The Crazy Kitchen: 2017

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Monday, 16 October 2017

Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza

This week has been a bit of a hectic one, with two trips to the physio (one for me and one for the accident prone eldest child) , a trip to the opticians to try and convince them that my new glasses are no good despite the number of adjustments to the arms they made, as I still couldn't see my computer screen clearly - a sure sign that I'm getting old!

Then I spent far too many hours working in front of my computer wearing my old scratched glasses with hazy sections in the middle of each lens whilst I wait for my new (hopefully improved) specs.

Fast forward to the weekend and I finally got around to making pizza for this week's Bake Off challenge. Some of those on the show turned out to be a bit of a dogs dinner, and I'm not sure where they went wrong, but it makes for good tv, and makes be feel better about my own rustic efforts.

Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza

Home made pizza is so much better than store bought, in my opinion, but sometimes needs must, and the kids don't seem to have the same palate as me, and don't mind where it comes from, although if you mention Domino's their grumpy little faces soon light up.

I'm not a fan of stuffed crusts or deep pan, as there's just way too much bread for my liking. Thin and crispy authentic pizza bases are definitely the way to go, and simple toppings are usually all that's needed. I used Paul Hollywood's pizza base recipe from his 'Bread' book, which is a nice and simple basic recipe. It makes enough dough for 3 decent sized single person pizzas, and it's easy to roll out or shape into a thin base.

Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza

I happen to have a pizza stone, which I've had for years, and it's perfect for cooking crispy bases, as you heat it up in the oven first, and it starts to cook the base before it even gets into the oven, which seems to make it easier to remove too. I also happened to have an unopened box of semolina in the cupboard with an expiry date of sometime during 2015, but it was still perfectly fine, and gave the base that authentic finish.

For the topping I stuck to the classic margarita style, with passata, mozzarella and fresh basil. I would've preferred more basil on top but Asda let me down that morning with my online shop and delivered a manky basil plant with barely any decent leaves on, which I only noticed as I went to pluck a handful of leaves once the pizza was cooked. The pizza still tasted great though, despite the lack of greenery, and it was thin and crispy, just the way I like it.

Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza
one of the few decent basil leaves (insert all the eye rolls)
Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza

Classic Thin & Crispy Margarita Pizza

Mummy Mishaps
Hijacked By Twins

Monday, 9 October 2017

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)

Last week's Bake Off brought us savoury pies, pastel de nata and hand raised pies. I considered making savoury pies or a hand raised pie (like these hand raised pork pies I made during Bake Off 4 years ago), but time ran away with me at the end of last week, and I was out on Saturday. Instead I opted for my own version of the Portuguese custard tart, which was easier and less time consuming than the recipe the bakers used during the technical challenge. I've neither eaten or made these before, despite holidaying in Portugal many times. I've never really been a fan of egg custard tarts, as I've always found them to be a bit, well, eggy, and I guess I thought these would be much the same.

Instead of making rough puff pastry, or using shop bought puff pastry, I made my own cream cheese pastry, which is my pastry of choice now when I make pies and pasties as it's so easy to work with, and it tastes so good. It's not quite as flaky as puff, but a lot lighter than shortcrust, so it worked really well in these tarts, resulting in a light & crisp casing for the non eggy custard.

I cheated a little when it came to the custard filling, mainly because I wanted to see if a cheap 25p tin of custard would actually work as a filling, and believe me it did work, and these dozen tarts didn't last more than a couple of hours! The custard was soft, and not at all rubbery or eggy, and by using shallow bun tin (the kind we all used to bake fairy cakes before American muffins and fancy cupcakes became a thing) there was just the right amount of custard for the quantity of pastry. If I was making them again I would probably leave them in the oven for a few more minutes or roll the pastry a little thinner.

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)

If you wanted to make these tarts even more quickly, and with even less effort you could use ready rolled puff pastry - one sheet of puff pastry would probably make 18 or 24 small tarts like mine, or 12 if you wanted to use larger muffin pan moulds. Baking at home doesn't have to be tricky or time consuming, and with a few little 'cheats' you can make your home baked goodies look as though you've been slaving away for hours on them!

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)
A little bit of a swirl visible on the underside of the tarts - I wonder if it would've been enough for Mr H & Prue!

