The Crazy Kitchen: June 2013

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Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Best No Fry Chips

You can't beat the taste of home-made chips. I can still remember now the ones my Mum used to make before she went healthy and ditched the deep fat fryer in favour of the new fandangled oven chips when they came onto the market. 

I've only ever owned a deep fat fryer once, when we lived in the US, and would cook 'proper chips' on a Friday as American fries were just not the same. I don't own one now so if we have chips it's usually from the local chippy or I make them myself in the oven, and they really are just as good as fried.

I never bother peeling the potatoes as it's much too time consuming and I don't see the point in wasting the lovely skin. I just slice the potatoes and cut them into chips, then wash them thoroughly and drain them .

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Heat the oven to around 200 C, add a generous glug of olive oil to a large baking tin and pop it in the oven for 5-10 minutes to heat up.

Add the potatoes and toss in the olive oil to coat them fully and pop the tin back in the oven for around 35-45 minutes depending on how thick the chips are, tossing them a couple of times during this time.
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Jack demonstrates here how to eat a hot chip!

fmWo4E on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

(by the way he isn't 3, he just chose to put this t-shirt on when he came home from a party and got changed to play in the garden)

Friday, 28 June 2013

Chocolate Cookies & sleepovers at the next level

When I find a recipe for cakes and cookies that works and works well I use it over and over again, trying out different variations. A couple of months ago a friend gave me a recipe for some cookies and I've baked them over and over again since, in various different flavour combinations.

Yesterday I baked two batches of them, one for the Preschool summer fair, which had mixed spice in, and another batch for Sam to take on a sleepover tonight. He's been on lots of sleepovers in the past but this one is a bit different. He's at High School now and has made lots of new friends, friends that I don't know nor where they live, friends whose parents I don't know, and the sleepover is at the house of one of those friends. It's a big step. I've spoken to and text the Mum of the friend and she seems very nice and has assured me they (his friend since he was 4 is going too) will be well looked after. The other friend's dad (we've known him for 8 years) is taking them, and I trust his judgment. It's time to let go a little...... but I'm hoping these will keep him coming back to his Mummy.

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Chocolate Cookies - makes 20-24 

115g butter
230g caster sugar
35g golden syrup
1 egg
200g SR flour
25g Cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Beat the butter and sugar together
  • Mix in the golden syrup & egg
  • Stir the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and cocoa powder together and add to the butter/sugar mixture
  • Roll mixture into balls (approx 3-4cm in diameter) and place on a greased baking sheet, spaced well apart
  • Bake in a preheated 170 C oven for approx 12minutes*, until golden brown
  • Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack
*if you prefer the cookies to be chewy then cook them for 2-3 minutes less

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Turkey Bolognaise with Herby Tortilla Chips

Sometimes (well actually almost all of the time) midweek dinner has to be quick as Jack starts asking for something to eat as soon as we get back from school. If he has a snack he won't eat his dinner, so I try and distract him as much as possible until it's cooked. It usually works and his plate is almost always  clean, and when I cooked this dinner it was no exception, and as a bonus it was on the table in only around 20 minutes.

It was made using one of the packs of the new Schwartz 2in1 recipe mixes that I had been sent. The mixes are in two parts, one that is used to flavour the main dish and the other the side or topping. They come in 5 flavours and you can find out more about them here.

I wanted to try something a little bit different and so didn't follow the recipe on the pack for Garlic and Thyme Roast Chicken and Crispy Roast Potatoes and instead went for Turkey Bolognaise with Herby Tortilla Chips.

