Cooking for a crowd is great fun; the prospect of getting creative and offering up a huge variety of dishes that will really impress your friends and family excites me, but it often sends me into a whirlwind of energy and pressure. I’ve come to learn the secret of stress free entertaining, base many dishes around one recipe – a huge pot of smokin’ chilli con carne. It’s super easy to cook and oh so good to eat – serve it with jacket potatoes, rice, nachos or in a toasted pitta bread topped with cheese, sour cream, guacamole, fresh salsa and some fresh coriander, all washed down with an ice cold beer. Move over Chimichanga, I think I’ve died and gone to homemade Tex Mex heaven.
It’s great fun to base meals for a large number of people on a particular theme, you can simply throw together various dishes and people love getting stuck in to food they can eat with their hands. Nachos and stuffed pitta breads are great for this.
I won’t take all the credit for the scrummy looking food, Rich (the fiancé) made the loaded potato skins (look out for his guest recipe coming soon) and we kind of just threw the rest together whilst drinking with my brother Kelv and his girlfriend JoJo.
Now, i’m totally guilty of saying I can’t find the time to cook for myself, let alone to entertain, but if your guests happen to be relaxed family who also have a baby it’s all quite good fun. We managed to feed, entertain and put the babies to bed, have a drink and a laugh ourselves and we still managed to pull together this delicious feast and photograph it for the blog. A pretty successful evening all round.
I’ve included the recipe using my new recipe plug in below, so if you want to make this recipe for more or less people, just use the handy scroll bar and decide how many you want to cook for. The ingredient quantities will automatically update. Impressive I know! Also, don’t forget you can print the recipe using the small blue print icon. Happy cooking!
Chilli Con Carne
This is a recipe for a rich smokey chilli con carne. This dish is so versatile it can be served with plain rice, on a jacket potato, in a pitta bread, or on top of nachos - however you choose to serve it though, be sure not to forget the essential condiments, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, freshly chopped coriander and most importantly an ice cold beer.
This recipe is great for feeding a crowd and it freezes well, so don't worry about leftovers - all the more for you.
One thing I really missed when I was pregnant was steak, since I won’t eat it unless it’s very rare (practically blue), I didn’t really eat it at all. So last week when Richard asked for fillet steak, I was more than happy to oblige.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t choose fillet; I find the fatter cuts have much more flavour, but I must confess this particular steak was utterly delicious and really melted in the mouth. It was also reduced to about £2.50 per steak, a real bargain not to be missed. I have a slight obsession with the reduced section of the supermarket.
I’ve been making the same whisky and peppercorn sauce for some years and it never fails me. Rich even said that he had never really liked peppercorn sauce until he tasted mine – high praise indeed. I’ll take that.
So I figured, if we were pushing the boat out and having fillet steak, we should serve it with the whisky peppercorn sauce and not worry about calories, hence the accompaniment of creamy mustard mash. The spinach adds a much needed touch of colour to the dish as well as offsetting the sweetness of the mash.
For the peppercorn sauce:
In a small saucepan, heat 300ml of beef stock and 1 tbsp of freshly cracked black peppercorns over a medium heat, allow to simmer (stirring frequently) until it has reduced by a third. Add 60ml of whisky and 100ml of double cream continue to simmer until it has reduced by a third again. Do not boil.
For the mustard mash:
Place the cooked mashed potatoes into a bowl; add 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and 1 tsp of wholegrain mustard, a pinch of white pepper and 60ml of double cream. Stir well to combine and ensure the mashed potato is a very smooth texture.
Serve with wilted spinach and steak cooked to your liking.
This recipe would make a lovely dinner party dish over the festive season, perhaps for that New Year’s eve dinner?
Now, you may have noticed an improvement in the quality of my photographs, well I certainly hope you have. I finally got round to buying an SLR camera (I’ve only wanted one forever), I just need to learn how to use it properly now. I’ve often thought that a photo doesn’t do a dish justice, so hopefully now I have more chance of truly capturing the deliciousness of my recipes and enticing you to cook them yourself. That, after all is the purpose of this blog, to get others cooking and sharing recipes.