Portuguese Custard Tarts (cheats version)

Mummy Mishaps
Hijacked By Twins

Only Crumbs Remain

Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

There is no doubting the popularity of pasta in the UK, but many people overlook the fact that choosing the right shape makes a big difference to the finished product. It’s important to pair your pasta with the sauce if it’s going to be as good as it can be. Before we get started on our guides, it’s also worth noting these general tips to get the most out of any dish.
  • Don’t cook the pasta all the way through. Leave it al dente, drain it, add the sauce and let it cook for a couple minutes further. This cooks some of the sauce directly into the pasta
  • Store your shapes in proper pasta packaging to keep it as fresh and delicious as possible
  • There is no need to add olive oil when cooking – it is often quoted as a good idea to add oil to stop the individual pasta from sticking together but it won’t actually make any difference
  • Do make sure that you salt your water properly, however
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Follow these rules and you’ll be ready to start making stunning pasta dishes. So here is our guide to seven of the most popular pasta shapes alongside with advice on what to serve them with.
Some of the most popular in the UK, the tube shaped pastas are extremely versatile and typically have ridges which allow them to pick up plenty of the thick sauces that they are paired so well with. However, tubes also worth well with everything from carbonara to a rich ragu. 
  • Varieties: penne, rigatoni
  • Serve with: thick tomato and vegetable sauces
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Long strands
Perhaps the most famous pasta – the humble spaghetti – falls in this category. Like tubes, long strands are a very versatile pasta shape. Spaghetti is, of course, traditionally served with Bolognese (and the Italians would have you mix the sauce and pasta together thoroughly before serving). But you additionally, linguine is traditionally paired with seafood, while the noodle-like vermicelli works well with creamy dishes.
  • Varieties: spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli
  • Serve with: cream-based sauces or seafood dishes
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

The ribbon style of pasta are often overlooked in the UK in favour of spaghetti, but they certainly should have a place on your dinner plate. Wider and flatter, ribbons like pappardelle and tagliatelle do a better job of picking up chunky sauces, especially with strong earthy flavours like mushroom and game. They also work especially well with creamy and buttery dishes.
  • Varieties: tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine
  • Serve with: rich and meaty or creamy sauces
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Shells style pasta like conchiglie are perfectly shaped like cups to hold heavier sauces in place. Any time you are planning to enjoy a chunky vegetable sauce or something with minced meat, shells can be the perfect option. Their shape also lends perfectly to pasta bakes.
  • Varieties: conchiglie, lumache
  • Serve with: heavy and thick sauces with bite
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Corkscrew or spiral shaped pasta are another popular variety in the UK, and they come into their own when they are paired with lighter sauces. Anything where the sauce can become caught inside the spiral will provide a very satisfying bite when you come to sample your creation.
  • Varieties: fusilli, spirali
  • Serve with: lighter and thinner sauces
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Finally, there are plenty of pasta shapes that are only really used for a single specific purpose: the speciality types. Once again, these are some of the most renowned and loved varieties in UK kitchens. Lasagne sheets may be the oldest type of pasta in existence and we all know how to best utilise them!
  • Varieties: lasagne, ravioli
  • Serve with: depends on the pasta
Seven pasta shapes and how to serve them

Small shapes
Smaller pasta shapes like orzo are underused in the UK. A similar size to rice, they are best put to work providing bite to stews and soups. It makes a big difference from rice or noodles in your soup, so if you have never tried it before, give small pasta a try.
  • Varieties: orzo, fregula
  • Serve with: stews or soups

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Friday, 6 October 2017

Pepperoni Pizza Bread Sticks

Before I made my cardamom, orange & cinnamon teacakes a few weeks ago I hadn't made any bread for a while, but that's the great thing about Bake Off, as it makes you rediscover the baking that you'd forgotten about, as well as trying out new bakes, such as Stroopwafels.

Since bread week I've baked bread of some sort each week, including a cheese, garlic and herb stuffed loaf to accompany home made soup, which is great in this cold weather, and now these bread sticks filled with cheesy pizza flavours. They are so easy to make, especially if you have a bread maker to make the dough, or use ready made and rolled pizza dough (£1 in Asda), as they only need a few additional ingredients, a little time to rest, and then only 10 minutes to bake.

