Those of you who have read my monthly posts on seasonal foods will know that I’m a big fan of eating food when it is at its freshest and best – that is to say, when it’s in season.
This year, more for my own interest than anything else, I’ve started to keep a food diary, recording our evening meal each day so that I can refer back, both for inspiration and for sheer curiosity.
I’m pretty sure getting into a food rut isn’t a problem that’s unique to me so I’ve decided that each month I’ll share a few of our family favourites from the previous one in the hope that it may spark a few ideas or even inspire you to try something new. Some may be seasonal, others just something from a much loved cook book or even a family favourite passed down from my Mum.
We’re not Scottish but I can’t let Burn’s Night pass by without making the most of an excellent excuse (as if I need one) to eat haggis. Now, if you’re one of those people who crinkles their nose in disgust at the thought of haggis – then take my advice and don’t think! It tastes like beautifully spiced mince. It’s warming, comforting and I love the stuff.
We eat it with: Mashed potato, Marrowfat peas and gravy.
This was the perfect recipe book for me in January. It’s full of simple, nutritious meals. The kind that are comforting enough for even the coldest of January days, but also full of great ingredients that you can feel doing you good and restoring you after the festive season of excess.
My favourite 3 recipes this month were;
…a simple, spicy pasta dish with tomatoes and crispy bacon. Quick to make and with a kick that warms you through to your cockles (to use the medical term).
This is a lovely, simple way to cook fish. The flavours are subtle, but fragrant and delicious. Beautiful fillets of cod are coated in a spiced yoghurt that is speckled with mustard seeds which add a satisfying crunch. The dahl is the perfect accompaniment and if possible, it’s even easier. Just lentils, coconut water, a cinnamon stick and cardamom pods make up this lovely little side dish.
When I first presented this to hubby, it was with a certain amount of trepidation. No meat, just a plate of cauliflower and chickpeas. Somehow though, this combination of a few simple ingredients just works. I mean, really works! Even hubby is converted and has since asked to have it again. As the book’s title suggests, this recipe is simple. It’s also delicious, filling – and super healthy. Hurrah!
This year, at the ripe old age of 38, I hosted my first ever Christmas at home. It was nerve-wracking, exhausting, exciting, fulfilling and well, wonderful.
We didn’t have a big crowd so I was eased in gently. My brother and his girlfriend joined us on Christmas Eve for some festive fizz and a gorgeous baked ham (can I call it gorgeous if I cooked it? Oh well, my blog, my rules!)
Then on Christmas Day, after a simple breakfast and some stocking opening, they left and both lots of parents arrived – bringing with them many and varied offerings towards the day’s eating and drinking.
Only 30 minutes later than originally planned, we all tucked into our roast turkey and trimmings. Plates were cleared, so I take that as a good sign. Although there are several tweaks I will make next year.
So what did I learn? After much pondering, I have decided that there are 12 key things that I’ll take away for next year. The 12 tips of Christmas if you will…
Those of you who are seasoned Christmas hosts may smile wisely at these and please feel free to add more of your own in the comments!
Before you plan your Christmas food extravaganza, make sure you actually have both the fridge and oven space to cope with it all. If, like me, you only have one oven then it makes things trickier – it’s not impossible, but careful planning is required. Thankfully, turkeys can rest for a good hour or two without any harm coming to them so you can do all your potatoes and parsnips etc once the bird is out and relaxing in its foil.
Fridge-wise, if you have a garage or shed then make use of these for veggies etc. Those of you with any outdoor space can fill a bucket or crate with water and leave it outside with all of your drinks.
Oh, and before you buy your ridiculously expensive turkey, for goodness sake, make sure it’ll fit in your oven! Just sayin’..
Of all the Christmas feast and festivities, there is very little that cannot be at least partly prepared beforehand. Puddings and cakes – obvs. Perhaps less obvs, prepare all your veg the day before. Potatoes need to sit in water once peeled and chopped, then just pour out and give fresh water when you’re ready to par-boil. Carrots, parsnips and sprouts (or most other veg) can be peeled, chopped and stored in freezer bags in the fridge quite happily for a day or two.
Check your recipes and where possible, make what you can in advance!
Throughout the whole process, I found myself constantly questioning whether there would be enough food to satisfy my guests. Would the turkey be big enough (despite the fact that I’d purposefully ordered one that would serve 2 more people than were actually coming). How many potatoes to do? How many parsnips? The fact is, with so many different things on offer, people tend to have smaller portions of everything and chances are, you’ve done more than enough!