There is something truly wonderful about this time of year.
The beginning of September marks the turning of the seasons into autumn and brings with it all the promise of crisp blue skies and the changing colours of nature. Not to mention that September is also the month in which I celebrate my birthday AND it’s the month in which I get to meet my baby. My little bundle really could arrive any day now, so I’ve been nesting and preparing things in anticipation.
One thing I was adamant about was ensuring that my freezer was fully stocked with meals. I’ve had friends tell me that having meals prepared in those early weeks really is a life saver, so as a first time mum I decided to take their advice on board. I figured the more prepared I can be the better… roll on those sleepless nights!
I’ve probably made enough meals to see us through at least the first four weeks of parenthood. Everything from chicken and lamb curries to stews, casseroles, cottage pies and meatballs. I found Pinterest to be a great help when deciding on suitable meals to freeze. I’m hoping I’ll have time to post a recipe link-up to these freezer meals… that’s if the baby doesn’t decide to make an appearance in the next week. My due date is only three days away!
You may recall me mentioning that throughout my pregnancy I’ve struggled with sickness and nausea and a real lack of appetite. The first few months I found it impossible to eat without being or feeling sick, but the second trimester bought some much welcomed relief as I regained my appetite.
Well, that relief was short lived as much to my disappointment, my sickness returned about five weeks ago.
I finally decided that I’d had enough of feeling so groggy and needed to see the GP and have anti-sickness medication prescribed. Let me tell you, these little pills really have been my savour. I’ve been able to enjoy cooking and eating again, so much so that I decided to celebrate the return of my appetite with a delicious steak dinner.
Essentially this recipe is for the creamed spinach and mushrooms as I’m assuming most of you know how to cook steak and potatoes to your own liking. I opted for a nice piece of ribeye, roasted herbed potatoes and this side dish which I’ve made a few times before but never shared.
This recipe makes a beautiful side dish for steak. The combination of mushrooms and thyme is utterly delicious. The earthy flavour of the mushrooms really works harmoniously with the woody essence of thyme.
I once read that mushrooms and thyme are true kindred spirits (The Flavour Thesaurus), which is so evident when you taste this dish. You’ll never look back – I honestly don’t think I can cook mushrooms without thyme any more, they’re just not the same.
If you’re a foodie and do not have this book in your cookery repertoire, I strongly suggest you rush out a pick up a copy – it’s a real cook’s bible, helping you to understand flavour parings and why they work.
I also feel it’s really important to use white pepper and not black in this recipe.
This is a great side dish for steak, but it would work equally well with chicken.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp thyme leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
300g closed cup mushrooms, sliced
200g spinach, washed
100ml double cream
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and seasoning, keep it moving with a wooden spoon until the onion is slightly browned. Add the garlic and thyme and fry for another minute.
Add the balsamic vinegar and cook until this has evaporated at which point you can add the mushrooms - cook these for a couple of minutes, they will soak up all the flavours in the pan and take on a nice colour.
Add the spinach and mix well to combine. It will seem like too much, but give it a minute and the leaves will wilt down.
Add the double cream and mustard and simmer on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn't stick.
I’ve said it before, autumn is without doubt my favourite time of the year, the crisp golden leaves that litter the ground and all the promise of the Christmas festivities to come. There are many things that make this season so special, the first appearance of your winter woollies, misty mornings, duvet days and the heating going on for the first time. But, perhaps one of the best things about this time of year is the comfort food, it’s all about pies, pastries, casseroles and stews and I’ve been busy scanning the archives to bring you my favourite autumnal recipes.
Some dishes just seem to warm you from the inside out and the three recipes above will do just that. Each is special for it’s own merit, the steak and ale is one of my old favourites, a perfect combination of buttery pastry and rich gravy. Those of you who read my blog regularly (I’m hoping that’s a few of you) will know that the Tuscan Fish Stew is probably my best recipe to date and my boyfriend loves it, we make it all the time! And last but certainly not least is one of my newest recipes, but it gets a big thumbs up for seasonality and it was so delicious I couldn’t help but include it in my top three.
