Sunday, 18 October 2015

American Banana Loaf

Given that I have been making this with the kids every weekend for the past half term, I thought it was probably worth a mention - I have lifted it word for word from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and really, there are no tweaks needed at all! The recipe is unbelievably easy, and has been going into the children's snack boxes every day (apart from the middle, who refers cheese and biscuits, like his mum). I use a loaf tin liner to make the whole process even easier.

You'll need a food processor - I've not tried it without so can't guarantee what the results might be like.


  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, plus extra to grease
  • 175g (6oz) golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 2 bananas, about 300g (11 oz), peeled
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Golden granulated sugar, to dredge
Makes 10 slices (allegedly, we must be slicing them thick!)


  • Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and whizz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and whizz briefly
  • Mix the lemon juice and milk together in a jug and leave to stand for 1 minute. Grease and base-line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin
  • Mash the bananas in a bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, eggs, milk mixture and vanilla extract. Add to the food processor and whizz until combined
  • Pour the mixture into the loaf tin, dredge with granulated sugar and bake at 180 degrees C (160 degrees fan oven)  for 1 1/4 hours or until risen and golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

  • Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices to serve
American Banana Loaf

Friday, 28 August 2015

Linguine with Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce

Using fresh rather than cooked tomatoes brings a lightness to a pasta dish, which seems appropriate in these dying days of summer. The freshness of the tomatoes and torn basil, accompanied by some serious olive oil and generosity of seasoning, makes this a tasty lunch or light supper.


  • 5-6 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 100g Mozzarella cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
  • (Optional) 100g bacon lardons
  • 300g dried linguine
Serves 3 - 4


  • Peel the tomatoes by scoring a cross in the bottom of each tomato, then covering with boiling water. After 5 minutes, drain the water and replace with cold water. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and chop finely (try to avoid too much liquid in the mixture by scraping out the seeds as much as you can). Place the chopped tomatoes into a bowl
  • Add 2 - 3 good slugs of good quality extra virgin olive oil to the tomatoes, then add the garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then leave the flavours to mix for at least 30 minutes
  • Cook 300g of dried linguine in well-salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet.
  • (Optional) In the meantime, add a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan, heat until moderately hot and fry the bacon lardons until crispy and golden, then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven
  • Drain the linguine when cooked and set to one side. Add the tomato mixture to the warm pan and heat through gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the linguine to the pan and mix well to combine
  • Transfer the linguine in warmed dishes. Top each dish with cubes of mozzarella, bacon lardons (optional) and torn basil leaves. Serve immediately

Linguine with Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Sauce

(including crispy bacon lardons)

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Jam Tarts

I wondered whether or not to write up a post for something as humble and simple as a jam tart but we made the jam and we made the pastry, so I thought it was worth sharing. Of course jam tarts can be made with ready-made pastry and jam and to be honest, I don't think my children would have noticed any difference! However, as an exercise in family harmony, this worked well.

The children loved picking the strawberries (we went to Bellis Brothers in Wrexham), so much so that I ended up spending many of the following evenings frantically washing, hulling, chopping and freezing (for smoothies) and making copious vats of jam. I was instructed to make "enough to last us until next summer, Mummy!". At the rate they hoover up jam, I'm not sure that's been possible!

The one batch of jam that my husband made didn't set properly, and I found that this was perfect for jam tarts, also for drizzling over yoghurts or adding to porridge or rice pudding.

I used the recipe for jam from the back of the Silver Spoon jam sugar packet, and adapted the recipe for the sweet tart pastry from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.


