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Monday, 18 January 2016

10 quick and easy starter recipes for a dinner party

A good dinner party calls for thorough preparation, and you certainly shouldn’t skimp on the starters, which can help to fuel all of the attendees’ excitement for the rest of the party. So, whether you are preparing for your own party or someone else’s, perhaps because you run a B&B that has been booked for the occasion, here are some quick recipes.

Melty onion toasts
For this gastropub-style starter, begin by adding 6 sliced onions to heated butter in a sauté pan before sprinkling 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar on top. Keep the onions at medium heat for 20 minutes and, once they are sticky and golden, add some brandy. This is the onion topping; now, toast 6 slices of sourdough bread, spread the onions across them, and add cheese slices. Bake the toasts on a baking tray for 15 minutes.

Hot and sour broth with prawns
This takes a mere 15 minutes to prepare – ideal if you run a venue that can be readily and regularly booked for dinner parties and you are rushed off your feet. This starter involves putting 3 teaspoons of vinegar, 500ml of chicken stock, a teaspoon of golden caster sugar, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a small piece of ginger, 2 small hot red chillies and 3 spring onions in a saucepan, before simmering and cooking, then adding prawns.

Mini Swedish meatballs with cranberry sauce
Put meat, breadcrumbs, egg, onion, allspice and some seasoning into a bowl, thoroughly mix and form into meatballs, and then brown and cook those using heated oil. Serve with a bowl of cranberry sauce. The full, more detailed recipe is available from BBC Good Food.

Prawn cocktail
A long-established favourite! Peel, rinse and dry 200g of cooked and peeled prawns, before chopping 100g of cucumber into small dice and tipping them into a dish. Add some vinegar, dill and pepper, then set aside before you halve, stone, peel and dice a small, ripe avocado. You can make the sauce by mixing together mayonnaise, fromage frais and ketchup; when serving the cocktail, place a spoonful of the sauce into each cocktail glass.

Smoked trout pâté and pitta crisps
After heating the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 8, halve 4 pieces of pitta bread before cutting them into wedges. Brush those wedges with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt and chopped dill before cooking the wedges for 10-12 minutes. Once they’re crisp, serve them with flaked hot-smoked trout fillets mixed with 200ml of soured cream, a tablespoon of chopped gherkin and 2 tablespoons of chopped dill.

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Salmon and prawns with dill and lime aioli
Arrange 400g of cooked king prawns - shelled apart from the tail - and 400g smoked salmon on plates. Then, mix 140g of mayonnaise, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill, before adding juice squeezed from half a lime. Place a spoonful of the mixture onto each plate, along with dill leaves, a lime wedge and a grinding of pepper.

Celeriac tartare with smoked trout
First, make the tartare dressing by combining some mayonnaise, capers, lemon juice, cornichons and parsley leaves. Then, peel and slice a small celeriac before cutting it into matchsticks. Mix and combine the celeriac and dressing, then place piles of smoked trout, celeriac and rocket onto plates. Before serving, drizzle all of the food with olive oil.

Creamy smoked salmon, leek and potato soup
Heat a large knob of butter in a saucepan, add 2 large leeks and a bay leaf, and then spend 8-10 minutes cooking over a low heat. Now, stir through 1kg of diced and floury potatoes until butter-coated. Pour over a litre of chicken or vegetable stock, simmer, gently bubble for 10-15 minutes, and then add 2 thirds of 200g of smoked salmon strips before stirring through and seasoning. Put the remaining salmon on top of the soup.

Cream of wild mushroom soup
Pour boiled water over 25g of dried porcini, heat 25g of butter in a saucepan, and then sizzle a chopped onion, sliced garlic clove and thyme sprigs until they start browning. Add the porcini to the onion with 400g of mixed wild mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes, pour over 850ml of vegetable stock, plus juice drained from the porcini, and then bring to the boil before simmering for 20 minutes. Stir in crème fraîche and simmer for a few minutes.

Classic potted shrimps
Melt 100g of unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat, add some cayenne pepper and nutmeg, and then stir through prawns or shrimps before seasoning. Remove the prawns and press them into your serving dish. Chill until they set, then pour the remaining butter over the prawns. Leave them to set in the fridge overnight. Before serving, toast on a tray in an oven heated to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

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image source

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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Ultimate Cheese & Caramelised Onion Toastie {and 10 ways to spend family time together}

Happy new year to each and very one of you, and welcome back! 

The last couple of weeks have flown by as we've spent many hours eating and drinking in the company of friends and family, but it's now time to get back into a routine, and start enjoying some healthier eating.

Before all that though, there was still time at the weekend to enjoy an ultimate toastie, which was amazing. The boys had gone to football and myself and H enjoyed a couple of hours pottering around and making marshmallows.

