Sunday, 30 December 2012

Do I Love Christmas? (Indeed I Do!)

Well it's all over with for another year, and I've had such a wonderful Christmas I thought I'd do something different with a little round up post. I've been run off my feet since September with my new class. I'm in my 2nd year teaching at a fantastic school now - I taught Reception for 6 months, then Y6 for 6 months, then I was given my own Y3 class for the whole year. I've really tried to throw myself into work since starting and it's paying off. I'm enjoying work and reeping the rewards of getting to know the kids and staff really well. 

However, we finished school on the 21st and I decided to try and treat myself to a little break. I've socialised with my friends, had quality time with my family, had lazy days watching films and cookery programmes, did my Christmas shopping and all in all felt like an actual real life normal person!

The first highlight of this festive season was the get together I had with my friends for a meal. We always try to organise one but it often ends up falling through as it's so hard to get us all together. So this year Clur and Jeni, who've recently moved into a flat together, offered to cook. They served us a proper old fashioned roast with trimmings to please all! Highlights were the pigs in blanket so delicately hand wrapped, and the juicy chicken. We all had a right laugh and suggestions of a come dine with me style cook off were even bandied around. Ooo I'll have to think about that one... it's not like I have my fictitious CDWM menu already planned out in my head... I've never even thought about it... at all.

Every year we have a right good knee's up in Wigan town centre on 'Mad Friday' - the last Friday before Christmas. I know it's not everyone's bag and everywhere's rammed, but we've never failed to have a cracking night. You've finished work, been paid and the there's always a good atmosphere. This year was no exception. This is us in Bentleys - our favourite bar. I've been going there 8 years now and even have a 'usual'! So proud

And finally the big day arrived. My sister is a nurse and was working half 7 - half 12 so my parents and I started the day without her. We went and surprised my Nan who thought she'd be home alone until she went to my Aunty's later. Then we came back and had a laugh watching Only Fools and Horses and getting the dinner sorted. After a visit from my Grandma it was time for the main event. My mum did us proud as usual. Everything was top notch. Especially the gravy, which I think makes the Christmas dinner. It gives it that taste that sets it apart from just your ordinary roast. I did say that I wanted to make it next year as I think I could do with the practice and it's a lot of work for my mum. We shall see if she relinquishes control though - I can't imagine it!

Oooo, close up.

After dinner we shared our presents. I've got to say I was a little annoyed by this point at the amount of smug bragging on facebook about presents. And I didn't bite by tongue about it. I really don't mind people being thankful for their presents and appreciating what they have been bought, but some of what I saw was just disgusting. Pictures of just a designer label on its own and the word 'Spoilt.' underneath. Not even a picture of whatever the present was! Just 'be jealous please'. We're all supposed to be impressed that someone can spend a lot of money on something, regardless of how much thought was actually put into it. I even saw pictures of just wads of cash people had been given! People who complain about their family all year! How vulgar is that?? I just think some people needed reminding that Christmas should be about the joy of giving and sharing and having special memories with your loved one. Not showing off and saying 'spoilt, spoilt, spoilt' like a big grown up brat!

Phew, glad I've got that one out, felt like I had to explain my little Christmas day rant!

Anyway, I was so excited to give presents to my mum, dad and sister, and I received some lovely thoughtful ones too. I was particularly excited to give my sister these sunglasses, as I'd been sneaky and found them on a wishlist she'd made on pinterest and she wasn't expecting them at all! The look on her face was priceless! Little Christmas shopping hint for any lads struggling out there next year; check your missus's pinterest!

In the evening Gav came round so that we could swap our presents. He'd really thought hard about each present and I was well chuffed with what I got. Whenever we stay at a hotel I always emerge from the bathroom wearing the free shower cap for a cheap laugh, and he got me my very own Cath Kidston one as can be seen modelled here. I love it, and have used it already! Cute AND practical! He also got me the Ministry of Sound 90's Dance Anthems CD which is right up my street and I've had some right old raves to it - WHY isn't there an old school dance night round here?? He got me a new leather jacket and Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters on DVD - I've watched one episode and it was hilarious. And I got 'Oliver!' on DVD which was my favourite childhood film =) He also tracked me down some Nocellara Olives which I had once at Piccolino's in Chester. They. Are. Scrummy. After visiting Gav's parents and coming back to a couple of 'Lost' episodes Christmas was over for another year. Well almost...

In Wigan, it's a tradition for everyone to go out on Boxing Day in fancy dress. I've no idea how it started, but this was my 8th year and I LOVE IT. It's a night out like you've never had before. Everyone's your best mate and you have an immediate talking point with anyone you bump into. You can spend ages just looking round at everyone's weird and wonderful costumes. Plus, the best night in the world ever - Northern Lights, do a special night and it's always excellent. This year was actually the funniest, daftest, bestest one yet. Roll on number 9!