Strawberry Jam
  • 900g strawberries, washed
  • 1kg jam sugar (I used Silver Spoon and followed the recipe on the back of the packet)
  • A knob of butter
Makes approx. 1.5kg jam

  • 225g plain flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150g fridge-cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp cold water
Makes approx. 15 jam tarts


To make the jam:
  • Wash and sterilise 6 jam jars and their lids by placing them into an oven at Gas Mark 3 (170 degrees C) for 20 minutes. Leave for 10 minutes, then they are ready to be filled
  • Hull the strawberries, and blend to a puree (I used a stick blender), or mash with a potato masher
  • Place the strawberries into a heavy-based saucepan and add the entire packet of jam sugar
  • Begin to heat the mixture gently, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved completely
  • Add a knob of butter and increase the heat, continuing to stir the mixture, until the jam reaches a rolling boil, the bubbles rise and cannot be stirred down with a spoon
  • Start timing and boil for 4 minutes only, whilst continuing to stir (the steam gets very hot so be careful)
  • Remove from the heat, then pour or ladle into the sterilised jars. Screw the lids on tightly and leave overnight to cool completely.

To make the pastry:
  • Sift the flour and salt into a food processor, then add the cubed butter. Switch the food processor on, and run until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and pulse to mix
  • Tip the pastry mixture into a large bowl
  • Mix the egg yolk with 3 tbsp cold water, then add to the dry ingredients and mix with a round-bladed knife to a dough
  • Knead gently until just smooth. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm them leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • If you find that the pastry is a little crumbly when you come to roll it out, pour a little sunflower or vegetable oil into the palms of your hands and rub together. knead the pastry again gently, to incorporate the oil into the dough

To make the jam tarts:
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge. Break off around 1/3 of the dough and place the rest under a damp towel. Lightly oil the surfaces of a cupcake tin
  • Lightly flour a surface and rolling pin, and roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx. 3-4mm
  • Using a crinkle cutter, radius approx. 80mm, cut rounds of pastry and press into the cupcake tin
  • Add 1-2 tsp of jam to each tart - do not overfill as the jam will boil up during baking
  • Bake the tarts in a preheated oven at 180 degrees fan for approx. 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is golden
  • Remove from the oven and leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely
Jam Tarts

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Roast Asparagus with Sweet Pepper and Chorizo

I think asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables of all, and buy it as often as I can when it comes into season. We have wonderful local asparagus at Church Farm and Hawarden Estate.

Asparagus works well when it is cooked for a very small amount of time, so that it retains its crunch and vibrancy. I start to panic when I buy it, but don't get the chance to cook it so it sits in the fridge for a few days.

In this recipe, I've roasted it with wonderful sweet pointed peppers, complemented with the smokiness of chorizo sausage. The oil is released from the chorizo into the baking tray, and can be mopped up with potatoes, bread or pasta. The dish is incredibly easy to make, and would work well just on its own, or as a side with some grilled meat.



  • 250g asparagus
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper
  • Approx. 10 thin slices of chorizo, sliced on the diagonal
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Some really good quality extra virgin olive oil
Serve 2 as a side, or 1 greedy asparagus lover


  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan
  • Wash the asparagus and trim the woody bases
  • Cut around the stalk of the sweet pepper, then pull out the stalk and seeds. Slice into thin rounds, on the diagonal
  • Lay the asparagus in a baking tray. Scatter over the slices of pepper, then tuck the chorizo slices in between.
  • Season with salt and pepper and pour over 2-3 generous glugs of best quality extra virgin olive oil
Tuck the chorizo slices between the pepper and the asparagus

  • Put the baking dish into the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, until the chorizo is beginning to crisp up and the peppers have charred and softened
  • Remove from the oven and serve immediately
Roast asparagus with sweet pepper and chorizo

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Garlic and Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes

This accompaniment is very easy with practically no effort involved! You can use any waxy potato.