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We love a piece of smoked cheese, especially at Christmas, and the Applewood Slices were perfect in the toasties with my home made caramelised onion jam - a little bit of sweet and a little bit of smoke, and a hell of a lot of wow!

Ultimate Cheese & Caramelised Onion Toastie - serves 2

4 large slices of fresh crusty bread
1 pack of Applewood slices
2 spoonfuls of caramelised onion jam
  • heat a large non stick frying pan
  • make a sandwich with the bread, some of the cheese, and the jam
  • butter the outsides of the bread
  • place the sandwiches on the pan and add a little of the remaining cheese on top
  • cook for a couple of minutes before flipping over and again add cheese to the top
  • cook for another couple of minutes before flipping over again - continue to do this until the cheese inside the sandwich is gooey and melted and the cheese on the outside is crispy and golden

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Families don't always get chance to spend much quality time together, and ours is no exception, but how hard can it be to set aside one hour a week to do so? Whether you're an indoorsy or an outdoorsy family, here are ten ideas to enjoy some quality family time together, and maybe even enjoy a little cheese whilst doing so :
  • go to the park
  • go for a walk along the beach or into the woods
  • play a board game, card game or family video game
  • do some cooking
  • play a ball game - football, basketball, tennis or golf
  • visit a farm (or even the pet shop)
  • do some crafting
  • go to the library
  • go for a bike ride
  • have fun with science (lots of ideas here)
When we make the time to go, we really enjoy going to the forest, enjoying a ramble and a picnic together. I think we'll try and spend more Applewood hours in the forest during 2016, perhaps eating a toastie or two whilst we're there, or nibbling on a few of these morsels of perfection - new Applewood Nibbles.

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The new Applewood bake might not be one to take to the forest, but it's perfect for dipping bread and crackers into whilst enjoying a game of cards or board game. Ooh, look at that gooey cheese!

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How would you spend your #ApplewoodHours ?

post in collaboration with Applewood

Monday, 21 December 2015

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

At the weekend it was the husband's birthday. We enjoyed an evening with family & friends, playing games and having lots of laughs, and then the following day we had a late afternoon/early evening family music, pizza and games session.

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

Inspired by the two limited edition Popchips flavours of sea salt, garlic & rosemary and sea salt, caramelised onion & thyme, we enjoyed pizza and garlic bread with garlic & herb dip, along with oven baked rosemary, sea salt & garlic chips with a caramelised onion dip (made from home made caramelised onion jam and mayo), whilst listening to festive tunes.

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

We then had a game of SHOUT!, our new game that's proved to be a hit with the teenagers, whilst Jack built LEGO around us, and the husband dragged out his old vinyl pop records to reminisce about those carefree days before kids! Yes we are THAT old to have the very first NOW album!

Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

We ended the evening in front of the TV watching The Apprentice, playing Scrabble & eating Popcorn and Popchips - so rock n roll!

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Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips Pop & Chips #LightNightIn with Popchips

How would you spend your perfect #LightNightIn?

Popchips are available in a single serve bag for rrp 69p or £1.89 for a sharing bag. Click here for stockists.

post commissioned by Popchips

Friday, 18 December 2015

Simplify Christmas Dinner with Mash Direct

For the past few years I've cooked Christmas dinner at home. In fact I can't remember the last time we went elsewhere for dinner on Christmas day. Despite not enjoying making roast dinners throughout the year I do really enjoy cooking Christmas dinner - maybe it's something to do with the quantity of fizz I drink beforehand that makes it easier!

To ease the stress on the day I like to prepare as much as possible in advance, and have previously shared a few of my tips here and here.

Mash Direct have the ultimate solution for those of us that want to make it even easier at Christmas (or any other time of the year), with their prepared fresh mash and vegetables.

A photo posted by Helen (@thecrazykitchen) on

Just pop the containers in the oven or microwave (depending on the cooking instructions) and you'll soon have Christmas dinner without any hassle.

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I cooked up an early Christmas dinner, and we sampled the following from Mash Direct, which I cooked in the oven in 45 minutes (cooking times range from 10 mins to 45 mins) :

Duck Fat Roast Potatoes (400g)
Mashed Potato (400g)
Honey Glazed Parsnips (300g)
Roast Root Vegetables (350g)
Brussel Sprouts with Bacon & Butter Glaze (350g)
Carrot & Parnsip Mash (400g)

All of these serve 2-3 people, but as we had all of the above in one meal there was plenty for the 5 of us.

As well as being amazingly easy and really tasty, they're free from artificial colourings, preservatives and are gluten free, and all the vegetables are grown, steam cooked and packed on the Mash Direct family farm.

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You would probably want to serve the vegetables in serving dishes, but if you choose to place the containers directly on the table, you get an added bonus of barely any washing up!

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I was provided with a selection of dishes from Mash Direct for the purpose of this review


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