Hope everyone reading had a fantastic Christmas, if you celebrate it, and wishing you all a happy and healthy new year!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Seafood Restaurant - Part of Rick Stein's Padstow Empire

I do apologise for the length of time it's taken me to get this post up. Life got in the way in the form of our Y6 production of 'Joseph's Technicolour Dream Coat' (fantastic, I was very proud), Kendal Calling (foody review coming soon) and the Summer Holidays, which have involved me spending pretty much every day at school sorting out my new classroom (exciting!).

Anyway, my last set of posts were about my trip to Cornwall in the Yurt, and I mentioned how on the last day Gav surprised me with a booking at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. We had only managed to get a table at half 9, so we had plenty of time to spend wandering round the coastal town. There was also ample parking opposite the impressive looking restaurant which was handy.

It was a clear, sunny evening and Padstow was a beautiful place to while away a couple of hours. We had a little walk around the beach and explored the pretty little shops. We noticed lots of other lovely looking places to eat and had to have an extreme battle of self control when outside the many chippys and the smell of freshly battered fish wafted over to us! We settled in a spot in the marina, admiring the boats, reading and watching families catching crabs in the waters.

After a drink in The Old Custom House while watching the Euros (I can't remember the teams, I remember Jelavic was playing and that's about it!) we wandered over to the restaurant for the main event. We were greeted by our waitress, who stayed with us all evening, and were seated straight away at a table near the bar. When booking Gav had requested a window seat but there mustn't have been any available at such short notice. The waitress had a friendly chat with us about where we were from and assured us that she would answer any questions about the menu. I was planning on ordering the Fruit de Mer, having read excellent reviews on it, and wanting to truly experience the seafood they had on offer. I admitted that I was a little worried about how to go about eating it. The waitress was very understanding and didn't make me feel out of place or stupid for asking such a question. She said that she'd be here to help and show me how to use the tools, and also recommended the Hot Shellfish dish for me.

Before our starters arrived we were served a complementary appetiser, which I'm afraid I didn't get a picture of and can't remember what it was! It was a lovely little mouthful anyway and very exciting for me as I'd never been anywhere that did this before!

Our starters arrived and we tucked in. Gav ordered the Half Shell Queen Scallops from The Isle of Man ‘A La Plancha’ with Noisette Butter. He really enjoyed them and wolfed them down without even offering me one! The butter looked really tasty and the dish was presented beautifully.

I took the waitress' advice and went for the Hot Shellfish. Before I received my dish I was practically given a tool belt of implements with which to attack my seafood! Nerves mounting, I tucked in to my plate of langoustines, oysters, clams, razor clam, scallop, winkles, mussels, whelks, crab claw and cockles, all served hot in parsley, chilli, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. This dish definitely deserves an extra large picture so feast your eyes on this:

It was absolutley exquisite. The best seafood I've ever had. It was fresh, tasty and delicate, set off beautifully by the garlic and chilli. The scallop was meaty and satisfying, and the clams and winkles were bubbly little morsels of saltiness. I'd never had an oyster before and, although I enjoyed it, I really didn't see the big deal with them. I was surprised by the whelks, another new one on me, they were like big juicy snails - dead yummy. I did find the crab very difficult to get into and eventually our waitress came over and offered to get the chef to 'give it a little whack with a hammer', which I was very grateful for! I would love to go back here just for this dish; without doubt the best starter I've ever had.

For my main course I did really want to try the Lobster Thermidor but felt it was just too dear after having had an expensive starter; maybe another time. I ended up going for the 'Indonesian Seafood Curry with Monkfish, Squid and Prawns'. The seafood in this dish was, again, fresh and well cooked, and the the sauce was rich and creamy. I really enjoyed the side dish of green beans with grated coconut, fried shallots, garlic and chilli. It was a different from anything I've had with a curry before and was very crispy and moreish. Gav had the 'Local Cod, Chips and Tartare Sauce' which he said was excellent. I'm glad they're not afraid to put this kind of traditional fare on the menu, as done well it is a truly exquisite British standard that can really show off freshly caught fish.