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Turkey Bolognaise with Herby Tortilla Chips
- serves 4

1 tbsp Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
225g Turkey thigh mince
Schwartz 2in1 Garlic & Thyme (Roast chicken sachet)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes

Tortilla Chips
4 Flour tortillas
Olive oil
Schwartz 2in1 Garlic & Thyme (crispy potatoes sachet)
  • Heat the olive oil in a pan
  • Add the onion and fry gently for 2 minutes
  • Add the turkey mince and fry for 5 minutes, stirring regularly
  • Add the roast chicken sachet and tomatoes
  • Stir well, place the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes
  • Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180 C
  • Brush one side of the tortillas with olive oil
  • Sprinkle the crispy roast potatoes sachet over the tortillas
  • Cut each tortilla into 8 wedges (I use scissors for this)
  • Place the tortillas onto baking sheets
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes until crispy
  • Allow to cool

Serve the bolognaise with pasta, cous cous or rice, salad and the tortilla chips

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This post is an entry for BritMums 'What's for Dinner Tonight?' sponsored by Schwartz. find out more about the mixes here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I have a bit of a thing for salted caramel and I sometimes crave it. I don't always give in to those cravings but occasionally when I'm out and spot salted caramel I have to give it a try. Unfortunately everyone seems to be jumping on the salted caramel bandwagon and I've tried some foods that just don't hit the spot so I thought it was time to attempt a salted caramel ice cream. 

This recipe is so simple, with only 3 ingredients. In fact it's so simple it really doesn't deserve to be so bloomin delicious!

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

600ml Double Cream
397g Carnation Caramel
5g Sea Salt

  • Whisk together the cream and 300g of the caramel until it forms peaks
  • Pour the mixture into a freezable container
  • Beat the salt into the remaining caramel & stir through the ice cream mixture, leaving swirls of caramel
  • Freeze for around 4 hours
  • remove from the freezer approx 10 minutes before serving

Absolutely gorgeous served with chopped toasted pecans.

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Cups and spoons from The Sweet Hostess 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Gifts for Teachers - Hot Chocolate Spoons

I intended to make these hot chocolate spoons before Christmas but my Mum bought some ready made from Lidl (or possibly Aldi, I get confused) which were perfect for what I needed them for. I thought they would make great gifts for teachers as the end of the school year is fast approaching. If you're like me and have five members of staff at Preschool to buy gifts for then something home-made and inexpensive such as these is perfect. Edible gifts have always gone down well with Preschool staff and the teachers at our school as it's not personal and it's not a mug (although we have bought mugs in the past too!).

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For each spoon you will need :

a wooden or plastic spoon, lollipop stick or coffee stirrer
empty yoghurt pot
approx 25g dark chocolate 
A few micro Marshmallows (these were from Asda)
cellophane bags or sheets

  • Melt the chocolate in the microwave on short bursts until smooth
  • Sprinkle a few marshmallows into the base of the yoghurt pot 
  • Pour in the chocolate
  • Stand the spoon in the pot, you may need to rest against the side
  • Sprinkle a few more marshmallows on the top
  • Allow to fully set before removing from the pot and wrapping

You can either add a gift tag with instructions for use or write on the back of the spoon 'Stir into hot milk'

Frugal Tips!

  • The chocolate doesn't have to be expensive - Asda Smart price dark chocolate at 30p per bar is very nice and works just as well as the more expensive brands. 
  • A tip from my Mum is to save the hanging loops (only the satin ribbons not the elasticated ones) from tops and blouses to add the perfect finishing touch to little gifts and they come in all sorts of colours - as well as being free!
  • You can find wooden coffee stirrers in the big coffee shops - but you didn't hear that one from me *taps nose*, or you can buy them off Ebay.

These spoons cost around 27p each to make but you could make them cheaper using coffee stirrers or plastic spoons.

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If you really want to you could buy the mug too, I'm sure every teacher secretly loves receiving 30 'Best Teacher' mugs every year.

My First Bento

After picking up a cool little lunchbox for only £1.95 last week on dotcomgiftshop I thought I would treat Jack to his first ever Bento lunch. Bento's are Japanese one portion meals and are often elaborately arranged with carved vegetables and food made to look fun. I didn't have any fun stuff so just arranged his lunch in mini muffin cases and placed them in the box. Just seeing it in the box was enough to make Jack gasp 'Wow Mum'. It's a lot more fun than being on a plate isn't it!

