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The Reasons I love Autumn

 

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My beautiful Jemima. Photo credit to my very talented brother Kelvin Waterman.

I’ve always loved autumn. For as long as I can remember.

There are so many reasons why I’m thankful for this time of year.

The crisp cold mornings, bright blue September skies and the smell of fresh rain on the tarmac – all things that pre-set my brain to happy and ensure I’m ready for the day.

The beautiful golden leaves that crunch underfoot and inspire me to take long impromptu walks in the countryside and the woodlands.

Woolly socks, thick scarves and cable knitted jumpers make me feel cosy and warm.

Call the Midwife.

The dark wet evenings where street lights bounce off wet pavement and a misty fog begins to form like a scene from a movie.

Working at home, meaning I don’t need to brave the cold, rather appreciate watching others in the morning rush while I drink my coffee, whilst still wearing my dressing gown.

The smell of bonfires, fireworks and curried parsnip soup a subtle reminder that Christmas is looming. Which means I can watch Elf, again, for the hundredth time.

Cosying up on the sofa with a good romantic novel, a deliciously scented candle and the first gingerbread latte of the season. Pulling out my winter coat and picking my pumpkin and Halloween outfit.

Onesies.

Nights in and long walks, followed by a pub meal by the open fire. Pinecones and horse chestnut trees with conkers falling around you. Soups, stews and slow-cooked meals galore.

Seeing my daughter all dressed up in her matching hat, scarf and gloves with her rosy cheeks from the cold morning air.

Mine, my daughters and step-son’s birthdays in September, which is always a time of great joy, presents and lots of gin.

 

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Cheesy Chipotle Stars

STARS  Copy of STARS

I figured that this recipe was rather apt. I recently won an award, earning myself a place amongst 23 other ‘Rising Stars’ as we are now known. The award was given by Strategic Proposals is for up-and-coming talent the bid and proposal profession. This week saw the completion of the training sessions for the award, and I sat an exam last week (which I passed – yay!). I’ve been travelling about a lot for work this week too, so it’s been one of those ridiculously busy weeks. Hurrah for the weekend!

These golden cheesy treats are a deliciously spicy savoury snack. They are the perfect balance of smoky Chipotle and yummy mature cheddar. It doesn’t get much better that that, right?

Just looking at these little golden wonders makes me excited that autumn is officially upon us. Amongst the many reasons I celebrate the return of autumn, are the leaves starting to fall, woolly socks, the smell of rain in the morning and of course pumpkins, roasted parsnip soup and gingerbread lattes. It’s is my favourite season for sure. So much so that I’ve decided to dedicate a whole blog post to ‘The Reasons I Love Autumn’… coming soon!

These cheesy delights are the perfect little snack alongside a delicious autumnal soup, or as my sister-in-law (which I can now call her as Rich and I got married 3 weeks ago, yay us!) suggested, these would be great washed down with a glass or two of sangria. She’s in Spain, jealous much?

The recipe makes a whole bunch. Forgive me because I didn’t count exactly how many, and I guess it all depends on the size and shape of your cookie cutter anyhow. Of course, you could use any shaped cutter, but I opted for ‘Rising Stars’ (ahem,  I make no apology for the shameless plug to my recent success).

The base of this recipe will serve you well for other varieties of snack. If you don’t like spicy food, or Chipotle – you’re odd. No, but seriously, you could try cheddar and rosemary, or poppy seed, or maybe some sunflower seeds for crunch. Experiment. It’s the best thing about cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 200g mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g salted butter (cold)
  • 1tbsp Chipotle paste (less if you don’t like it too spicy)
  • 4-6 tbsp cold water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan)
  2. Tip the ingredients into a blender with a dough hook and blend adding a tablespoon at a time of water until a soft dough forms. If mixing by hand, combine and bring the mixture together by hand, knead on a floured work surface.
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to 3mm thick.
  4. Using a cookie cutter stamp out your stars. Place on a lined baking tray and bake for 15-18 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
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Salsa Verde

There is something amazing about Salsa Verde. Perhaps it’s the versatility of it; it really does go with everything from meat and fish to vegetables and potatoes. The perfect accompliment to a summer barbecue. It’s a recipe that packs a punch, so if you appreciate strong bold flavours, you’ll fall in love with it for sure.