I really would recommend this restaurant, and indeed the town of Padstow for a visit. The food really did justice to the towns fishing industry and the staff were some of the friendliest and pleasantly non-pretentious bunch I've ever met. We will definitly return if ever in the area and it has inspired me to try more restaurants that specialise in seafood; next on the list - Loch Fyne restaurant in Knutsford!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Sweet Potato Tortilla with Cheese, Onion and Tomato - A Camping Friendly Recipe

The tortilla is the ideal camping recipe; more substantial than an omelette, making good use of simple ingredients, and all done in one frying pan over a stove. I did finish this one off under a grill due to the inclusion of cherry tomatoes on top with a sprinkling of cheese over. However, you can make your tortilla with any flavours you wish, using any kind of potatoes. I made on for dinner today using a couple of maris pipers, chopped up two rashers of bacon to add in, and threw in a large handful of frozen peas with thyme towards the end. You could try adding peppers and use feta cheese instead of cheddar, or think about spinach, mushroom or leeks. Use whatever you've got in and give it a go!

(served 2 for a dinner, or 1 with leftovers to eat cold later)
Olive oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
250g new potatoes, peeled (if you want) and thinly sliced
4 eggs
Handful grated cheddar cheese (plus extra for sprinkling over)
Cherry tomatoes, sliced for on top
Fresh basil
Salt and pepper

1) Heat a tbsp olive oil in a small omelette pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and both types of potato and fry for 7-8 minutes; keep stirring and turning them until tender, but not browned. Add the garlic for the last couple of minutes.
2) Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the grated cheese and salt and pepper in a large bowl.
3) Add the potato mixture to the eggs and stir. Turn the heat down to low and preheat the grill to a high heat. Pour the mixture into the pan and leave to cook undisturbed for 6-7 minutes.
4) Lift it slightly round the edges with a spatula to check it's firm.
5) Put a plate upturned on top of the pan. Carefully invert the tortilla onto the plate, then return to the pan to cook the other side for 4-5 minutes until set through.
6) If using, add your sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of cheese on top and finish under the grill. Serve with the fresh basil and a proud smile, as demonstrated.

Cheats Pizza, Sauteed Sweet Potato and Caprese Salad

This recipe (made on our recent holiday to Cornwall) is based on one from the goodfood website that claimed to be a 'no-oven' pizza. However, you can clearly see the need for the grill to melt the cheese and finish off the pizza at the end, so it's a good job our camping stove came with a grill underneath. Not sure what you'd do otherwise.

I made pizza before using a ciabatta mix, which was quite successful. But last time I attempted it, the oven just didn't seem to be hot enough and the dough wasn't cooked through while the topping was becoming burnt. So I was a little wary of this recipe and was really pleased when it turned out so well. The base had a real crisp bite to it and was so simple to make, with no waiting around for the dough to rise. We'll definitely be trying these again with different toppings. 

Here I added in courgette for some extra veg, and served it with a caprese salad and sauteed sweet potato. We had originally wanted to bake the potatoes on our barbecue but Gav couldn't get it lit and Spencer the friendly dog was doing his head in so that was swerved. A happy accident really as the potatoes were really delicious.

(Serves 4)
225g self-raising flour
3 tbsp olive oil , plus extra for frying

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion , sliced
3 garlic cloves , crushed
1 courgette, sliced
250g pack cherry tomatoes , halved
4 tbsp passata
Fresh basil leaves 
1 ball mozzarella, torn up into bite size pieces

Salad and Sides:
1 ball mozzarella, torn up into bite size pieces
Tomatoes, sliced 
3 sweet potatoes, cubed
Greek yoghurt, to serve

1) Heat 1tsp oil in a frying pan, then add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 mins. Add the sliced courgette after 3 minutes. Tip in tomatoes and passata, and simmer for 5-10 mins or until the tomatoes are soft. Remove from the heat, stir in some chopped basil, season, then set aside in a bowl to cool.

2) Put the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the olive oil then add 6-7 tbsp warm water or enough to make a soft dough. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to fit a 22cm frying pan or make 2 small ones.

3) Begin to saute the sweet potatoes in a little butter and olive oil over a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes, until softened and coloured. Serve when the pizza is ready, with a blob of Greek yoghurt.

4) Heat a glug of olive oil in the frying pan, then press the dough into the pan and cook over a medium heat for 8-10 mins or until the base is golden. 

5) While the dough is cooking prepare the caprese salad by arranging 1 of the balls of torn up mozzarella onto a plate with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil. Drizzle with olive oil and season. I sometimes like to add sliced avocado for a tricolore salad. Or you can blend the basil together with the olive oil using a hand blender, to create a tasty basil oil to drizzle over.

6) Heat grill to hot. Spread the pizza base with the tomato sauce, scatter on the rest of the mozzarella and grill until it has melted and the base is golden at the edges.

