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Monday, 28 April 2014

7-a-day Slow Cooker Challenge Round Up

It seems that packing 7 fruits or vegetables into a slow cooker recipe was quite a challenge as, other than my own, I only had two excellent entries which I will share with you.

First up was Pravina from Indo-Global Food with a simple vegetable curry: Aloo-Palak (Potato and Spinach) Curry which can be eaten with rice, naan, roti or paratha.

 My own dish was Chicken with 7-a-day Mediterranean Vegetables a great one pot meal best served with something that will soak up the delicious juices.

Natalie at The Tofu Diaries brought a Vegan dimension to the Slow Cooker Challenge.  Regular readers may have noticed I have a real love of paprika, so this Sweet Potato and Three Bean Paprikash is going on my recipe wish list.

Many thanks to Natalie and Pravina for taking part in the Slow Cooker Challenge.  I hope you will join me on 1st of May to find out what we will be making in our Slow Cookers as we move towards the warmer weather.

 Woo hoo!  I must have left the linky open longer than I though and the lovely Sarah of Tales from the Kitchen Shed has snuck in at the last minute with a delicious Vegetable Biryani and what a gorgeous vibrant photograph.

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Sunday, 27 April 2014

A tourist in my own country

Yesterday, I took a trip to Edinburgh to meet up with my friend Tracey and her family.  We haven't met up for three years but it was just as if we had seen each other yesterday.  I travelled to Edinburgh on the train so arrived at Waverley Station right next to Princes Street Gardens and this fabulous view of Edinburgh Castle.

Tracey and her family were touring the Castle so I headed up there to meet them, it was great to see the trams finally running around the city, although they are only practicing at the moment so run without passengers.  When we were in Dublin we used the trams there and found them simple and to use.

After some lunch we headed back to Waverley Bridge to join one of the tour buses that take you round Edinburgh to see the highlights.  I've done the tour twice before, but there is always something new to see or some different perspective from a new tour guide.  However, the highlight of the trip, apart from meeting up with my friends, was walking up the 247 steps to the top of the Scott Monument.

Scottish National Gallery and The Scott Monument
The Scott Monument is the largest monument to a writer in the world. It commemorates Sir Walter Scott. There are 287 steps to the top of the Scott Monument and they are narrow and spiral, getting narrower as you reach the top!  We reckoned we had earned a cup of tea and a cake which we enjoyed at The Garden Cafe of the Scottish National Gallery. 

We only managed a couple of the many fantastic things there are to do in Edinburgh, but it reminded me how much fun it is to be a tourist in your own country. 

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Mexican 'Tortilla' Bake

It's surprising how many eggs seem to accumulate when you are not baking, so as soon as the oven was back in service I had to find a way to use them.  I'm sure you are probably wondering why I didn't just stop buying them,  but they are hand delivered to my husband by the woman who keeps them and works alongside him, so it would be rude not to buy them each week, don't you think?

So what to do with them, hmm let's have a look in the fridge and see what is there... oh yes, some mini peppers and a courgette, dice and slice them and add a tablespoon of oil then roast in the oven at 180C for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables have started to soften and blacken round the edges.

Now what else can I add...some leftover lamb chopped into pieces and a packet of ready cooked rice, you don't need to add the rice but it does make it more substantial.

Beat five eggs with 1/2 teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika and mix through the other ingredients.

Grated cheese on top is optional, but a nice finish.  Put back into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes or until set in the middle.  Serve with salad.

I'm entering my Mexican Tortilla for The Spice Trail run by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash as the challenge is celebrating Mexican food this month.

I'm also adding this to the No Waste Food Challenge as I used up some extra eggs, random veg from the fridge and leftover roast lamb. It is run by Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary and hosted this month at JibberJabberUK

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Drinks and Snacks on my 'Spring' Kitchen Table

Spring has definitely sprung now, after a beautiful sunny Easter weekend in Scotland, there can be now doubt about that.  I'm afraid I don't have any lovely outdoors photos for you, although I did spend a couple of hours in the sun on Saturday, shifting logs for our neighbours before heading back inside for more painting duties.

As you can see work continues around my Kitchen Table, in the background you can see the old laths awaiting a new coat of plaster.  The worktops are protected by sheets of cardboard and there is much painting going on.  What you need in these circumstances are some tasty snacks to keep you going.

