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Mackerel salad (serves 1 – preparation time 10 mins)

Last Easter my brothers and I met up in Yorkshire for a weekend of walking, eating and sampling one or two of the local drinks…  Unbeknownst to my brothers I decided that we needed to balance out the gluttony of the weekend with a healthy meal.  Now, for those of you that know my brothers you will appreciate that a mackerel salad would not be their first choice, so much so that when I first told them that mackerel salad was on the menu for Sunday lunch they quickly suggested a walk to the pub for a pre-lunch beer, which then led to another and another … it is safe to say that the mackerel salad did not happen that day.

However the following day there was no escaping the Mackerel salad as I prepared it before the boys were up.  I suppose you are wondering why I persisted with the Mackerel salad, well first up despite the boys protests I was pretty sure they would like it.  Secondly, I wanted to see if it was enough of a meal to stop them feeling hungry.  The good news is that the boys were both pleasantly surprised and full, thanks to this protein rich salad.  Win!

The recipe below, serves one person, but can easily be multiplied to cater for more.  As with any salad you can chop and change the ingredients according to what you have available.  If you are entertaining / hosting a dinner party then I would suggest serving as a starter and reducing the quantities by half.  If however you are having friends over for lunch then adapt the recipe to cater of the right number of people and present on a large platter so that people may help themselves.

Alternatively if you are looking for a packed lunch ideas, this salad can be made up the night before and stored in a Tupperware. My only advice if you do this: (1) do not quarter the boiled egg until you are ready to eat; and (2) keep the vinaigrette separate in a little jar to prevent the salad going soggy overnight.

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Mackerel salad 
Serves: 1
Preparation time: 10 mins

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1 smoked mackerel fillet
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful of mixed salad leavesDSC_0461.JPG
  • ¼ avocado (diced into cubes)
  • 5-6 cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 small piece of carrot (peeled and cut into strips using a potato peeler)
  • 1 small piece of cucumber (peeled and cut into strips using a potato peeler)
  • 1 small piece of red pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 5 black olives (stoned and halved)
  • 2 slices of stale baguette
  • Olive oil

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  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 1tsp fresh dill (chopped)
  • salt and pepper

Note: the quantities for the vinaigrette will be enough for 4 people.

Steps:

  1. First prepare your croutons: slice the stale baguette into cubes, place in a baking tray and drizzle over a little olive oil (roughly 1 tablespoon) – make sure that each side of the bread has a little oil on it. Place in a preheated oven on at 190°C and bake for roughly 7- 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  2. Next prepare the soft boiled egg: place an egg in a saucepan with a little salt and cover the egg with boiling water. Boil the egg on a medium heat for 6 minutes, then pour away the boiling water and fill the saucepan with cold, set to one side and leave to cool for a couple of minutes.
  3. Whilst the egg and croutons are cooking prepare your salad: place the salad leaves on a plate to form a base, add the carrot, cucumber, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, avocado and olives.
  4. Remove the skin from the smoked mackerel and place on top of the salad and scatter over the croutons.
  5. Prepare your vinaigrette: pour the lemon juice into a jam-jar, add an equal amount of olive oil, the dill and salt and pepper. Shake well.
  6. Finally peel your egg and carefully cut into quarters (the yolk will be runny) add it to the salad, before pouring over a little of the dressing. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Minestrone soup

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I should really call this recipe ‘Fridge Soup’ as it came about as a consequence there being a lot of fresh vegetables in my fridge that needed using.  In reality it is a take on Minestrone, a thick vegetable soup.

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to make a soup so long as you use a good stock, it is largely a case of seeing what you’ve got and working with it. Soups can be smooth or chunky, cold or hot and can be really versatile.

For a while I couldn’t bring myself to eat blended soup, this was largely as a result of my grandmother who religiously ate soup that contained lambs liver along with various vegetables that she would have lying around. Now, I am a fan of liver (pan fried with onions and bacon), however when cooked to oblivion in a soup which is then puréed is another thing. I am pleased to say I got over my aversion to blended soup a number of years ago and love a velvety pumpkin soup or roasted tomato soup that have been blitzed.

So why make this soup? Well, it uses scraps up, you can change the ingredients according to what you have in your fridge/pantry and it will provide you with a hearty bowl of soup at the end. I don’t normally added tinned tomatoes to a soup but I really feel it adds a great base flavour to this chunky soup.

My one tip for this soup, try and avoid cutting the veggies into big pieces as it will impact the cooking time. You want the vegetables to be diced so that they are roughly 1cm cubes. If they end up bigger then 1cm  it isn’t a problem just add the pasta to the pan about 5-10 mins after you’ve added the tomatoes and stock and cook the soup for a little longer. Enjoy!

