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Greek Chicken Tava

Christmas is fast approaching and I’m super excited that family and friends are coming to us this year. I LOVE Christmas, but have never had the chance to organise it myself.

Of course having family to stay means also feeding them before and after Christmas day, so I’ve been researching, making lists and trying out recipes that easily feed a large number of people. There’s going to be 9 of us to feed for two weeks!

Honest Mum

The gorgeous Honest Mum’s Greek Chicken Tava (actually her mum’s recipe) ticks all the boxes. Quick to prepare, everything thrown into one baking dish (less washing up) and roasted in the oven so you can forget about it while it cooks and get on with other things. And on top of that, it’s delicious, warming and filling, and also easily doubled (or tripled!). The perfect easy (and healthy) family meal.

I also love that you can add pretty much any vegetables you have on hand. Vicki’s mum uses onions, potatoes, courgettes/zucchini, carrots and tomatoes. I’ve made this several times now and also tried peppers/capsicum, parsnip and beetroot. Basically any vegetable that’s yummy roasted is fine to add.

Vicki’s mum uses slices of large fresh tomatoes. I tend to throw in small vine tomatoes (still on the vine) as I love their pops of freshness when you eat them. I also tend to leave out the chilli simply because Nicholas can love spice one day and hate it the next, and it’s still really tasty without it. I also use dried oregano instead of fresh.

A brilliant dish whether you have a large family to feed or just deserve some more time to yourself instead of slaving over the stove!

Greek Chicken Tava

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Cook time: 50 mins
Serves 4

750g new or Maris Piper potatoes, unpeeled, chopped into small pieces
8 medium chicken thighs, on the bone and skin on
2 onions, quartered
2 courgettes, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 large tomatoes and/or 400g can diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small fresh red chilli, chopped
40ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
40ml red wine (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or dried)
flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C

In a large baking dish or tray, add the potatoes, chicken, onion and vegetables, tomatoes, garlic and chilli. Drizzle with the olive oil and add the wine (if using). Season and sprinkle with cumin and oregano.

Bake for 50 minutes, checking on the chicken and turning if necessary.

Serve with a sprinkling of parsley.

Frozen fruit pops

Frozen fruit pops

Summer has come and gone in the UK. It wasn’t a bad one at all this year, in fact I got a tan during a British summer for the first time! However I’d be lying if I said I was anything but ecstatic that we’re finally away on holiday enjoying a very hot sun on a wonderful beach.

During our summer at home, Nicholas and I got into a regular habit of going to a park a little way from home that’s much bigger than our neighbourhood ones. For warm days its paddling pool was perfect. Our ritual was paddling pool followed by a lie in the sun, moving to the large sand pit followed by all the other playground attractions. Then we’d go find the ice cream man and have a run round the park before coming home.

Of course a British summer wouldn’t be a British summer without some rain, and not just a summer shower but days of torrential rain! (I wrote my cheeky views of the summer in the UK here.)  When we couldn’t go outside and enjoy an ice lolly, we’d improvise a picnic inside and eat frozen fruit pops to make the day sunnier.

There really is nothing simpler than frozen fruit pops. Well you could just throw some fruit pieces into the freezer, but then you’d be missing the fun aspect of the stick. Why does putting food on a stick much it so much better?!?

You need plastic cake pop sticks or wooden ice lolly sticks. Don’t use wooden skewers as these can be dangerous for little ones and they’re not as easy to hold on to.

Next chop up some fruit into bite-sized pieces. We used strawberries and grapes. You can also use banana, watermelon (cut in chunks or balls), raspberries, blueberries and mango.

Thread your fruit onto the sticks, put on a freezer-proof plate or tray and put into the freezer for at least 2 hours. Once they’re frozen you can keep them all together in a freezer bag.

A healthy fun treat for summer days, or when you’re wishing for the return of summer days.

What were your favourite things to do together this summer?

Aussie saltbush damper

This week’s Great British Bake Off was all about bread, something I have a love/hate relationship with when it comes to baking it.

