Ever wonder how it is actually possible to barely see the other half you live with? So do I, to the extent that every fortnight JB and I try and get a date night locked down and make time just for us, no phones, no work and no other outside interruptions.
We have done everything from activities to nights away but the last one was one of the cheapest and most blissful. A night in with all our favourite foods. In this case, a two course feast.
I have very definitely made my love of seafood clear but this dish blows them all out of the water. When JB and I first got together he was totally anti-fish and seafood because, and I quote, “they look like aliens” (I kid you not) but I soon got him round to the right way of thinking… mine HAHA. It took a while but we started with prawns and worked our way on from there. It’s a good job really because I cook seafood A LOT! Case in point, our main course. I made a squid ink linguine with langoustines and king prawns in a prosecco and lemon butter sauce.
Ever since I first tried prosecco I think I have been it’s biggest fan and one of the largest contributors to it’s production. With summer holidays here it now means a bottle of bubbles is on the weekly shop : ) Who can blame me?
So, I got myself thinking… If you can drink it, surely cooking with it is also a good shout? I love using a citrusy white wine with seafood but in this case seeing as I was going all out for my boy, I chose a medium dry prosecco and sloshed a glass in there. One for the chef and one for the pan! That’s fair right?
I made sure I reduced the prosecco to burn of the alchohol and intensify the flavour then added a nob of butter to create a thick and glossy sauce. Beyond delicious.
I always, always, always get my fish fresh and in season so that I can freeze it myself if necessary* I am lucky that I have Bury market right on my doorstep along with some other great local producers, so that makes things a heck of a lot easier for me. On one of my previous trips I managed to snag the last of a batch of langoustines, I cooked half and froze the rest for use at a later stage!
Prepping #langos is easy but needs you to be very light handed. Unless I am baking them in the shell I like to remove it and devein (remove the poop shoot). The easiest way I find to do this is to:> firstly twist the head off and pop to one side if using for a stock> secondly, squeeze the underside of the shell until it cracks then peel from the legs around> thirdly, using a sharp knife cut along the back and remove the vein.
If you’re struggling to prep your seafood ask your fishmonger or there are tonnes of YouTube videos out there! In this dish I cut the langoustines up into bite sized pieces and dropped them in the sauce with 2 minutes to go! They cooked perfectly and get coated in that lovely lemony, buttery sauce.
I fell in love with squid ink on a trip to Barcelona about 4 years ago where I had it as a risotto. Since then my fascination with has grown and grown to the point I know bring back authentic squid ink products on every trip I can get hold of them… sad I know!
Anyways, on my latest trip to Italy I brought back some squid ink linguine and that is the perfect accompaniment to this feast of pure decadence : ). I cook the pasta in boiling salted water for just 6 minutes so that it has a chance to finish of in the sauce and soak some of it in whilst still being al dente.
Next up is dessert, my favourite course usually as I have an incredibly sweet tooth. I’m not big on pastry usually, especially when it comes to savoury products but I do love a good choux pastry. Normally in the form of profiteroles rather than eclairs because I prefer my desserts in miniature a lot of the time, it feels like you’re getting more.
It is safe to say I’ve made profiteroles a few times, usually though I tend to stick to the traditional recipes and make a vanilla creme patisserie to fill them with. This time though I went full blown experimental with them. Mixing tea’s and citrus flavours has been done before but I’ve not seen any recipes using jasmine tea in this way…maybe I’m just not looking hard enough though. I think the flavour combination I’ve chosen for this makes them slightly of the wall but I think they taste great.
One of my oldest friends brought me a white tea and jasmine blend tea back from Hong Kong when she lived out here and truth be told it took me a while to get the balance of leaves to water right. It’s a running joke between LR and I, it once took me 6 attempts to make her a cup that wasn’t too strong or too weak.
