Saturday, 3 March 2012

Easy weekend baking: Rock Cakes

Ages ago, I bought myself a Kenwood mixer, promising myself I would use it. To this day, it's been used a grand total of four times. This shocking behaviour will change as I have now made it my mission to bake every weekend, realising that it doesn't have to be complicated and fussy with me standing over the oven all day, but rather quick easy and with scrumptious results. By the end of the year, I'm hoping my mixer will be begging for mercy.

Nothing is easier than rock cakes. These little beauties take no time at all, fill the kitchen with wondrous smells and may even get your kids to eat fruit.

Ingredients                      Makes 12. Time taken: 30 minutes

225g self raising flour
75g caster sugar
100g butter-cold and cubed
125g mixed fruit
50g glacé cherries
1 med egg
2 tbs milk
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp vanilla essence


Heat oven to 180° and line baking tray with parchment paper

Mix the butter and flour together till they resemble a fine breadcrumb mix. Add the sugar, then quarter the cherries and add them along with the mixed fruit stirring well to integrate them.
Beat the egg and milk together and add to the mix. Add essence and spice and stir well until mixture gets 'gloopy'. It should be at a state where if you hold a spoonful upside down it doesn't drop.

Take a large heaped tablespoon full of mixture and drop it onto the baking tray. Make sure you leave enough room for the mix to spread while baking.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until browning nicely. Remove and sprinkle with demerara sugar while warm.

Make large cup of tea, sit and enjoy.

K x

Thursday, 1 March 2012

'Crispy' Chicken Casserole

'Crispy Chicken Casserole'

'Crispy Chicken Casserole'

One of those dinners that never fails with kids, is the 'throw it in the dish, cover it in a sauce and top with cheese' dish. And if you top it with crisps to give it that 'naughty' touch, it's unbeatable.

I've been adapting this over the last two years since I found it in a recipe book I was given for a Mother's day pressie. It's almost unidentifiable from the original now, which I feel is how home cooking should be: see an idea, try it and then play with it till it's right for you.

I usually separate this into two dishes and then the adults and 'bigger' kids can have the spicier cheese while the smaller members of the family have the mild topping. This dish works really well if you want (or need for dietary reasons) different versions for different tastes.


6-8 skinless chicken breasts                                 2 tsp dry mixed herbs   
4 large peppers various colours                            Juice of one lemon
3-4 med sticks celery                                           1 clove garlic, minced
1 lge onion                                                           rapeseed oil
1 lge courgette                                                     white wine vinegar
4 tins condensed chicken soup                             Worcestershire sauce
3 heaped tbsp mayonnaise                                   Hot sauce
1 tsp chilli flakes/piri-piri seasoning/chipolte seasoning
kosher/flaked salt and ground black pepper
large bags of high quality crisps
mild grated cheese or a spicy mix if available

Serves 8-10

In a splash of oil brown the chicken on a med-high heat. Dice onion and celery into sml pieces. When the chicken has started to brown, sprinkle on a third of chilli based seasoning and season with salt and pepper. After a few minutes turn the chicken. Chop the peppers and courgettes into pieces about twice the size of the onion and celery mix. When the chicken has started to crisp remove from the pan and leave to rest. (Don't drain on kitchen towels as the juices are needed later)

De-glaze the pan with a splash of white wine vinegar and add the garlic, onion and celery and soften, stirring occasionally to stop the garlic from catching and the onions from browning. When the mix has started to get that transparent look, add in the peppers and courgettes. Cover, and let soften for about 5 minutes.

While the veg is softening, chop the chicken into 1" cubes. Don't worry if still pink at this point as the chicken will cook when added back to pan). Add to the pan and stir through and pour over the 'resting' juices. Now add the remaining seasoning and more black pepper to taste. Let cook through for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off underneath and leave to cool slightly before adding the soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice and dashes of Worcestershire and Hot sauces.

Distribute the sauce evenly into chosen dishes. Crush the crisps* in their bags, add half the cheese to the bag and shake to mix. Sprinkle the crisp and cheese mix over the sauce. Add more cheese at this point if you like it really gooey and calories aren't an issue. Place in the oven at 180°  for ten minutes or under the grill if you prefer, until the top is bubbling and the cheese melted. Be careful not to let the crisps catch and burn.

Serve with plain rice or a salad and enjoy.