Elements Italian Restaurant, Widemouth Bay, Cornwall

On the first night of our recent yurting adventure to Cornwall, we decided to drive to the local town of Bude. The strong winds, however, got the better of us and we decided to drive back and stop for our evening meal at a restaurant that had caught our eye on the way. Elements is very glossy looking; mostly white with pink and lime green highlights - not what I would choose, and not what I'd expect of an Italian restaurant, but it looked modern and squeaky clean. It has a fantastic location with sea views overlooking Widemouth Bay, and I'm sure we could have taken advantage of the tranquil outdoor eating area... had the weather not looked like this: 

Gav enjoying the Stella 4 on tap
After a couple of laps around the building looking for the door (due to the wind the main door wasn't safe, so we had to use a small entrance round the back) we were welcomed in by smiley staff, and truly beautiful smells wafting around the place. Their smiles fell though when we admitted we hadn't booked. I always forget to think about this when on holiday, because we'll often just choose on the day, usually less than an hour beforehand. They said that unfortunately we'd have to wait until around half 9 (over 2 hours away) or they could offer us a seat at the bar. We were willing to sit at the bar until a waiter dashed over and said they could squeeze us onto a table for two as long as we were finished by half 8. This was fine by us and it was really nice of them to make the effort for us, considering how busy they were.

We had already sneaked a look on the menu when travelling (what did we do before iPhones?) so could order quickly. I had bruschetta to start; very traditional with firm juicy tomatoes, sharp red onions and good quality balsamic. There was a little too much olive oil for me, as you can see it was practically swimming in a pool of it. Not a major problem though, so a light and fresh start to the meal.

For my main course I had Chicken Saltimbocca which was a chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto ham and stuffed with mozzarella and sage, in a marsala and cream sauce. I chose this despite having previously not enjoyed a marsala based tomatoey sauce in a restaurant back home. Thankfully this sauce was much better; rich and buttery, and complimented the chicken well.
We retired to the bar area to finish our drinks in case they wanted our table earlier. The service throughout was really friendly and helpful and the food seemed authentic and made with care. Definitely recommended if you're in the area, just make sure you book if it's the weekend.

Holiday Round Up; Yurts and Culinary Adventures in Cornwall

I'm back! I forgot to mention I was going on holiday so I'm telling you now, I'm sure you'll get over it. I only went to Cornwall for a few days but I've been busy with school and summer fayres and reports and paperworkpaperworkpaperwork since I've been back! So I'm writing my round up post a few days late.

I went to stay in a sort of luxury tent called a yurt. Having been to many music festivals, I'm used to the most basic of camping; think one step up from roughing it. So I was really excited to get the chance to be close to nature, do the whole campfire cooking thing, but with the safety, comfort and facilities the yurt had to offer.

We stayed at Pencuke Farm, which is near Bude. The family run business also included a farm shop and some holiday cottages. It was a lovely little place, surrounded by stunning views, with chickens running round, and excellent guest facilities in their 'barn' including showers, fridge/freezers, a microwave and books/games.

As always, for me the most important part of any holiday is food. So I'll be giving a brief run down of what we did but mostly concentrating on the food we cooked/enjoyed at restaurants. Any recipes or restaurant reviews will feature in separate posts which will be linked to along the way.

Thurs 7th June
We drove down when Gav finished work on the Thursday, and stopped at a B&B to break up the long journey from Wigan to Cornwall. We arrived at the Days Inn in Bristol at around 10.30pm. Our room was very large, clean and comfortable and I enjoyed some lovely service station style, over priced treats...

Fri 8th June
We set off at 10.00am for the yurt. Stopping at services for a £5 breakfast bap (sausage, egg and bacon); nothing to write home about and obviously not worth the money. We then stopped at Morrisons in Bude for our food for the weekend. I'd planned our meals before hand (being the good food blogger that I am) and purposefully tried to use similar ingredients and camping friendly recipes were obviously necessary. Here is my minimalist shopping list:
  • Fruit
  • Aubergine
  • Courgette
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • New potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bread
  • Self raising flour
  • Eggs
  • Basil (plant)
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Greek yoghurt
  • Butter
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Jar of passata
  • Olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper

We were greeted at the yurt with a cream tea, which was very welcome after a long drive, and were shown around the farm. Here is our yurt and, the bit I was interested in, the cooking facilities.
After unpacking we went for a little walk in Bude but eventually gave up against the very strong winds that hit the south coast last week. We had seen an Italian restaurant on the way there that looked like it had lovely sea views of Widemouth Bay, so we stopped for our evening meal. Please see the short review here.