This blend of tea is so aromatic and also naturally quite sweet which is great as it meant I could reduce the sugar content of my profiteroles. As with any tea, to get the best flavour you have to let it brew for a while so that is what I did. I used the tea in place of water or milk for my profiterole base. This does give the profiteroles a slightly darker colour but I like the it.
Next up I got to thinking of what to put in them. I love the idea of citrus to cut through the richness of cream so decided to go with passion fruit. I absolutely love The Cherry Tree, they are a family run company that make the most delightful preserves and pickles. Every year at Manchester’s Christmas market I buy myself a few jars of their passion fruit curd and I cannot get enough.
I added 3 heaped spoons of the curd into some double cream so it is just marbled through and that is all there is to it. When the profiteroles are done it’s just a case of pricking a hole in the middle with a skewer and leaving in the oven with the door ajar to stop them from losing their shape and going soggy. Pipe the cream into the hole you made earlier then pile into a mound of pure deliciousness.
If you don’t have a piping bag you can make one out of grease proof paper of simply cut the corner of a food bag.
This is my idea of pure indulgence and definitely goes down a treat when we have a stay at home date night : ) Make sure you check out the recipes x
INGREDIENTS – Makes around 20
FOR THE PROFITEROLES
200ml brewed and cooled jasmine tea
2 tsp caster sugar
85g butter (plus a little for greasing)
115g plain flour
pinch of salt
3 medium eggs beaten
FOR THE FILLING
600ml double cream
3 large tbsps passion fruit curd
1. Preheat the oven to 200oc
2. Put the tea, sugar and butter into a pan and heat until the butter is melted
3. Turn the heat up to high and put the flour and salt in(in one go), mixing quickly to combine
4. Remove from the heat and keep mixing until the mixture comes away from the edge of the pan in one ball
5. Leave to cool for around 10mins (otherwise you will scramble the eggs when adding them)
6. Add the eggs bit by bit mixing hard to combine until the mixture is smooth and glossy (I think the consistency is similar to toothpaste)
7. Lightly grease some grease proof paper, pipe the mixture into smallish balls (think the width of a £2 coin) in lines across the baking sheet leaving room for them to puff up
8. Gently rub the top of each ball with a wet finger so the top goes crispy
9. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until brown taking into account that they will naturally be darker because of the tea – if the profiteroles are too pale they go soggy when they’ve cooled
10. Remove from the oven and turn the oven off. Prick the base of each profiterole with a skewer. Put back onto the grease proof sheet with the hole in the base facing upwards and return to the oven for five minutes to dry out fully
11. For the filling, whip the cream until it holds a soft peak
12. Add the passion fruit curd to the cream and fold through so streaks of it are still visibe
13. Once the profiteroles are cool pipe the cream mixture into the hole you created earlier and pile up into a mound of deliciousness
14. Pipe any additional cream around the profiteroles
Enjoy : ) x
INGREDIENTS – serves 2
150g squid ink linguine
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp mixed herbs
2 cloves garlic
1tsp dried chilli flakes
10 king prawns, peeled and de-veined
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to season
1. Finely dice the red onion and saute in a hot pan with the garlic, chilli and herbs
2. Boil the linguine in a pan of slightly salted water for 6mins (you can use regular if you can’t get hold of squid ink linguine)
3. Add the king prawns to the onion and herb pan and coat thoroughly until they begin to turn pink on both sides
4. Add the lemon juice, butter and prosecco to the prawns and reduce the mixture by about half to burn of the alcohol
5. Add the prepared langoustines and pasta making sure they are fully coated in the sauce and heat through for a final 2mins
Enjoy : ) x
Ciao again from the beautiful bay of Southern Italy. Whenever I come to Italy I feel like I’m coming home. I swear I was Italian in a previous life! I am totally in love with the slow and sedate pace of life during the day that is only punctuated by leisurely multi course lunches, great wine and the background scent of lemons.
Twirling through the streets of Sorrento at night however is a different story. The city comes to life. Children running and playing in between bites of fresh pizza and pasta whilst their family watches on. I notice that simplicity and fresh produce is the key to great Italian dishes.