*Any flavour of crisps is fine, but the I find the best are either onion based or any brand of spicy chicken. Like the cheese, it's all a matter of personal taste and using what's out there.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Kickin' Burgers

We have a tradition in our house-Saturday night is 'copy take-out' night. It started a few years ago with hub's version of KFC 'Zinger' wraps and grew from there. Soon, 'Burger Dads' was born and before long, there were various concoctions being created on a Saturday night-burgers of all kinds, chicken a dozen different ways and always with 'sides'. Hub always used to cook all this up in pans or on the griddle and the mess was always a sight to behold-not to mention the health issue. So one day, I bit the bullet and invested in a large Foreman grill, hoping it would be a) healthier, b) cleaner and c) a whole lot quicker (with 7 kids all wanting different options it took some time).

And that was the very moment I lost that Saturday night off!

From then on, everything was from scratch, and with the addition of my new favourite seasoning I was on a roll-toasted first naturally.

I messed with this burger mix a couple of times to get it dead right, but this gives fresh burgers a real tang and the kick that the dill in the steak seasoning gives it is it's crowning glory. For those not able to get the mix, a small amount of finely chopped fresh dill (often found by the fresh fish counter) works just as well.

'Burger Mum's Mystery Mix'

This mix is for the large 700g packs of ground beef mince sold in UK supermarkets. Obviously adjust amount accordingly. With burgers, an 80/20 meat to fat ratio is best. Too fatty and they're nasty, too lean and they'll fall apart. Note that there's no egg or breadcrumbs in this recipe, just pure beef. That small amount of fat is what binds it together, and if you're cooking them on either a griddle, bbq or in a Foreman, any excess fat won't be an issue. If frying, then compensate with a low fat spray oil to get the colour on the outside.

Makes on average 6-7 1/4lb'ers or about 10-12 smaller patties.

1 heaped tsp Chipolte seasoning
1 heaped tsp Steak seasoning
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp A1 Sauce
Large pinch Kosher salt or equivalent
Generous amount of ground black pepper

Tip the ground beef into a large bowl and add all the ingredients. Mix thoroughly with hands (yes it's mucky and a bit icky, but it is the only way to guarantee everything is fully mixed in).

(I use a hamburger press to make the patties, but by hand is fine. One advantage of the press is that the wax discs you use with it makes it easier to store them in the fridge in advance of cooking them.)

Taking a large ball of mince at a time, press the meat together, and either using a press or by hand, shape into patties. Once all the meat has been used, chill the patties for at least 30 minutes. This lets the meat rest and helps the patties keep their shape.

Now everyone likes their burgers a different way, if they didn't, there'd only every be McDonalds, so once chilled, the frying part is up to you. Personally, me and the kids like ours well done, so they're on the Foreman for at least 5-6 minutes before we take them out. If you're having cheese, place it on about a minute before the end.

One thing you *must* do to make your homemade burgers stand out...Toast Those Buns!! And here's a little tip that I've learnt from repeated viewings of the likes of 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives'; take some of the fat that the burgers have cooked in, and brush it on the inside of the buns-it really makes all the difference.
Not only does the toasting harden up the buns and make them easier to handle (especially if you load up on pickles etc) but it forms a barrier that stops the grease soaking in and giving you a soggy bun. Total no-no.

So then it's just down to you as to what you load up onto these babies, but personally, I cannot resist some sliced Monterey Jack, dill pickles and Heinz hot dog relish.

Add a Bud and it's perfection right there.

Enjoy, and do let me know if you've tried them.

K x

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Seasoning and Substitutions

I thought that, before I get too involved writing up recipes, I should give some sort of idea of the seasoning I use and what to use to as a substitution.

Firstly, the chipotle seasoning. I use Mrs Dash Southwest Chipotle * but there are other brands out there. It's a combination of various peppers (cayenne, chilli, black and chipotle) along with herbs such as marjoram, bay, basil, rosemary and coriander. Throw in some cumin and some citrus and you get a real smoky flavour that adds a subtle kick to most dishes, but especially chicken. It works wonders if you've got a dish that's based around a white sauce. A pinch goes a long way, and if you can't get hold of it, a reasonable substitution would be a medium spiced piri-piri.