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Minestrone soup (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 carrot (diced)
1 courgette (core removed and diced)
5 mushrooms (diced)
1 red pepper (deseeded and diced)
1 onion (diced)
1 handful of smoked lardons
1 tin of tomatoes
1tsp teaspoon of sage
1tsp of thyme
1 chicken stock cube
600ml water
2 small handfuls macaroni pasta
seasoning

Steps:

1. Start by preparing all of your vegetables.
2. Heat some oil in a heavy bottomed pan on a low temperature, add the onions and cook slowly until they start to soften.
3. Next add the lardons, cook for a couple of minutes stirring occasionally before adding the rest of the fresh vegetables.
4. Allow the vegetables to sweat for around 5-10 minutes.
5. Finally add the herbs, stock cube, tinned tomatoes, and pasta.  Season well, turn the heat up to a medium temperature and leave to bubble away for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed.

 

Rolled Guinea fowl with Moroccan stuffing

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What a weekend it has been! We (my brothers, their other halves and I) have just celebrated Christmas up in Yorkshire as we are all heading in different directions this year. Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of discussion over what we are going to eat. I mentioned to my brothers that I fancied trying to recreate a meal I had recently had at a school friend’s wedding breakfast (pheasant with a Moroccan stuffing).

After deliberating about how I was going to approach re-creating this dish for a Christmas feast – the suggestion I put to my brothers was Guinea fowl with a Moroccan style stuffing and dried fruits, wrapped in streaky bacon. The idea was well received until they heard that I was planning on deboning and rolling the bird which was met with much consternation. Their concerns revolved around:

  1. The fact I had never deboned a chicken let alone a Guinea fowl before.
  2. How much meat there would be left on the carcass?
  3. How long this meal would take to prepare as they wanted to eat at some point over the weekend.
  4. How many birds was I intending to do and was I sure that there would be enough to eat!?

I tried to quash their concerns by telling them that I had done a lot of research, watched a lot of YouTube videos and felt confident that I knew what to do.  In relation to timings, well we weren’t going to eat until the evening so even if deboning the Guinea fowl took an hour each we would still be able to eat around 7.30/8pm. And finally yes there would be enough to eat (I had ordered two Guinea fowl and just shy of 1kg of pork stuffing meat) I felt underfeeding was not going to be an issue.

I am pleased to report that in the end the meal was not only a success but that we had leftovers! It may have taken me roughly 45 minutes to debone each bird but it was worth it.  I couldn’t have been happier with you the meal turned and even better today we were able to enjoy some pretty yummy sandwiches for lunch before we all headed home.

The Moroccan flavoured stuffing with the dried fruits kept the guinea fowl meat wonderfully moist.  The spices were subtle and did not overpower the Guinea fowl.  The dried fruits added just enough sweetness and gave the stuffing a slightly tangy flavour and finally the pistachio added a pleasant texture.

If you don’t wish to go to the efforts of deboning a Guinea fowl then just make the meat into stuffing balls instead and cook the Guinea fowl (or chicken if you prefer to choose a slightly cheaper meat) and stuffing separately.

So the big question, would I make it again? Without a doubt! However, I would stress that this is a meal for special occasions given the time it takes to prepare but it is absolutely worth the effort!  Good luck and enjoy!

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Rolled Guinea fowl with Moroccan stuffing (serves 10)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Guinea fowl (c.1.25 kg in weight)
  • 16 slices streaky bacon
  • 900g seasoned pork stuffing meatDSC_0184 (4)
  • 3 red onions (finely diced)
  • 100g apricots (diced)
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 175g pistachios (shelled)
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ginger

Steps:

1. Place the onions in a sauté pan with a little oil, cover with a lid and sweat on a low heat until soft. (Do not rush this process as you do not want the onions to catch and burn).

2. Place the apricots, cranberries, pistachios, breadcrumbs and spices in a large glass bowl and mix together thoroughly.

3. Once the onions are soft and have cooled slightly add to the mix with the pork meat. Use your hands mix together all of the ingredients making sure that the fruit is evenly distributed throughout the stuffing. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge whilst you prepare the Guinea fowl.