Salsa Verde translates simply to ‘Green Sauce’. There are literally millions of versions out there, Italian, French, Spanish, Mexican. You name it, almost every country appears to have their own version incorporating different herbs and cold raw ingredients. The recipe below is my perfect balance of flavours.

A small amount of this Salsa Verde will totally transform any dinner into something truly remarkable. It keeps well in the fridge and even gets better with time. That’s if you have any left; it was so popular with my barbecue guests I had none left to save. Much to my disappointment.

You can keep it refrigerated for about a week and a half, or you could freeze it. Pop it into ice-cube trays and use them to jazz up pasta dishes and soups.

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Roasted Vegetable Quinoa with Lime and Mustard Dressing

Howdy foodies. Apologies, it’s been a while. I’ve been busy, working, studying and wedding planning. The wedding is just over 3 months away. Eek! Jemima has also been running me ragged, leaving my blog somewhat abandoned. I have been busy in the kitchen though, I’m finding my stride again. And, we’ve been putting the outside kitchen and terrace to use for barbecues, hence this post tonight; to tell you all about a special summer veggie dish I made last weekend.

This really is a super simple and deliciously tasty quinoa dish, and it was a huge hit. Strangely, not only amongst my female guests as one might expect.

Richard often pulls a funny face at the mere suggestion of something like cous cous or quinoa. Like it isn’t manly enough for him or something. That said, he really enjoyed this recipe. Having to admit defeat and confess that it had “loads of flavour” in his words, although it probably pained him to say, no doubt. He sees food like quinoa as a ‘fad’ that nobody actually likes. I admit that plain quinoa would be bland, boring and quite frankly a chore to eat. Throw in the mix though some delicious roasted vegetables and a zingy dressing and it’s transformed into a bright summery dish that is a pleasure to eat.

The dish will serve about six to eight people as a side dish, or it would stretch to four weekday lunches for work. I know I enjoyed the left over portion for my lunch yesterday. I would say this is fine to keep in the fridge for around 4-5 days, just pop it in an airtight container to keep it fresh.

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Banana Berry Smoothie

Forgive my ignorance here, but what’s the deal with all these absurdly calorific recipe videos flying around at the moment? They appear to have taken over my newsfeed and it sparks a reaction in me I can’t quite comprehend. I’m not sure if it’s anger or disbelief. With conditions such a diabetes and obesity at an all time high I’m not convinced this is in anyone’s interest. Above all, most of them actually look disgusting. Who wants to eat Pizzagne? That I assume needs no further explanation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of indulgence here and there, everything in moderation, but come on guys… let’s actually apply some common sense. Surely fueling your body with all that sugar and saturated fat isn’t a good thing. It’s gluttony in its purest form, is it not?

I’ve seen all sorts of ridiculously bazaar recipes floating about on social media being shared to high heaven. Has anyone ever attempted to make any of these gruesome looking dishes I wonder? Okay, I’ve seen some video recipes that look nice and dare I say healthy, but they are few and far between. I’ve seen meatballs stuffed with whole blocks of cheese, covered in sauce with added sugar and topped with more cheese. Fajita pasta, cooked in five cups of milk no less, and, you guessed it, smothered with cheese. To top things off, today I witnessed Pizzagne – made using three whole pizzas, and yes more cheese!

Peanut butter “protein” balls – pah, this one makes me laugh… butter, peanut butter, rice crispies and three cups of icing sugar. Oh and then, just because that’s not quite enough sugar and fat, they were then dipped in chocolate. Is it any wonder people have a problem keeping their weight down these days? What on earth happened to clean eating and treating your body to the raw, natural foods that it so desperately needs?

I’m cross with the idiocy of the creators of these gluttonous recipes… yes there is a time and a place for it, but i fear social media isn’t the place. Let’s get sharing some healthy recipes people!

