Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Comfort - Barbecue Beef Stew with Fresh Pasta



I can't help but continue in the comfort theme with all this cold weather around. This recipe is for everyone out there who is surrounded by snow....this is guaranteed to warm you up and make you happy to be tucked up indoors!

This is a really delicious, comforting stew. The addition of the barbecue sauce adds such a lovely depth to the dish that is a little different from a traditional beef stew. I love to serve this with fresh pasta (you can either make your own (recipe below) or buy some good quality fresh pasta) but if you prefer you could serve it on top of some light and fluffy buttery mashed potato.


1-2 tbsp olive oil
3 rashers of streaky bacon, cut or snipped into small pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled & sliced at an angle
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
750g stewing beef
2 tbsp flour
150ml red wine
500ml beef stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
2 bay leaves
125ml barbecue sauce
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped


Pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 180C.


In a large pan or casserole dish heat 1 tbsp of the oil then add the bacon pieces and cook until starting to turn crispy. If there is a lot of fat remove some of it from the pan then add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook for roughly 7 minutes until the onion and celery have softened then add the garlic and cook for a further minute.


While the vegetables are softening put the beef into a large freezer bag and sprinkle over the flour, along with a little salt and pepper. Seal the bag and shake it well so all the pieces of meat are evenly covered in the flour.

Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. If you need to, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan then cook the meat (in batches if need be) until it is browned on all sides. Push the meat to the side of the pan then add the red wine and de-glaze the pan (in other words, scrape up all of the lovely, sticky brown parts that are on the bottom). Mix the wine and beef together and then let the wine simmer and reduce a little  before adding the vegetables back to the pan, then add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, bay leaves, barbecue sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer then put in the oven for roughly 2 hours until the meat is tender.

While the stew is cooking, if you are making fresh pasta you can do it now, if not now's the time to relax by the fire!

Remove the stew from the oven and taste to check the seasoning. Discard the bay leaves and just before serving sprinkle over the fresh parsley. Serve at once with fresh pasta or some mashed potatoes.


Fresh Pasta



400g/ 14oz flour
4 large eggs
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil (optional)



There are two ways to make pasta....the traditional way using nothing but your hands and a flat work surface, and the modern way using the wonders of kitchen appliances to cut down on your own labour! I have to admit since I now have the appliances I feel it would be wrong not to put them to use so I opt for the easier and faster way. (Although in the past I have made pasta plenty of times using the traditional method).

Whatever way you choose, start by sifting the floor (either onto your work surface, or into the bowl of your processor). Make a well in the centre and crack in the whole eggs, then add the salt and oil if using. If taking the easy option, turn the machine on and pulse until you have a resemblance to bread crumbs. Transfer onto a work surface and knead until it comes together and you have a smooth dough.

If you are sticking to the traditional method, using a fork beat the eggs with the salt and oil until mixed then slowly start incorporating the flour into the egg mixture. Continue to do so until it is too tough to use a fork. At this point gather it all together and knead for a good 5-7 minutes. If the pasta is a little too dry and firm add a splash of olive oil or water (no more than 1 tbsp) so that you have a smooth dough.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm (plastic wrap), and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to make the pasta, unwrap the dough then cut it into 4 pieces so that you have manageable pieces to work with. Sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and rolling pin then give the dough another quick knead before rolling it out slightly. You can either use a rolling pin to roll it out completely, or a pasta maker. If using a pasta maker follow the instructions given, until you have perfect sheets of pasta.

Once the pasta has been rolled out to your desired thickness you can then cut and shape it and use as needed. For this recipe I use my cutter to make linguine. You can make whatever long pasta you like but I do recommend a thicker pasta (plus it's easier to cut, especially if you don't have the cutter attachment). Once the pasta has been cut you can either lay it flat on a large tray or baking sheet lined with kitchen paper and dusted with flour or alternatively you can make little 'nests' of pasta, just make sure it is well floured so you don't end up with one big clump of pasta! Set aside until you are ready to use.

To cook the pasta, bring a large pan of salted water to a boil then place the pasta in and cook for no more than 3-4 minutes. Drain and serve with your choice of sauce and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chilli Con Carne


The first snow of the winter arrived at the weekend so what better way to warm yourself up than a bowl of chilli con carne.

Chilli is one of those dishes that warms you up just thinking about it! The deliciously spiced sauce (that can be as hot as you like) is comfort in a bowl. It is a perfect family meal but it is also the ideal dish to serve to a crowd. You can make it in advance and if need be freeze it then simply re-heat and serve with all the accompaniments I have suggested below. I honestly can’t think of anything more perfect for a cold day, than a giant pot of simmering chilli.


