Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Cheese and wine pairings

Now I love cheese and wine pairings and the lovely people at Aldi were kind enough to send me these to review. They have paired up with Master of Wine Sarah Jane Evans to create some cheese and wine combos. 

Now as mentioned I unfortunately am on a pretty restricted diet so I had to ensure the torture of watching my other half tuck in! I did have a tiny mouthful, all in the name of research of course ;) 

The Wensleydale with cranberries was delightful, one of my favourite cheeses and beautifully crumbly and went well with the richness of the Fletchers Ruby Port. Perfect for the Christmas table! 

My other half enjoyed the garlic and herb cheddar and said that the crisp Chardonnay was a good match. I thought it would be nice used to stuff a chicken breast before wrapping in pancetta. 

They are in store now in time for Christmas. 


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Alternative Christmas Day

It's no secret that I love Christmas but I can find that some years work and life take over and I don't get into the festivities early enough and don't make the most of Christmas spirit. I also find that most years the last few weekends running up to Christmas are spent running around the country visiting people and dropping off presents, to then spend Christmas Day just with family and not spending enough quality time with close friends. As enjoyable this is, by the time I make it to Christmas Day, I'm exhausted! So this year I decided to bring the mountain to Mohammad and start the festivities nice and early to get me in the spirit! 

So on the 1st December I hosted a full Christmas Day for my close friends and their children. Having 20+, including 5 little people, in my relatively small house was total chaos but we all had a fab time and I think it might have to become a new tradition. We all shared out the responsibilities so I only cooked the main meal, people brought starters, nibbles, puddings, chocolates and drinks with them. The day started with breakfast from 'Christmas Eve' and then more people started to arrive so we soon moved on to presents followed by Christmas lunch and an afternoon of Christmas films. We were all so busy enjoying ourselves we never got onto the board games!

I love traditions and as I get older I'm finding more and more I like to create my own, so maybe this will become a regular thing!

So the main event was of course the turkey. I used Nigella Lawson's brining method, after trying this for the first time about 5 years ago I'd never cook a turkey again without brining it. From this point on I just co the turkey in the way my nan and mum did when we were growing up. In the bottom of the roasting tin I put 6 chopped onions, the orange segments from the brine and a glass of water (normally I'd use wine but unfortunately at the moment I can't have alcohol). I then placed the turkey, breast side up, on top of the onions and carefully prised the turkey skin away from each breast. As I needed it to be dairy free I used lard but you can also use butter. You need a whole block of your chosen fat - 250g - mixed with plenty of chopped herbs, seasoning and orange and lemon zest (garlic too if you wish). I used thyme, parsley, sage and rosemary. Carefully push the herb lard/butter under the skin on top of each breast and spread out as best you can. Add additional seasoning sprinkled all over the skin of the turkey and drizzle with oil.

Cover the whole roasting tin with tin foil and put it into a hot oven pre-heated to 240 C, after 10 minutes turn the overnight down to 180C and cook the turkey according to the butcher/packages instructions (this will vary according to size and type of turkey (eg Kelly's Bronze tend to need less time). You can baste the turkey with the juices from the tin every 30 mins or so, but be carefully to carefully reseal the foil. About 30 minutes before it is due to be cooked remove the foil to allow the skin to crisp up. The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear, particularly from the leg/thigh which will taken longer to cook than the breast. Cover the turkey in tin foil and clean tea towels and allow to rest.

I also cooked a gammon. Again I brined this using the same brining recipe I used for the turkey above and then cooked it according to this recipe from Nigella. If I do say so myself it was delicious! I was very pleased to have leftovers that's for sure. I left the garlic and onion out of the cooking water as I'm not able to eat these at the moment.

This was served with spiced red cabbage, roasted root vegetables with sausages, braised bacon brussel sprouts (without the basil), the best ever roast potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing made by scooping the onions that cooked under the turkey into a frying pan, adding some additional sage and a packet of Paxo's sage and onion stuffing, you could easily make your own with bread crumbs but this is how my nan always made it and old habits die hard!

As I'm fairly limited in what I can eat at the moment I roasted a few of the carrots and parsnips separately for me and cooked some kale as I can't eat cabbage and sprouts. Instead of gravy I just had a little homemade chicken stock poured over my meat. A good low FODMAP alternative for those who are limited.

For pudding we had a massive selection, unfortunately I don't have a photo of everything
- a profiterole wreath filled with cream and served with a toffee sauce
- a banoffee pie
- Tom Kerridge's bread and butter pudding
- alternative mince pies
- Christmas cookies

Alternative Christmas Eve

As I'd decided to host 'Christmas Day' for my friends and their children it only seemed sensible to have an alternative Christmas Eve the night before.