I’ve been eating clean for the past couple of weeks and I’m feeling great for it. When I say clean, I mean cutting out all processed foods, fats and sugars. I’ve allowed myself some essential fats such as nuts and omega 3 rich salmon, but refined sugar is off the menu. For now at least.

I’ve been making smoothies for breakfast every morning. Now I appreciate that fruit has sugar in it, but it’s no comparison to refined sugars given that it’s packed with vitamins, antioxidants and is generally very high in fiber. I’m even sneaking in chia seeds and spinach for antioxidants, protein and more fiber. Don’t be put off by the spinach or the alarming look of a green smoothie, they can be surprising delicious. One of my Facebook friends commented “spinach and bananas, yuck!” – there was a time when I would have agreed that this sounds odd, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it Helen. ? I’ve found these smoothies very filling, so I’m less inclined to  snack before lunchtime.

I’ve lost 10lbs in 2 weeks and I’m feeling great. There seems to be a whole lot of truth in the fact that if you cut sugar from your diet the less you crave it. I’m actually realising that if I plan correctly, eat less carbs and sugar and have smoothies for breakfast I don’t need that packet of crisps or digestive biscuit at 11am. I can sail straight through to lunchtime without giving sugary snacks a thought. Honest!

I’ve also been drinking lots of water, which has inevitably meant more trips to the loo. But, that’s a small price to pay for the obvious benefits it has. My skin is looking great!

So next time you’re tempted to share that creamy, cheesy, indulgent recipe video. Stop. Hit up your Pinterest app and type in ‘clean eats’, ‘healthy snacks’ or ‘energy rich foods’ – you might surprise yourself at how “Tasty” some of these recipes look.

Here’s one of the delicious smoothies I’ve been having – banana, berries and spinach… yummy!

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Mushroom toasts with bacon, thyme, garlic and roasted bone marrow

This is without doubt one of the most deliciously mouth watering recipes I’ve ever devised, for obvious reasons I guess. Roasted bone marrow spooned over garlicky mushrooms and salty jewels of bacon and perfumed woody thyme… what’s not to love? These mushroom toasts would be ideal for a Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinner party. Just go easy on the garlic so as not to knock your guests side ways with your garlic breath.

This recipe really packs a punch in terms of flavour and it’s just so simple. Aside from waiting for the bone marrow to cook it only takes about 10 minutes to throw together, so even when you’ve still got some last minute wrapping to do you can find 10 minutes right?

Bring some restaurant elegance into your home

It is easy to bring a little bit of restaurant into your own kitchen. In fact, Christmas has to be the ideal time. Your guests will really appreciate the touch of elegance it brings to the dinner table, plus you’ll look extra chefy. All you have to do is ask your butcher for some femur bone cut into small discs and pop it into the oven. Job done! Well almost…

The inspiration for the recipe

The inspiration for this recipe came from a book I recently bought for a friend. It’s a book I feel compelled to share with all foodies I know. ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ is always on hand in my kitchen. If you’re a foodie and you’ve not heard of it or read it I urge you to pop out and grab a copy. As the title suggests, the book is set out like a thesaurus and is a bible of parings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook. On many an occasion I’ve taken inspiration from the book, perhaps when I have a random ingredient left over and I’m not sure what to pair it with. I can always count on The Flavour Thesaurus to come up with the goods.

The recipe

Garlic mushroom toasts with bacon, thyme and roasted bone marrow
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Starter, Main, Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 250g mushrooms (I used Chestnut and Shiitake), roughly chopped
  • 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped thyme
  • Splash of white wine
  • 2 disks of femur bone (bone marrow) - ask your butcher for this
  • 4 thick slices of sourdough bread
  • 1 tbsp each of butter and olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Turn the oven on to the highest temperature and pop in the bone marrow (in a roasting tin). It will take about 35-40 minutes.
  2. When the marrow has only 10 minutes from being done heat the butter and olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme, cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Then add a splash of wine and allow to cook until reduced. Season to taste.
  5. Pop the slices of sourdough bread under the grill. Remove when lightly toasted and whilst still hot rub them with a garlic clove.
  6. Remove the bone marrow from the oven and carefully spoon out the soft marrow from the middle - stir this through the mushroom mix.
  7. Pile the mushroom mix on to the toasts and garnish with a little fresh thyme.
  8. Serve immediately.