When you first look through the list of ingredients, there may be a couple that surprise you, however don’t be put off! The first one is the chipotle pepper (which is actually a dried and smoked jalapeno) and if you can get these then it really is worth the effort. The chilli adds a real depth of flavour with its smoky, chocolate tones that is delicious. If you can’t get the chipotle pepper then you could add a little cocoa powder to add a little extra depth to the chilli, but I promise you won’t be disappointed if you go to the extra effort to track down the chipotles!

The second ingredient that may sound a little strange is the can of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. This is what my mum uses to make chilli and it always tasted amazing. I have added some extra ingredients – spices mainly – but I have stuck with the soup! I appreciate that it is in no way authentic but I have tried making chilli both ways, using tinned tomatoes and secondly with the soup, and every time I have served the soup version people love it! When I tested it myself my preference was definitely the soup sauce so try it and see for yourself – you will be pleasantly surprised!

The recipe below serves 4 since I often make this during the week, however it is very easily (and successfully) doubled or tripled. If you want to make it more substantial serve it with rice.

For a vegetarian version, simply omit the mince and make it a 3 bean chilli instead using kidney beans, borlotti beans and black eye beans. Follow the recipe as above adding all three beans towards the end when it is suggested you add the kidney beans. Delicious!

1 dried, smoked chipotle pepper
2 tbsp oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g extra lean ground beef
2-3 tbsp of chilli powder (depending on the heat of your chilli powder & how spicy you like it)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup
250ml/ 1 cup beef stock
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt & black pepper
420g can of kidney beans
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

To serve:
Spring onions, thinly sliced
Sour Cream
Grated Cheddar Cheese
Coriander
Avocado, sliced
Lime wedges
Tortilla chips

If you have a dried, smoked chipotle pepper re-hydrate it in a small bowl with boiling water while you start cooking the chilli.

In a large pan heat the oil then sauté the onions over a medium heat for 5 minutes until they have softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the mince. Cook until the mince has browned stirring frequently to break it up into small pieces.

Once the mince has browned add the chilli powder, ground coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper and oregano and stir well until the mince is evenly covered in the spices. Cook for another minute or so then add the soup, beef stock, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. If using the chipotle pepper, remove from the water and finely chop. Add to the chilli, stir well then cover and leave to simmer gently for 45minutes to 1 hour, until the sauce has reduced and thickened and all the flavours have intensified. Add the kidney beans and the red and green peppers and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Just before serving sprinkle in the coriander.

Serve in bowls with extra coriander and all of the above accompaniments for a delicious and hearty meal.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Soups

Celery & Blue Cheese Soup with Buffalo Hot Sauce
The majority of time a recipe calls for celery I find I need one stalk and that's all so I'm left with the rest of it wondering what to do. Try as I might to make myself healthy snacks of celery sticks it just doesn't happen, so instead I decided to put the celery to good use and make a creamy celery soup. All I can say is that I wish I had come up with this earlier! The soup is creamy and rich with a delicious taste of celery that isn't too overpowering.

So as I relaxed and enjoyed a steaming hot bowl of my delicious creamy celery soup I stopped to think about when I actually ever do eat celery and realised that the only time I really enjoy eating raw celery is when it's served right alongside a big plate of hot and spicy Buffalo chicken wings with a rich and creamy blue cheese dip on the side (yum!), which got me thinking.....what about adding some blue cheese to my soup and perhaps a drizzle of Buffalo hot sauce?!?! And that was that... Celery and Blue Cheese Soup with Buffalo Hot Sauce was created!

So there you have it, celery soup two ways and both equally delicious! So good in fact that now I buy a head of celery especially to make these soups and just hold back a stalk of two for that inevitable recipe.

Creamy Celery Soup

If you have a head of celery for this soup by all mean use it all, however if like me you are always left with most but not all of the celery just use what you have – the amounts can vary a bit and still taste delicious.

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 head of celery (approx.10-12 celery stalks ), sliced (leaves reserved)
1 medium sized potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 litre/ 1000ml vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
125ml cream
Yellow celery leaves (from the middle), finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan until sizzling then add the onion and leek. Cook for 5 minutes until they have started to soften before adding the garlic, celery and potato. Cover with a tight-fitting lid then leave to cook for 10 minutes over a low heat before adding the stock and some salt and pepper. Put the lid back on the pan and leave to simmer away for 20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool before blending until completely smooth. Return the soup to the pan and add the cream then gently reheat. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary then serve garnished with the celery leaves and if you want a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Celery & Blue Cheese Soup with Buffalo Hot Sauce

The drizzle of buffalo hot sauce as part of the garnish is optional but adds a delicious hot and spicy twang to the soup! If you really want to go all out shred up some cooked chicken then toss with the hot sauce and serve as an extra garnish on the soup. A little different but tasty and fun!