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If you want to check out some amazing Bento ideas then head over to Pinterest or check out the talented Capture by Lucy who creates some fabulous Bento's for her boys.

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Monday, 24 June 2013

Shakespeare under the Stars

I've lived near Stafford for 10 years and I'm ashamed to say I've never been to Stafford castle. I hear about the outdoor Shakespeare productions there every Summer and often think about attending but never do anything about it. 

This year is different though as I have been invited along to the opening night of A Midsummer Night's Dream on Friday. Now, I'll be honest here and say that Shakespeare has never been my 'thing', I think having Macbeth rammed down my throat at High School by an English teacher that I never saw eye to eye with might have something to do with it. I'm open minded though and am very excited about attending. I just hope that the weather hurries up and remembers that it's supposed to be Summer now so I don't have to  ditch my flip-flops and revert back to wearing socks & boots!

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Stafford Castle has a purpose built 1000 capacity grandstand set against the striking backdrop of the castle ruins. This is what they have to say about the production :

Exploring the balance between reality and fantasy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream fuses the two worlds whilst recounting the tale of two sparring couples.
Lysander loves Hermia, and Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius; Demetrius once loved Helena but his affections now lie with Hermia.

It is said, 'The course of true love never did run smooth.' Lysander, Act 1 Scene 1

The passionate youngsters are confused in love and it soon becomes clear the objects of their affections do not marry. As the four head to the forest to clear their heads and mend their hearts they stumble upon the realm of the Fairy King and Queen. 

Our tale takes a nonsensical detour as magic and spells play with our young lovers’ dreams and changes the weight of their hearts.

Featuring the festivals much loved combination of original music, celebration and unique setting, this year’s magical comedy is set to once again be a highlight in Staffordshire’s cultural calendar.

A Midsummer Night's Dream opens on Friday 27th June and runs until Saturday 13th July. Tickets are available from just £10, with both Matinee and Evening performances.

Pre Show dinners and platters can also be booked in advance.

For more information and your chance to watch Shakespeare under the stars contact the box office on 01785 254653

Healthy Summer Recipes

I've been asked to come up with a couple of healthy recipes for the Most Wanted Summer Shape Up, Save Up project, which are under 500 calories and £5 per portion.  I try and cook healthy meals whenever I can to compensate for all the cakes and sweet stuff that is usually knocking around the kitchen. It's not always easy to cook healthily when you're in a hurry though, and it's usually quicker to throw something unhealthy in the oven for tea.

Tasty salads and meals don't have to take ages to make and these took under 30 minutes to prepare. The salad is around 320 calories and under £2.50 per portion and the chicken pitta around 400 calories and under £2.00 per portion

Grilled Halloumi and Aubergine Salad - serves 2

1 Aubergine, sliced

125g Halloumi, sliced into 6 pieces
2 tbsp Olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 small green chilli, finely sliced
6 fresh mint leaves, ripped
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
black pepper
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
handful of fresh coriander
35g Rocket

  • Use your finger to rub a small amount of olive oil onto both sides of the aubergine and halloumi slices
  • Heat a griddle pan and cook the halloumi and aubergine in batches for approx 2-4 minutes each side for the aubergine and 2 minutes each side for the halloumi
  • Mix the remaining olive oil with the lemon juice, chilli, mint leaves, white wine vinegar and black pepper
  • Cut the grilled aubergine & halloumi into bite sized pieces and place in a bowl with the tomatoes 
  • Toss in the dressing to coat everything fully
  • Add the coriander and rocket to the bowl and toss quickly
  • Serve immediately

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Pesto Chicken Pitta - serves 4

4 skinless & boneless chicken breasts
60g sundried tomato Pesto
1/2 small white cabbage
1 carrot, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled
100g Low fat natural Greek yoghurt
10 mint leaves
grated zest of 1/2 large lemon
4 pitta breads
Lemon wedges for serving