I used to love baking bread and wasn’t too bad at it, then came a period where it never seemed to go right. The only bread I tend to make at the moment are these bread rolls which are super easy and very slightly adapted from my friend Barbara’s recipe. If you’re at all interested in baking bread you must check our her wonderful blog all about bread and things that accompany it.

I tried to face my bread demons with an attempt at baking an amazingly pink beetroot bread. What I learnt was I must always check the type of yeast I’m using and how it’s meant to be activated! My bread was a fabulous colour but didn’t rise properly and so didn’t cook properly.
My beetroot bread failure

I wasn’t sure I’d manage to try some more bread as we’re going on holidays at the weekend, so there’s the usual pre-holiday panic of packing and getting on top of work. But when I was putting away the Aussie herbs and spices hubby brought back from a business trip quite a while ago, the jar of saltbush caught my eye, in particular when I read the label explaining its use in damper.

Damper is a traditional Australian bread, typically baked in the coals of a campfire and gets its name because the fire is damped to then cook the bread amongst the hot coals. Damper can also be wrapped around a stick and cooked over a fire.

Originally made by stockman who might be in the outback for weeks or months with only basic provisions, it consisted simply of flour and water without any raising agent. Now people tend to use self-raising flour or add baking powder, as well as add butter and milk to the dough.

Saltbush is a very hardy long-living shrub that doesn’t mind droughts and is very common in the dry inland of Australia. As its name suggests, its dried leaves have a salty ‘herby’ taste which were used in the past along with the ground roasted seeds by indigenous Australians mainly to flavour damper.

I decided to do a dairy-free take on a modern damper recipe using the saltbush for an authentic outback flavour.

dairy-free

AUSSIE SALTBUSH DAMPER

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30-35 mins
Makes 8 servings

250g plain self-raising flour
200g wholemeal self-raising flour
2 tsp saltbush
1 tsp salt
100ml oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
300ml cold water
1/4 tsp saltbush, extra

Heat the oven to 200C and line an oven tray with baking paper.

In a food processor, combine the plain and wholemeal flours, saltbush, salt and oil until the oil is fairly evenly distributed.

With the motor running, pour in the water a little at a time until the dough has just come together in a ball (you might not need all the water).

Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and very briefly knead (about 1 minute) then form into a round shape.

Place the dough onto your prepared tray. Dip a sharp knife into flour and score the top in a star pattern to create 8 wedges. Sprinkle the extra saltbush over the top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly golden and when you tap the bottom it sounds hollow.

Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes.

Best eaten warm as a large chunk in your hand, with lashings of butter and perhaps some good cheese or a bowl of soup on the side.
dairy-free damper bread

Variations:

  • omit the saltbush (difficult to get outside Australia) and replace with chopped fresh rosemary
  • sprinkle with Parmesan before baking
  • add chunks of cheese to the dough when kneading for a cheesy damper
  • use beer instead of the water to get a yeasty flavour
  • use your hands instead of the food processor to mix the dough (great for little ones to get involved)

Please share some of your easy/foolproof bread recipes so I can beat my bread demon!

I’m joining in with the Great Bloggers Bake Off. Visit Mummy Mishaps to see some more successful attempts than mine at leavened bread!
gbbo-badgesmallI’m also linking up to Supergolden Bake’s #CookBlogShare party.
cookblogshare

Cheesy spinach crackers

Week two of the Great British Bake Off was all about biscuits and this was the perfect excuse for me to revisit making savoury crackers.
the crackers say it all!

I don’t make these Wholemeal Wheat Thins nearly enough, especially when we’re all big cracker fans, and since I first made them I’ve wanted to try adapting the recipe to use olive oil instead of butter to be a bit healthier.

I’ve made these crackers using both fresh and frozen spinach with the same great result. If you’re using frozen spinach, run it under cold water for a minute or two to defrost and then squeeze as much liquid out as you can before putting it into your food processor.

