Saturday, 31 December 2011

Potted Crab

Bearing testament to what I’ve learnt in the kitchen over the last year since I started Culinary Conquests, this year I made the Christmas Lunch starter for the first time. I opted for a Potted Crab dish served with toast and crab claws, as crab is always a treat and I thought it would provide a light prelude to the Beef Wellington we have at Christmas. Now being a keen reader of BBC Good Food magazine I had a flick through their December issue and stumbled across this simple recipe by Gregg Wallace of Masterchef fame. We are a small family of only three, and this year we chose to have just us on Christmas day, and this recipe meant for two was easily sized up to serve three.

The cayenne pepper gives this dish a little kick without overpowering the delicious flavour of the crab, and although I made this for Christmas Lunch it would make an appropriate starter for any special meal.  

Adapted from BBC Good Food (December 2011)
150g butter
zest of ¾ lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
a generous dash of Tabasco sauce
a pinch of freshly ground mace and freshly grated nutmeg
¾ tsp cayenne pepper
150g dark crabmeat
150g white crabmeat
toast, to serve
  1. Melt the butter over a low heat, add the lemon juice and zest, Tabasco sauce, spices and salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the crab meat and cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute.
  2. Spoon the mixture into 3 small ramekins, leave to cool, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.
  3. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before you wish to serve.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Happy Christmas!!

A belated Merry Christmas to you all!! I hope that you have all had a wonderful time, however you choose to celebrate. I am pleased to report that all my culinary related Christmas wishes came true and I am now the proud owner of a red KitchenAid Stand Mixer, as well as numerous baking tins, cutters and icing nibs. I also have 6 new recipe books to add to my now overflowing collection.

As expected, I have eaten a lot of very good food and generally over indulged as in only right during the festive period. My Christmas culinary conquest offerings starts with the Christmas cake that I decorate every Christmas Eve. Penguins, carol singers, flowers and of course Father Christmas have all adorned the top of my cake over the years, but this year I opted for something completely different and created a Christmas Lunch table on my cake. Consisting of a candle centrepiece, turkey, Chistmas Pudding and crackers amongst other things, I created the decorations by moulding marzipan and painting each with food colouring. It’s certainly a conversation starter!!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Laura Ashley's New Tea and Biscuit Range

I think I can safely say that a good cup of tea and a biscuit or three is a highlight of pretty much anyone’s day. Well, you can imagine my excitement when Laura Ashley asked me if I would like to sample their new tea and biscuit range; I leaped at the chance. Having been a fond fan of the high street brand for many years, perhaps known best for its beautiful fabrics, women's clothes and furnishings, I couldn’t wait to try their new range. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the huge box that arrived on my doorstep, for inside was not only some Orange and Chocolate Chip Biscuits, some loose leaf English Breakfast tea with silver plated diffuser but also a beautiful ‘tea for one’ floral pot, cup and saucer. At £4, £12 and £25 respectively, they don’t come all that cheap, but would make the most fantastic presents for any aspiring domestic Goddess. The beautiful packaging is almost too pretty to cover with wrapping paper!!

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty, and talk about the biscuits. This being a food blog, I tend to try and make mine at home, but if you are going to shop buy, these are the kind of thing you want to go for. I love the flavour combination of chocolate with orange and these little biscuits, the perfect size for dunking, did not disappoint; the moment you open the tin you get this deliciously strong smell of orange. The biscuits have the right amount of crunch and a good oaty texture too.

I always like giving loose leaf teas away as gifts, particularly in the hamper I make for my parents each Christmas, and with Laura Ashley’s addition of the silver plated diffuser, this tea is elevated from small token to proper gift, and would surely go down well with any tea lover.

And finally, the ‘tea for one’ pot. With a vintage feel that would suit any girly girls kitchen, the pot is a good pourer and its compact design and size make it a suitable choice for anyone short on space.

The new Laura Ashley tea and biscuit range is available soon, and the 'Tea for One' pot is available now (just in time for Christmas). Visit

Friday, 16 December 2011

Baked Meatballs with a Spicy Tomato Sauce

According to the January issue of BBC Good Food Magazine Meatballs are in, and will be a recurring trend for 2012. Not sure when they were ever out really, but its always nice to be on the forefront of food fashions isn’t it. The third recipe from my series of midweek cheap suppers, this dish is an update to the classic Italian meal, and served over rice rather then pasta. You’re welcome to make the meatballs yourself, but I bought mine for £1.27 in Sainsbury’s. Feel free to play around with the quantities here too, adding more turmeric and chili if you like a bit more spice.

Serves 2
Pack of 12 lamb meatballs
½ red onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 chili, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp lime juice
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
Rice and Coriander leaves to serve
  1. Bake the meatballs according to packet instructions. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Cook the onion for 5 minutes until translucent. Add the ginger, cumin, turmeric, chili and garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the lime juice , tomatoes, sugar and season to taste. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  3. Serve over rice, and scattered with coriander leaves.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup

A slight diversion from affordable mid week suppers, this Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup is by no means expensive to make, but is probably more suited to lunch. If I’m being honest, my photos don’t really do this one justice, I’ll admit I was more interested in eating it then taking photographs of it. I made this soup for a lunch date with Rose, and I think she will agree it was really rather tasty, the empty bowls and six devoured petit pains bearing testament to this. The best thing about this soup was that both the flavours of parsnip and apple shone through rather then one dominating. Delicious and really easy to make too.