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 head of celery (approx.10-12 celery stalks ), sliced (leaves reserved)
1 medium sized potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 litre/ 1000ml vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
75g blue cheese, plus extra for garnish
60ml cream
Yellow celery leaves, finely chopped
Buffalo Wing Hot Sauce (Optional)

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan until sizzling then add the onion and leek. Cook for 5 minutes until they have started to soften before adding the garlic, celery and potato. Cover with a tight-fitting lid then leave to cook for 10 minutes over a low heat before adding the stock and some salt and pepper. Put the lid back on the pan and leave to simmer away for 15-20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool before blending until completely smooth. Return the soup to the pan and add the blue cheese, cream and celery leaves then gently reheat. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary then serve garnished with the extra blue cheese and a drizzle of the hot sauce if using.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Onion Soup


Comfort season is in full force and in my mind there is nothing more comforting than a piping hot bowl of Onion Soup topped with deliciously chewy and melt-in-the-mouth croutons cascading with golden brown bubbling molten cheese.

This is my variation on the classic French Onion Soup. I've changed it slightly because as I much as I love the idea of French Onion Soup I always find I am slightly disappointed when I have it. With this version I use chicken stock instead of the traditional beef stock which gives a slightly milder version (for a vegetarian option you could also use vegetable stock), however even the most die-hard fans of French Onion Soup will not be disappointed with this version – my husband, who absolutely loves French Onion Soup, said this was the best version of Onion Soup he has ever had...praise indeed!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spaghetti Bolognese

 The clocks have changed along with the weather so colder, darker nights can only mean one thing - comfort food!

Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic hearty, family meal that I just can't resist. I've added some chorizo to my recipe as I love the depth of flavour it adds, but you can easily miss it out. Also if I'm in need of an extra vegetable fix I sometimes add some diced red and green peppers (add them when you add the mushrooms) which not only tastes great but adds a lovely burst of colour. The basic bolognese sauce is so versatile it's a good idea to double the recipe, just miss out the mushrooms (and peppers if you want to use them). Then you can use it for all sorts of recipes, including lasagne or cottage pie.

2 tbsp olive oil
125g/ (4.5oz approx.) chorizo, finely chopped
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g Mince/ Ground Beef (the best quality you can get)
150ml red wine
2 x 400g (28oz tin) Tinned tomatoes – crushed, chopped or whole – whatever you prefer
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
250ml beef stock
1 carrot, peeled & grated
Salt & Pepper
170g/6oz (approx.) mushrooms, sliced

To serve:
400g/ 14oz (approx.) spaghetti
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

In a large pan heat the oil over a medium heat then add the chorizo and fry for a few minutes until it has turned golden and is starting to crisp on the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon reserving the delicious paprika infused oil then add the chopped onions and celery. Gently sauté for roughly 5-7 minutes so that they have softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute or so before adding the mince. Break up the mince as you go using either a wooden spoon or fork so that you don’t have any large lumps of mince. Once the mince has browned completely add the wine and cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced a little, then add the tomatoes, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, 1 tbsp of the parsley, bay leaves, stock, the grated carrot, salt, pepper and the chorizo. Stir well so that everything is well combined then leave to simmer gently for roughly 30 minutes, so that the mince cooks properly and the sauce reduces and thickens. After 30 minutes add the mushrooms and continue to gently simmer for another 15 minutes with a lid on (unless it is still quite runny and needs to reduce further).*

After you have added the mushrooms bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Taste the bolognese sauce to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary then just before serving remove the bay leaves and add the remaining tablespoon of parsley.

Once the spaghetti is ready, drain and toss in a little extra virgin olive oil. You can either serve it on 4 individual dinner plates or 1 large platter for everyone to help themselves to. Whatever you prefer, pile the spaghetti onto the plate or plates and spoon the sauce on top. Drizzle over a little extra extra virgin olive oil then finish by sprinkling over a good grating of Parmesan cheese and some torn basil leaves. Serve with a salad and if you like, some garlic bread.