  • 3-5 new potatoes per person
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary, cut into 3cm lengths
  • 3-4 big glugs of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Serves 4-6



  • Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees
  • Wash and scrub the potatoes, and cut the larger ones in half (mine tend to be 3-4 cm across)
  • Using the flat of a cleaver or a rolling pin, bash the cloves of garlic once to break, but leave in the skin
  • Bash the rosemary springs to bruise them slightly
  • Add the potatoes, garlic and rosemary to a roasting dish and season generously with salt and ground black pepper (it doesn't matter if the potatoes are not all in a single layer). Pour over 3-4 big glugs of olive oil and stir to mix.
  • Roast the potatoes for 20-25 minutes depending on the size. Stir them periodically to brown evenly
Halfway through cooking, turn the potatoes
  • When the potatoes are cooked through, remove from the heat and serve immediately
Garlic and Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes

Slow-Cooker Chick Peas with Tomato and Chorizo

These chick peas were supposed to be part of a vegetable curry, but like most grand plans on this training year, fell by the wayside. This dish is a "chuck it all in and turn it on" type of meal, save for soaking and boiling the chick peas first. If you can't be bothered with that, then just buy a couple of tins and reduce the amount of cooking time (I'm guessing a couple of hours in the slow cooker would be enough).

I bought a tiny slow cooker from Lakeland Limited with some birthday vouchers, which is the perfect size for one meal and which I cooked this dish in. It could easily be done on the hob or in the oven as an alternative.


  • A very large handful of dried chick peas (I think this was about 600-700g when reconstituted)
  • 10 - 12 slices of chorizo
  • 6 ripe tomatoes (they must be ripe!)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • 2 shallots
  • 3-4 big glugs of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp Knorr chicken powder (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, marjoram)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil leaves to garnish
Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment


  • Soak the chick peas over night, then drain, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 15 minutes
  • Peel the shallots and slice into thin rings
  • Score a cross in the bottom of each tomato and cover with boiling water, then leave for 5-10 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the water, peel off the skin and dice the tomatoes
  • Add the chick peas, shallots, chorizo, mixed herbs, chicken powder, tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaf, mixed herbs and 3 large glugs of olive oil to the slow cooker. Season generously with salt and ground black pepper and mix thoroughly
  • Switch the slow cooker onto high and cook for 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally

  • Remove from the heat, drizzle over some fresh olive oil, garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately

Slow-Cooker Chick Peas with Tomato and Chorizo

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Lemon and Basil Griddled Sea Bream

Tonight my eldest asked me what was for dinner then sighed immediately, saying "let me guess.... rice, am I right?"

She would have been right, as I had been to the fishmonger in the morning and bought a sea bream, intending to steam it with dried lily flowers, cloud ear fungus and soy sauce, but following this little exchange, I decided to indulge her.

I remember many years ago going to a restaurant called Lemonia with my big sister, where we sat close to Bob Hoskins. We had a lovely dish of griddled sardines, fragrant with lemons and olive oil and I wanted to try and replicate this. In fact, I think there are few things in life nicer than tucking into a big plate of really fresh, griddled fish with a big wedge of lemon, some decent company and preferably a sea view.

We ended up sharing this dish of griddled sea bream, some slow-cooked chick peas with chorizo and tomato and garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. The eldest made pizza using this Cook Italian pizza kit from Tesco, which was better than I had expected it to be!

Last year on our holiday to Tuscany, I visited a local producer (Novo Frantoio) and horrified my husband by returning with a 3 litre can of olive oil (I had packed light intentionally). Here it is:

Ridiculously tasty olive oil
Words cannot even begin to describe how delicious and beautiful this oil is! I am already starting to worry what I will do when it runs out!


  • 1 sea bream, gutted and scaled
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into slices
  • Grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh basil
  • Plenty of extra virgin olive oil
Serves 1, or can be shared as part of a bigger meal


  • Wash the bream and pat dry with kitchen towels. Using a sharp knife, slash each side three times, taking care not to cut through the bone
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the cavity of the fish, then stuff with 3-4 slices of lemon and 2-3 sprigs of fresh basil leaves
  • Place the fish in a dish and pour over extra virgin olive oil to coat the fish. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper on each side, then leave in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to marinate if you have time
  • Heat a griddle or frying pan until very hot. Remove the fish from the fridge and sprinkle salt over both sides, before adding to the griddle. Using a spatula, press down on the fish periodically and griddle for 6-7 minutes on one side

