Monday, 30 December 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken and Mushroom Hotpot

At this time of year all you want to eat is comfort food, warm cosy bakes, stews, casseroles and the like. The sort of dishes that create a warm pleasantly scented fug in your kitchen, dishes that thrive on neglect, not in the flavour stakes but in the cooking,quietly simmering in the background to slowly create multi layered dishes of delight.

Chicken is a popular meat which doesn't really need the slow cooker treatment as it cooks pretty fast but sometimes you just need the convenience of being able to put all your ingredients in the cooker and leave it to get on with cooking whilst you get on with your life. Yesterday was one of those days, wild wet weather and lots going on, so I popped this dish on around lunchtime so that it would be ready for supper.

Christened a hotpot as it bears a passing resemblance to that old faithful Lancashire Hotpot.

What you need

  • 2 Chicken breast fillets, chopped in to bite sized chunks
  • 6 -8 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 small onions (pickling size or shallots)
  • 1 stick of celery - chopped
  • 1 large carrot - peeled and chopped
  • About 400ml Chicken stock 
  • Fresh thyme 
  • Couple of bayleaves
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 heaped tsp grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp cornflour - slaked with a little water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 large potatoes - peeled and sliced thinly
  • Olive oil
What you do
  • Preheat your slow cooker, whilst you fry off the chicken pieces in a little olive oil in a frying pan
  • Once they are lovely and golden , add all the vegetables except the potatoes to the pan and cook for a few minutes, to soften slightly.
  • Now add the stock, mustard, herbs, Worcestershire sauce to the pan, give it a good stir and let simmer for about 3 minutes, then add the slaked cornflour. This will thicken the sauce.
  • In the slow cooker layer the potato slices with the chicken and vegetable mixture, topping off with potatoes. Add a little boiling water if the dish looks dry.
  • Cook on high for at least 4 hours until the potatoes are cooked and the chicken is tender. Season and serve on its own or with your choice of green vegetables.

This post and recipe was created in association with Schwartz  for which I have been compensated. This recipe is my original work.

Friday, 27 December 2013

New Years Resolutions - the foodie version


Well its nearly 2014 and I am sure your thoughts are turning towards new year resolutions. I have a few ideas for you  so I thought I'd share them with everyone and hopefully inspire you to compile a list. As you all know I am a passionate foodie and its something that is really important to me so of course my list revolves around food.

  • Keep it local, if at all possible. Try and buy food that is raised or grown local to you, this cuts down on food miles and means that you are directly supporting local businesses, it also means the produce will be much fresher and probably have less packaging too.
  • Keep it seasonal, try to eat with the seasons, this will again mean that your food is fresher as its probably not had to travel as far, taste better and be cheaper. It will also introduce into seasonal eating as there is nothing better than the first local potatoes / asparagus / etc, as there are still seasonal specialities out there if you seek them out.
  • Set yourself a challenge : learn to make bread /jam/chutney/mayonnaise, challenge yourself to learn a new skill which produces a food product, you'll not regret it and you never know it might just lead to a new career or hobby.
  • Experiment with new herbs and spices, treat yourself to a new herb or spice you haven't tried before and learn something about it and cook with it. Think about expanding your recipe repertoire, you might end up with a new favourite.
  • Share - whether it be a foodie glut from the garden, a meal with friends, something you made or even taking part in a food swap, share the food you love and enjoy with others.
  • Try a new ingredient, next time your out shopping try something new you have tried before  and give your taste buds a treat.It could a cut of meat you have never bought before or a fruit or vegetable you have never eaten before.
  • Visit somewhere new when eating out, why not commit to a new venue once a month, you just never know you might discover a new favourite.
  • Support local artisans, whether it be butcher, baker, fishmonger, cheesemaker or whatever else get closer to your food and who makes and produces it for you. I've found most of them love to chat about their passion for their product and would love to share their knowledge with you.
  • Grow your own, even if you've only got a window box you can grow salads or herbs and taste fresh food, you'll love it !
  • Read about food, it could be a magazine, cookery book or challenge yourself to read more about your favourite chef or style of food. It could be foodie fiction (there's plenty out there), more technical books (Flavour Thesaurus is a good place to start) or even a biography ( I recently read Greg Wallace's bio and thoroughly enjoyed it).
So go on why not make a list, I am sure you will enjoy your foodie resolutions !