The preparation is super quick and easy – just throw everything into your food processor! What will take up most of your preparation time is rolling and cutting.

cheesy spinach crackersThe secret to getting a lovely crisp cracker is to roll out the dough as thinly as possible (2-3mm is ideal).

Nicholas and I had lots of fun cutting out different shapes – small letters, circles and wavy rectangles. Small fiddly shapes can be time-consuming (although kids will love them), but even cutting random straight lines across the dough will give you some fun shapes.

If you get sick of rolling and cutting, the dough freezes very well!
cheesy spinach crackers

CHEESY SPINACH CRACKERS

Prep time: 15-20 mins
Cook time: 5-10 mins (depending on the size of the crackers)
Makes about 120 Ritz-size crackers
Store in an airtight container for up to a week

100g spinach
200g grated cheddar
150g wholemeal plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
60ml extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 200C and line an oven tray with baking paper.

Put the spinach into a food processor and blend until evenly broken up.

Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until the mixture comes together into a ball.

Take the dough out of the processor and divide it in half. Roll out one half of the dough as thinly as you can (I put the dough between two pieces of cling film to avoid it sticking to the bench or rolling pin, which saves on cleaning up time!). The thinner you can roll it, the crisper your thins will be.

Cut out shapes using a cookie cutters or a pastry wheel.

Place the shapes close together on your prepared tray and use a skewer or toothpick to poke some holes into each one to stop them puffing up.

Bake for 7 – 10 mins until golden brown and crisp (keep a close eye on them as they cook quickly).

Variations:

  • use white plain flour for a lighter textured cracker
  • omit the cheese for a dairy-free cracker
  • add onion or garlic powder to the mixture
  • add some dried herbs such as thyme, sage or rosemary to the mixture

Tip: if your stored crackers start getting soft, pop them back into the oven to crisp up for a couple of minutes.

To join in the Great Bloggers Bake Off or to see the other baking efforts, visit Mummy Mishaps.
gbbo-badgesmall

I’m also linking up to Supergolden Bake’s #CookBlogShare party.
cookblogshare

 

Lemon Myrtle Swiss Roll

The Great British Bake Off is back on which makes me very happy, and this year I wanted to do something I didn’t get round to last year – join in the Great Bloggers’ Bake Off run by Jenny at Mummy Mishaps.

The idea is to bake something inspired by the challenges on that week’s show, whether copying a recipe done or coming up with something yourself. This week was Swiss rolls, Mary Berry’s cherry cake and miniature British classics.

As soon as I saw some of the contestants making coloured patterned Swiss rolls, I knew that’s what I wanted to try!

I’ve seen some of my favourite foodie bloggers making the cutest Swiss rolls using silicon templates like these:
cute Swiss roll silicon sheetsAnd what Minion fan wouldn’t love to eat these?!?
minnion-cake-rolls-cupcakepedia

Absolutely amazing, but I didn’t want to be overly ambitious as each separate colour you use adds to the preparation time (and my piping skills leave a lot to be desired!). You do the pattern first, one colour at at time, either freezing the batter, or cooking it for a very short time, to set it in place and stop it bleeding into the rest of the roll. You then pour the rest of the batter over the top and cook the whole sponge.

Patterned Swiss roll decided, but what about the flavour? I wanted to do something a bit different. When I saw my lovely blogger friend Blue’s creation inspired by her childhood memory of an Aussie honey roll with the twist of lavender, I remembered the Australian herbs and spices my wonderful hubby brought back from a work trip to Melbourne. Powdered lemon myrtle was the first one I pulled out and my decision was made.

You can learn more about lemon myrtle here and I’ve found it to buy in the UK here. It has the most amazingly strong lemon aroma and you really get the sense of it being a wild bush plant when you taste it in something. However, you can substitute it with lemongrass powder or lemon verbena for a similar more earthy lemon flavour.