  • Carefully lift the fish with a spatula (I use two) and turn over. Griddle on a high heat for a further 6-7 minutes, or until the flesh turns opaque throughout
  • Remove the fish from the heat and place on a warmed serving dish. Add the freshly grated lemon zest to the fish and pour the oil from the pan over the fish. Add a little fresh olive oil, then garnish with a few fresh basil leaves
  • Serve immediately

Lemon and Basil Griddled Sea Bream

Monday, 9 February 2015

Butternut Squash, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne

To be honest, I don't know why I cooked this (apart from the fact that it's delicious). It is a faff and a half, and if I tried putting spinach and mushrooms (and in the middle child's case, white sauce) in front of the children, there would be an outcry of "eeeeeewwwww! Vom!"..... which would inevitably end in someone being sent to their room and a big old strop from me. You see, I mind much less if they don't like something that has taken about 5 minutes to put together, but when it has taken an arsenal of kitchen equipment and hours to prep all of the separate components then.... well....

For this reason, I've made the lasagne in two separate, smaller dishes, one of which I've given to a friend. It's a really tasty vegetarian lasagne, a little bit sophisticated and would be a good dish for entertaining. Personally, I preferred it without the goat's cheese, but my husband disagreed. To be honest, I'd rather just grate some cheddar over the top!

I've added a very small amount of dried, crushed chillies when roasting the butternut squash, which works well with the sweetness of the squash and the earthy flavours of the spinach and mushroom.



  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1x 250g box of chestnut mushrooms (or use oyster/shiitake if you are feeling indulgent)
  • 1 x 200g bag of spinach
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • (Optional) 25g goat's cheese (I used Kidderton Ash, you might prefer something milder), or use grated cheddar
  • 30g butter
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying mushrooms
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and optional crushed chillies)
  • 2-3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram)
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
For the white sauce
  • 40g butter
  • 2 dessert spoons of plain flour
  • Approx. 2/3 - 3/4 pint milk
Serves 4 - 6



(Roasting the butternut squash)
  • Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees fan
  • Slice the butternut squash into quarters lengthways. Place skin-side down on a baking tray, then sprinkle salt, ground pepper and dried mixed herbs over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, then place in the oven and cook for 35 minutes until the squash is softened and browned. Remove from the heat and let cool
Yummy roasted butternut squash

(Making the tomato sauce)
  • Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil very gently in a heavy-based pan, and add the crushed garlic. Let it bubble very gently for a minute or two to infuse the oil - do not let it catch and burn, as this will make the sauce bitter
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, dried mixed herbs, red wine and sugar. Using a sharp knife, pierce the chilli a couple of times so that it doesn't explode. Add the chilli to the pot and give several turns of the pepper mill. Mix well to combine
  • Heat the tomato sauce until it is bubbling, then reduce the heat, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 45 minutes until all of the flavours have infused. When the sauce has cooled down, remove the chilli and discard
(Preparing the spinach and the mushrooms)
  • Rinse the spinach and drain. Heat 30g butter in a heavy-based pan until bubbling. Add the spinach to the pan, then grate over some black pepper and add some salt. Add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, then stir rapidly until the leaves are just wilted. Remove from the heat
  • Slice the mushrooms finely. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a heavy-based pan and heat the oil until it begins to move. Add the mushrooms and a good pinch of black pepper, than stir-rapidly until the mushrooms are coated in oil and slightly browned. Remove from the heat

(Assembling the lasagne)
  • When the butternut squash is cool enough to touch, take a quarter and place it skin-side down onto a chopping board. With a sharp knife, remove the skin from the narrow end, and peel as much as you can away. Don't worry if you can't peel much.
  • With the skin-side on the board, slice the butternut squash into slices 3-4mm thick. Peel the skin away gently with the knife as you cut towards the board.
  • Place a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce into the base of a baking dish, so that the base is just covered. Arrange slices of butternut squash across the bottom of the dish, then scatter over some sliced mushrooms and spinach. Top with a layer of dried lasagne sheets, then repeat, layering the lasagne as you go. Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets, then spread any remaining tomato sauce over the top