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Fresh Cranberry and Almond Slices

It's always around about this time of year that I start craving fruit. It must be something to do with the change in the weather; possibly also due to the fact that more and more chocolate and festive treats are becoming part of my daily diet.

I love the colour of cranberries, so bright and cheerful. They are relatively undiscovered in this country other than the ubiquitous cranberry sauce. Our friends over the Pond however, use this beautiful berry in a  range of bakes, both fresh and dried.

Since discovering this recipe I have already made it a couple of times, once for a birthday cake for a close friend and  again for my work colleagues who loved the bake as a tasty contrast to all the mince pies and chocolates at this time of year.

Once baked, the berries keep their lovely bright pinky-red colour and the almonds provide a crunchy contrast to the soft almondy sponge.

If you want to serve this for a special occasion, just cut it into dinky little squares and serve on an attractive platter dusted with icing sugar. If you can find some suitable "kitsch" decorations, why not accessorize accordingly. 

What you need

  • 1 1/2 cups of plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup softened butter 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs - free range (whisked together with the milk)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup milk ( I used skimmed)
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries (chopped in half)
  • Flaked almonds
You will need a non stick baking tray about 9" by 5" and approx 1" deep, sprayed with oil or cake release

What you do
  • On a plate or a shallow dish, sieve the flour and baking powder to remove any lumps
  • In your mixer cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  • Add the vanilla paste, almond extract to the mixer and the egg/milk mixture and the flour, whisk briskly until you have a smooth mixture
  • Gently fold in the chopped cranberries by hand
  • Tip into your prepared tin and smooth the top
  • Sprinkle with flaked almonds
  • Bake in a pre heated oven at 180c (160c fan) for approx 35 minutes until golden, well risen and cooked through
  • Cool in the tin
  • Cut into slices or squares

I am linking up this post to Blue Kitchen Bakes - Fresh Cranberry Recipe Linky



Monday, 16 December 2013

Saving the High Street Butcher or 12 good reasons to love your local butcher


I am sad to say that the town I live in no longer has a butcher on its high street (or whats left of it !), the situation is pretty  dire, we have nearly every supermarket chain to choose from but when it comes to an independent butcher, greengrocer, baker and fishmongers you have to travel ( fortunately not too far) or visit the town on market day to have any real choice of supply.

I am sure my town is not unique in its situation  but I want to encourage to seek out and visit a local butcher if at all possible, rather than buy meat at the supermarket, prepacked in those horrid sweaty plastic containers. Learn to love your local butcher you won't regret it, your tastebuds and your purse will thank you.

There has been a massive decline in the number of butchers on the high street in recent years as consumers has moved their meat buying to the supermarket and action needs to be taken now to reverse this decline, yes the recent horse meat scandal has encouraged a few of us back to our local butcher, but us smart savvy shoppers can make so much more of our butchers, so here are 12 reasons why you should shop with a local butcher.
  • Local
Your butcher will support local farmers and know the farmers personally who produce his meat so he can assure you that you are supporting your local economy and keeping those food miles to a minimum.
  • Seasonal
Your butcher will be able to advise you on seasonal meats, especially game and when its in season, but also when local meat is at is seasonal best. Despite what you think meat is a seasonal product and its price and availability does vary through the year.
  • Traceable
A decent butcher will know exactly where he meat comes from, and be able to tell you where it was raised and slaughtered. 
  • Cooking tips
Your local butcher will happily give you cooking advice and tips to ensure that you get the best of the meat he sells you, don't be shy and ask the best way to cook your purchase.
  • Friendly face / warm welcome
Your butcher  will warmly welcome you and should be happy to chat if you want to, as long as its about meat. He wants to provide you with a good service and hopes that you will return and become a regular customer. Tell your friends about your enjoyable personal shopping experience.
  • Advice/ Your questions answered
Your butcher will be able to give you advice on whats best value or the best cut for your recipe, in fact answer any question you have about the meat you are buying.
  • Something special
Local butchers will be happy to prepare a special cut just for you, especially if you order in advance. They can order in or prepare specially for you. They also often have something special to offer if you fancy trying something different and will know about the aging of their meat.
  • Ordered and prepared just for you
Place your order and your chosen cut will be prepared specially for you, if you want more or less fat or something tied or trimmed, your butcher will do it for you. Minimised packaging  too but if you want to freeze your meat, your butcher will prepare into freezer packs as well if you ask nicely. 
  • You buy as much as you need
Unlike the supermarket, nothing is prepacked so you buy the size of joint or weight that you want for your recipe or your family size. Of course this means little or no wastage.
  • Sausages /bacon/ black pudding / haggis
Any butcher worth his salt, will make his own sausages / bacon / black pudding / haggis (delete as appropriate) and these will be much better value and taste miles better than any supermarket offering. Often these will be prize winning  or local specialties that will become family favorites.
  • Value / your budget
As your butcher gives you good advice they can ensure that you achieve the best value for money, may be suggesting cheaper cuts or alternatives that when cooked with love and attention can produce sublime meals. Let your butcher know your budget and he will help you get the best value for it, some butchers even have discount or saving clubs.
  • Special Treatment
Butchers love local loyal customers and if you shop with them regularly you will be first on the list for seasonal offers, specials and discounts. You may also find the occasional complimentary taster being popped in your shopping bag too.