Next is another from the same range, but the Steak grilling blend.* A mix of the same peppers and herbs as the chipotle, but with the addition of oregano, thyme and, what I think is the kicker, dill seeds. You can smell the dill as soon as you open the tub, but it's subtle, not in any way the same as when you open a jar of pickles. It's uses are far more obvious, but sprinkling it on some fine cut steaks or a pinch in a burger mix and you'll really notice the difference. A lot of supermarkets do a 'steak seasoning' but I'm unaware of any with dill in, and it is worth checking as it makes all the difference.

I've saved the best for last, and it totally speaks for itself.

Yep, good ol' Old Bay. Absolutely essential and with no equal. I've linked to a store that has it in stock. A brief check of the major supermarkets tells me that none of them do it, but, that doesn't mean that if you live in the major cities one of them won't have it on their shelves. It's been lauded by Nigella for years, so it would amaze me if Waitrose at least didn't stock it.
A teaspoon of it, in anything, will make the world of difference.

Except a Martini...that would just be wrong.

K x

* I know that at the time of writing these are showing as 'out of stock' on the website, but if you are desperate for them, there are other online stores, usually through amazon that stock it. I used these links mainly as a point of reference, although if you give the owners a shout they can normally get stock in for you.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Introductions, Inspirations, Interpretations and Ingredients


So, first attempt at blogging and I march, head first, into possibly the busiest and most over-populated area of the blog-food and all that entails. It seems you can't move for the thousands of food blogs out there and a high percentage of them are seriously good, whether they focus on food in general, country specific recipes or are part of the growing home-baking craze.

And where will I fit into all of this? I'll be the one flapping madly around the middle ground.

My main aim for this blog is for it to be a modern version of 'Gran's tattered recipe book'. You know the type-the beaten, battered old notebook that always used to get found in the backs of kitchen drawers that no one could decipher? Yeah that. Now, my handwriting is pants-great at first but by the time you get to the end of the recipe it looks like it was written by a gorilla. I can visualise my kids in 30 years time going really struggling to make sense of anything I've recorded. I'm also really rubbish at drawing, so any attempts to sketch a spag bol would be doomed to failure, and I know that there will be at least one of my kids who can't follow a recipe "Unless it's got a picture". I also tend to get a tad OCD about compartmentalising things, and I know full well, that I'd have a panic attack if I ran out of pages in the 'chicken' section and had to shove it in 'desserts'. I'd never cope.

Therefore, fearing for both my sanity and that of my descendants, I've started this blog.


Like most people, you learn from those around you, so my parents are a given as far as inspiration goes. Growing up in an East End pub, with coppers in one bar and villains in the other, the lunchtime menu was a vital part of what made it tick. Watching my Mum prepare food in such large quantities was a sight to behold, and although with seven kids I'm not quite up to the same amount of covers as she used to do, my ability to plan and prep ahead has definitely come from her. And as for my Dad's roasties...well!

As far as 'famous' cooks are concerned, there's only really a few that make me go "ohhh".

Early Nigella is, of course, a must; honest, easy and unashamedly naughty. The book I've linked to, in my opinion is her best.
Another fave is Nigel Slater-his down to Earth, non-fussy approach to cooking is a rare thing at the moment.
A recent discovery, but my absolute fave is US cook and presenter Guy Fieri. His enthusiasm for old-fashioned cooking skills and the people who keep them going is contagious. I can highly recommend his series 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives' on foodnetwork, especially if, like me, you're a fan of American cooking and food.
You'll notice there's no 'chefs' mentioned. Just the same as in this blog, there'll be no reductions, jus, or tiny little circles of mash. No Masterchef stuff here.

Interpretations and Ingredients.

A lot of what I cook, like most mums, is a total mish-mash of recipes from books and things that have caught my eye on tv. If a recipe I post has been adapted, and I can link to that source, I'll post it up. Some of the books I use have been imported though, so may be hard to track down.

As for ingredients, I import those as well. If I use an ingredient (such as A1 steak sauce for example) I'll try and give an alternative as a note at the bottom. Once I've worked out how to do it, I'll have permanent links to the stores I use. It is worthwhile importing certain ingredients-they do, genuinely, make all the difference. I'd be lost without my Chipotle seasoning.

If you have what's considered a 'normal' family, you may want to halve, or even quarter the ingredients and adjust the cooking time. I cook for 8+ every day, often making more for freezing. You'll also notice a lack of leftovers used in my meals-they just don't happen very often.

Well, there you have it. I hope what I write will be of some use to someone, somewhere. By the time my kids need it, I could probably just upload it to a chip in their head, but hey, at least it's here.

K x