Spaghetti and meatballs have got to be the ultimate comfort food. I love them, the boyfriend on the other hand has never been convinced – that was until he tried this recipe. I’ve tried plenty of recipes before, but never have I found one as good as this. It’s a Donna Hay recipe, she uses a combination of pork and beef mince which is definitely the secret. The bold fragrant aroma of sage and fresh basil work beautifully in unison in this dish – a real palate pleaser. The sauce is so fresh tasting, I’ve made it twice now and both times it was delicious. This recipe simply wouldn’t be complete though without a large glass of read wine.
I urge you to try this recipe, it makes a large batch (far too many meatballs for two, about 30 if I remember rightly) which is great as they freeze so well in batches ready for a speedy week-night supper when you are in a hurry; the sauce also freezes well.
Given all the changes to my blog recently I’ve been cooking from recipes and books for a while, rather than being adventurous myself, it saves time and produces a fool proof delicious meal every time, so I bring you this one from the wonderful Donna Hay.
All that is about to change though as I embark on what is likely to be a labour intensive festive cooking extravaganza, meaning I’ll be putting my creative culinary skills to the test. I’m helping out at my cousin’s Christmas open day (he owns a Butchers and Delicatessen) and has asked me to provide an array of festive baked goods for people to sample and order ahead of Christmas. I guess that means I’ll have a busy December lined up, I’ll be sick of the sight of mince pies. It also means I’ve been running about like a headless chicken in search of hamper baskets, cellophane and various other wrapping items at a reasonable price.
I’m certain I’m not the only one who often has leftover roast beef knocking about in the fridge from Sunday. There are only so many roast beef sandwiches one can eat – and nine times out of ten the meat ends up in the bin. I can’t stand throwing food away, so last week I decided to reinvent my leftovers into these delicious 3 minute beef noodles.
Considering they really only take 3 minutes to cook they are packed with pungent Asian flavours that are truly delicious. The recipe is just perfect for a Monday (or indeed a Tuesday following Bank Holiday) when you can’t be bothered to slave away cooking dinner.
1 nestmedium egg noodles
2-3 slicesleftover rare roast beef
2 tbspsweet chilli sauce
1 tbsplight soy sauce
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tbspfreshly chopped coriander
Add the nest of noodles to boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, or according to the packet instructions. Meanwhile mix together the sweet chilli, soy, vinegar and honey in a bowl.
Drain the noodles and add the beef. Return the noodles to the saucepan and add the sauce mixture, heat over a medium heat, stirring to combine for a further 30 seconds. Top with the chopped coriander and serve.
Bored of the age old steak dinner for Valentine’s Day? Why not impress your valentine with this super tasty steak and ale pie? If you’re planning on spending a romantic evening in with a bottle of wine and a delicious homemade treat then give this delicious pie a whirl, I promise you’ll impress you’re other half. If you’d rather not spend the whole evening cooking then you can use a readymade pastry, but make it yourself and you’ll really notice the difference, and possibly earn a few extra brownie points. What could be better than a man making pie and getting covered in flour? I digress.
This recipe serves six, so there will be plenty of leftovers (which is fortunate, because once you’ve tried you’ll want more and more). Once made, you can freeze the pie in individual portions ready for lunches or a quick weeknight dinner. You can also freeze any leftover pastry for up to one month, just wrap it in cling film and pop it in the freezer for another time.
The best part about this pie is in the decoration, of course for a valentines pie I perhaps should have used a heart shaped cutter, but never mind, stars it is. You can get creative with your pastry cutting skills, maybe even spell out your partners name in pastry… too tacky? Okay, moving on.