Pizza Bread Sticks

Serve them as a tv snack dipped in ketchup or chilli sauce, or alongside soup, salad or pasta for a main meal. Personally I think they're best served warm, with the cheese oozing out, but they would also be a great addition to the kids lunchboxes, or as snack for car journeys.

Pizza Bread Sticks

I don't often buy cheesestrings, but they work really well in these, as the cheese doesn't seep out like it would if cheddar was used, plus they're convenient as they don't need cutting or grating!

Pizza Bread Sticks

Pizza Bread Sticks

Pizza Bread Sticks

Pizza Bread Sticks

Pepperoni Pizza Bread Sticks

Get to know all the 6 members of the onion family

Allium vegetables – the ones from the onion family – form an important part of our diet. In addition to regular onions and spring onions, they include shallots and garlic, leeks and chives. Allium is the Latin word for garlic. These highly versatile vegetables are high in beneficial sulphur compounds, which is what gives them their distinctive smell, taste and, of course, tear inducing pungency.
allium family

Recently, Price Kitchens, who know a thing or two about cooking, gave us a bit more information about onions and related vegetables. Widely available in the shops and easily grown in your garden, these kitchen staples form the basis of many delicious dishes you can prepare at home. What’s more, allium veg are also perfectly capable of being the star attraction – just think of the classic French Onion Soup, Braised Leeks or Roast Garlic.
Regularly eating vegetables from the allium family has a wide range of health benefits that include lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and offering cardiovascular protection, providing anti-inflammatory effects and anti-cancer activity.

Originally from Central Asia and the Middle East, onions have been cultivated for a thousand years. In addition to culinary uses, they were also prized for their antiseptic properties and were used in mummification in Egypt.
The common onion – Allium cepa – has white, yellow, red or purple skin. The onions that you buy at the shops are dry or ‘storage’ onions that have a stronger flavour and thick, papery skins in comparison to fresh ones.
Pungent yellow onions are the best long term keepers, perfect for soups and stews. Red onions have a sweeter taste which makes them ideal for use in salads and sandwiches, but they won’t last as long. White pearl onions are the smallest type of bulb onion and a favourite for pickling.

Shallots (Allium ascalonium)
The name can be traced back to the Crusaders from Ascalon in Israel where shallots originate from. Like garlic, they grow as bulbs that are divided into a minimum of 2 cloves, which grow in clusters.
Unlike other types of alliums, shallots have a tapered shape and a copper brown, red or grey colour. The vegetable has a sweet, mild flavour that sits somewhere between onion and garlic, which is why shallots are often favoured by professional chefs.

Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic originally comes from Central Asia and has always been known for its medicinal as well as culinary uses. Of all the allium vegetables, it has the strongest taste. Garlic is a hardy perennial that grows as a bulb, with each bulb being made up of individual cloves.
Elephant Garlic or ‘great headed garlic’ (Allium ampeloprasum) has been growing in popularity recently. Actually a variant of the garden leek rather than a true garlic, the bulb is almost comically huge, with each clove spanning up to 5cm in width. With its mild taste, Elephant Garlic is perfect for roasting and baking, or sliced raw into a salad.
Growing garlic is super easy, and there are lots of varieties for autumn planting. Just plant a clove in the ground and wait for the following autumn.

Spring Onions
Known as ‘scallions’ by our friends across the pond, spring onions are nothing other than the immature plants of a bulb onion that’s been harvested before the bulb has had a chance to fully develop. The white root bulb and the green tops can both be eaten. Allium fistulosum are bunching onions, typically sold in bunches in the shops, that have a milder taste than other varieties.
Spring onions are a tasty accompaniment to salads or a garnish for soups, and are perfect to add to quick stir fries.
spring onions

Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum)
Also known as ‘poor man’s asparagus’, leeks look like enormous spring onions and are the largest vegetable of the onion family, able to reach up to 60cm in lengths and 5cm in width. The leek can be traced back to ancient Egyptian cooking, and it was a favourite vegetable of Emperor Nero who was convinced that leek soup benefitted the quality of his voice.
Leeks feature heavily in French, Dutch and Belgian cuisine and complement well with potatoes – as in Vichyssoise leak and potato soup. In eastern North America and Canada, wild leeks (ramps) are considered a rare treat.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Unsurprising given their appearance, chives are a hardy perennial and closely related to grass. Together with tarragon, parsley and chervil, chives complete the classic French herb seasoning mix known as fine herbes. Garlic chives (Allium tubersosum) are also known as Chinese or Oriental Chives and make a good mild substitute for garlic.