A group of the girls and I had already planned a night out starting at my house so I made some mulled cider to warm us up in the afternoon, followed by a selection of cocktails with plenty of nibbles, nachos and a warming chilli con carne to soak up the alcohol before we headed out for a few more grown up lemonades! 

The cocktails were all served in different ways with glasses and decorations to suit the drink. Everyone seemed to have a favourite but they all seemed to go down well! 

Most of the nibbles I bought but I did make the mini rosemary roasted potato canapés. 

The chilli con carne is a recipe I've been perfecting over the years, originally based on one my mum made us as children but spiced up over the years until it has now become (in my humble opinion) near perfect! This time I made it with just minced beef but I do also like to use just stewing beef or a mixture of stewing beef and minced beef. 

In the morning I served my favourite pikelets with a variety of jams and Buck's Fizz made from the leftover Prosecco. 


Mulled cider
Serves 8

2 litres of cider
10 cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
5 cardamom
1/2 nutmeg
5 whole peppercorns 
1 tbsp honey
1 whole orange cut into quarters
1/2 lemon cut into quarters

1. Earlier in the day place all of the ingredients into a large pan and place over a medium heat to warm through
2. Bring to a very gentle simmer for 2-3 minutes and turn off the heat
3. Leave the mixture to infuse for at least an hour until your guests arrive
4. When your guests arrive bring the cider back to just below the boil and strain into festive mugs
Top tip: for an extra kick add one shot of Cointreau or I used this Arancello I always like to make for Christmas. 

Roast potato canapés
Serves 8 as part of a selection

500g mini new potatoes (the smaller the better)
2 springs of rosemary
Rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
1 tbsp water

1. In a saucepan place all of the ingredients and put over a medium heat with the lid on
2. As the potatoes start to make a noise and brown turn the heat low
3. Every few minutes shake the pan trying to leave the lid on as much as possible as you want to collation of steam to cook the potatoes. 
4. After 15 minutes use a sharp knife to test if the potatoes are cooked through. If they aren't pop the lid back on for a bit longer, continuing to shake every so often. If they aren't golden brown turn up the heat slightly, shaking occasionally, until they are. 
5. Sprinkle with a little more salt and serve with cocktail sticks. 

Cocktails - Pomegranate Sparkle
Serves 4

1 tbsp pomegranate seeds
100ml vodka 
200ml pomegranate juice drink
A bottle of your favourite pink fizz
Hundred and thousands sprinkles (optional)

1. Best served in a flute, take each flute and first dip the rim in a little water or egg white followed by a plate of the sprinkles to create a fun rim. 
2. In each glass put a few pomegranate seeds 
3. In a cocktail shaker place the vodka, pomegranate juice and a scoop of ice and shake well. Carefully share between each glass being careful not to disturb the decorate rim
4. Carefully top each glass with pink fizz and serve

Cocktails - Winter Mojito
Serves 4 

8 blackberries
200ml dark rum
4 springs of mint 
2 limes
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 limes cut into wedges
Soda water

In a cocktail shaker muddle the blackberries, mint, lime and sugar. Add the rum and ice and shake well

Pour into tall glasses, top with soda water and ice. I used some ice cubes which were in a long 'stirrer' shape and as they melted from the bottom they actually started to look like icicles!

Cocktails - Gingerbread
Serves 4

200ml vodka
100ml apple cider
100ml ginger ale
1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Cinnamon mixed with granulated sugar for the rims (optional)
4 slices of apple (optional)

In a cocktail shaker add the vodka, ice, cinnamon and vanilla and shake well.

Take 4 glasses and dip each in egg white or water and then into the cinnamon sugar mix.

Carefully pour the vodka mixture in, top each with the cider and ginger ale and place a slice of apple on the side of each glass.

Cocktails - Caribbean winter warmer
Serves 4

100ml dark rum
100ml coconut rum
200ml coconut milk
A pinch of nutmeg

Place all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Decorate the rims of the glass with cinnamon sugar as above and then carefully pour the rum mixture into each of the glasses.

Chilli Con Carne
Serves 8

1kg beef mince
3 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tin kidney beans
2 beef stock cubes
1 green pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chilli powder (or more or less to taste)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
250 ml red wine

Start by browning the beef in large lidded pan, add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes.
Add the spices and continue to cook for about 5 minutes
Add the red wine and scrape all of the goodness off the bottom of the pan.
Add the tinned tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato purée, stock cubes and cocoa along with a tin full of water. Stir well and turn the heat down. Put the lid on and cook for 1-2 hours stirring occasionally. If it starts to stick add some water.
Add the chopped green pepper and cook for another 20 mins.
Serve with boiled rice and shredded iceberg lettuce.


