Author Archives: Antonia Cooks

About Antonia Cooks

Recipes to share with friends and family.

Oxtail casserole (Serves: 4 – Preparation time: 3.5hrs)

As the dark evenings draw in and the temperature starts to drop off rich stews and casseroles come into their own.  The recipe below is a fine example of cooking ‘low and slow’ which results in the meat becoming mouth-wateringly tender and falls off the bone.

Whilst I was in France a couple of weeks ago with some of my school friends, a debate started over what is the difference between a stew and a casserole.  After a lengthy discussion and a bit of googling we learnt that stewing is done on the top of a cooker with heat being applied directly to the underneath of the pot; while casseroling takes place inside the oven with heat circulating all around the pot. In both cases the meat is cut up fairly small and cooked in a liquid (stock, wine, water, cider, etc).  So it transpires that I have been using the terminology wrongly for many years – whoops.

The recipe below is for oxtail casserole which uses Guinness as a substitute for tomatoes and stock on the basis that it has a lovely earthy and almost bitter flavour which combined with the red currant jelly becomes beautifully mellow.  Whilst I cooked this in a cast iron casserole dish this recipe would work really well in a slow cooker, however make sure that you cook it on a low setting for around 6-7 hours.

For presentation purposes I took the oxtail off the bone and served in a roasted squash, which looked lovely.  However I have a confession to make, after decanting the casserole into the squash is dawned on me that whilst pretty it was highly impractical, so I ended up tipping it back into the pot before serving and it saved me from one heck of a mess. In hindsight I should have served the oxtail on the bone (2 per person is about right) with wedges of roasted squash and green vegetables on the side.  As they say “you live and learn”…  Enjoy!

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Banana and date cupcakes (sugar-free and dairy-free). Preparation time: 30/40 minutes

My sister-in-law set me a challenge to develop a cake that is suitable for my nephew, Leo.  Leo is 8 months old and a truly happy baby who I am pleased to say seems to love his food!  My brother and sister-in-law are in the process of weaning Leo at the moment and are following the ‘baby led weaning‘ method.  Baby led weaning is a fairly new concept to me, but strikes me as a sensible way of introducing a baby to food.  Put simply baby led weaning is the where you give food to a baby and they feed themselves.  So far as I can tell one of the major advantages is that they eat what you eat (within reason) and subject to a couple of basic principles to ensure that your baby’s diet has a very limited amount of salt and sugar.

Now then back to the challenge, to develop a cake suitable for baby led weaning.  My sister-in-law asked me to create a cake that did not contain refined sugar.  My first thought was what about using honey, however after a bit of research it became clear that this would not be a suitable substitute on this occasion as the general consensus is not to introduce honey to a baby’s diet until they are a year old.  Not being a fan of sweeteners I set my mind to what I could use as an alternative.  My solution – dates and banana pureed in a little boiling water.  Using that as a sugar substitute I tired a couple of different recipes.  The first attempt resulted in a dense but very moist sponge more like a muffin.  The second attempt is the one I am going to share here as it produced a much lighter fluffier sponge that rose beautifully.  What I should point out it that I made cupcakes instead of a cake as it was a better portion size for a baby.  The other benefit of cooking them this is it means that you can freeze them individually and use them gradually rather than worry about them going stale.

I suspect that you are wondering what it tasted like – unsurprisingly it is nowhere near as sweet as a typical cake but as mentioned it has a lovely light texture.  I asked my family for their thoughts on the cupcake and the comments were as follows “Where’s the jam?” and “Any chance of some cream with this?”  I think these responses boil down partly to the fact that instinctively they expected something much sweeter and secondly that it is unlike me to serve a cake without icing.  So if you are making this for both adults and babies perhaps treat it a little like a scone for the adults and serve with a little jam and cream on the side so those of your family with a sweeter tooth can satisfy their cravings.  Enjoy!

Tip:  if you have bananas that are going black and you are thinking about throwing them away don’t!  Peel and freeze them as they will be perfect for this recipe as it works best with ripe bananas.

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Stuffed Portobello mushrooms (Serves: 2/4 – Preparation time: 25 mins)

The recipe below is a little gem as it can be prepped and ready to eat in just over 20 minutes and works well both as a main meal or starter.  It is packed full of veggies meaning that you are well on your way to meeting your “5-A-Day”.  I am not really the type of person to talk about ‘clean eating’ as I am of the view that if you make something from scratch more often than not it falls into that category – that being said, for those of you that are looking for a healthy option for supper this recipe is right up there!