* 2 tbsp olive oil
* 450g casserole steak
* 230g pack of smoked bacon, roughly chopped
* 4 carrots, roughly chopped
* 1 large onions, roughly chopped
* 2 tbsp plain flour
* 2 tsp sugar
* 300ml dark ale (a cheap own brand is fine)
* 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
* 400ml beef stock
* 1 bouquet garni
* 300g mushrooms, halved
* 650g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
* 250g cold baking butter, diced
* 1 egg, beaten
Heat oven to 160C. In a large casserole dish, fry the steak and bacon in a little olive oil until browned all over, set aside. Add the chopped carrots and onions and more oil if necessary, cook on a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, then add the sugar and flour, stir well.
Add the steak and bacon back to the pan and stir well. Pour over the ale, Worcestershire sauce and stock, season well and add the bouquet garni, simmer for a few minutes before putting a lid on and transferring to the oven. Cook for 2-3 hours.
Meanwhile, measure out your flour and dice the butter, crumble them together with your (clean) fingers using a rubbing motion between your thumb, forefinger and middle finger. Add a pinch of salt. Once the butter and flour are combined, slowly add ice water and knead to form the pastry (I found that about 180mls did the trick). Wrap the pastry in cling film and pop it in the fridge while your pie cooks.
Once the steak is cooked, remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 200C. Transfer the steak mixture to a pie dish and leave to cool while you roll out your pastry. Roll out the pastry to a size that will cover the pie (you’ll want to leave another inch around the side). Pop your pastry on to the pie and cut around the edge, tucking the pastry under to form a seal. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut out your decoration. Add this to the top and brush again with egg. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
Serve with steamed vegetables and mashed, jacket or roast potatoes.
Have you ever been to a Hoo Hing’s Chinese supermarket? I had the pleasure of visiting the one in Enfield on Sunday, which was rather exciting. Really exciting actually, for a foodie it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of Chinese ingredients. You’d love it, assuming you like Chinese food that is. There is just so much to look at, it’s overwhelming really, with a hundred different sweet chilli and soy sauces, noodles and cooking utensils. I left with a receipt as long as my arm, if not longer, and still I hadn’t spent a fortune. Who knew you could buy 60 vegetable spring rolls for £2.65? I know what you’re thinking, I bet they were awful, but they are actually delicious.
Historically, I’ve never been a fan of Chinese food, finding it all too gloopy and stodgy, often feeling like I had a hangover after eating it, seriously! I’ve always preferred Indian and Thai food, who doesn’t love a curry? But, I’m putting this down to bad experiences at poor Chinese restaurants. However, I’ve recently decided that it’s these bad restaurants that I dislike rather than Chinese cuisine itself. So, in an attempt to discover delicious authentic Chinese food I’ve decided I’d be better attempting to make my own, which prompted my visit to Hoo Hings Supermarket.
So, with my thinking cap on and a cupboard stocked to the rafters with tasty new ingredients, I set about making a delicious little beef dish with a fillet steak I picked up in Aldi for a few pounds, bargain! I marinated the beef in a little garlic oil, fresh garlic, ginger and some oyster sauce, before adding it to a hot wok and adding chillies, spring onions and green peppers and dried mushrooms (these had been soaked first). The almost sinister looking thick and sticky oyster sauce has such a wonderful sweetness that works beautifully with the steak and green peppers. Leaving it all to marinate couldn’t be easier, stir frying it takes minutes and you’ve a delicious, guilt free Chinese meal to enjoy in the comfort of your own kitchen without spending a fortune.
Before you read the list of ingredients and panic about the monosodium glutamate (MSG), let me just mention that it’s really a small amount and you use it instead of salt. All Chinese food, takeaway or otherwise will have MSG added; it’s a flavour enhancer and it really does make the world of difference – and used in moderation it’s completely fine. In fact, you’ll be surprised at just how many foods contain MSG. Next time you reach for a packet of crisps check the list of ingredients, they’ll most likely contain it – that’s why they are so morish!