I come from a family of drinkers. I’m not saying we’re booze hounds but we like our wine…and our gin…oooh, and a spot of port…and Champagne for goodness sake, it’s Christmas after all. With that in mind, I was sure to get in plenty of supplies to see us through. Chances are though, there will be at least someone who won’t be partaking, be it due to driving, pregnancy or infancy. These poor folk shouldn’t feel that they’re being left out of the frivolities so make sure there’s something special for them too. This year, I did a combination of 1 part orange juice, 1 part apple and 1 part cranberry in a large jug with plenty of ice. It went down very well with children and drivers alike!
It may be that you and yours aren’t big drinkers and so the non-alcoholic choice is plentiful. If that’s the case – then you should reverse this and remember to provide for your more boozy buddies!
I’m not at all creative or arty but I really wanted people to arrive and feel surrounded by festive spirit and cheer. Short of plying them all with sherry at the door, I was a little stumped. It turns out that it really isn’t too tricky (or expensive) to create a spot of festive sparkle. A few fir cones, a bunch of baubles and a whole table (well not quite) of tea lights and suddenly your home is like a little corner of pure Christmas.
I see you rolling your eyes but seriously, this will make you feel so much more in control and will also let you know when you have free time for important things like unwrapping presents and drinking Champagne Cocktails (more on those later..)
It’s a bit of a pain to do – you need to work out all of the timings for all of the things you need to prepare. I mean everything. When do you need to pre-heat the oven? When does the water go on for the veg? When do you heat the fat for the potatoes? Once it’s done though you’ll feel calmer and more relaxed – and if you’re calm and relaxed then your Christmas guests will be too.
Oh, and keep it for the following year! It’ll make life easier when you’re doing your next timetable.
Huh? Ok, so I don’t mean completely forget it, but DO allow yourself to be flexible. The chances are that something will happen to throw the timetable out slightly. Don’t let this ruffle you. The timetable is there to put YOU in control, not to control you. If a few tweaks are needed along the way, then go with it – show that timetable who’s boss!
If you’re anything like me then it will be easy to turn into a bit of a control freak. You’ve done your planning, you’ve got your timetable and everything is under control goddamit! The only thing is, there are probably a few people there who would actually quite enjoy being involved, getting stuck in and well, helping you. Don’t see this as showing weakness or failure. Christmas is very much a team event. Let people help, get everyone involved and share the fun!
Equally, people don’t like to turn up empty handed so if they ask you what they can bring – don’t say ‘oh nothing!’. Christmas is pretty pricey and frankly, any offerings should be gratefully accepted. Your guests will feel happier that they’ve been able to contribute and your bank balance will definitely thank you.
I hate to break this to you but something will go wrong. It may be a whopper, like forgetting to buy the turkey, or it may be something so small that no one will even notice. Whichever it is, don’t let it ruin the day. If something doesn’t go according to plan, then change the plan, have a laugh about it and get on with enjoying your day. It’s not about the perfection of the meal, or the beauty of the decorations. It’s about you and your loved ones being together and sharing Christmas.
Who wants to be scrubbing greasy toasting tins on Christmas Day?
This is a tradition passed down from my parents. I’m not sure which side it came from originally but I am sure that it’s an absolute essential. Here’s what you need:
In your Champagne glass;
Add 1 sugar cube and a couple of drops of Angostura Bitters. Cover the sugar with brandy, add a slice of orange and then top up with Champagne (or any other fizz that you have to hand).
Drink and be merry!
Hopefully, you’ll have spotted this as a general theme throughout. It can be so easy to get completely caught up in the plan and in the moment, that suddenly the day ends and you realise that you didn’t speak to your loved ones apart from in barked orders or sharp retorts. So fraught were you, that you didn’t notice your children as they frolicked with their wrapping paper. So tense were you that you completely missed the hilarity when Dad fell asleep and his paper hat fell on to his face.
Don’t miss these moments. Let the potatoes burn. Let the sprouts go cold. Enjoy your family. Love your people. Happy Christmas xxx
For me, December is all about the lead up to Christmas and that means it’s filled with seasonal flavours and smells like cinnamon, ginger, citrus and …. well, sprouts.
Now is the time that I do my present shopping – mainly online because frankly it’s so much less stressful. I do however treat myself to an annual trip to the Christmas Market in Nottingham and it never fails to fill me with Christmas spirit (thanks only in part to the obligatory mulled wine stop). The smells of German sausage, roasting chestnuts, mulling spices and gingerbread waft across the square and can’t help but give you a rush of excitement for the coming festive season.