There is no denying that this is a ‘rustic’ recipe – in other words the presentation lacks finesse.  However, the variety of vegetables used in this dish means that your plate is filled with vibrant colours making it draw the eye and entice the eater.  The flavours complement one another giving a delicate balance between sweet, salty and creamy. Ladies and Gents, if you like mushrooms then this is one to try as it is tasty no nonsense cooking. Enjoy!

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Moroccan spiced shoulder of lamb with apricots (Serves: 4 – Preparation time: 1.5hrs)

One-pot cooking is incredibly convenient for washing up purposes but also in terms of ease.  The idea with this style of cooking is that you can throw everything into a casserole dish, cover and leave to bubble away in the oven without needing to think about it until it is time to serve.    The added bonus with this particular dish is longer you leave it the more succulent and tender the lamb becomes.

As this dish cooks, the juices from both the apricots and lamb seep into the sweet potato mixture turning it into a stuffing that is infused with all the flavours of the dish.  I would recommend serving this meal with simple accompaniments for example fluffy couscous and steamed green vegetables so that you can relish the taste of the lamb.  This recipe would be a good alternative to a traditional Sunday roast, or would make a great centrepiece for a dinner party. Enjoy!

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Sticky beef (Serves: 2/3 – Preparation time: 20 minutes)

Lately I have been finding that I am pushed for time in the evenings,  as a result I have been resorting to meals that can be prepped and on the table in 20 minutes without too much fuss.  The recipe below fits the bill perfectly as in the time that it takes to steam the rice the rest of the dish can be cooked.

This ‘sticky beef’ recipe uses dates to make sauce, giving it a wonderfully sweet caramelised flavour.  The spice and warmth from the chilli helps cut through the sweetness of the dish, however if you find it too sugary for your palette then add 1 tbsp of light soy sauce to the dish at the end.

By stir-frying the vegetables quickly they will retain a slight crunch which contrasts the smoothness of the sauce and tenderness steak.  Don’t feel that you have to use beef to make this recipe, it would work just as well with pork or chicken thighs cut into thin strips and cooked in a little oil before adding it to the sauce.  Enjoy!


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Goat’s curd and spinach tart (Serves: 4 – Preparation time: 1hr – 1.5hrs)

I work a ten minute walk away from Borough Market in London which means on a good day I am able to head over there during my lunch break. I tend to amble through the market seeing what is in season, chatting to the stall holders about their produce and what they recommend doing with it. Bliss!

On my last visit I ended up buying some goat’s curd (soft cheese) from Ellie’s Dairy with the idea of making spinach and goat’s curd tarts. The curd had a delicate flavour and unlike other goats cheese I can safely say then you couldn’t taste the goat. Instead it had subtle zesty notes that lingered on the palette. If you can’t find goat’s curd then substitute with ricotta or another soft cheese of your choosing.

One of my concerns when making the tart was whether the moisture in the spinach would cause it to have a ‘soggy’ bottom – however this was not the case. So long as you squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the spinach after wilting it you should end up with a crisp pastry.

The tart can be served hot or cold which means it is ideal if you need to prepare something in advance or are simply looking for lunchbox ideas. Enjoy!

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Gazpacho (Serves: 3/4 – Preparation time: 15 mins)

I told my Spanish friend Alejandro that I was going to make Gazpacho this week and he quizzed me about what I intended to put in it to ensure that I was making what he deemed to be an authentic Spanish Gazpacho.  When I dropped ‘lemons’ into the list of ingredients that I intended to use, he promptly stopped me and told me in no uncertain terms that lemon is not a Gazpacho ingredient and that the vinegar is all that you need – and I have to say that now having made it without lemons that I agree with him.

For those of you that are less familiar with Gazpacho it is a cold tomato soup made using raw ingredients and there is absolutely no cooking involved.  All you need to make it is a sharp knife and a hand blender – simple.  Whilst summer is drawing to a close this is a great option if you are looking for a refreshing starter or light lunch.  The underlying flavours are both tangy and slightly creamy making you want to go back for more.  Enjoy!

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