We fancied a drink at the pub that evening but one problem we did find on this holiday was its location did not lend itself well to this activity. It was a 5 minute drive or a 45 minute walk to the 3 nearest pubs. We tried to ring 'Trev's Taxis' but as he was based in Bude he said he'd have to charge us from there; £15 each way! Unwilling to pay £30 for a trip to the pub we declined, and it meant Gav had to just go for one and drive. We did enjoy coming back to the yurt and getting nice and cosy, with a couple of drinks and 'Lost' on netflix (on the iPhone).

Saturday 9th June
On Saturday Gav woke up to find me happily whipping up his 'brunch'. We had a sweet potato tortilla with cheese and tomato. This tasted light and fresh and is an ideal camping recipe. It would be very easy to do in one frying pan just on the stove if you did a different flavour (I used the grill for the sliced tomatoes and cheese on the top). Do click here for the recipe.
We spent the afternoon in Crackington Haven watching the surfers from the beach, then we wandered into Bude to look round the touristy shops. I found a treasure trove of a material shop called 'The Remnant House', I would love it to be near here for my creative blog!

For our evening meal we decided to cook again. On tonight's menu was Vegetable Pizza, Caprese Salad and Sauteed Sweet Potato. We'd planned to have whole sweet potatoes baked in tin foil on the BBQ Pencuke provided, however Gav clearly wasn't macho enough to light it so sauteed it was! The pizza was a great success though, especially considering it was cooked entirely on the hob and just finished under the grill for a couple of minutes. Get the recipe here happy campers!
That night we watched Portugal v Germany in a pub in Bude, then got back to the log fire again!

Sunday 10th June
This morning's brunch was baked eggs with ratatouille. Hearty stuff that set us up for the day. Click here for the really simple recipe.
 We spent most of Sunday at the Eden Project which was really impressive. There was loads to see and it was nice to just wander round taking in the surroundings. The domes were also dead interesting and not like anything I'd ever seen before. However the weather wasn't great so I'm not sure we got our moneys worth as it is pretty expensive. We had to have a bit of sustenance at around 3pm as we were only eating our tea very late at half 9. ('Why?' you ask? You shall soon see. ) We ate at the cafe that was in between the two main domes. It was a buffet style service - you chose a main component then could go and add your salads and potatoes on, all for a fiver. Luckily though, because we were eating later we only paid £2.50 each for this lot! Yum!
Aaaaand finally! After a long day we drove to Padstow on our way home. This is a picturesque seaside town that has become well known in the food world as the home to the ever growing Rick Stein empire; this includes *deep breath* a restaurant, a bistro, a cafe, a chippy, a pub, a cookery school, a deli, a gift shop and a fishmongers!

So, as a special holiday treat, and while we'd cooked a lot of our own food, Gav surprised me by taking me to The Seafood Restaurant! Very posh and very exciting! Please do read the review here!

Monday 11th June 
The next morning we checked out the yurt at 10am and drove to Boscastle which was another stunningly pretty village. The reason we went here was to buy family presents and to visit the Museum of Witchcraft, which I found dead dead interesting and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. I also had a fish and chip dinner to takeaway from The Old Manor House. It was expensive but worth it with crispy batter, fresh fish and thick tasty chips. A satisfying end to the holiday, and good fodder for the looonnnng journey home.

Overall - a fantastic holiday and a great experience. I would recommend a yurt to anyone attracted to the idea of camping but not the sleeping on the ground/weather dependent side of it. We visited some lovely places and I'd definitely like to visit both Padstow and Boscastle again for a little longer, as they were so picturesque but I don't feel like we saw all they had to offer in the short time.

Make sure you follow the links in this post for reviews and recipes!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Spinach, Pea and Broad Bean Tart

I've been wanting to make a tart for ages, especially with all the lovely spring greens in season at the moment. With that in mind I nipped down to the various veg shops in the village the other day with a hankering for asparagus to use as the star ingredient in a lovely seasonal tart. Alas, however, it was not meant to be. There were none to be found and I had to make do with what needed using up; lots of spinach, frozen peas and some frozen broad beans.

First you'll need to line a lightly greased baking tin/pie dish with shortcrust pastry. You can make your own using the instructions here or buy it ready made. Don't worry about having to patch bits up as most of it is hidden and I think a rustic edge always looks far more appetising. This then needs blind baking for around 20minutes, as demonstrated here.

You will need:
A tin lined with shortcrust pastry, blind baked
3 eggs
100 ml double cream
Large bunch spinach
100 g frozen peas
100g frozen broad beans
200g grated cheddar
Grated parmesan
Pinch of salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

1) While the pastry is blind baking wash the spinach and add to a pan with a drop of olive oil. Add the peas and broad beans, then cover and let cook on a very low heat for 10mins, then drain.