Snip them with scissors straight from the garden or window sill and add with sour cream to baked potato or to give the finishing touches to dips, salads and soups.


Start now to save enough to cover the cost of Christmas 2018

Now that Halloween is almost here, Swagbucks has increased cash back at a big group of their Halloween-related stores, so you can earn cash back while getting costumes, decorations, and more for the end of the month. Just click here to see the deals, and sign up for Swagbucks (if you haven't already) to start earning cash back in the form of SB points, which you can exchange for gift cards or PayPal cash. 

The sale is going through until 31st October, and if you sign up through me, you'll get an additional 200 SB bonus when you spend £25 or more!

Today I received gift cards to the value of £300 to spend at Sainsbury's, and I earnt ALL of this through Swagbucks. How I did it was to sign up for an account at Park and choose to receive the gift cards in time for Christmas. Each time I earned enough SB to claim a £10 Mastercard I redeemed my SB, and used the £10 mastercard to pay off my account at Park. I started in January and paid the amount off a few days ago. Think how much you could save in time to pay for Christmas 2018!

Sign up to Swagbucks here.

30 Freezer Friendly Meals for the Family

Making healthy and nutritious meals for the family every day can often become a chore, and when cooking becomes a chore we may start to turn to fast food or ready meals in a bid to save our sanity. Whilst fast food is nice as a treat or when needs absolutely must, it's not good for us to eat foods high in saturated fats and salt  on a daily basis, and don't even mention what it might be doing to our bank balance!

Ready meals from the supermarket may seem like a better option, and often they are, but many ready meals also contain high amounts of saturated fats, salt and sugar, plus preservatives to keep them looking and tasting good for longer, plus quality ready meals can set you back a pretty penny too.

What if you found some time each week to batch cook a load of meals that could feed the family for the following week (and beyond), freeing up time during the week to spend more time doing the things you enjoy, instead of slaving over a cooker night after night.

This list of meals will keep the family fed for a month, and if you freeze individual portions everyone can pick and choose what they want to eat each night, which will please even the fussiest of eaters (don't forget to label the meals or you could have a meal time roulette on your hands!).

Many meals can be cooked in a slow cooker or pressure cooker so you won't even have to stand stirring, and if you buy ready chopped vegetables you'll save even more time. Beware of becoming too efficient though, or you might end up having to buy an industrial freezer to store the sudden influx of freezer dinners

Pies and pasties can easily be frozen individually, before or after cooking the pastry. If freezing the pastry raw, be sure to allow it to defrost fully before cooking. Most meals can be reheated in the microwave straight from frozen, although it's usually favourable to defrost overnight in the fridge beforehand, and always make sure the food is piping hot all the way through before serving.

You can find links to all the recipes mentioned (and more) on my Family Meals Pinterest board at the bottom of this post.

Beef and Vegetable curry
Chickpea & Spinach Curry
Mild Chicken Curry
Sri Lankan Vegetable Curry
Butter Chicken

Chilli Stuffed Peppers
Double Bean & Roasted Pepper Chilli
Slow Cooker Beef Chilli

Stews & Casseroles
Chicken & Vegetables in bbq Sauce
Beef & Shallots in Red Wine Gravy
Sausages in Onion Gravy
Staffordshire Lobby (stew)
Mediterranean Chicken Casserole
One Pot Moroccan Chicken Stew
Lemon & Herb Chicken Potato Casserole
Beef Stew
Mushroom Strogonoff

Pies & Pasties
Chicken & Sweetcorn Slices
Lamb Keema Pasties
Cheese, Onion & Potato Pasties
Cheesy Chicken & Sausage Lattice Pie

Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup
Leek & Potato Soup
Minestrone Soup
Autumn Vegetable Soup

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatloaf
Bagel Breakfast Sandwiches
Classic Lasagne
Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas
Sweet & Sour Chicken

Don't forget to stock up on foil trays, individual meal containers, large freezer bags (perfect for soup) and freezer safe plastic boxes to ensure that you're fully prepared.

