half gently and quickly into a ball shape.  Flour the work surface and rolling-pin lightly then roll one ball of the pastry out into a circular shape.  You can do this by turning the pastry round in a clockwise motion in-between rolls, it will help with the circular shape.  When the pastry is about as thin as a pound coin lift gently using the rolling-pin and line your pie dish, making sure it fits snug into the corners and leaving excess hanging over the edge.
  4. Add the cheese to the potatoes and mix gently so as not to break up the potatoes.  Make sure the mix is completely cold and fill the lined pie dish.
  5. Roll out the second ball of pastry as before. Dampen the edge of the pastry lining then lower your second circle of pastry on top.  Pinch the edges together to make a good seal the, using a sharp knife, run it around the edge of the pie dish to remove all excess.
  6. Make a cross in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape.  Decorate if you want with diamond-shaped pieces of pastry.  Put in the fridge to allow the pastry to recover while the oven heats up.
  7. Preheat the oven to 190C/fan180C/gas 5.  Brush the top of the pastry with the beaten egg then bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and firm.

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Individual Beef Wellingtons – delicious!

10 May

DSCI0625I remember the first time we had a Beef Wellington. I loved it but my husband, who hates to eat meat that is too pink or bloody, had to have his flashed off in the frying pan. When I saw this recipe I could feel my mouth watering but I was quite nervous about what my husband would think of it.  The steak is a fillet and it would have been criminal to overcook it so I decided to go with the recipe. Thankfully they turned out perfectly.  The Parma Ham prevented the pastry from having a soggy bottom and added a lovely flavour to the finished dish.  Fillet steak is obviously not cheap but it is well worth the money for such a beautiful dish. Perfect for a romantic meal for two or a dinner party for special friends.  I served mine with green vegetables as I felt there was enough starch in the pastry for a rounded meal.

The origin of the name is unclear. (Wikipedia)

There are theories that suggest that beef Wellington is named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Some theories go a step further and suggest this was due to his love of a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pâté cooked in pastry, but there is a noted lack of evidence supporting this. In addition to the dearth of evidence attaching this dish to the famous Duke, the earliest recorded recipe to bear this name appeared in a 1966 cookbook.

Other accounts simply credit the name to a patriotic chef wanting to give an English name to a variation on the French filet de bœuf en croûte during the Napoleonic Wars.

Still another theory is that the dish is not named after the Duke himself, but rather that the finished joint was thought to resemble a Wellington boot, a brown shiny military boot named after the duke.

Here is the link to the recipe: 

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Egg curry, one of our favourites

2 May

DSCI0644Egg curry may not be the most popular with most people but it is one of my husbands favourites. I’ve tried a couple of recipes over the years but the one we both like the most is the one I am writing about today.  I have to say I was truly surprised at how delicious an egg curry can be but this is so lovely it has become a one of our regular meals. Anytime I have forgotten to take meat or fish out of the freezer or want a quick but tasty meal this is the one I turn to.  It would be very unusual for me not to have all the ingredients available at any time so this really is a convenience food for us but made from fresh ingredients so healthy too.

The recipe is one of Anjum Anard’s from her cookery book ‘Indian Every Day’ (ISBN 978-0-7553-1201-6).  I disregard the portion size she suggests and I have made some minor adjustments to cater for our appetites. Trust me, this is not too much for a medium to normal sized portion for two people.  I serve it with plain boiled rice and poppadoms. Absolutely lovely. You can make the sauce in advance and boil the eggs so that you can quickly complete the dish later in the day from Step 3.

Egg Curry               Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed or 1/2 tsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 green chilli left whole
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 good pinches red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 200 ml hot water
  • 3 – 4 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, crumbled
  • handful chopped coriander
  1. Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan and gently fry the onion until golden and soft, about 8 – 10 minutes
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, green chilli, coriander powder, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Stir to mix.
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook on a medium to high heat for 5 minutes until thickened.
  4. Add the water and bring to the boil.
  5. Carefully lower the egg halves into the sauce and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the garam masala, black pepper , fenugreek leaves and chopped coriander over the sauce and carefully mix in without breaking up the eggs.
  7. Serve hot with boiled rice.


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