2) Whisk the eggs with the cream and some Parmesan cheese until light and fluffy. Add a touch of salt, white pepper and nutmeg and mix well.

3) Remove the semi cooked pie shell from the oven, spread two thirds of your grated cheese over the pie shell, then layer the spinach mix over the cheese. Sprinkle with more cheese. Pour the egg and cream mixture evenly over the entire pie. Go mad and grate some more cheese over the top. Ah go on, you only live once.

4) Place in the oven at 180°C for 25-30 minutes.

This tart was really rich and crammed full of tasty veg. It was enjoyed both hot and cold and lasted a couple of days of snacks and dinners. It really hit the spot. I can't wait to make more tarts now I've got this basic recipe. What are your favourite tart fillings?

Basic Skills: Shortcrust Pastry

After making shortcrust pastry for the first time in ages, I thought I'd share the recipe with you as part of my Basic Skills posts. This batch was really successful; resulting in a crisp, rich pastry case for my Spinach, Pea and Broad Bean Tart.

You will need: 

8 oz of flour 
4 oz of butter (cut into cubes and at room temperature) 
Pinch of salt 
3 tbsp of milk
1 egg

1) Sieve the flour into a large bowl, and add a pinch of salt.  Make a hole in the centre of the flour, crack the egg into it and scatter the cubes of butter around the edge
2) Add up to three tablespoons of milk and then start working all the ingredients into dough. Work the dough for about three minutes, roll into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and leave chill in the fridge.
3) This is ideal for both sweet and savoury tarts. Just roll out on a lightly floured surface (make sure your hands are cold to prevent getting into a sticky mess). Cover your (lightly greased) pie dish in it, patch up any holes so your filling doesn't escape. Lightly prick the case all along the bottom with a fork.

4) To blind bake your case, tear off a large square of greaseproof paper and place on top. Fill you case with baking beans or failing that dried peas or lentils or whatever else you can lay your hands on. I've seen Heston use pennies so, after checking it was safe, I used teaspoons. I'm hoping to invest in some porcelain baking beans soon. Bake in the oven for 20mins

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Antonio's, Ormskirk

Last weekend Gav and I had some really good job-related news to celebrate and decided to do it in style (NB: for 'style', please read 'Ormskirk'). We meandered the streets for a short while with a half formed plan to go to 'Piri Piri' that neither of us were very excited about. It then started to rain and nothing had really captured our interest, plus most places were really busy and we'd have struggled to get a table having not booked. We were thinking of giving up and going home when we almost walked past a little place called 'Antonios' that neither of us had heard of or even noticed before.

On entering we were greeted by an excitable gent whom I presume is the eponymous owner. Despite our late arrival Antonio did his best to seat us, and even opened up a part of the restaurant that had been cleared away. It did mean we didn't exactly have the best seat in the house, but our surroundings were pleasant and the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial.

We were presented with some rather large laminated menus, which caused a minor problem when combined with the romantic tea light table setting. Yes, I proceeded to set fire to my menu. Luckily the rapidly expanding flame was spotted early and a full blown crisis was averted, much to the relief of my heavily blushing self.

I plumped for the Bruschetta Valter to start; after being severely disappointed by some I had sampled at a Frankie and Benny's recently, I had quite the craving for it. I also was aware that I was having a filling pasta for my main course and am well known for 'eyes-bigger-than-belly' syndrome, so I felt this would be just right. It really was. The tomatoes were fresh and juicy and the crumbled goats cheese made for a richer, more satisfying, salty topping, than your usual mozzarella. It tasted really authentic and I was so pleased with my choice. My interest was piqued and I couldn't wait for my main course.

My Farfalle Marinara arrived in timely fashion and seemed a meagre portion on first glance. However the trendy bowls they use have hidden depths and was jam packed with pasta and seafood. I do always seem to have a thing for 'action man bow-tie' pasta; I think sauce seems to cling to it nicely so each rouched morsel is packed with flavour. The predominant flavour in the dish was that of tuna; it almost seemed to be a tuna and white wine sauce. It was scrummy if a little retro; reminding me of my cold tuna pasta school dinner days. The clams, mussels and prawns were plentiful but did not really stand on their own taste-wise; masked by the garlicky tuna sauce. I do feel that our land locked surroundings mean that we miss out on the fresh 'specialness' of seafood those on the coast are lucky enough to enjoy. I'm yet to find a fantastic fishmonger that I can visit easily and would appreciate any recommendations you have. We prefer to order from a fish company that deliver, meaning you have to know what seafood you'll need in advance.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the dish, it was expertly cooked and well put together. I predict that this is probably not their very best dish, and so am excited to explore the rest of the menu.