(Making the white sauce)
  • Gently melt 40g butter in a heavy-based pan until it starts to bubble. Add 2 heaped dessert spoons of plain flour, and whisk into the butter. Keep whisking for a minute or two, to allow the flour to cook
  • Add the milk a splash at a time to the pan, whilst whisking continuously. Don't worry that the roux goes solid.... it will loosen eventually! Keep adding the milk and whisking, until the sauce resembles custard in its consistency. I find that a silicone whisk works well at getting rid of any lumps. Add salt and pepper if desired
(Baking the lasagne)
  • Using a ladle, spread the white sauce evenly over the lasagne, until the sheets are completely covered. Dot the top of the lasagne with cubed goat's cheese or grated cheddar and finish with a light dusting of grated parmesan

  • Bake in the oven at 195 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the lasagne is piping hot throughout. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Would be nice with a peppery green salad to cut through the richness

Butternut Squash, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Tomato Fish Pie

My middle child has a real aversion to creamy, white sauces which unfortunately means that there are several dishes that I don't make at the moment. I can sympathise - he is a miniature version of me, and I would be sick as a child if anyone tried to make me eat anything which was too heavy on the dairy. How things have changed!

Normally I would make a fish pie with a white sauce, but tonight I decided to try using a tomato sauce. I used a sauce that was packed with vegetables, but had been liquidised till smooth. If you are short of time, just use a shop-bought sauce. I would have added chopped fresh parsley to the sauce as well, if I didn't suspect it would send him running for the hills!

We ate this with sprouts fried with bacon, but only because this was what was in the fridge. Spinach would be a lovely accompaniment, as would broccoli, runner beans or peas.



  • Approx. 340g fish pie mix (salmon, smoked haddock and cod, dice into 2-3 cm cubes - you can add prawns or vary the fish)
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary)
  • 1 red chilli
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 large, floury potatoes such as maris piper
  • A few tablespoons of sweetcorn kernels (tinned or fresh is fine)
  • 30-40g butter
  • A splash of milk
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 4-5



  • Make the tomato sauce. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-based saucepan and heat very gently
  • Add the crushed garlic and let it bubble gently for a minute to infuse the oil. Do not  let the garlic catch and burn
  • Add the diced onions and increase the heat to moderate. Stir the onions in the oil for a minute or two until glossy, then add the carrots and celery. Stir for a further minute or two, then add the tinned tomatoes, red wine vinegar, mixed herbs and 6-8 good turns of the pepper mill. Mix well and bring to a simmer
  • Using a knife or skewer, poke a couple of holes into the chilli and place it in the tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes

  • While the sauce is simmering, make the mashed potato. Peel the potatoes and cut into 3-4 cm dice. Place in a pan and cover with cold water
  • Bring the water to the boil, then boil gently for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft
  • Drain the potatoes and return to the pan. Mash the potatoes roughly, then add the butter, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to mash until smooth

  • Remove the chilli from the sauce and liquidise until smooth
  • Add the sweetcorn kernels and mix into the sauce

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees fan. Place the fish pie mix into a baking dish, then pour over the tomato sauce (you will have made more than you need, aim for the sauce to only just reach the top of the fish). Mix the fish and sauce together, then arrange evenly in the base of the dish
  • Using a tablespoon, place the mash on top of the fish. Start from the outside, working your way to the centre of the dish (this will stop the sauce from spilling over the sides of the dish) until the mash is heaped fairly evenly over the fish
  • Using a fork, score and roughen up the surface of the mash to get a lovely crunchy topping
  • (Optional) Add a couple of dots of butter or grated cheese over the top of the mash
  • Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes until the fish is cooked through
  • Serve with green vegetables, simply cooked

Tomato Fish Pie

Tomato Fish Pie with Stir-Fried Sprouts and Bacon