First up are the Nice and Nobbly Organic, Gluten Free, Granola Bars from Nature's Path.  They come in two flavours - Trail Mix and Dark Choc Chip - and are a great alternative to the often taste-less and bland gluten-free products on the market.  They are very tasty, hold together well and I would definitely buy them.  9/10

Cawston Press, the  premium soft drinks company, is now launching sparkling drinks in cans, for the very first time. They come in two flavours - Rhubarb and Cloudy Apple and are a welcome change to the often additive-packed canned soft drinks on the market.   I am not a huge fan of fizzy drinks and fortunately these weren't over-carbonated.  I reviewed the sparking juices on my New Year Kitchen Table in bottle form, which I preferred, as I really find a whole can too much.  The flavours were equally delicious and I guess cans can be useful when you are travelling around and don't want glass bottles.  The fruit flavour comes through well, however I have to say that ultimately I prefer Cawston Press  'Picked and Pressed' fruit juices which have a really intense fruity flavour that I love. 7/10

Not many people can resist Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate and now they have combined their delicious creamy chocolate with two different biscuits, the semi-sweet LU biscuit and the savoury Ritz Cracker.
I preferred the LU biscuits and my husband preferred the Ritz Crackers.  What I liked about them was the way you were able to break the pack up into four individual biscuits, great for sharing. Cadbury Dairy Milk LU and Cadbury Dairy Milk Ritz are available in 35g bars, each with four mini segments (RRP £0.58) and in three bar multipacks (RRP £1.49). 8/10

Something different now,  from Vita Coco, currently Britain's biggest coconut water brand.
The newest additions to the Vita Coco Range, Coco Cafe, provide a healthier way to get your caffeine fix! Combining the super hydrating nature of coconut water with a shot of espresso, some semi-skimmed milk, and even a little bit of chocolate for the Mocha flavour,  without all the artificial colourings, flavourings and sweeteners of traditional energy drink.  They are definitely an improvement on some other energy drinks and I can see that they would be a great alternative to coffee on a warm summer's day.

The Coco Cafe Latte  and Coco Cafe Mocha come in handy screw-top 330ml cartons and cost £1.99

I hope you've enjoyed reading about the products I've been reviewing on my kitchen table, back soon with more recipes and reviews. 

I received samples of the products , I was not paid for these reviews and all opinions are my own.

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sweetie Cookies

It's such a long time since I baked any cookies, my cooker was disconnected at the end of January, and although I've had it back now for about a week and half I haven't had a chance to bake anything.  I took delivery of some Hot Cross Fudge from Wee Sweetie and in the carrier bag alongside my order were some samples of other sweets to try, what a bonus!

I found some Nutterly Buttery Fudge, Creme de Menthe Fudge and some Bacon Praline as well as some Lime and Berry boiled sweets.  They were all lovely to eat as sweets, but I thought they would also work well as a topping for a plain cookie, and I was right.  They might not be the prettiest cookies but they are very easy to make and taste delicious, you could top these cookies with nuts, chocolate or anything that takes your fancy.

Sweetie Cookies (makes 24-30)
100g margarine or butter
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
225g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Toppings of your choice

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.  Cover two or three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the margarine or butter with the sugar and then add the remaining ingredients  until they form a soft dough.  Roll the dough into a sausage and wrap in clingfilm, put this in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.

Slice rounds from the roll and place, evenly spaced, on to the baking sheets. Add the toppings and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until pale golden brown and crisp.  Don't allow them to get too brown.

Lift off and leave to cool on a wire rack.

The dough is very soft, so the cookies are not exactly round!  The sticky looking cookies are the ones topped with bacon praline, I was a bit worried that they might be too bacony, but no, the praline sweetness totally compensated.  I had to use my grill pan rack to cool the cookies as my cooling trays are still in storage, it's amazing what you can use when you have to!

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Cheesy Treats for Easter Weekend

It's not been possible for me to make any Easter treats to share with you, so instead I'm going to share some quirky recipes created by gastronaut Stefan Gates for Castello cheese which you can make to impress your guests this Easter. 

Chocolate eggs are so last Easter!! This year, speciality cheese brand Castello has paired up with gastronaut and foodie adventurer Stefan Gates to creatively craft innovative Easter egg recipes with a cheese twist. Stefan has turned tradition on its head with a cheeky take on the classic egg and soldiers, and a chocolate cream egg that is bound to make your guests do a double take.

Proving the versatility of cheese, Stefan has used the Castello range to devise playful recipes that are sure to inject some fun into your Easter weekend. And to ensure the holiday wows, top wine expert Matt Day has co-ordinated delicious and surprising drinks pairings to get the best flavours from your meal.

Stefan Gates said, “Castello cheeses are so versatile, from the tangy taste of Tickler extra mature cheddar to the lusciously soft Pineapple Halo - you can really have fun with them even turning some into a sweet treat. If you’re not constricted by cheese convention, you will be surprised by the flavour combinations out there. I wanted to rethink the Easter cream egg and traditional egg and soldiers turning them into crowd pleasers yet still easy to make at home.”