I used my husband’s Swiss roll recipe converting his very easy to remember ‘3-3-3’ formula (3 dessert spoons of plain flour, 3 dessert spoons of sugar and 3 eggs) to grams. His Swiss rolls always turn out wonderfully light using just the whisked egg whites to make it fluffy; unfortunately mine didn’t. Whisking the egg whites a bit to make the batter for the pattern, waiting for that to freeze and then whisking the whites again to fold into the main batter didn’t work that well (and hubby wasn’t impressed!). Next time I do a patterned Swiss roll I’ll use self-raising flour to produce a more stable batter.

Great British Bake Off

LEMON MYRTLE SWISS ROLL

Prep time: 30 mins plus 15 mins freezer time to set your pattern
Cook time: 8-10 mins
Makes one roll

3 eggs
50g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1 tsp ground lemon myrtle
small amount of green food colouring gel

For the cream filling:
200ml double (or whipping) cream
1 tsp ground lemon myrtle
2 tsp caster sugar

Draw your leaf pattern on a piece of paper slightly smaller than your baking tray. Place it on your tray and cover with a piece of baking paper. (If the baking paper doesn’t stay flat, dab a little butter on the tray around your paper pattern and use it to stick the baking paper in place.)

Separate the eggs putting the yolks into a medium-sized mixing bowl and the whites into a bowl big enough to beat them (a metal one is supposedly better for beating egg whites).

Add the 50g of caster sugar to the egg yolks and beat by hand with a whisk until it’s turned a paler colour. Keep beating and add the flour a spoonful at a time and then the lemon myrtle.

Put 2 tablespoons of the egg and flour mix in a small bowl and add a very small amount of food colouring gel to get your required shade.

Using an electric beater, whisk the eggs whites until soft peaks have just started to form.

Add 2 tablespoons of the whisked egg whites to the sponge batter you put in the smaller bowl and mix together (you don’t need to worry about the whites collapsing). Keep adding egg white until you have a fairly runny mixture similar to the consistency of single cream.

Put in a small clean resealable bag and squeeze the mixture to a bottom corner. Snip the corner off (it needs to be very small!) and pipe your design onto your prepared tray using your pattern as a guide.
My template and my simpler piped leaves

Put your tray into the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 175C.

Just before you take your tray out of the freezer, whip your remaining egg whites a little bit more until you just have firm peaks. Add about a third of the egg whites to the remaining sponge batter and thoroughly mix.

Take your tray out of the freezer.

Gently fold the rest of the egg whites into the sponge batter and pour the batter into your tray using a spatula to very gently cover your design without smudging it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown.

Keeping the sponge on the baking paper, roll it up tightly while it’s still warm and leave to cool.
lemon myrtle

To make the cream filling, whip the double cream, lemon myrtle and sugar until stiff.

When the sponge has cooled, gently unwrap it and peel off the baking paper.

Trim the sides and spread the cream over the sponge (putting slightly more at the end you’ll start rolling it up and slightly less at the other).

Roll up the sponge as tightly as you can and trim the end just before you finish rolling. Chill in the fridge to firm up for at least an hour.

Great British Bake Off

What pattern would you try on a Swiss roll? Something for a birthday or Christmas perhaps?

To join in the Great Bloggers Bake Off or to see the other baking efforts, visit Mummy Mishaps.

gbbo-badgesmallI’m also linking up with Supergolden Bake’s #CookBlogShare party.

cookblogshare

 

Beetroot and yogurt risotto

Beetroot is a vegetable I’ve only grown to love cooking with recently, most probably as I’ve previously written, my experience of it growing up was ready-cooked, sliced and in tins.

When it’s in season, beetroot features a lot in our weekly delivered fruit and vegetable box, and that’s encouraged me to try using it in different ways. I’ve blogged my most successful recipes to date: beetroot, feta and thyme muffins, pink (beetroot) pancakes and beetroot and yogurt dip. The dip is what got me thinking about making a beetroot risotto.

beetroot and yogurt risotto

Cook your beetroot in your preferred way (or buy it precooked to cook down on preparation time). I like wrapping them in one piece of foil and roasting them in the oven; there’s no need to trim or chop them. Once they’ve cooled, it’s easy to remove the skin. You can also cook them in the microwave.