  • Rub the pesto onto both sides of the chicken 
  • Grill, griddle or barbecue the chicken for around 5-8 minutes each side, depending on how thick the breasts are, checking that they are cooked right through
  • Meanwhile finely slice the cabbage, carrot and onion
  • Chop the mint leaves and mix with the yoghurt and lemon zest
  • Once the chicken is cooked slice it into thick slices
  • Toast the pitta breads and slice open
  • Fill the pittas with salad and top with slices of chicken and yoghurt
  • Serve with lemon wedges

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Summer healthy eating tips

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables ready prepared in your fridge for snacking on
  • Make fun fruit kebabs with children to get them eating more fruit
  • BBQ your meat for a tasty result without using cooking oils
  • Bulk out your sandwich with lots of fresh salad
  • Frozen fruit is great to stock up on for chilled fruit smoothies
  • Use Greek yoghurt in salad dressings and dips instead of mayonnaise - even the low fat version is creamy

I was compensated for the cost of ingredients

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Summer Drinks & Snacks {Review}

We've had a couple more nice days recently, which means more time spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine and watching Jack play football or digging in the garden.

Whilst he plays I can sit back and relax with a sneaky gin. This time I mixed it with some chilled sparkling elderflower from bottlegreen. It was a lovely refreshing drink and after lots of digging and playing Jack joined me for a cuddle and a glass of his own (minus the gin of course).

The sparkling elderflower and elderflower cordial is currently available in limited edition bottles, each having a chance to win a selection of prizes including floral bouquets, hampers or tickets to Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Sadly I didn't win this time.

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Once you have a drink in your hand you start to want nibbles so thankfully we had some of Burts new Jalapeno & Red Pepper crisps to hand, which were lovely and spicy.

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I was sent the sparkling elderflower & Burts chips for the purpose of this review

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Brazil Nut Cookies for Dad

My Dad loves Brazil nuts, well I assume he still loves Brazil nuts as I've been buying them for him almost every Father's day, birthday and Christmas for the past twenty years or so. Before that I used to by M&S Grand Marnier chocolate bars but they stopped making them so I moved on to Brazil nut toffee from Thorntons, but nowadays my Dad prefers something a little gentler on his teeth so Thorntons chocolate Brazils it is.

This Father's Day the nuts were accompanied by a subscription to National Geographic Traveller, a bottle of local cider and some home-made Brazil nut cookies, which I packaged in a kids tin bucket.

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Brazil Nut Cookies

115g Butter, softened
230g Caster sugar
35g Golden syrup
1 Egg
230g Self Raising Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
50g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
  • Beat the butter and sugar together
  • Mix in the golden syrup & egg
  • Stir the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and chopped Brazil nuts together and add to the butter/sugar mixture
  • Roll mixture into small balls (approx 4cm in diameter) and place on a greased baking sheet, spaced well apart
  • Bake in a preheated 170 C oven for approx 12minutes*, until golden brown
  • Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack
*if you prefer the cookies to be chewy then cook them for 2-3 minutes less

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Fresh Meat Delivered to Your Door {Review}

It's not very often that we have quality cuts of meat, especially not steak, as we all usually eat together as a family so it can work out quite expensive to buy steak for everyone. If we do have some it's more likely to be rump than rib eye, sirloin or fillet, so when a meat hamper arrived from Simon Howie Scottish Butcher containing this little lot we couldn't wait to get stuck into the steaks.

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The rib eye steaks were a whopping 280g (10oz).

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I simply rubbed them with a little olive oil and black pepper before griddling them in my skillet until they were just pink inside.

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The meat was melt in your mouth tender and the best steak I've had in a long time. The last time I had a steak like this was on holiday in Portugal last summer where I cooked my own on a hot stone.  Apart from the line of fat running through the middle there was no excess fat or gristle on this piece of meat at all - absolutely to die for.

Sausages sandwiches were served up to a bunch of hungry kids at the weekend using the traditional pork sausages. I was very surprised to see not one drop of fat came out of them during cooking which would make them great for cooking on the barbecue as we usually manage to set fire to our barbecue when cooking sausages due to the fat spitting out. I did think that 7 was an odd number of sausages to be in a pack and wasn't sure whether I should be pleased that there weren't  6 or disappointed that there weren't 8.