So go on go on go on and love your local butcher and they will love you back !

Currently there is a national campaign running " The meat crusade" and if you are quick and go and visit your local high street (if you have got one !)  butcher you will still be in time to get your order in for Christmas.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Thornleys Gluten free Sauce mixes

Recently  I was kindly sent a sample pack of five sauce mixes from "Free From" producers Thornleys, now you will probably gather from this blog that I am not really a packet girl, I tend to make all my sauces fresh so I know what goes in them. But I understand not everyone is the passionate cook that I am, so they have a place in many families cupboards, the problem with them being that if you have dietary issues then most of the normal brands are of limits.

Well thats not so with Thornleys, this Lancashire family firm have created a range of sauce mixes from natural ingredients that all the family can enjoy even if you need to cater for a wheat or gluten free diet. 

The concept of Thornleys originated due the family having three generations of Coeliacs; and wanting to produce a product that would respond to the demands of satisfying a hungry family with delicious, natural tasting food suitable for a Coeliac to consume.

Their range contains five sauces, blended as if you had prepared them yourself using only the finest natural ingredients. Each product in the sauce range has been approved by the Coeliac Association and is made using only natural ingredients that are free from additives, preservatives, colours, MSG, gluten and wheat.

Their sauces are for people who want an alternative to chemically enhanced sauces. They are simple to cook, providing the whole family with the means to a quick, easy and delicious meal. Most importantly, Thornleys products are made for everyone to enjoy! 

They are a great standby in the cupboard and where extremely popular with my friend who is a coeliac, she loved all the sauces I gave her to taste and the rest of the family were impressed too !

I cooked with the tuna pasta bake flavour mixing the sauce with salmon and adding some lightly steamed broccoli to up the vegetable content. The light fresh sauce with a lemony tang perfectly complemented the fish and was very enjoyable, highly recommended.

The sauces are available direct from Thornleys and also in an increasing number of outlets including Roaming Roosters in Pendle amongst others.

By the way Thornleys to me will always mean a certain pork butchers who in my childhood produced some delectable whist pies ! but that's a story for another day.

Rudolf's rum and raisin cake with white chocolate ganache

A classic combination inspired by that  childhood favourite "Old Jamaica" chocolate is my bake for the Christmas event for the Clandestine Cake Club. Essentially a common or garden victoria sponge cinnamon scented , with the boozy addition of soaked raisins. I left the raisins to soak for 3 days and they smelt amazing just like that beloved chocolate bar of my youth.

I decorated the cake in a kitsch retro style, using a rum flavoured white chocolate ganache and a dark chocolate reindeer with the obligatory red nose and the cheek addition of some chocolate "rocks" (chocolate raisins and cranberries).

I also sprinkled him with some edible snow glitter too ! more is more  on this occasion. Just a bit of fun for a fun event.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

CCC 21 - Chocs away Rudolf ! Its nearly Christmas at The Chocolate Rooms, Tarleton

The amazing cake the venue produced for our event !

Christmas is coming ! and were celebrating our 21st event for the South Lancashire branch of the Clandestine Cake Club. We have been lucky enough to hold our event at the in lovely new Chocolate Rooms in Tarleton. 

Despite our event clashing with the Clandestine Cake Club national 3rd birthday party which was being held in Liverpool (just down the road !) we had a great time at our "chocolate" themed event and venue.