Ticker and Cider Fondue
Truffled Tickler and cider fondue served in an egg shell with Tickler soldiers fried in beurre noisette.

Ingredients (serves 4)
350g Castello Tickler Extra-Mature Cheddar (grated)
200ml fine strong cider
1 tablespoon of cornflour, mixed to a paste with 2tbsp cold water
½ tsp Worcester sauce
1tbsp truffle oil

8 slices sourdough
200g Castello Tickler Extra-Mature Cheddar thinly sliced
100g butter for frying
Juice of 1 lemon

1.        Put a thick-bottomed saucepan on a medium heat, add the cider and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, mix in the grated cheese, cornflour paste and Worcester sauce. Stir gently until all the cheese has melted. It should be as thick as Greek yoghurt, so if you need to thicken or loosen it add more cheese or cider. Keep it warm until you’re ready to serve
2.        Lightly toast the sourdough slices, then make four unbuttered sandwiches with cheddar slices inside
3.        Heat a large knob of butter in a frying pan until sizzling, then just as the butter turns brown, add 1 tbsp of lemon juice and turn one of the sandwiches in it to coat and continue frying until slightly crispy. Repeat with the rest of the sandwiches, then slice them into soldiers and put them on plates
4.        Stir ½ tbsp. truffle oil into the fondue, taste and add another ½ tbsp. if you need to (truffle oils can vary in strength). Put each egg-shell in an egg cup and fill with the fondue (there’ll be more leftover for seconds!) and serve

Why not complement the savoury eggs with a chilled glass of champagne or an icy beer. Choose one of Matt Day’s suggestions to bring out the tangy taste of the Tickler:
Leffe Blonde Beer (£2.99 widely available)
Tesco finest* 1531 Blanquette de Limoux (£8.49)
Le Mesnil Blac de Blancs Champagne 2004 (Waitrose £33.99)

Who would have thought cheese tastes great with chocolate? True to form, Stefan surprises with a delectable dessert that is both quick and fun to conjure up. This recipe is the perfect way to enhance both the pineapple, papaya and almond aromas found in the soft cheese, Pineapple Halo.
Creamy Pineapple and Chocolate Eggs
Pineapple Halo mixed with crème fraiche in a chocolate egg with orange zest

Ingredients (for 2 eggs)

2 hollow chocolate eggs
½ wheel of Castello Pineapple Halo
4tbsp crème fraiche
Zest of one orange

1.        Carefully slice the top off the chocolate eggs using a hot knife dipped in water from a boiled kettle. Put them into egg cups
2.        Put the cheese, crème fraiche and ¾ of the orange zest into a bowl and mix it together with the back of a fork. Fill each eggshell with the mixture, and then put the remaining orange zest on top to look like the yolk
This naughty but nice chocolate treat works perfectly with one of the following:
Mimosa (Champagne, Grand Marnier, Fresh Orange Juice)
Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora (Ocado £7.49)
Fontana fredda Moscato D'Asti Moncucco (Asda £12.47)

Pineapple Halo - Indulge in alluring chunks of pineapple, chopped papaya and almonds with this lusciously soft cheese.

Creamy Blue - A unique cheese that was created to give the softness of a Brie with the sharper flavour of a blue cheese; a beautiful combination resulting in a smooth yet flavoursome cheese.

Creamy White - With a wonderfully creamy texture and rich buttery taste, this cheese is ripened in a way so, unlike a traditional Brie, it has a consistently soft centre.

Tickler Cheddar – This extra mature Cheddar, made in the heart of Devon, has a crumbly texture and delicious, tangy taste.

Traditional Danish Blue – The most powerful of our cheeses, it’s a full-flavoured, salty blue cheese. It was developed to get the taste of Roquefort using cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk.

Extra Creamy Danish Blue – This bold, creamy cheese is rich with veins of salty flavour. Less feisty than our Traditional Danish Blue, it still has a kick.

For more information about the Castello range visit:

I was not paid for this post, but received some packs of Castello Cheeses to try.