As far as seasonal food goes, the Christmas theme continues. It could be said that December pickings are rather slim in comparison with other months but honestly, who could really claim that the month which gives us mince pies, sweet roast chestnuts and Christmas dinner is anything but bounteous?
Ok, let’s talk about sprouts. As a wise reader of Eat Drink Cook, I don’t think I need to convince you of their merits do I? I mean, you already know right? Right?! Ok. Good. Let’s move on…
On to parsnips. Much like dogs, parsnips are not just for Christmas. Yes, the little maple glazed beauties are one of the stars of the festive table, but don’t be afraid to explore other options. Spicy Parsnip & Apple Soup, Parsnip Fries or just chucked into a hearty stew.
I’m going to leave it at that. Someone tweeted me the other day to ask if I have any turkey recipes (shout out to you Andy Hose!) I’m embarrassed to say that this will be my first EVER year of actually cooking Christmas dinner. We have always spent previous years at my parents’ home where my main responsibilities were veg chopping (always a team game it must be said) and writing the all-important (or so my Mum told me..) Christmas dinner timetable.
This year, I’m sticking with Nigella. Her books are the most used of my large and ever-growing cook book collection and she has never let me down yet.
November has arrived, bringing with it a blanket of fog (in Nottingham at least). I’ve often found that fog, rather like snow, seems to induce a childlike frenzy of emotion in otherwise mature and well-rounded adults.
Some find it exciting and mysterious, others, creepy and eerie. A few think it’s just plain gloomy. For me, fog awakens my need to feel cosy. Walking to work, there’s almost a ghostly quality to the city. Everyone drifting by as if in a dream until eventually, growing more distant, they’re swallowed by the mist.
Autumn firmly here – in fact, winter edging ever closer, it’s not surprising that this month’s seasonal foods are rather few and far between…
You would be forgiven for thinking that the humble cauliflower is the least exciting of this little bunch. Perhaps it is, if it’s just boiled to within an inch of it’s life, and then served plan. Curried however, it’s a wondrous thing. Cooked with onion, cubes of potato, and a few well chosen spices it makes a simple to make but really rather wonderful treat!
As for cauliflower cheese, I can’t think of many dishes (especially vegetable dishes) which offer such creamy comfort. As a child, we often used to have this as a main meal, with more vegetables on the side for good measure. I never once felt there was anything lacking in such a meal!
I cooked venison for the first time last year, making my ‘Harty’ Venison Stew (I was very pleased with that little pun at the time – and I must say, I still am!)
It makes a lovely, more gamey alternative to beef, and in this rather cold and blustery month, it provides robust flavour to bolster you against the chill!
Well, here we are again. The start of another month. As the days grow shorter, so does the time we have left until Christmas. In fact we have just 12 weeks until another year’s turkey and stockings are stuffed.
If the sheer mention of the ‘c’ word fills you with a sense of dread then take a look at my 12 part guide to a Stress Free Christmas – guaranteed to fill you with a sense of seasonal serenity instead…
We’re not there yet though so forget the Christmas shopping for today and take a moment to enjoy October and the seasonal gifts it has to offer…
Sweet potato is a huge favourite of mine. Its nutritional benefits are unquestionable – unlike normal potato it even counts as one of your five a day! Better than that though, whether it’s roasted, mashed or made into soup, its honeyed tones add an almost dessert like sweetness to any dish, which is pure comfort on a chilly October day.
If you’ve never cooked with Duck then do give it a go. These days it’s not too tricky to get hold of duck legs or breasts so you don’t have to tackle a whole bird if you don’t want to. It has a slightly stronger flavour than chicken but isn’t as ‘gamey’ as other birds like pheasant or goose. The fat makes great roasties too…
If you want to get more fish in your diet then haddock is a wonderfully versatile and widely available fish. A fish shop favourite, haddock doesn’t have to be covered in batter. It can be cooked simply with some lemon juice and parsley as a healthy alternative. Smoked haddock is one of my favourite fish – poached and served with creamy mash and poached egg on top. That moment when you break the yolk and it oozes into both fish and mash… sublime! It’s a must in fish pies and it makes a mean chowder too.
Could there be anything cosier than pulling on your woollen sock slippers, pouring yourself a nip of sloe gin and enjoying the smell of sweet roasting chestnuts as you warm your cockles by the open fire? (Figurative cockles, rather than literal that is – actual cockles are just going out of season..)
Planning your week’s meals can be rather fun. Browsing recipes books, looking online and daydreaming about the lovely things you could make—and more importantly, eat.