 

 

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Adorable teddy bear sugar cookies

It’s no secret, I have an absolute obsession with Pinterest. I can idle away hours scanning through the images and picking up inspiration for recipes, tips and ideas. Back in September it was Jemima’s first birthday, so I began searching party ideas on Pinterest in the July… I was a rather excited mother. After all, it was her very first Birthday. I happened across this teddy bear picnic idea and I actually knew someone who had hosted this type of party before, so the idea was cast and I embarked on two months of party planning.

Who knew planning a party for a one year old would be so fun? Obviously from a food point of view the pressure was off as a traditional teddy bear picnic would mean everyone bringing their own lunch along. This meant that I was able to decide what food to offer without the pressure of having to provide a huge variety of sandwiches, meats and sweets etc. And, I didn’t have the worry of catering for exact numbers.

Having seen the adorable teddy bear picnic ideas on Pinterest I just had to decide which ones to run with. I’d never attempted iced sugar cookies before so it seemed a fitting time to try. I’ll be honest and say this is by no means a quick task and it requires a certain level of patience – the kind of patience I don’t normally have. However, it being Jemima’s first Birthday it warranted all the time and effort.

Everyone seemed to be greatly impressed with the effort . The food on the day turned out great and everything was so fitting with the theme. Richard’s niece Emily is an amazing baker and made Jemima a wonderful teddy bear Birthday cake – she’s also a blogger so you can check out her amazing creation here.

If teddy bears are not your thing, you could of course make any design you like. With Christmas just around the corner I’ll certainly be trying my hand at some festive designs. Most of us have made biscuits before right? So we know about making a dough that won’t spread in the oven meaning we lose the desired shape? Well, if you are shaking your head, don’t worry… there are a couple of super simple tips that will guarantee your biscuits are perfect every time.

Top tips for perfect sugar cookies

  • Don’t use baking powder – even if a recipe states you should
  • Don’t open the oven – even if you’re really tempted to check
  • Roll the dough out so it’s no thicker than a one pound coin
  • Place the cut out biscuits on a baking tray lined with parchment paper
  • Chill the dough for 45 minutes in the fridge/freezer

Chocolate teddy bear sugar cookie recipe

Iced teddy bear biscuits (sugar cookies)
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Sweet
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 230g softened butter
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g coco powder
  • 300g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl
  3. Add the egg and vanilla, mix to combine
  4. Add the dry ingredients and bring together using a wooden spoon
  5. Turn the mixture out on to a floured work surface and knead until you have formed a smooth dough (try not to handle it too much).
  6. Flatten out the dough, wrap in cling and place in the fridge for a minimum of 45 minutes
  7. Remove from fridge and roll out to the thickness of one pound coin
  8. Use a cookie cutter to cut out your cookie shapes
  9. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet
  10. Place in the center of the pre-heated oven and bake for 8 minutes

 

 

To make the flood icing

Outline the biscuits using thinned royal icing mixed with food coloring of choice (I actually used coco powder for my teddy bears), use a thin piping nozzle. Once you have piped the outline, immediately flood the rest of the biscuit with icing using a slightly thicker nozzle. Use a wooden skewer (or a scribe if you have one) to evenly distribute the icing. Gently tap the biscuit to settle the icing. . If using other colours such as the black and white you can add these after the initial colour has set for about 30 minutes. Allow 8-12 hours for the icing to thoroughly set

I found YouTube a great help when learning how to flood the icing.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

… and toys are most certainly everywhere… all over my lounge floor that is. As if pulling out the Christmas decorations and untangling the yards of spaghetti entwined lights isn’t a task in itself. Try doing it with wooden blocks and various other toys underfoot. We figured, rather than trying desperately to adorn the Christmas tree with lights before Jemima pulled the whole thing over, we’d wait until she was asleep. A genius plan I know!