For two starters/side dishes, two main courses and three alcoholic drinks we paid £28.40. What an absolute bargain for such authentic cuisine in unique and homely surroundings. We are so glad we stumbled across this place and will definitley be returning. I have a feeling it has potential to become something of a local favourite.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My New Creative Blog

I've decided to start up a blog dedicated to my other big passion aside from cooking, which is that of arts and crafts.

The web address is so feel free to have a look. I've started off a creative journal that I will be documenting over there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

O'Este, Ormskirk

Since February when I finished covering a maternity leave in a Reception class, I've been working in the same school's Y6 class part time. This was ideal for me as I desperately wanted to stay at the school and was excited about the challenge this post would bring. It also means that, when I'm not needed for supply on a Monday and Tuesday, I get lovely long weekends to get all my work done and have time for weekday jaunts with sister dearest. Highlights of which include farm shop explorings, trips to Hobbycraft, and museum based fun. I know; we're very cool.

Picture courtesy of
So a couple of Mondays ago us two lady's of leisure were at a loose end and very hungry. We decided to try out a tapas place in Ormskirk I've been past a few times but never been it. I like the look of the dining area which is in sort of a conservatory next to the old brick building, and glances at the menu have intrigued me. It's called O'este and they bill themselves as a 'vibrant yet relaxed take on Mediterranean drinking and dining'.

We examined the menu before we went and drew up a list of our selections (told you we were cool) and were prepared to pay around £35-£40 for the 6 or 7 dishes we'd chosen.

The venue is easy to see and get to on foot, however due to Ormskirk's one way systems we found it hard to get to in the car. We ended up parked in a car park you had to pay for that was a couple of minutes way, because we didn't want to go too far and end up stuck on the one way roads and having to go all the way round. Upon arriving at the restaurant I saw that the car park was very cramped and I'd have probably struggled to get in and out of it anyway.

Picture courtesy of
We were greeted warmly by the waiter at the bar who allowed us to choose our table; we opted for window seats and enjoyed watching the world go by while waiting for our food. It was nicely busy for a weekday with people enjoying leisurely lunches with family and friends; adding to the overall warm and relaxed atmosphere.

When we got the menu's we were very pleasantly surprised to see that they have an offer on on Tuesdays where most of the tapas dishes are 3 for £8.95. I think this is only in the daytime; it's not quite clear on the website, but it was really excellent value; especially when we were willing to part with around 40 quid for our lengthy dinner.

We ordered and our dishes arrived all at the same time. We were a little perturbed by the waitress who put us off ordering an extra dish. We'd ordered 6 off the '3 for £8.95' menu, but fancied an extra dish of scallops while the rest were so cheap. However she said that we already had a lot of food and wouldn't need the extra dish. Now my sister and I may not look it, but we're big eaters and we know what we can manage when we're ravenous. We could definitely have eaten it but hey ho, it's an excuse to go back.

Highlights of the meal included the Paella Mixta which was chock full of vegetables, if not as good as Mother Chipmunks, and the Lancashire Black Pudding with saute potatoes in a mustard sauce. I thought the latter was an odd inclusion on the Mediterranean menu; maybe they're taking inspiration from Corrie's Bistro and their 'Lancashire Tapas' which I thought was genius when Ciaran came up with it. Anyway it was really delicious, especially the earthy sauce.

The Oven Baked Lamb Kebabs turned out to be just one kebab, but this may be because it was on the cheaper menu. It was well seasoned and juicy. The Patatas Bravas weren't traditional, having mushrooms in them and dollops of sour cream on the top. They were nicely spiced though with a lovely deep heat that kept my mouth tingling throughout.

The Chicken Liver Pate was a really nice texture, and the apple chutney complimented it really well. The only real disappointment was their Garlic Mushrooms in a Creamy White Wine Sauce which tasted really bland. However, this was meant to be served with goats cheese but my sister had requested this was omitted. I think the dish would have been much improved by this addition.

When it came to the bill there was another weird exchange with the waitress where she asked if we wanted her to leave us alone as I had my bank card ready on the table. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I do think it was a case of her being a bit harrased and busy rather than genuinely bad customer service.

The whole meal came to £17.90 as we just shared a jug of water to drink. How good value is that? We were really pleased and would definitly go again, as the food was of a good quality. I'd also like to try some of the dishes from the table d'hote menu too, which is also really reasonably priced.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Baked Chicken with Creamy Butternut Squash

Well if you follow me on twitter you may be aware that something very exciting happened to me the other day. Jamie Oliver, my ultimate food hero who I have loved since I was a young girl and who has fuelled and inspired my love of cooking for many years, TWEETED ME!