4. Debone your Guinea fowl. (I would strongly encourage you watch a video demonstrating how to do this). The method I used is as follows:

  • Make sure your boning knife is very sharp and if necessary sharpen your knife before starting. Make sure that you have a clean tea towel to hand before starting.
  • Start by removing the Parsons nose.
  • Remove the wishbone, being careful not to snap it off. If you do snap it off by mistake, you’ll need to remember to remove the splinters of bone at the end.
  • Next move on to the wings, if you imagine the wing to be an arm at the ‘elbow joint’ remove the lower section of the wing so that you are left with just the top section of the wing.
  • Turning to the legs, at the knuckle carefully slice through the skin. Then holding the chicken leg in the tea towel pull the knuckle off – the reason you do it this way is so that you remove some of the sinew. If you are not strong enough don’t worry, just cut the knuckle off at the joint.
  • Next place your Guinea fowl breast side down on your chopping board. Cut straight down the centre of the back of the bird from head to tail.
  • Working on one side at a time (my preference is to do the left side first), slowly and carefully starting at the head and working down the bird cut the meat away staying as close to the bone as possible and making sure that you remove as much of the meat as possible.
  • When you get to the wings and legs cut through at the joint to enable you to continue working down the length of the carcass until you get to the bottom.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.
  • When you get to the point that the bird is only attached to the carcass by the backbone, using your finger to avoid tearing the skin run you finger between the backbone and flesh to remove the carcass.
  • Next tunnel bone your wings, pulling the bone out at the end to turn your wing inside out. The reason you do this is so that you have no holes in the skin once you have finished deboning the Guinea fowl.
  • Repeat the same process with the legs. Once the legs are inside out remove as much of the sinew as you can. Once you have completed this you will have a deboned Guinea fowl ready to stuff and roll.

Note:  Remember to use all the bones and trimmings to make stock which will form the base of your gravy.

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5. Once you have deboned both of the birds you can prepare them for cooking.  Split your prepared stuffing in two and shape into cylinders.  Then place the stuffing in the centre of the birds where the carcass would have been. (Don’t worry if you have too much stuffing to go in the middle as you can shape it in to small balls and cook as separate stuffing to serve with it).

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6. Next fold over the skin so that it overlaps slightly and then wrap the rolled guinea fowl with streaky bacon.

7. Next tie your joint with some cooking string to hold it together whilst cooking. The best knots to use are a slip knot followed by an overhand knot (aka a Butchers knot). Don’t worry if you find this too difficult just tie a knot that will hold the meat securely.

8. Place the meat in a lightly oiled roasting tray and cook at 180C Fan/ Gas mark 6 for 1hr 15mins -1hr 45 mins.  To test that your birds are ready insert a meat thermometer into the centre of the joint, if it reads over 65C they will be cooked through.

9. Once cooked remove from the oven, wrap both joints in tin foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

10. Serve with roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and don’t forget the gravy.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate brownies

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I’ve had a couple of dinner parties lately mid-week and I’ve found that the best way to stay stress free is to do as much preparation in advance as possible, consequently, last Sunday afternoon, when I returned home from sailing, I made brownies.  They didn’t take long to make and were prepared and cooked in under an hour and made enough to feed 16 people for pudding comfortably.

I have read a lot of recipes that say you must use the very best chocolate when making brownies, however, I have found the cheap and cheerful chocolate from supermarket works really well and as such I’m disinclined to splash out on ridiculously expensive chocolate.  I would recommend trying different types of chocolate to see what works best for you and what you prefer.  My personal preference is anything with 70% or more cocoa.

What makes these brownies stand apart from others that I have made is that they are wonderfully gooey in the middle whilst retaining a slight crust. They are a perfect amount of decadence to finish off a meal.  I tend serve with a mixture of summer berries and either ice cream or soured cream depending on what I have available, but they are also excellent on their own.

Chocolate Brownies (makes 32)

Ingredients:

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g white chocolate (roughly chopped)
  • 50g walnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 50g cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 85g plain flour (sifted)

Steps:

  1. Preheat your oven 180C / 170CFan.
  2. Line a 20cm square cake tin.
  3. Melt butter and dark chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  4. Whilst the chocolate and butter are melting, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla until trebled in volume.
  5. Pour in the chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until fully combined.
  6. Then gently fold in flour, cocoa, walnuts and white chocolate.
  7. Pour into the pre-prepared tin and bake in oven for 20-25 mins. Remove the brownies from the oven when they have a slight wobble but a firm crust.
  8. Leave to cool completely in the tin, once cool cut into roughly 32 triangles.
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Note:  These brownies keep for over a week if stored in an airtight container in a cool place.