Before your life is blessed with the joy of children you have no concept of just how difficult the smallest tasks become. There are thousands of smug child free people out there right now admiring their wonderfully glistening, beautifully decorated trees. Spare a thought for us parents who, by Christmas day, will be sick of the sight of our half decorated, bare and withered looking trees that have been abused by small human beings. In my desperation to keep the tree looking it’s best I have imprisoned it in a child proof play pen (picture below).

I already know Christmas is going to be more exciting this year. Jemima is at such a wonderful age for it. Sure she’ll enjoy ripping the paper and playing with the boxes more than the toys, but who cares? Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year and Richard is just as keen on the festive season as me. We love nothing more than to get busy in the kitchen making mince pies, gingerbread muffins, sausage rolls and Christmas cocktails. Then of course there’s Richard’s famous Christmas lunch. I’d say that makes me one lucky girl.

We often host Christmas lunch for a large crowd, but this year is very much an exception. It’s just me, Richard and Jemima and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, we are going to a family party in the evening, which means, drinking, laughing and an inevitable hangover on Boxing Day.

Friday is my last working day before I have two weeks off work. Hurrah! And, family time means cooking time! I’m really looking forward to getting back in the kitchen and turning out some delicious festive treats. I have finished all of my Christmas gift shopping which means I’ll have plenty of time to make a whole host of edible Christmas gifts, so keep a look out for the recipes.

The greatest joy

Becoming a parent is the greatest joy you’ll ever experience. Becoming a parent and working full time is the greatest tiredness you’ll ever experience. It means I rarely have time to blog. I feel completely out of sorts with the blogging world as I knew it. Having a break from blogging has made me realise that the priorities in my life have so much more meaning now. Sure I love blogging, but I love Jemima unconditionally (tantrums and all) and that’s pretty special. Over the Christmas holidays though, I am going to forge out some time to read other food blogs and get busy in my own kitchen working up some content for my blog.

Every year I say that my new year’s resolution is to blog more and every year find myself reviewing that progress in December and I find I’ve yet again not had the time to keep this resolution. So this year, I’m not going to pledge to blog more, cook more or be regimented in the way I write this blog, I am simply going to remember the reasons I began writing this blog. Cooking and writing are my hobbies and a much needed distraction from everyday life.

And, do you know what? If only a handful of people read it, that’s okay with me.

Merry Christmas one and all… happy cooking!

Mummy & Jemima at the Christmas Market
The Jemima proofed Christmas tree
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Pizza Party (on a Friday night)

There is something rather joyful about covering the kitchen in flour and making pizza. Granted it’s a terribly messy task, but that’s where the fun is right? We love making pizzas on a Friday night when we have Rich’s children Max and Daisy. It’s a great family activity – everyone gets stuck in. The children go mad for them and love rolling out the dough and choosing their own toppings.

Rich makes a huge load of dough and I knock up a big batch of tomato sauce. Or we swap jobs, but Rich is rather good at kneading dough so I tend to let him do the hard work. We have everything laid out ready for the kids, dough, rolling pins, aprons, tomato sauce and as many different toppings as we can find. We like to see who can make the nicest looking, the biggest or  most flavourful pizza. Max won in the ‘best looking’ category hands down… here is his little chorizo masterpiece. Yes, it did taste as good as it looked.

Max's Pizza CookedFlourMax's Pizza Uncooked

Miss Friday’s Pizza

Mine was rather a funny shape and size, but for me it’s ALL about the flavour and that crunchy texture on the crust – delicious. And a pizza is simply not worth eating unless it has anchovies and olives on it. Of course, the kids would totally disagree – it’s all about cheese and pepperoni.

Making it at home is not going to compare to that stone baked taste you get from making it in a traditional pizza oven, but it’s still pretty darn tasty. I’ve posted about my uncle’s pizza oven before and shared the dough recipe that I use.

Jemima (my 10 month old) even had her very own pizza – future Miss Friday right there!

Do you have a perfect topping combination? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Nicole's Pizza CookedNew Picture (10)Jemima's Pizza