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Chicken and 7-a-day Mediterranean Vegetables

I thought I'd better make a recipe for my own blog challenge: The Slow Cooker Challenge.  The theme this month is 7-a-day Fruits or Vegetables.  Now it might be pushing it to get a full seven portions of fruit or vegetables onto one plate, but it isn't that difficult to add 7 fruits or vegetables to a single dish.

with 7 Vegetables

8 chicken thighs
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
8 mushrooms
7 small vine tomatoes
2 Aubergines (Eggplant)
3 large or 12 mini red, orange or yellow (bell) peppers
2 large courgettes (zucchini)
12  pitted black olives
2 tablespoons of pesto
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
small bunch of parsley

1. Brown the chicken pieces in a pan with a little oil, set aside.
2. Chop all the vegetables into even sized pieces and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker.
3. Mix the pesto and balsamic vinegar into the vegetables and top with the chicken pieces.
4. Cook on medium for 4 hours or on low for 7 hours.
5. Top with chopped parsley.
6. Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Join the April Slow Cooker Challenge

I'm also entering this recipe for Four Seasons Food Spring Challenge: Let's Celebrate Vegetables run by Delicieux and Eat Your Veg.
Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy are also celebrating 7-a-day with their challenge Extra Veg.

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Wee Sweetie - Homemade Sweets and Candies

Clockwise from left: Hot Cross Bun Fudge, Caramel Swirls, American Buttermints, Roobarb and Custard.
My Granny used to ask me "would you like a wee sweetie?"  She always had a bag of, what she called, 'boilings' in her handbag, a bit like the Scottish equivalent of that old guy on the telly with his 'originals' feeding sweets to his granddaughter!
This particular 'Wee Sweetie' is Donna Bradley,  @Wee_Sweetie on Twitter, who makes delicious traditional sweets.  Donna's Papa always called her Wee Sweetie, at 5'2" and 7 stone she is still quite 'wee' and has a real sweet tooth.

Donna is a self proclaimed 'Doonhamer' born and bred in Dumfries in the South West of Scotland.  When she had to give up her career as a psychiatric nurse, specialising in forensics, after illness and injury she returned home to stay with her Mum.  Donna has Crohn's Disease, a chronic digestive disorder and sugar is about the only thing she can eat without pain.  She got fed up with the lack of variety and quality of the sweets available to her and was thrilled when her sister bought her Hope and Greenwood's 'Life is Sweet' and she was able to make her own sweets.

The reaction to Donna's sweets, amongst her family and friends,  was so positive that she soon started taking custom orders for gifts, weddings and parties.  Wherever possible  Donna uses local products including Uncle Roy's colours and extracts and Lockerbie butter. She is looking for someone local to buy cream and would love to find an artisan butter maker. Wee Sweetie sweets are made in small batches to ensure the sweets are as fresh as can be and Donna aims to make them look and feel handmade, not uniform and mass-produced. She doesn't believe in adding anything unnecessarily so make sure everything is completely natural, preservative and additive free. Most are gluten free and veggie friendly too.

Donna kindly sent me some of her Wee Sweeties to try.  Let's start with the Hot Cross Bun Fudge, what a brilliant concept!  The fudge really tastes like a Hot Cross Bun and would be a perfect Easter Gift.   I was a bit concerned to try the Caramel Swirls as I thought they might be hard and chewy, but far from it, they transported me back to my childhood as they tasted exactly like the Russian Toffee my Mum made.  Soft and with a rich, sweet burnt sugar flavour that was completely moreish.  American Buttermints were next on the tasting list, they have a real hit of mint, firm on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside, quite delightful.  And finally 'the boilings' Roobarb and Custard boiled sweets were just brilliant, the balance of the acidic rhubarb taste and the sweet custard make these sweets just burst with flavour on your tongue.

Wee Sweetie is a very new business and does not yet have it's own website.  I'll keep you updated when that goes live.  In the meantime if you like the sound of these delicious homemade sweets you can contact Donna using the contact details at the bottom of the price list pictured above.

Many thanks to Donna for the opportunity to review her delicious sweeties, I'll be ordering up some of that Hot Cross Bun Fudge for Easter!
I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own. 

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Quick and Easy Sausages Three Ways!

The Black Farmer Premium Pork Sausages with Mashed Potato and Baked Beans

Sausages often get a bad press. There are many excellent quality sausages with a high meat content which are really tasty and every bit as good as other cuts of meat. Sausages are not only good value but they are also extremely versatile.

I always buy premium sausages and was delighted when The Black Farmer invited me to review their products, as I had already heard a lot of good things about these sausages. This pack of 10 sausages arrived along with a pack of The Black Farmer's Daughter's Premium Chipolatas. They are in the freezer at the moment, awaiting their destiny!