Stir-fried Garlic Beef with Oyster Sauce
Serves 2 * 1 fillet steak, sliced thinly
* 5 tbsp Oyster sauce
* 2 tbsp garlic oil
* 2 tbsp light soy sauce
* 1 tsp of monosodium glutamate
* 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
* Knob of ginger, peeled and grated
* 2 green chillies, finely chopped
* 2 spring onions, finely chopped
* Large handful of fresh bean sprouts
* Half a green pepper, roughly chopped
* Handful of dried mushrooms, soaked and drained
* 2 nests of egg noodles (thick)
1. Start by marinating the beef in a dish with the oil, soy, oyster sauce, MSG, garlic, ginger and green chillies – leave this for as long as possible, but half hour will suffice.
2. Heat a little oil in a wok (over a high heat) and add the green peppers and half of the spring onions stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add the beef and marinade and stir fry until the beef is cooked to your liking, only a couple of minutes for me. Add the bean sprouts and mushroom, stir well and continue cooking for another minute until the vegetables have softened.
3. Serve the beef on a platter, garnished with the remaining spring onion and a bowl of egg noodles on the side.
This dish is delicious washed down with an ice cold Chinese Tsingtao beer.
I’m certain that a few people will loathe me for saying this, but it’s too bloody hot to eat at the minute. Maybe it’s the muggy weather, but food seems to be the last thing on my mind. There I said it. Truth be told, it’s been an awful week anyway, which may be another reason I’ve taken a side step from the kitchen. My good friend Richard decided to fall out of a window and break his back and his ankles. Ouch! So, with working and doing my Florence Nightingale bit I’ve not even had time to think about pulling out pots and pans, nor, quite frankly, could I be bothered to.
Anyway, enough about me and what I’ve been up to, I wanted to share this recipe/ menu plan with you in light of how busy I’ve been this week. This really is the simplest menu to put on for your friends. Everything can be served cold, which is perfect in this weather, and it also means you can prepare everything ahead of time – no last minute rushing around and working up a sweat which, lets face it, isn’t difficult in this weather.
You’ll notice the Italian theme with the menu, yes; I’m still stuck on Italian food. It’s so simple and tasty, what’s not to love? I decided to take the Jamie Oliver approach with this menu, by which I mean sticking everything on a big platter and letting people help themselves, it’s easier and a huge platter of steak looks great in the centre of the table, doesn’t it?
For the arrival of my friends I made some canapés. Perhaps the easiest thing to prepare, but they look really impressive and colourful, people comment on the effort you’ve made, when it actually takes you no longer than 2 minutes, great! Make the canapés by poking a little ball of mozzarella, a sun-dried tomato, a piece of Italian cured meat and a little basil leaf onto a cocktail stick. I’d make about a dozen for four people. Serve with some Italian olives.
You can’t get more Italian that bruschetta, it’s a simple, colourful and wonderfully rustic starter to serve for a crowd. And, you can be as creative as you like when it comes to the toppings. I’d recently seen a recipe for goat’s cheese and dill bruschetta in Olive magazine, so I knew that was a must, but with one of my friends being pregnant, I wasn’t entirely sure which cheeses were safe, so I thought I’d make few other variations.
Slice and toast the ciabatta bread, remove from the oven and rub with a raw garlic clove, drizzle with olive oil and top with any of the following combinations:
Chopped cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella
Soft goat’s cheese, dill and semi-dried tomatoes
Mozzarella, salami and semi-dried tomatoes
Mozzarella and salsa verde
The variations of toppings are endless. Experiment and create different types to suit your guests. I had a pregnant friend, a friend who doesn’t eat goat’s cheese and a friend who’ll eat anything (you know who you are!). Serve your bruschetta as is, or with a bowl of king prawns and a quick homemade lemon, mustard and mayo dip.
Homemade Italian Salsa Verde (for the main)
2 garlic cloves
80g fresh basil, roughly chopped
80g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
60g fresh mint, roughly chopped
6 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp good Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blend the garlic and herbs in a blender until very finely chopped (you may prefer to do this by hand). Add the other ingredients and blend to combine, pouring in the oil slowly whilst still blending. You should be left with a thick pesto like consistency; it may be a little thinner, which is fine.