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Stilton and fig tart

photo 3I have an abundance of Stilton in my fridge leftover from my brother’s wedding and I have been trying to think up things to make with it. Tonight having seen that figs were on sale in the local supermarket I decided to make a very simple tart. It is a fantastic option for a midweek supper especially if you are having one or two friends over as it takes a matter of minutes to prepare and you can happily chat away whilst it is cooking in the oven.

Whilst I enjoyed it as a main meal with a simple salad, this would make a great starter which you could make into individual portions just by cutting the pastry up into small squares and then following the same steps. This is definitely worth giving a go. A simple and very tasty supper!

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Stilton and fig tart (serves 4)

Ingredients:

– 1 packet of pre-rolled puff pastry
– 100-150g Stilton (cut into small cubes)
– 3 figs (sliced into roughly eighths)
– 1 handful of lardons or bacon bits
– 1-2 tsp honey
– 3-4 sprigs of parsley (chopped)
– 2 tbsp milk
– Olive oil
– Seasoning

Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

2. On a high heat fry off the lardons for a couple of minutes. Set to one side and allow to cool slightly.

3. Lay the pastry out on a piece of baking paper on a shallow baking tray, fold over roughly 1cm of the pastry all around the edges to create a lip.

4. Taking a pastry brush, brush a little of the milk all over the pastry.

5. Scatter the stilton and lardons over the pastry then place the pieces of fig evenly over it.

6. Season with pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil before placing in the oven a baking for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

7. Remove from the oven, drizzle over some honey and scatter over the chopped parsley.

8. Serve warm with a salad. Enjoy.

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Chocolate celebration cake

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My middle brother, Alex, is getting married in August to his lovely fiancée, Jayne, and I cannot wait!  Over recent months there has been much talk of dresses, flowers and of course cakes…  Jayne and Alex have decided to hold a “bake off” at their wedding and have sent the following message out to their guests:

 Wedding Bake Off

We like cake. 

We really like cake, a lot. 

In fact we like cake so much, one wedding cake just won’t be enough… We’re dreaming of a whole table of different wedding cakes, with afternoon tea to follow the ceremony.

We know we have a lot of friends and family members who are amazingly talented bakers.  Can you help us to make our cake dreams come true?

Join our great wedding bake off, and battle it out to be crowned the best wedding cake baker! 

There will be a very democratic judging process on the day…and the favourite wedding cake will be the one that we save and cut in the traditional wedding way.  There are no rules for what to bake or how it is presented, the more creative the better! 

 Not being the type of person to shy away from a challenge I have donned my apron and started testing out a couple of ideas I have had for a  wedding cake to see if: (a) it tastes good; and (b) looks presentable.

At the moment I am in two minds about the flavour.  Our family loves a good chocolate cake and the one that I am going to share with you today certainly ticks that box.  However, as the wedding is in August and will hopefully be on a beautifully hot and sunny day, I am of the view that a lovely light lemon cake would go down much better.  The other option is of course to do multiple cakes… but this might be a step to far as I suspect in the days building up to the wedding things are likely to get a little bit busy.

So, about this cake, as I mentioned it is a chocolate cake.  I suppose you are wondering why I think it is worthy for a wedding cake?  Well… it is not just a chocolate cake, it is three layered super light chocolate cake, filled with a rich chocolate mousse and covered in a white chocolate and sour cream icing, decorated with raspberries…

If you like chocolate, I would recommend trying this cake as it is rather decadent!

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Banana and chocolate loaf

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I am not a huge fan of very ripe bananas so when I found myself with several fairly black looking bananas I had to think of something to do with them.  Fortunately one of my colleagues happened to mention fairly recently that their favourite cake is banana loaf so my decision was easy.

First up I should say that banana and chocolate loaf is definitely a cake and not a bread – it is a fairly dense cake and goes extremely well with a cup of tea.  This is the type of cake that doesn’t like to be rushed in the oven, don’t be over anxious and open the door regularly as you will cause the cake to sink and it won’t change the cooking time.  So my advice is be patient, put your feet up read a book and wait for your cake to be ready!

Banana and chocolate loaf

Ingredients :

  • 6oz bananas (peeled and mashed)
  • 4oz soft margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1tbsp rum
  • 1 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  • 4oz plain chocolate (broken into small pieces)

Steps:

  1.  Preheat oven to 150C (fan).  Grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the soft margarine and sugar together in a bowl using an electric whisk.
  3. Slowly beat in the eggs (add a little flour if the mixture looks as if it might curdle).
  4. Whisk in the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. Then add the mashed banana, crème fraiche, chocolate and rum and mix well.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin.  Place in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cake clean.
  7. Leave the cake to cool before serving.