Sadly however, the reality is that life tends to get in the way and more often than not we find ourselves desperately trying to plan a week’s meals when we have 10 minutes to spare between preparing for that meeting, bathing the kids or doing the chores.
This month’s meal plan is aimed at the busy-bees among you. You want (no, need!) something tasty to fill your belly, but it has to be something fast and simple.
Take a look at last month’s – 7 Day Meal Plan for Your Five a Day
I’ve tried to pick a reasonably balanced selection. You will find some meat, some fish and some vegetarian. There are healthy options and some that are more indulgent. A few even manage to be both!
You’ll find a selection of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for weekdays and another selection for the weekends. There are no set days so pick those that appeal and that will work best for you and your life.
For the weekdays I’ve picked meals which are convenient but nourishing and delicious. You’ll find quick breakfasts that will keep you going throughout the morning, tasty, filling lunches which can either be made in a flash at home or packed up and taken to the office and dinners which can be ready in around 30 minutes.
For the weekends, meals may take a little longer (although not necessarily) and will hopefully feel more of a treat to be enjoyed with friends or family.
Let me know how you get on – I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
If you’re lucky enough to have an apple tree in your garden – or to have access to someone else’s then this time of year is generally filled with crumbles, pies and apple cake. Not a bad way to console yourself at the end of summer but occasionally, dare I say it? One feels the need for a bit of a change… After all, there are only so many crumbles and pies you can eat in a day. Personally, I draw the line at one of each but then I’ve always been a bit of a stickler.
The thing is, even a strict regime of a pie and crumble a day doesn’t even come close to diminishing the apple glut. Don’t get me wrong, of the gluts you could suffer, apples are probably one of the best, but it’s a glut that still needs tackling, and tackle it I will!
This spiced apple butter is rather wonderful. Firstly, there’s no need to peel the apples – a job I find quite therapeutic for the first apple or two but by number five or six, I must say it’s pretty tiresome.
Secondly, it’s a multi-purpose apple butter. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to cheese and biccies but can also be used in sweet treats such as apple tarts or turnovers.
Wait! Before you gasp in awe and reach for your preserving pan, there’s more! This sweet, sticky, spiced apple butter comes in jars and you all know the rule about food that comes in jars right?
“If it comes in a jar then it can be given as a gift.”
I’m sure that’s a Shakespeare quote … or perhaps it was Martha Stewart…
Anyhoo, I’ve heard a rumour that Christmas is just around the corner so it seems that this glut of apples, plus a recipe for them that can be put in jars and given as gifts might be rather handy?
I’ve got you covered buddy – check out the gourmet gift section of the blog 🙂
Today’s post is a little different – partly because I’ve been a touch under the weather and so haven’t made it to the kitchen much over the last week, but also because I took a trip back to my parents home this weekend and it got me thinking…
This weekend we went back to Lincolnshire to stay with my parents for a couple of nights. It was the first time we’ve been back there since June so I was pretty excited to see both Mum and Dad, but also to be back in my old home for a few days.
It always feels like an opportunity for renewal – feeling like a child again and forgetting, if only briefly, the worries of everyday life. I have breakfast cooked for me, sleep in my old room and sit around the dining table eating delicious food cooked by my Mum, drinking wine hand picked by my Dad and chatting about old times.
This trip was no different. We relaxed, we caught up and we even took a little field trip to Woolsthorpe Manor, the home of Sir Isaac Newton, to learn about him and his apples. Dad engaged in some extreme scrumping by pinching one from the famous tree itself! (ssshhhhhh!)
After a few apple and pear recipes? Try some of these….
Despite it being officially Autumn, we were really lucky with the weather and it felt more like Summer. There was no mistaking the season however, when I walked down the garden to look at the fruit trees.
So laden with fruit, Mum and Dad’s apple and pear trees gave us three big bags of crunchy deliciousness to bring back to Nottingham with us. You wouldn’t even know we’d touched them though, so full are the branches.
These old trees have given me so much happiness over the years… I’ve spent spring and summer days climbing them and sitting among their branches with a book. Occasionally, forgetting the story I was reading, I would just close my eyes and listen to the leaves rustling gently in the breeze, enjoying the sun’s warmth on my cheeks.
As summers have passed, I’ve picked and eaten year after year of fruit. Stewed, crumbled, or just plucked, fresh from the tree.
Then as the leaves have turned and fallen, I’ve raked and gathered and stomped and kicked. I’ve laughed and chased and rosy cheeked, returned inside for a cup of tea by the fire.