Everywhere you look around this southern city you’ll find the beautiful Sorrento lemon hanging from trees alongside rows and rows of tomatoes the size of a small child’s head… no joke! With both being so prevalent it’s no wonder they’re used in a variety of dishes.
One of the cheapest, tastiest antipasti dishes is by far bruschetta. Lightly dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and basil and seasoned with a touch of salt and a grinding of black peppercorns it is a MUST TRY (shouty caps and everything there). I like to make the dressing for this in advance at home so the flavours have a chance to mingle and it tastes even better.
Slice up some hunks of day old bread and whack the tomatoes on. If your bread is a day or so old it means it won’t fall apart with the juice of tomatoes on and it won’t taste soggy. I have an irrational fear of soggy bread as I may have mentioned so I definitely don’t use fresh bread.
One of the main inspirations I took from my first trip to Italy way back when, is simplicity. I take this and apply it to most of the recipes I create but in this case I applied it to dressings. Salad dressings are sooo easy to make. It’s all about getting the balance right though. Depending on what you want to dress, the balance of acid to oil can be crucial.
One of my favourite dishes for a foodie pit-stop when I’m out and about is beef tataki from Yo Sushi, it’s served with a fennel salad and that is where I got the idea for mine. Fennel is in season all year but at the moment it’s at its best and readily available in supermarkets too. You can use both the bulb itself and the leafy greens as long as they’re not yellow as they can taste quite bitter.
Fennel is definitely a love it or hate it kinda thing as it has such a strong aniseedy flavour. I’ve teamed it with some fresh herbs; parsley, coriander and mint finely chopped with a diced chilli and seasoned with salt and pepper are the perfect combination.
When it comes to the oil and acid base of my dressings I use a ratio of 3 parts of a really good oil to 1 part lemon juice or balsamic for acidity. Due to the colour though, for this one I went with a very good extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Give it a good shake and store it in the fridge for a maximum of 3 days if you are going to use it daily or just make it up as you need it.
Another of my favourite’s is an easy honey and mustard. I love creamy dressings but it is so hard to find a low fat but still creamy option that tastes just as sinful. I use a mixture of mayo and non fat yoghurt as it drizzles better and you get the best of both worlds.
Add a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and a tablespoon of honey, then to balance the flavour I use some of the pickling liquid from silver skin onions. It has a tart sweetness to it that rounds the dressing nicely. Alternatively, throw in a slug of white wine vinegar and you’re good to go.
Obviously to save on the washing up as I usually try and do HAHA, I put everything in a tupperware container (or one of the empty jars I keep to store things in) with a tight lid and gave it a good shake. Both of these dressings are simple to make and can be thrown on a leafy green salad or my fennel salad. Definitely the way forward with BBQ season right up on us!
There is no such thing as too much sauce!
As a northern girl a meal is not complete unless it has some form of sauce, whether it’s gravy, tomato or cream based it has to be there to tie a meal together. So even though I prep my meals in advance I’m sure you’ve noticed there isn’t a shortage of sauce based goodness.
There is a common misconception that ALL sauce making takes a long time or uses a lot of ingredients so I know loads of you take the ‘easier option’ of convenience foods.
Some leading brands are so high in fat and sugar that they are definitely not what you should be using regularly ‘the company behind Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s sauces says some products should only be consumed once a week due to high salt, sugar or fat content.’* Definitely not the sort of thing you want to be feeding your family and friends right?
But whats the alternative? Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I also feel the need to just throw something together but the trick is making sure it’s the right thing and it fits the way I eat and what I like. Sounds simple right?
To stop me grabbing the nearest thing I like to make a batch of tomato sauce that is so versatile It can be used with pretty much anything. I absolutely adore Italian food and that has been the inspiration for this sauce. It mainly uses store cupboard ingredients and stores for a week in a sterilised jar when done.