*You can also cook the bolognese for much longer over a very low heat, allowing the flavours to intensify, however for a quicker mid-week version cooking this for 45minutes to 1 hour will still result in a delicious bolognese sauce.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gnocchi with chorizo, peppers & spicy tomato sauce

This is a perfect quick and easy mid-week meal. If you don't like gnocchi or don't have any on hand, this sauce is just as delicious with pasta, and for a more child-friendly option miss out the chilli. If you want you can make the sauce ahead of time then just reheat as you are cooking the gnocchi. For a more substantial meal serve it with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Gnocchi with chorizo, peppers & spicy tomato sauce

Serves 4-6

2 x 500g packets of gnocchi
2 tbsp olive oil
125g Chorizo sausage, sliced into roughly ¼ inch thick slices
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped (or ½ tsp dried chilli flakes)
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes
150ml white wine, stock or water
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp sugar
Salt & pepper
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips
3 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle (optional)

To serve:
Freshly grated Parmesan
Fresh rocket (arugula), optional

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the chorizo for a couple of minutes until golden and just starting to crisp on the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same pan sauté the onions for roughly 5 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and continue to cook for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes, wine, paprika, sugar and salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 25 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Check for seasoning then add the sliced chorizo and peppers.

Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water, until they float to the surface which will take roughly 3 minutes. Scoop carefully out of the water using a large slotted spoon and add straight to the sauce. Take the sauce & gnocchi off the heat and gently stir so that the gnocchi is completely covered in the sauce. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle over the chopped parsley and a good grating of Parmesan. If using top with the rocket then an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Serve straight away as is or with some French or garlic bread and a simple green salad. The perfect winter warmer!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone, I hope you have had a great weekend. We had a party on Saturday night and all got suitably dressed up for the occasion. It turned out to be quite the collection of costumes including a geisha (moi!), catwomen, the joker, a vampire, superboy, a rocker, pirate, cowgirl, horse, 80's prom queen and Greek God to name a few!! On the menu were some bat wings with mouldy dip, trolls toes, slime dip and an eyeball cheesecake....not for the fainthearted!


Bloody Good Cocktails
These recipes are a little late for Halloween now but the are so delicious that you can serve them at any party, perhaps just stick to their original names though!

Bat Wing's
(Honey Garlic Chicken Wing's)


Most often than not we cook these on the BBQ, however you can cook them in the oven and they are still delicious. If it's easier you can also cook the wings ahead of time then just warm them in the oven for about 5 minutes before tossing with the sauce. The wings I buy are quite small so if you buy the bigger ones you will need to cook them a bit longer than I have stated. I use half a packet of chicken wings for this recipe and use the other half to make some hot and spicy buffalo wings (see below). If you prefer though just double the amount of sauce and use all of the chicken wings.

½ large packet of chicken wings (roughly 24)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp ginger, finely grated
6 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp water

Put all the ingredients for the sauce into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened.

To cook the chicken wings –

Season the chicken wings with a little salt and pepper. If cooking in the oven, preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM 6 then cook the wings for 40-45 minutes or until they are completely cooked through and crispy and golden on the outside.

If cooking on a barbecue, once the barbecue is ready (or preheated if using a gas one) cook the wings over a medium-low heat with the point of the wings on the outside and the meaty drums inside so that they cook evenly, for roughly 20 minutes or until they are completely cooked through and deliciously crisp and slightly charred on the outside.

When the chicken wings are ready transfer them to a large bowl and pour over the sauce. Serve at once with lots of napkins!

(If the wings aren't crisping up enough, simply turn the grill on for a minute at the end until the skins are crispy and golden brown)

Buffalo Chicken Wings

To make these hot and spicy wings I just cook the wings as above then right before serving drizzle over some buffalo wing hot sauce and toss well – be warned though, they will have a good kick!


Mouldy Dip
(Blue Cheese Dip)

125ml sour cream
125ml mayonnaise
85g/ 3oz blue cheese of your choice, crumbled
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Mix together the sour cream and mayonnaise then crumble in the blue cheese. Mix with a fork crushing the cheese a little as you do. Add the lemon juice and parsley and stir well. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Troll's Toes
(Honey & Sesame Chipolatas)


60 chipolata or cocktail sausages
125ml honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
Sprinkling of sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 400F. Put the sausages on a non-stick baking tray so they are in a single layer. In a small bowl or jug mix together the honey, maple syrup, sesame oil and soy sauce. Drizzle over the sausages then toss well so they are evenly coated. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes or until properly cooked through and are sticky and delicious. Just before serving sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

*The slime dip was made by my brother-in-law and is my spinach and artichoke dip.

* The cheesecake my sister made was from Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food (as we are testing his cookbook), just slightly adapted with the topping!





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