Surprisingly, this risotto doesn’t taste overly of earthy beetroot and the yogurt gives it a lovely (healthier) richness and creaminess without adding the usual extra butter and parmesan at the end. Kids (and adults) will love the colour and Nicholas happily ate it. I used red wine to add to the colour and liked the extra depth of flavour it gave, but white wine would work just as well.

BEETROOT AND YOGURT RISOTTO

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Serves 4 adults

400g cooked and peeled beetroot
1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 onion, finely diced
350g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli)
250ml red wine
1 litre hot vegetable (or chicken) stock
150g Greek yogurt

Roughly chop the beetroot, put the pieces in a small food processor and blend until smooth.

Heat the oil and butter in a medium-sized pot over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and gently fry until softened.

Add the rice and quickly stir it so all the grains are coated. Add the wine and stir until it’s absorbed.

Start adding the stock a ladle at a time, letting it absorb then adding more. Keep doing this until the rice is ready (cooked but still with a little bite, about 15-20 minutes, and still moist). Remove from the heat.

Gently stir through the beetroot then the yogurt. Check for seasoning.

Tip: keep a small piece of beetroot aside and finely dice it to sprinkle over the top before serving.

What are you favourite ways of cooking with beetroot?

Mini savoury bread puddings

When we were doing our Kingsmill Great White Challenge, I didn’t just want to eat bread in sandwiches or as toast. After a quick search online for ideas, I decided to try making savoury bread puddings.

Not only are these puddings a brilliant way to use up older bread, but they’re also great to use up any crusts or end pieces that your family doesn’t like eating. I have a few bags in my freezer of crusts leftover from school lunches which I would normally make into sugar-free French toast, but now I think they’ll be made into savoury bread puddings!

Please excuse my approximate amounts in the recipe. This is a very forgiving recipe, so even just 2 sausages would work. The only important thing is making sure there is enough liquid to moisten all of your bread chunks.

I made my savoury puddings in a large muffin pan, but you could easily pour all the mixture into a loaf tin and eat it in slices instead.

To get your munchkins involved in the cooking, forget about cutting up the bread and get them tearing it up instead. And I’m sure they’ll love mixing all the ingredients together too.

cute food

MINI SAVOURY BREAD PUDDINGS

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 30-40 mins
Makes 6 mini puddings

1/2 onion, finely diced
3 or 4 uncooked sausages
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or chives, chopped
salt and pepper
approx. 4 slices of bread, roughly chopped into cubes about 3cm square
oil of your choice (I used rapeseed oil)
extra cheddar cheese for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 180C.

Remove the casings from the sausages by cutting down the length of the sausages and peeling off the casings.

Heat a small amount of oil in a medium-sized frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sausage, and cook for about 5 minutes until both are cooked, stirring to break up the sausage meat. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the milk, egg, 1/4 cup of grated cheese, chopped herbs, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the sausage mixture and then stir through the bread (if the mixture is quite wet and runny, add a little more bread; if there isn’t enough liquid to soak through the bread, add a little more milk).

Allow the bread to soak up the liquid while you lightly grease a large muffin pan.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, sprinkle over a little extra cheddar cheese and cook for 30-40 minutes until golden brown on top and cooked through.

If you want to make your mini puddings into turtles, use half a cherry tomato for the head and pieces of soft cheese triangles for its legs and little tail. His mouth is a small piece of soft cheese and his eyes are cress leaves. I also garnished the plate with cress (grown by Nicholas!).

Variations:

  • Bake the mixture into a loaf tin and eat in slices
  • Add some grated apple while you’re cooking the onion and sausage
  • Use bacon or uncooked ham instead of the sausage
  • Add some chopped fresh spinach to the finished mixture

What do you do with your leftover bread?