It’s just a case of a little preparation then leaving it to simmer and do it’s thing.
Now it’s all well and good having a go to sauce but you’ve also got to know what to do with it. I use my sauce in so many different ways so it doesn’t feel like I’m eating the same thing every meal especially if I am using it in my meal prep.
First up, on baked chicken or fish. Each of the ingredients I use in the sauce goes well with chicken or fish which is one of the reasons I use it so often. I layered some sauce onto the fish in this case then created a crumb with almonds and mixed herbs then baked for 20mins. Serve it with a side of veg and your good to go.
Now secondly, who doesn’t like a pasta dish? I’ve made the switch to wholegrain pasta to up my fibre intake, an easy switch to make. I love the way fusilli clings to sauces so it was one of my first choices for this but penne, conchiglie, farfalle or rigatoni would work just as well.
I start by crisping up some smoked bacon or pancetta lardons in a dry pan, throw in a couple of tablespoons of the sauce to heat through then add the pasta. I cook my pasta al dente as I prefer the texture.
As the sauce already contains onion, chilli and garlic this pasta dish requires very little else but for the cheese lovers out there knock yourselves out with some grated parmesan on top and you’re good to go. Quick, easy and tasty.
Last and definitely not least risotto. My favourite rice to use is carnaroli, if you can’t get hold of it I’d use arborio, a great substitute. Carnaroli has great flavour, holds it’s shape well and is pretty much fool proof so there’s no going wrong even if you’ve never made risotto before.
Risotto is such a comforting dish and again this sauce works just as well. It can be a tad time consuming to make but the end result is well worth it. I start with a classic method of gradually adding stock to rice and chicken, then add a couple of tablespoons of the sauce and one of cream cheese just to add a little more creaminess to the consistency.
All of these take less than 10mins prep time and 20mins cooking time so they are perfect for a midweek dinner or easy lunch if your in a rush.
Give the sauce a try. It’s so much cheaper than the alternate convenience foods out there and has a lot less salt and only natural sugars from the onions and tomatoes. Tomatoes are also low in fat, high in fibre and a low-calorie source of many vitamins and minerals. Win win hey?
400g cherry tomatoes
1 x tin of chopped tomatoes
1 red onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp basil or mixed herbs
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp oil (I use coconut)
1. Dice your onion, chilli and garlic and saute in the oil
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir
3. Fill the tin of tomatoes with the same amount of water and reduce until you have a sauce with a thick consistency.
Enjoy : ) x
INGREDIENTS – serves 2 as a main
250g plain flour
4 tbsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp cayenne papper
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Oil for frying (I used coconut oil but vegetable will do just as well)
1. In your trusty food bag, mix all the ingredients except the sprats
2. Heat your oil for frying
3. Put the sprats into the flour mixture making sure they are well coated and shake of the excess
4. Test the oil is hot enough with a sprinkling of flour
5. Fry the sprats until golden* this took roughly 4 minutes per batch.
Enjoy : ) x
*make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan, I did mine in 4 batches. This prevents the batter going soggy
Food with friends
Ever struggle for what to cook when you’ve invited people around? The struggle is real, I know it and so do you. I think the problem most of us run into is wondering how to fit it all in, in a limited amount of time. It’s either you are working all day and then don’t want to spend all evening in the kitchen whilst your guests entertain themselves, or, you’ve made the most of your weekend and packed a lot in so are only left with an hour or two. To make things that little bit easier for you guys I’m going to talk you through some of my easy dinner ideas for when I have to feed the masses : )
You may have had pulled pork before but pulled chicken is it’s lower calorie, lower fat and just as tasty cousin! Seriously, it is immense.
I devised this recipe from a range of my store cupboard ingredients making it an easy dish for most of you to create or at least substitute some of the ingredients if you haven’t got them.