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On Father's Day morning I performed my wifely duties in the kitchen and gave the husband a short lay in and cooked up bacon and egg sandwiches. It didn't look like there was much bacon in the pack but as it was dry cured and wasn't full of brine, that's usually injected into cheaper bacon, it didn't shrink during the cooking and there was plenty to go around.


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For Monday night dinner we had the steak pie. When I've seen steak pies in the past they may have steak in but they never seem to have much, but wow, this was loaded with pieces of steak, and big ones at that.

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The pastry was lovely and light and crispy and the gravy was thick and peppery and the steak tender, just as a steak pie should be. We had the 1lb pie which easily fed the 5 of us.

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The only criticism with the pie was the lack of cooking directions on the packaging, something that less able cooks would need to ensure that they cooked it properly.

I am still yet to cook the black pudding but I'm planning on using that in a dish of it's own rather than as a side to a cooked breakfast, watch this space.

When the meat box arrived and I checked online to see which one it was I must admit to thinking that it wasn't worth the £30 price tag but now I think differently. The steak pie and rib eye steaks were worth that alone in my eyes.

Simon Howie offer free delivery on all orders over £70 or £20 for your first order. Orders are delivered in a thick walled recyclable cool box surrounded by ice packs to ensure your meat stays fresh. When our delivery arrived the ice packs were still partly frozen.

I was sent the meat box for the purpose of this review

Monday, 17 June 2013

Afternoon of Tapas {Review}

Father's day this year passed without rain and we were able to enjoy a few hours in the garden doing jobs as well as relaxing on our comfy garden chairs. My parents came to visit and we shared an early afternoon bottle of Rosé with a friend and a late afternoon bottle of red.

I recently received a selection of foods from Grey's Fine Foods, importers and distributors of fine foods and wine from Spain, to enable us to enjoy a tapas night. What better day to share these fine foods than on Father's day for a special Father's Day Tapas.

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In the hamper we received the following :

Lopez Cristóbal Roble 2012 - red wine
Villadiego Semi-cured Manchego - Spanish raw ewe's milk cheese
Montanegra Ibérico Ham
Fuenroble Olive Oil
Cantábrico Anchovies
Martinez Somalo Barbecue Chorizo
Querida Carmen Paella
Lolin Bonito Tuna in Olive Oil

Along with the foods there was also a good description of the products and how best to serve and enjoy them. Armed with this information I set about putting together a tapas selection with the hamper foods and a few others.

We had :

Freshly baked sliced baguettes with Fuenroble Olive Oil for dipping
Selection of meats including the Montanegra Ibérico Ham
Thinly sliced Villadiego Semi-cured Manchego cheese with Cantábrico Anchovies
Roasted potatoes and Chorizo
Fried Cannellini beans with Chorizo
Olives, Sundried tomatoes and sweet marinated garlic
Burrata with sliced oranges
Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil salad
Roasted aubergine and peppers
Querida Carmen Paella

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It was a feast fit for a king.

We all absolutely loved the Chorizo, especially oven roasted with the potatoes. The cheese was lovely too, although only two of us were brave enough to try it with the anchovies which, to be honest, were not for us. My friend happily took the remainder home with her as she loves them. The Olive oil was amazing, so smooth and great to dip the bread into and drizzle over the tomato and mozzarella salad and Burrata. I wasn't too keen on the ham but others enjoyed it. After the anchovy I couldn't bring myself to try the Paella but Hanna and the husband took on the challenge, sadly disliking it. My Mum did like her small portion of it but not enough to want seconds, unlike the red wine which went down a treat!

We topped it all off with fresh local strawberries, melted chocolate and jelly (special request from the husband as it was his day).

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We had a great afternoon and it was lovely to sit around as a family and talk about the different foods as we passed them amongst us. I definitely think we'll be having another tapas night but will probably give the fishy feasts a miss.