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Monday, 2 October 2017

Toffee, Apple & Pecan Steamed Pudding

After being very quick off the mark making my Caramel Stroopwafels following last week's Bake Off, I've slipped back into 'just making it in the nick of time' for pudding week. Once I'd clapped eyes on those mouthwatering steamed puddings I knew exactly what I was going to make at the weekend.

Toffee Apple & Pecan Steamed Pudding

We have a small apple tree in the garden, and it's always produced a bumper crop of eating apples. We have no idea what variety they are but they're a really crisp and tart red skinned apple that are great for eating. They're not so great in a pie as they hold their shape a little too well, unlike a Bramley, but are really good in cinnamon apple cakes, toffee apple cinnamon buns or apple custard tarts. Saturday morning I picked a couple of apples from the tree & added them to these extremely simple to make steamed pudding. My family don't usually have the patience for a proper steamed pudding, so I often end up 'steaming' them in the microwave instead (like my 'mum's emergency chocolate cake'), but this time I gave myself plenty of time for steaming, and left it simmering away for an hour and a half. The pudding smelt amazing when I turned it out, and the apples had dispersed themselves nicely throughout the cake, and softened nicely, but not turned to mush. The toffee sauce was also really simple to make, and was adapted slightly from the caramel that I used in my Stroopwafels.

Toffee, Apple & Pecan Steamed Pudding

This recipe was a total win, and the family loved it, although they weren't all keen on having pecans on the top so I ate most of those!

Toffee, Apple & Pecan Steamed Pudding

Toffee, Apple & Pecan Steamed Pudding

Mummy Mishaps
Hijacked By Twins

Only Crumbs Remain

Friday, 29 September 2017

Autumn & Winter Garden Party Ideas

Summer may be over, but don't let that stop you entertaining outside and making the most of the mild weather whilst it lasts. Even into the colder months, with a few fun ideas, a heat source and a party gazebo, you can enjoy quality time with your family and friends and show them that your hosting skills aren't limited to Summer.

End of Summer Party
Mark the end of the summer by recreating all the drinks you've enjoyed over the warmer months, whilst blasting out the best banging tunes of the summer. An English garden party isn't complete without a jug or two of Pimms and a Gin based English Garden Cocktail.

Outdoor Movie Night
Set up a large screen and projector, throw down a few bean bags and cosy blankets, and enjoy a classic movie under the stars. For the perfect movie night, don't forget the endless supply of popcorn.

Pumpkin Carving Party
Pick up a few pumpkins from your local farm shop, grab some carving tools, download a selection of pumpkin templates, and you're all set up for a fun and competitive carving party with both the young and the old. Be sure to keep the pumpkin flesh and seeds as roasted pumpkin seeds make a tasty snack, and the flesh can be used in a delicious and hearty pumpkin soup. 

Campfire Party
Keep everyone warm and cosy around the campfire, whilst singing your favourite campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Set up a s'mores bar, with an endless supply of chocolate squares and graham crackers (digestive biscuits are the UK's closet alternative) to make the most popular campfire treat, whilst sipping on a mug of cocoa.

Photo by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

Halloween Party
Halloween parties are so much fun, and it gives us the opportunity to bring out our inner child, and go to town on the decorations and Halloween party treats.  Set up a few scary props around the garden, and let the kids loose on a trick or treat treasure hunt, whilst the adults enjoy some Dragon's Blood Punch! Make it even more fun by having prizes for the best costumes.

Sausage and Cider Party
BBQ's don't just have to be for summer. Cook up a few varieties of sausage, and have a fun 'guess the flavour' contest, whilst keeping your guests warm with a glass or two of mulled cider, with a non alcoholic version for the younger guests.

Dig out your Lederhosen, bake some giant pretzels and stock up on German beers for the party of the year. Set up a few long tables in your gazebo covered with checkered tablecloths, and serve platters of Bratwurst with German potato salad and sauerkraut. Don't forget to hire in an Oompah band or make a playlist of some of the best Oktoberfest tunes to make your party go with a bang.

Bonfire Night Party
If you've got a really large garden it's possible to set up a safe bonfire and firework display of your own. Make sure you follow all safety measures to keep everyone safe, and don't forget the sparklers, toffee apples and other home made bonfire night treats.

Autumn & Winter Garden Party Ideas

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