I know I have previously raved about the merits of a slow cooker but I’m going to do it again and I’m not sorry. The beauty of a slow cooker is the fact you DON’T HAVE TO pre-cook anything. Honestly! Everything goes in raw, you toddle off to work or shopping or to meet friends and you come back with your tea cooked.
So the ingredients; I used chicken breast as it has an unreal amount of protein and is super low fat, a red onion and then to create the flavour base I dug out some brown sugar, chicken stock cubes, ginger, chilli. ketchup, lime juice, Worcester sauce and chilli sauce. It was then just a case of plugging in the slow cooker, pilling it all in with a cup full of water and then leaving it to do it’s thing.
I like to serve it up with some quinoa and fresh salad ingredients with a dollop of sour cream or on some lovely fresh rolls with a mixed leaf salad. It goes down a treat, means people can help themselves and if you’re lucky you have some leftover to make an awesome pie.
If you’re macro tracking as I currently am, it works out at 5.2g of carbs, 2.0g of fat and a whopping 38.6g of protein. This is for a 200g portion of the pulled chicken alone and comes in at a suprisingly low but filling 296 calories.
Secondly, if you’re a feeder like myself and make multiple courses then the easiest starter, light meal or picky board is an antipasti board! I do a few different variations of this but what it really comes down to is getting great produce and presenting them beautifully. This also works well along side a BBQ when we get the weather for it.
At a minimum, I have 2 different types of cured meats on the board with some pate before I even start to think about accompaniments. A range of cheeses and some bread, either crusty tiger stick or thinly sliced and grilled ciabatta work very well.
I love sun-dried tomatoes and just recently I’ve started making my own. It’s a lengthy process but takes very little effort and once it’s done you have a batch that can be stored for weeks if they last that long!
When it comes to accompaniments I always have sun-dried tomatoes, gherkins and either aioli, garlic mayonnaise or some sour cream dip. It is definitely down to personal taste but I like to have a variation of sweet, sour and creamy to go with the meats. Easy to do and it also means your antipasti board can be presented and served in 20 mins max!
Third up and another that is easy to cook in batches is my take on a classic Italian spaghetti alle vongole! By far one of my all time favourite dishes to cook and eat.
The great thing about Italian food is that it’s meant to be shared and eaten in groups, this recipe lends itself to increased protion sizes so it doubles or triples up really well.
Once the prep work is done the whole thing takes 8mins to cook! The onions, aromatics and wine all cook out in a few minutes and the clams take 4mins to open up, throw in the pasta and a handful of fresh parsley and you’re good to go. Incidently if you aren’t a clam lover or can’t get hold of fresh clams this recipe also works well with prawns and chicken.
Number four on the list is another variation of the one pot chicken and veg. Easy enough to prep and then just whack in the oven when you’re guests arrive as it only takes 20-25mins if you pre-heat the oven.
I always have the following in the house and it goes on my weekly shop without fail:
so this dish makes an appearance in some form. Even when I’m home alone as I know it’s quick and easy but healthy too.
I chop all the ingredients with some chicken into similar sized pieces then throw in a food bag. For a girl who despises washing up like I do, food bags are a kitchen staple. Into the food bag go some oregano, chilli flakes, garlic, lemon juice and of course, salt and pepper. This then sits in the marinade for a little while before going in an oven proof dish. Job done!
I’ve given you a range of ideas to try out that I think make cooking for crowds easier. Hopefully it’s also less effort than trying to decide how much you need to order from the takeaway to feed everyone AND it should be a lot quicker : )
INGREDIENTS – serves 8
1kg chicken breast
1 red onion
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Worcester sauce
2 tbsp hot sauce (I used franks)
2 x chicken stock cube (I used oxo)
1 cup water
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp chilli
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp chilli sauce
1. Finely slice the onion
2. Put the chicken breast in the slow cooker
3. Add all the ingredients and stir
4. Put the slow cooker on low and leave for at least 4hrs
200g = 296 calories
Enjoy : ) x