The Black Farmer Premium Pork Sausages
Premium Pork Sausages

Gold winner of the Great Taste Awards, and a FreeFrom Food Award winner.
With 90% meat from prime cuts of pork, these gluten free sausages are full flavoured and meaty. They are made using British Freedom Food outdoor bred pork.
The seasoning really brings out the flavour of the meat.
This is a great all rounder for all the family and for any occasion.
It cooks well in the frying pan, grill or oven and makes a robust ingredient for casseroles as well as a perfect breakfast or tea time treat.
Ingredients Pork 90%, Soya Bean Flour, Salt, Dextrose, Spiced, Herbs, Stabiliser: E451(i), Preservative: E221, Antioxidants: E300, E330, Spice Extracts.
Allergen advice Contains Soya and Sulphites

10 sausages is a great number if you have a family to feed, but as there were just the two of us, I managed to make this pack of sausages into three different meals.
Sausages - one way
Friday night after a week at work is not a time when I want to be faffing around cooking something fancy especially with the building work ongoing, so the sausages were slowly pan fried and served with mashed potato (the frozen Fluffy Mashed Potato, I featured in "On my Renovation Kitchen Table") and some baked beans. The sausages were delicious, meaty and moist with a true pork flavour. I cooked all the sausages, we ate four and the remaining six were cooled and put in a box in the fridge.
Sausages - two ways
On Saturday I served the cold sausages sliced longways in a roll with lettuce and coleslaw (sorry not photo of that) I actually love cold sausages more than hot ones, so really enjoyed that.
Sausages - three ways
Spaghetti with Sausages and Red Pepper Pesto
On Sunday we were working hard moving furniture, including our larder unit which still had some food in it that I hadn't had access to for a while, including a packet of lovely Garofallo spaghetti. And there was my third sausage recipe, a very quick and easy supper of cooked spaghetti, with sliced sausages and a couple of tablespoons of Red Pepper Pesto from a jar.
You can find out more about The Black Farmer, the awards they have won and their range of products including gluten free products on the website or Facebook page.

I received the sausages from The Black Farmer, I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own.

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Thursday, 3 April 2014

On my 'Renovation' Kitchen Table

Some of you may know that I am somewhat challenged in the cooking department at the moment.  We found dry rot in our kitchen and it has turned into a much larger project than was first anticipated.  I've been cooking in my temporary kitchen since the end of January and we are now into April and #operationdryrot is still on-going although we are making good progress now.

Kitchen at it's worst

This is the temporary kitchen I have set up in our utility room, a bit like living in a bedsitter.  I have a microwave, a single electric ring and my slow cooker.  And, before you say it, I know it is bigger than many people's normal kitchens.  Anyway, the lack of an oven, grill and additional cooking rings has led me to use some slightly different products and I thought I would share my thoughts on them along with the products that I have been sent for review.

Aunty's Steamed Puddings with Ginger Syrup Sauce: two little sponge puddings with a lovely jammy ginger sauce for only £1.49.  I served them with custard from the chiller cabinet and they went down very well indeed.  The puddings don't have to be kept in the fridge or freezer so are handy to keep in the cupboard for those times when you need a little sweet something and don't have time to make it yourself. 10/10

In a starring role...Uncle Ben's Classic Wholegrain Rice cooks in the microwave in 2 minutes currently on 3 for £4.00 at Tesco. So easy to heat up and just the right amount for two people.  An expensive way to buy rice but perfect for a quick and healthy meal 8/10

Another quick fix are these McCain Ready baked Jackets.  Obviously it's easy to cook potatoes in their skins in the microwave, but they never seem to taste as nice as those you cook in the oven.  These are a little nearer, although I don't think they are really worth £2.50 for four  6/10

I also tried Bannisters' Farm Ready Baked Potatoes, I've reviewed their filled jackets before and really enjoyed them.  There wasn't much to choose between the Bannisters and the McCains but the texture was perhaps a little fluffier in the Bannisters Farm version £2.00 (on special offer) 7/10

Bannisters' Baked Potatoes

While we are on the subject of potatoes, I think my favourite find is frozen mashed potato.  I would never in a million years have thought that I would ever buy frozen mash, but I found it so convenient with limited cooking facilities, it's also ideal for  people living on their own as you can pour out a little bit and cook in the microwave without faffing around with potatoes and ending up with lots sprouting or going wrinkly.  

The potato comes in little extruded pellets, but its just potato.  It tastes even better if you add a little butter, but then what doesn't?  Well worth keeping a bag in the freezer for a quick comfort food fix! Tesco Frozen Fluffy Mashed Potato 650g for £1.00 10/10

This is how the kitchen looks now, the joiner is coming tomorrow to start putting the kitchen units back and finish off the window.  There's still a bit of plastering to be done in the dining side of the room but we are definitely getting there.  I've been surprised how well we have managed to eat, we have only had one takeaway and a couple of ready meals in two months which isn't bad at all really.

I bought all of these products myself, none were provided for review.

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