Mexico City Review - A Winter Sun Interlude

For anyone lucky enough to be heading off to Mexico this year for some Winter Sun can I suggest extending your break and including a little jaunt to Mexico City? 

I was out in Mexico in October for a friends wedding and am really pleased we ventured to Mexico City. We spent part of the holiday on the Mayan Rivera (the eastern coast between Cancun and Tulum) and part in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. 

Anyone who knows me knows that all inclusive ubiquitous hotels which pump all of their profit out of the host country are not my idea of an idillic holiday, but for one reason or another that is where I ended up and to be honest, whilst I don't want to make it a regular occurrence, it was better than I expected. 

Anyway, I digress, as a result of ended up in all inclusive hotels, I can't comment too much on the food on the coast but I can recommend the place we did eat. Having visited the beautiful Mayan ruins, which nestle the coast at Tulum we explained to a local that we didn't want tourist food and asked a where they would eat. We were directed to a little seafood restaurant called El Camello in the centre of Tulum (a few miles from the ruins) which was little more than a garage or shop open to the road with a few tables and chairs. They also acted as the local fishmonger. I was fascinated watching the huge array of enormous fish being brought in, cleaned and filleted on the metal counters. We only wanted a light lunch and so simply ordered 'grilled fish' not being sure what to expect but we weren't disappointed. First they brought some tortilla crisps and a variety of salsa, guacamole and lime which were all delicious. Shortly after this was joined by a very generous portion of grilled, filleted white fish, rice, refried beans and salad. The fish was melt in the mouth and cooked to perfection, all for about £4!


In Mexico City though it was a different story. We regularly ate out and whilst the quality and prices varied wildly (not always in the direction you'd expect) there are a few places worth a mention. Mexico City is big, noisy, dirty and chaotic but I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed it. We were staying just off Zocalo (the main square) which would have originally been the Mayan city and housed the Temple Mejor (the excavation project can be visited). The square is now dominated by a large cathedral which I believe was created out of some of the stones of the original Mayan temples. We stayed in the Hampton Inn (as we were using Hilton points) which is a former monastery and a fantastic hotel, couldn't fault it! 


Around Zocalo, like any major tourist area there is a vast mixture of good and bad restaurants and cafes. A few I would recommend are:

- Cafe de Tacuba This former nunnery is more of a restaurant than a cafe and is beautiful inside, stained glass windows and painted tiles and a very traditional feel. It is very lively and had bands walking around the tables and playing requests. We had chicken with a mole sauce (a traditional chilli and cocoa sauce) and enchiladas. My main criticism is that you could get food of a similar quality far cheaper. In my mind this is a place to go for the atmosphere. Mains around £7 
- El Cuatro 20 ;This was a basic canteen style restaurant, served on plastic plates, but very good value for money. We ended up there twice. They also do takeaway. The Pork Pibil is very good as is the Half Roast Chicken. Arguably the best value food me had whilst were were there. Mains around £3

- El Cardenal ;There are three branches in the city and we went to the one on Palma. It has several floors and the rooms are quite different. It is more of a formal restaurant but still good value for money, probably around £15 a head for 2 courses and water. To start I had a chicken soup with a traditional Mexican leaf and my main was a steak cooked in a tomato and bone marrow sauce, though delicious I did have slight food envy of the slow cooked lamb which was served with braised cactus leaves. 

Not exactly food related but visit El Palacios de Hierro department store is well worth a visit. Its a beautiful store 

By far the best food we had in Mexico was from this Argentina grill. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and the service impeccable. For around £15 a head the buffet was brilliant value. The description buffet doesn't do it justice. They brought out a variety of freshly baked empanadas, breads and tarts which were all delicious and then asked what meat we would like on the grill. The grill can be seen from outside so we asked for a mixture and watched it being cooked. The steak was tender, tasty and cooked to perfection, the various sausages were tasty and meaty. I braved the intestines but I really wasn't keen on the flavour at all. I love steak so my next sentence is also a surprise to me, but the star of the show was the vegetables. There was a buffet where you could take your pick of hot and cold vegetables and salad and also choose soups and pasta to be cooked in front of you. If I had to pick my two favourites were a dish of braised large spring onions which had become caramelised and luscious and a cold pickle mixture of carrots and onions. The balance of flavours was just divine and I would love to try and recreate such a master at home. 