This year, the trees gave me something more. Something better. This year, they gave that same happiness to my two boys. I watched them as they gazed up at the fruit-filled boughs, though Jacob, my seven year old couldn’t believe his luck that so many had fallen to the ground just waiting to be kicked.
Seth, at only nineteen months and newly walking, was more interested in weaving his way in and out, occasionally bending down to pick up one of the fallen fruit, examine it and then place it carefully back where he found it.
So thanks Mum, thanks Dad and thanks to your old orchard for the years of simple pleasures you’ve given to me and now to my boys.
My plan now is to create some recipes using those three bags of fruit that I can then share with the rest of you…
You’ve read all the parenting books, you’ve browsed all the forums and you know EVERYTHING there is to know about weaning and what to give your growing toddler so they get all the nutrition they need to develop healthily.
There’s just one problem.
They won’t bloody well eat anything but raisins!
With this post, I hope to guide you through the minefield that is feeding your toddler and offer you some tried and tested ways to ensure that little Johnny won’t eat anything you serve him. I realise you were probably hoping for something more along the lines of sure fire ways to get them to guzzle down anything you offer. Sorry – no idea about that one…
Ok, the key here is to pick foods that your toddler has already eaten and enjoyed. You know that one meal that was their absolute favourite last week? It’s got an expiry date (known only to your toddler). Try giving it to them now and I promise you, they’ll look at you like you’ve just served them up the contents of their own nappy.
The trick to remember is the longer you spend in the preparation of a meal, the faster your toddler will turn their nose up at it. This one is 100% foolproof. Anything over 20 minutes prep and you’re guaranteed to have your meal thrown back in your face. Probably literally!
Now this one is likely to trip a few of you up. All the books tell you to make your food look pretty. ‘Presentation is everything’ they’ll have you believe. Quite the contrary. A beautifully presented meal, on a clean, hygienic plate is almost bound to result in failure. Experience has shown me that the presentation that is almost irresistible to all toddlers is food that has been left out for a while, has gone completely cold and preferably has been dropped on the floor and trodden into the carpet a little bit. That and bugs. They love those things.
Ok, now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. I urge you to keep trying to feed your toddler yourself. They may make a grab for the spoon in a fit of independence, but hold strong and I can say without doubt, that they won’t eat a bit. Even if you manage to get a spoonful in their mouth through a mixture of clever diversions and brute force, they’ll immediately spit it out. In extreme cases, they’ll remove the food with their hands and throw it – either at you or the floor.
NB. This tip is unusual, in that the opposite is also true. Allow your toddler to take the spoon and they will still get food everywhere but their mouth, but with much greater efficiency.
To be sure that your toddler won’t touch a bite, you must show them that you really want them to. If you show any signs of pleading with them, or in fact appearing to try to get them to eat in any way, you’re done for. Game over.
If you’ve read these tips and found yourself nodding your head in agreement, then you have my heartfelt understanding and condolences. I’m pretty sure they’re all in on it. It’s a plot, and a complex one at that.
ps. No toddlers were harmed in the making of this post
It only seems like yesterday that I was writing this post for August and looking forward to the joys of figs and crayfish. However, here we are at the start of September and perhaps more significantly, the arrival of Autumn.
The bold colours of summer are subtly changing to burnished reds and golds. The wild flowers that carpeted the countryside are replaced with fallen leaves, just waiting to be kicked by little wellingtoned feet.
Apples play a big part in ushering in Autumn. Now is the time of year when pudding after your Sunday roast switches from pavlova or ice cream to gooey, sweet apple crumble with a browned, burnished topping (or if you’re very lucky, Salted Caramel Apple Crumble)!
Butternut Squash is a favourite of mine. In soups, in curries, in stews or just roasted – it’s beautiful, sweet and golden and it wouldn’t fit anywhere else, but Autumn!
Autumn Lamb just fills me with images of big Sunday dinners. Lots of friends and family chattering and laughing, bottles of robust red wine, overflowing dishes of roast potatoes and, at the heart of it all, a bronzed and meltingly tender, roast leg of lamb.
Love lamb? Try my Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks 🙂
Other than horseradish sauce, I can honestly say that I’ve never cooked with horseradish, elderberries or damsons. This month, I intend to change that, so keep an eye out for seasonal recipes coming up….
ps – it’s worth noting that elderberries should never be eaten raw because they contain a poisonous alkaloid which becomes harmless once cooked
Want to know more? Here’s what I wrote last September!