Serves 2/3
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
a drizzle of sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 small stick celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 tsp curry powder
750ml vegetable stock
½ tbsp honey
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Toss the cubed apple in the sunflower oil. Place in a baking tray and roast for around 10 minutes until soft. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a deep pan, add the diced vegetables and cook over a low heat with the lid on for about 20 minutes.
  2. Stir in the curry powder and cook for 3 minutes, then add the stock. Bring to the boil, add the apples and honey and simmer for 5 minutes. Blitz with a hand held blender (or wait to cool a little before carefully liquidizing in a blender).
  3. Season and serve with crusty bread.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Tomato, Chorizo and Pea Pasta

The second of my affordable weeknight recipes is a Tomato, Chorizo and Pea pasta for one. Made completely by chance, and open to your own interpretation, all of the ingredients were already to be found in my kitchen. When Ben works in the evening, I always find it really hard to work out what to cook for myself, I always prefer cooking for someone else rather then just for me. When I do create meals for one, they tend to be made with things that can be found in the house – sometimes this experimentation comes out great, and sometimes not so tasty. Luckily, on this occasion the balance of flavours was spot on, with the chorizo providing smokiness, the celery a little crunch, and the peas a burst of sweetness.

Serves 1
5 slices of chorizo sausage, roughly chopped
1 small stick of celery, chopped
½ an onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
a small handful chopped fresh basil, plus more to serve
Around 3 tbsp pasatta, depending on how saucy you like it
A handful of frozen peas
Enough pasta for one
  1. Over a low heat and in a saucepan, gently cook the onion in a little olive oil. After 5 minutes, add the garlic, chorizo and celery and continue to cook gently for around 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Pour over the passatta and add the oregano, basil and season to taste.
  2. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, and when it is about 5 minutes from being ready, add the frozen peas to the sauce. Stir, and once the pasta is ready and drained, serve the sauce over the top, and garnish with a little more basil. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Beef and Ale Stew with Cheese Scones

So I’ve decided to post a series of cheap midweek suppers, after my friend Maddy asked me if I could suggest some recipes that might mix up her weekly menu a bit. By chance, I’ve been trying to cook on more of a budget of late, particularly through trying cheaper cuts of meats and by eating more vegetarian dishes. What I’ve found is that there is no need to scrimp on flavour, quality or creativity when your counting the pennies, and everyday meals can be just as exciting and interesting as those more expensive special occasion dishes.

The first dish that I wanted to share with you is a delicious and hearty Beef and Ale Stew with Cheese Scones. I can’t tell you how shocked I was with how cheap beef shin and braising steak is; an ample serving for two can be bought for around a pound. Couple that with a few vegetables and some store cupboard products, and you’ve got yourself an affordable meal. I cooked the stew in one big pan, and left the stock and ale to do their magic whilst watching Masterchef, so its hardly labour intensive either. Cooking the beef for two hours made it melt in the mouth, and the addition of the fluffy cheese scones meant all those lovely juices were soaked up.

Adapted from Bills Cook Eat Smile
Serves 2
1 small onion, chopped
1 large stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
350g stewing beef, cubed
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
300ml beef stock
1x 275ml bottle of stout
- For the Cheese Scones -
90g self raising flour
25g butter, in small pieces
¼ tsp baking powder
30ml milk
40g cheddar, grated
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat a splash of olive oil in a casserole (which has a lid) and cook the onion, carrot and celery over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Put the vegetables in to a dish to one side, and then cook the beef in the casserole until browned all over.
  2. Put the vegetables back in the pan and add the tomato, stock and beer, and bring to the boil. Season, put on the lid of the casserole and place in the oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  3. To make the scones, rub the butter, flour and baking powder together with a pinch of salt until the mixture is breadcrumb like, then add the cheese and mix. Pour in enough milk to bind the mixture and make a dough. Roll into walnut-sized balls. Place on top of the casserole for the last 30 minutes of cooking, with the lid on for 15 minutes and then taking it off for the final 15 so they can brown. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Leekie Soup

Since when is it December?! The last few months have just gone so quickly, I’m at my 100th post and have almost been cooking a year now – how time flies. Not that I’m complaining, being a Christmas-aholic, the countdown has officially begun, and I cannot wait to hand in my last essay next Thursday and let the celebrations start with our Christmas Party. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself sane whilst essay researching and writing with cooking lots of lovely winter warmers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this season’s food is definitely the best, give me casseroles and soups over salads any day.

This leek and potato soup comes from Bill’s Cook Eat Smile, which never fails to amaze me with easy seasonal recipes that are always delicious. If you’ve got a spare couple of hours to chop and stir and check then it really is worth it making home made soup, and quite frankly it’s therapeutic too. I have become increasingly disillusioned with shop bought soups, which promise so much and deliver very little (although if you really are looking for a speedy lunch then the best I’ve found are from Glorious Soups with their tempting alphabet of flavours). Bill’s soup is called Cock-a-Leekie, but is without the chicken, so is really just leekie. The addition of half the chopped vegetables after blending makes this soup feel like more of a hearty meal, and served with crusty bread and butter, it makes the perfect lunch for a cold winters day.

Serves 2
½ tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
½ tbsp butter
1 large or 2 small sticks of celery, chopped
small bunch of fresh sage, chopped
500ml hot vegetable stock
½ tbsp honey
  1. Heat the oil in a large deep pan, and fry the onion until translucent. Add the butter and when that’s melted, add half the potatoes, leeks, celery and sage. Cook gently for 25 minutes over a low heat with the lid on, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Blitz carefully with a hand held blender (allow to cool slightly if using a food processor) until smooth.
  3. Add the remaining vegetables and the honey, and season. Put the lid back on and simmer for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle over a little more chopped sage and serve with crusty bread.

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