- La Buena Tierra ;we chose to have a herbal tea here to rest one day. It is one of several in the city and focuses on natural food. It was a shame we had eaten as the food looked of a good standard. I also would suggest trying some of their neighbours as the whole area had too many nice looking cafes to choose! 


Coyacan is a bit south of the city, near San Angel and one of the more fashionable areas. For me, Coyacan itself was a little too gentrified but Francisco Sosa, the road joining San Angel to Coyacan was beautiful perfect for wandering down on a warm day to escape the hustle and bustle of Mexico City for a while. 

- Nib Chocolate ;Is a delightful little chocolate shop. I particularly liked the chilli chocolates and the chocolate tortuga or turtles. They were made from 5 pecan nuts, a blob of toffee and a dollop of chocolate to form the shape of a turtle, very cute! 
- Cafe at the Instituto Italiano - we'd read about this tiny cafe but almost missed it as it looks more like a college that wouldn't be open to the public. After an exchange with the security guard in broken Spanish we were waved through to a beautiful garden and an oasis of calm to have the best coffee we found in Mexico and a wonderful slice of Nutella torte 

- being in Mexico we also had to take advantage of the churros with plenty of chocolate sauce injected into it. 

- washed down with a coffee from Cafe El Jarocho 

La Merced

When in a new country I always like to check out the food markets. They are a fascinating way to find out more about a countries food and culture and La Merced, Mexcio City was no exception. The fruit and veg was particularly interesting and the meat stalls were piled up with tripe. 

A Note on Bakeries 

The bakeries were fascinating, in fact almost everywhere we went the desserts were very impressive looking, but in my experience that's where it ends. Even in the higher places the desserts and pastries were style over substance and lacked flavour. I'm sure people will disagree with me but that's what I found. Having said that I'll still include a couple of photos as they were very impressive 

A Note on Cantina's

If you fancy a drink or two it's likely you will end up in a Cantina. These are Mexico's answer to the pub but with one fabulous twist, for every drink you order you get brought food. So if you have 4 drinks it is likely you will get some form of canapés, a starter, a main and a dessert. They often have minimum drink orders and might be slightly more expensive than drinks elsewhere but still a very good deal when you include the food. 

A Note on Street Food 

Unfortunately having picked up an infection when I was last in India and still not being fully recovered I couldn't risk getting sick again so street food and any uncooked fruit/vegetables were off the menu for me, to be replaced by antibacterial handwash and wipes. The food did look incredible though, extremely good value and in the main the hygiene standards seemed good, having said that some of our friends who had been eating street food both ended up in hospital very poorly so please be careful! 

Budget Friendly Healthy Eggs in a Tomato Sauce

As part of the The Trussell Trust's Three Pound Challenge I was asked if I could create a meal for two for less than £3. This is the sort of challenge I love and as my goal is to eat clean, healthy food I jumped at the chance to prove this could be achieved on a relatively modest budget. Eggs are the cheapest source of good protein so seemed the obvious choice! 

This meal is ideal for a healthy, budget friendly supper when you're in a hurry, as it's quick and easy to make. 


2tsp oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tin supermarket economy chopped tomatoes
1 stock cube (I like beef best with tomatoes but chicken or vegetable work well too)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 
1/2 bag spinach, shredded
6 free range eggs 
Salt and pepper to taste 
1/2 iceberg lettuce shredded 
One head of broccoli, cut into florets and boiled 

1. Start by gently sautéing the onion in a non stick frying pan in 1 tsp of oil. Once it starts to soften add the garlic. 
2. Add the tin of tomatoes, salt, pepper and stock cube and stir well. 
3. After a few minutes add the spinach and balsamic vinegar. Stir and allow the spinach to wilt. 
4. Once the spinach has wilted use the back of a spoon to make 6 wells in the sauce and gently break an egg into each well. Cover the frying pan with a lid or large plate until the egg white is cooked but the yolk is still runny (cook the yolk all the way through for anyone old, young, pregnant or sick). 
5. Serve with shredded iceberg lettuce coated with a little more oil and the cooked broccoli. 



Tinned tomatoes 31p
Onion 13p
Garlic 5p
Oil 3p
Balsamic vinegar 3p
Stock cube 12.5p
Spinach 50p
Eggs 92p
Salt 1p 
Pepper 2p
Lettuce 25p
Broccoli 60p

Total: £2.96 

Prices correct as of 27th November based on actual amounts used

The Trussell Trust, a UK based food bank charity that is currently doing some incredible work in the community to help families who are on the bread line.  You can find a little bit more information about what they do here:http://www.trusselltrust.org/