The salsa verde will keep in the fridge for 1-2 days
Steak Salad with Salsa Verde and New Potatoes – Main Course
Take a large serving platter and scatter with rocket, watercress and baby spinach.
Using rump or sirloin, season and fry the steak for as long as necessary. I like mine rare so a couple of minutes each side is enough. Rest for 10 minutes and slice thinly. Arrange the stake on the bed of salad and drizzle with a little olive oil, parmesan shavings and toasted diced ciabatta bread. Serve with homemade salsa verde and buttered new potatoes.
The best Italian food is simple, rustic and colourful
There must be a million ragú recipes out there, but this wonderfully versatile sauce plays such a big part in authentic Italian cookery, so one more won’t hurt. Made with the freshest ingredients and slow cooked to perfection, there is no doubt that a huge pot of rich, mahogany ragú bubbling away on the stove will set your taste buds tingling. The red wine and mix of different meats, beef and lamb mince and chicken livers really set this recipe apart from the rest and creates the most wonderful depth of flavour.
The versatility of this ragú is what I love the most; enjoy it with freshly made pasta or in a lasagne. But, for me its best served on toasted ciabatta bread, topped and vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and a few shavings of parmesan, all washed down with a delicious Italian red wine. Make a big batch and freeze it for delicious, but quick, weeknight meals.
I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve recently discovered a love of authentic Italian cookery, so I was delighted when I received an email from the folks at To Tuscany, explaining that they were running a foodie blogger competition, and they wanted me to enter. The idea is to post a Tuscan inspired recipe, which is something I was only too pleased to set about making. Having thought about the basics of Italian cookery, and the simplistic approach Italian’s seem to adopt when cooking, I knew the recipe had to encompass three things, fresh ingredients, good preparation and enjoyment. There is nothing the Italian’s love more that sitting down to enjoy a lovingly prepared meal over a lazy afternoon. And, given that seasonality plays such an important part in Italian cookery, only the freshest ingredients would do.
I’m excited at the prospect of a foodie competition, mostly because it allows me to put my thinking cap on and get creative, but also because I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas. Really I do! Imagine sitting in the warm Tuscan sunshine enjoying a glass of the finest Italian wine and munching your way through some delicious bruschetta, knowing you’ve earned your way there by creating a delicious Tuscan recipe. Fingers crossed!
Given that ragú is probably one of the most common Italian recipes, and one that is showcased in various different versions all across Italy, it may seem an obvious choice. But, ragú is all too often ruined by people mistaking it for a simple flavour combination; it’s a far cry from simple, dull or boring. Made with the best quality ingredients and just the right about of love your ragú will have the most wonderful depth of flavour, making you feel as if you’re enjoying an authentic Italian dish on a hill-top hamlet in Tuscany. We can but dream…
Authentic Tuscan Ragú Recipe
Recipe makes a large batch for freezing
250g Beef mince
250g lamb mince
200g Chicken livers, finely chopped
5 tbsp Italian extra virgin olive oil (such as De Cecco Il Classico)
800g chopped tomatoes
5 tbsp tomato purée
200ml of red wine
Salt and black pepper
Handful of freshly chopped basil
10 vine tomatoes, halved
4 tbsp parmesan shavings
A combination of the following ingredients finely chopped is what the Italian’s call Soffritto, which forms the basis of many authentic Italian meals:
2 Red onions
2 Celery sticks
1 sprig of rosemary (optional in most Soffritto recipes)
2 bay leaves (optional in most Soffritto recipes)
Start by heating the oil in a pan and gently frying the red onion, carrots and celery. Add the rosemary and bay leaves. Cook until golden, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the meats to the pan and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes. Once browned add the wine and stir well. Cook until the wine and fat from the meats has evaporated.
Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste.
Serve with toasted ciabatta, topped with a generous spoonful or ragú, a few chopped vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and parmesan shavings.
Wine Paring – Piccini Super Tuscan – medium bodied, it’s a blend of Sagiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, particularly good with red meat, pasta and rich tomato sauce – Perfect indeed!