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Dad videoing a hot air balloon passing over our house

I was sent the box of foods for the purpose of this review

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Don't Cook Just Eat {Review}

We don't often have a takeaway in this house for a number of reasons, one of them being that I actually quite like cooking and the family quite like eating what I cook. Another of the reasons is that we live in a village twenty minutes drive from the nearest town so not many takeaways deliver to us (or so we thought). If we have a takeaway it's usually from the chip shop or Chinese in the village.

Having three fast growing kids in the family also makes eating out and takeaways a very costly affair, so when Just Eat offered to treat us who was I to say no. The concept behind Just Eat is simple, just enter your postcode and you will be shown all the takeaways that will deliver to you along with delivery costs, if any. You can then choose your meal from the menu, choose your delivery slot and pay by credit/debit card (or cash on delivery). It's that simple. We had a choice of 12 Chinese, Indian, Italian and Pizza takeaways to choose from and we opted for pizza from TGF in Stafford, a place that we've driven past 100's of times but never been in, as it had good reviews.

The order process was simple enough and I placed it just after 5pm on Saturday evening with an approximate delivery time of 5.55pm. Just after 6pm our order arrived steaming hot. It was all there and we even had bottle of Coke that we weren't expecting, which was a bonus.

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We had a couple of pizzas along with a few sides...

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Followed by some chocolate donuts.

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The food was great, and just as we would expect from a pizza takeaway. We will definitely be looking at using the services of Just Eat again in the future - no more pinboards full of out of date takeaway menus, and perfect for when you're away from home and unsure of the takeaways in the area, I've already checked what's available for our holiday cottage in the summer!

It would be a great idea if it was possible to buy e-vouchers for Just Eat as it would make a nice gift for takeaway lovers, I couldn't find anything online to suggest that this service was available unfortunately.

I received a voucher towards the cost of our takeaway for the purpose of this review

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Salmon Cannelloni

Sadly the six month long Swallow's Recipes for Life challenge on Bangers & Mash is now coming to an end, with this month being the last. I have been lucky enough to win the challenge for the last three months so the pressure is now on. Unfortunately one of the three ingredients for this month isn't a favourite food of mine so I may only manage this one recipe - I've got to give everyone else a fair crack at the whip too of course!

AMENDMENT - apparently I can't count & we still have another challenge for July, yay!! 

Fish and seafood are not something that I eat very often and really have to be in the mood for it so when I heard that one of the ingredients was salmon my heart sank a little. The husband absolutely loves it though, so he was pleased! 
Since receiving some pre-cooked salmon from the Saucy Fish Co a few weeks ago that's how I now like to buy it, although on my latest shopping trip had to opt for some that you need to cook yourself, thankfully in sealed bags that can be cooked in the microwave or oven, without the need for handling the fish.
I've never actually cooked cannelloni before so I thought it would make a nice change to our usual fusilli or penne, although Jack said that it wasn't real pasta.
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Salmon Cannelloni - serves 4

1 tbsp Olive oil
1 courgette
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 pre-cooked salmon fillets
250g Ricotta
1/2 tsp Chilli flakes
16 Cannelloni tubes (I used the type that don't need pre-cooking)
300ml Double cream
2 Egg yolks
pinch of cayenne pepper
50g Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan / Grana Padano), grated
100g Mature Cheddar Cheese, grated
Ground black pepper

  • Slice the courgette & then slice into strips
  • Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the courgettes & garlic
  • Fry on a medium heat for approximately 5 minutes until softened, then set aside
  • Flake the cooked salmon and mix with the Ricotta, chilli flakes and some ground black pepper
  • Stir the courgettes into the salmon mix
  • Fill the cannelloni tubes with the filling - the easiest way to do it is to use a piping bag
  • Lay the filled cannelloni in a baking dish
  • Mix the cream with the egg yolks, cayenne pepper, Pecorino cheese, half of the cheddar and some black pepper
  • Pour the cream over the cannelloni and top with remaining cheese
  • Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 180 C oven for 25 minutes and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes until golden brown and bubbling
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