I was beyond delighted; he knows I exist! Oh and I went for the pork if you're interested. By the way, this is part of the reason I've been quiet on here this month; I've set myself the challenge of cooking every one of Jamie's 30 Minute Meals. I'm really enjoying doing them and feel like I'm learning a lot about timings, kitchen organisation, and what herbs/dressings go with which foods.

In honour of this I'm sharing with you my take on the first recipe I've cooked from my newest cookbook; Cook with Jamie. I hunted it down after seeing it praised on Michael's Blog; My, My Food and I, and quickly purchased it on amazon for a bargain price. A quick glance through it left me puzzled as to why I didn't already own this magnificent book. It's wonderfully thick and satisfying, really well thought out, and chock full of simple impressive recipes. I've spent hours poring over his informative sections on cuts of meat, for example, making your own pasta, and detailed descriptions of spices. It's all done in a really non-patronising way, and I've learnt so much without even having cooked many dishes from it yet. I have a feeling this could become my staple go-to cookbook, as Delia's Complete Cookery Course was for my Mum's generation.

The first recipe I tried was based on one for baked chicken; it seemed quick and simple, and we all know how much I love recipe's that involve cream. As I knew I'd be short of cooking time after school, I was able to prepare this first thing in the morning and have it ready half an hour after returning home that night.

Ingredients (Serves 4):
1 large butternut squash
4 chicken breasts with the skin left on
1 fresh red chili
Fresh oregano or marjoram
Olive oil
Grated nutmeg
Double cream
Approx 24 trimmed asparagus
Vine tomatoes

1) In the morning or the night before, slice up your butternut squash (see basic skills post here) and seal in an airtight container. 

2) Put your chicken breasts in a bowl, preferably with their skins left on (I couldn't find any with their skin on). De seed and finely chop a fresh red chili and a clove of garlic, add to the bowl with a couple of sprigs of fresh oregano or marjoram, a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss together, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge with your butternut squash slices. This little bit of preparation leaves you with a super quick tea that can be thrown together when you come home from work.
3) Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Place the chicken and flavourings into individual baking dishes or tin foil trays, and snugly fit your squash slices around the chicken. Carefully pour the cream around the squash (not on the chicken).

4) Season with grated nutmeg and salt and pepper, cook in the middle of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

5) With twenty minutes to go, lay out your asparagus and tomatoes on a foiled baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season. Place in the oven with the chicken.

6) When serving, shave a little Parmesan over the asparagus to melt nicely.

I didn't think this simple dish would be that much to write home about. However, my family absolutely raved about it; they loved the fresh veg and how it complimented the unctuous creamy sauce. The chicken was also unbelievably juicy and tender, with the chili and tasty squash adding warmth and depth to the dish. I think this epitomises 'Cook with Jamie'; accessible dishes with a few well chosen ingredients, that don't seem like much on paper but really come into their own once put together. I can't wait to cook my way through it.

Basic Skills; Preparing a Butternut Squash

This is the first of my Basic Skills blog posts. They're aimed at those who've just started cooking for themselves and are maybe a little bit daunted by certain recipe instructions. You could even be too embarrassed to admit it and therefore may avoid the recipe completely. I mean who actually teaches you these things? Nobody ever told me how to poach an egg, for example! I'll admit that when I started working at about 15 someone once asked me to make a cup of coffee and I was completely stumped! I'd never drunk coffee, seen it be made, been told what goes in it. It's this presumed knowledge that I hope these posts will help with. Obviously if you have no problems with these basic skills you can move onto the recipe included that uses them.

The butternut squash is a versitile winter vegetable that can be used in dishes such as stews, gratins, pasta dishes, risottos, soups and curries to name a few. It's lovely simply roasted or mashed and served as a side dish, and goes well with earthy spices such as cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Trim the two ends of the squash, then cut it in half across the middle. Stand the two ends up and cut them in half lengthways so you have four quarters.

Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. You also need to take out a thin layer of the flesh to make sure you get all the stringy pith out, as can be seen in the picture. Apparently if you roast these seeds, after washing them and adding salt, they make a tasty snack.
Jamie reckons taking the skin off is unnecessary as it bakes to become lovely and sweet, but I prefer to remove it as I'm not keen on the texture. Carefully slice the skin off, taking as little flesh off as possible. Make sure the pieces of squash are stood sturdily before you start cutting, and that your fingers are out of the way. You may need to go back and take off any layers of pith you've left behind.

You should now have 4 de seeded, peeled pieces of squash. These can be cubed, diced or sliced however you wish to include in a variety of recipes.

If kept in an airtight container, your prepared squash can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days.