The Chocolate rooms was a fab venue and we were warmly welcomed by our hosts Jacqui and Paul Williams (Choc Amor) who really embraced our meeting by baking a cake for the event.

High on chocolate, fighting broke out for the last piece of cake ! 

As usual our bakers produced an amazing range of creations, all suitably chocolatey and festive too. We had a 

  • Giant Jaffa cake baked by Carla
  • Chocolate Courgette Cake (wheat free) baked by Lucy
  • Rudolfs rum, raisin and white chocolate cake baked by me
  • Cranberry and white chocolate cake baked by Katherine
  • White chocolate and cranberry noel cake baked by Sarah
  • Red wine velvet cake baked by Catherine
  • Cinnamon and nutella baked by Caroline
  • Bailey's chocolate prince layer cake baked by Rachel
  • Cardamon and orange with chocolate topping baked by Lynne
  • Chocolate cake with real orange topping baked by Helen
  • Chocolate treasure cake baked by Choc Amor

The Chocolate Rooms can be found in the centre of Tarleton Village, just of the A59 and their hot chocolate is amazing. Pay them a visit soon.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

December - A Quick Bite of Lancashire Food

Paul Williams - Master Chocolatier - Choc Amor and The Chocolate Rooms.

This months contributor is the lovely Paul Williams Master Chocolatier (aka Lancashire's Willy wonka) from Choc Amor and The Chocolate Rooms.

Paul starting making chocolate after taking a brave decision to give up a career in high finance for artisan chocolate. The business has grown from strength to strength, initially just farmers markets, then a unit at Botany Bay in Chorley and now a destination chocolate cafe experience in Tarleton. Several of Paul's unique chocolate flavours have been nominated for awards and the business itself was also nominated in the BIBA's too.

Passionate about great artisan chocolate and also local produce, you must find time to visit The Chocolate Rooms, Botany Bay or catch up with him at a Farmers Market and sample his fantastic wares.

So on to the answers to the questions
  • What is your favourite cookery or food book or publication ?
Snowflakes and schnapps by Jane Lawson or Ottolenghi The Cookbook.
  • What sentence sums up Lancashire Food to you ?
Fantastic produce on your door step.
  • If you weren't doing what you do now, what would you like to be ?
This is already my second chance at a career, and I absolutely adore being Willy Wonka every day.

  • Which piece of kit could you not do without ?
My kettle ! I need a coffee in the morning to make the body function properly if not just a mess.

  • Who would join you at your ultimate dinner party and why?
Robin Williams for the laughter, Jean Pierre Wybauw so I could pick his brains on chocolate and Stephen Fry as I just like the knowledge this man holds in his head.

  • What advice would you give to your younger self ?
If it is too good to be true, guess what, it is.

  • Describe your style in three words
Driven, Pedantic and MAD.

  • What was your latest foodie gadget purchase ?
Impulse Hand sealer, so that I can bag chocolate bars in their plastic bags for greater freshness.

  • What is your greatest achievement to date ?
Setting up Choc Amor at The Chocolate Rooms all without borrowing any money. If you haven't got it then you can't spend it !

  • What is the worst mistake you have made ?
Lending money thinking I would be rich because it was too good an opportunity to miss. Oooops didn't that go wrong! Fools and money.

  • Tell us a secret about yourself ? may be something we wouldn't expect !
Even though on the outside I may appear to be an extrovert, really I am an introvert who has learned to live in an extrovert society. I like peace and quiet, I can count my friends on one hand and would prefer to spend time with them over a great meal and a bottle of wine (or 3)

The Chocolate Rooms can be found in Tarleton Village, just off the A59 on church Road . They are open Tuesday through to Sunday.

Cheese of the Month - No 12

Smoked Goats cheese from Garstang avaliable on Pats Cheese stall Chorley Market.

This is months cheese is an exclusive apparently according to Pat, a smoked goats cheese from Garstang, not too goaty and nicely smoked, its a firm cheese ideal for melting and it combined superbly with chutney in our recipe that made using this cheese.

A very simple recipe using grated goats cheese in a tartlet .

A mix of creme fraiche and eggs, ready for pouring in my prepared tart cases

In the base of the tarts, which have been gentled blind baked, spoon in your chutney and top with the egg mixture and then the grated cheese.

Bake for about 20 minutes in a medium oven until golden and slightly risen

Serve cold or hot with a dressed salad.

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