The Crazy Kitchen: March 2015

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Tuesday 31 March 2015

BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing

A couple of weeks ago we were promised an Easter heatwave. As I type this the hailstones are battering the window and the letterbox is banging in the wind, as it always does when it's blowing a gale. Last night I got completely drenched at bootcamp and my legs were red with cold when I peeled my soggy clothes off to get in the hot shower to warm up. Last March I was driving with my roof down on an almost daily basis. This month I find myself putting the heated seats on for the morning school run. Come on sunshine, show your face and give us all the Spring that we've been waiting so patiently for.

In anticipation of the warmer weather we put the cushions out on the garden furniture and uncovered the barbecue and cleaned it up. We managed a brief sit on the chairs last weekend before we covered them again and weighted the covers down to stop them from blowing away. I was not going to be beaten though, and braved the cold to cook some lamb steaks on the barbecue in a bid to bring some sunshine into our lives once again with Lindeman's.

BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing

I love the taste of meat cooked on the barbecue, and as we have a gas one it's really convenient to use, and I have been known to cook dinner on it in the pouring rain with an umbrella to avoid messing up my oven. Whilst (in my opinion) lamb steaks are best cooked on a barbecue you could also fry them on a griddle pan on your hob if you don't fancy braving the cold.

BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing - serves 2

2 lamb leg steaks 

2 tbsp Lindeman's Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon 
1 tsp garlic granules (or clove of fresh garlic)
handful of fresh mint

75g Greek yogurt
fresh mint leaves

for serving
fresh bread rolls 
salad leaves
red onion slices
  • Make the marinade by adding the ingredients to a pestle and grind with the pestle
  • Place the steaks in a closeable bag and pour in the dressing
  • Seal the bag and squeeze to coat the lamb
  • Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight
  • Make the dressing by ripping the mint leaves and mixing them into the yogurt
  • Cook the lamb on a very hot bbq for a few minutes each side - my tip is to have your bbq as hot as you can and cook the steaks as quickly as you can to avoid them drying out. This way they are lovely and crispy on the outside, yet lovely and juicy on the inside
  • Serve the steaks in fresh bread rolls with salad leaves, sliced red onion and yogurt & mint dressing

Accompany the burgers with a large glass of Lindeman's Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon - a perfect pairing this Easter.

BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing BBQ Lamb Steak Burger with Mint Dressing

I'm once again working with Lindeman's as an Ambassador - keep your eye out for future recipes, news and giveaways.

This post has been commissioned by Lindeman's

Thursday 26 March 2015

Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup

The weather recently has definitely been more spring like. Coats have been ditched and more time is being spent outdoors. Then, all of a sudden, a frost hits again and we feel that we're back in the depths of winter. What better way to warm yourself up on a chilly day than with a bowl of soup. This butternut squash and tomato soup is extremely simple to make, has few ingredients, yet tastes as good as a good quality cream of tomato, and is a lot healthier too.

The husband wasn't feeling too good so I served him a bowl with a cheese toastie, sprinkled with a few bacon flavour bread bites, from this month's Degustabox.

Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup

Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 stock cube    
400g can of chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
  • Add the butternut squash to a large pan
  • Cover with water & add the stock cube
  • Bring to the boil and simmer until the squash is softened
  • Add the tomatoes and bring back to the boil
  • Remove from the heat and blend to a puree with a hand blender, adding more water if necessary
  • Add salt and pepper to taste

The soup is completely free on Weight Watchers filling & healthy plan (minus the cheese toastie and bread bites).

Butternut Squash & Tomato SoupBrioche Pasquier Bread Bites

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake

Easter is almost upon us, which means that Cadbury Creme Eggs will be disappearing off the shelves for another year (well, until Christmas at least), so whilst I had the opportunity to get my hands on some I decided to make a cheesecake, which I've been meaning to do for ages.

This isn't your traditional no bake cheesecake with a biscuit base, as it's a cross between a cheesecake and a cake - you get the best of both worlds. There are two layers of moist chocolate cake sandwiching a creamy vanilla cheesecake layer, packed full of Creme Egg pieces, and topped with a milk chocolate ganache. It's not for the fainthearted or diet conscious among us, as it contains a full 7 Creme Eggs, plus a bag of mini eggs.

Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake

Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake

for the cake layers
3 tbsp cocoa powder
75ml boiling water
200g butter, melted
200g caster sugar
3 medium eggs (approx 200g weight in shells)
200g self raising flour

cheesecake layer
300g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
300ml double cream
4 Cadbury Creme Eggs, chopped

ganache layer
100ml double cream
200g good quality milk chocolate chips (I used Callebaut Belgian chocolate)

to decorate
3 Cadbury Creme Eggs, halved
90g bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs
  • Whisk the cocoa powder and boiling water together until smooth
  • Whisk into the melted butter, and then whisk in the sugar and eggs
  • Fold in the flour until fully combined
  • Grease the base and sides of a deep sided, loose bottomed 20cm cake tin, and line the base with baking paper
  • Pour the batter into the tin
  • Bake in a preheated 180C oven for around 45 minutes, until springy to the touch
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out of the tin & cooling fully on a wire rack
  • Once the cake is completely cool slice the top off & discard (eat) and slice the remaining cake around the middle, into 2 equal slices
  • Make the cheesecake filling by beating the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together
  • Whisk the cream in, a third at a time, until it's thick enough to hold it's shape (but not stiff)
  • Stir in the chopped Creme Eggs
  • Place the bottom off the cake into the 20cm tin and spread the filling over it
  • Place the top slice on top and refrigerate overnight
  • Turn the cheesecake cake upside down out of the tin onto a plate or cake stand, so that the base is now the top
  • Make the ganache by bringing the cream to the boil and then pouring onto the chocolate chips
  • Leave for a minute before whisking until smooth
  • Pour over the cake and allow to drip down the sides
  • Decorate with Creme Egg halves and Mini Eggs
Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake Creme Egg Cheesecake Cake

Creme Eggs - how do you eat yours?

How about in a Creme Egg chocolate quiche or creme egg chocolate brownies?

Easy Peasy No Knead Hot Cross Buns
 photo hot cross sq_zpsbebkpszf.jpg

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Bolognaise and Chips in the Tefal Actifry Family Express XL

I've been using my Tefal Actifry for a few months now, and I have to say that it's one of the most used small kitchen appliances that I've ever owned. We regularly enjoy eating healthy chips, wedges or roast potatoes that have been made completely fuss-free. It's so easy to use that the kids can use it too, and when I take Jack for his swimming lesson I ask one of the older children to set an alarm for 5.45pm as a reminder to turn it on so that we have chips ready for when we get home.

Up until now we've only had the 1kg machine, which I do have a tendency to overload to make sure there is enough to go around the hungry brood. Recently Ideal World got in touch to ask if I would like to try out one of the Tefal Actifry Family Express XL machines, as part of their Easter celebrations.

Tefal Actifry Family Express XL Tefal Actifry Family Express XL Tefal Actifry Family Express XL

This machine is ideal for our family; with it's 1.5kg capacity I can cook more than enough chips for all of us without overloading it. For a midweek dinner I decided to try something that I haven't tried in the Actifry before, but something we love eating - bolognaise. The advantage of making it in the Actifry is that you can add all the ingredients at the beginning, set the timer for 25 minutes and just leave it, without the need to keep stirring.

As far as I can see, Tefal have made a few improvements to this model that differ from the 1kg Actifry that I had previously :
  • the bowl no longer has a hole in the middle and is instead raised up in the centre, which means there is no risk of leakage into the base of the fryer if it's used without the paddle
  • the paddle has just one button to release it easily from the bowl, whereas previously it was necessary to hold it on both sides, which could be a little fiddly, especially when hot 
  • the lid has a large transparent viewing window making it easier to view the food cooking without needing to open the lid
  • the Express Technology means that chips take around 5-10 minutes less than previously - which makes all the difference when you have hungry kids!
  • Once the programmed time has ended, cooking stops, unlike the older model that keeps cooking - if you don't hear the alarm your food may overcook
Beef Bolognaise in the Tefal Actifry - serves 4/5

1 tbsp olive oil
500g lean beef mince
100g onions, chopped
100g peppers, sliced
100g mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • Add all the ingredients to the Actifry
  • Set the timer for 25 minutes and turn it on
Tefal actifry bolognaise Tefal actifry bolognaise

The dish isn't as saucy as it would be if you cooked it in a pan, but it's no less delicious ,and is great served with freshly cooked pasta.

I also cooked a batch of chips (using just one spoon of Olive oil for the whole pan) in the new Actifry in just 30 minutes, and doused them in plenty of salt and vinegar, just for research purposes of course.

Tefal actifry healthy chips

These dishes are also suitable for Weight Watchers filling & healthy, if you use 5% fat beef mince, and take the olive oil from your daily allowance.

The Tefal Actifry Express XL is available from Ideal World TV
Their  ‘Great Easter Giveaway’ launches on the 2nd April - #Easters4Sharing

Friday 20 March 2015

Upcycle an Old Chair with Chalk Paint

I am currently in the spring cleaning mode - conservatory blinds have been lifted and windows cleaned, and the hallway has had a good lick of paint to brighten it up. I've also replaced the wooden chairs in the kitchen with some white ones to match our bar stools, which brightens the place up a lot. I used to have one of the spare kitchen chairs in the hallway but when I bought the white ones I used the spare one at my desk instead of putting it in the hall, which left a space crying out for a small piece of furniture.

I then remembered that we had an old pine chair in the garage that we've used previously when decorating. It was covered in white, pink and blue paint splashes, but it was a good solid chair that I bought in a clearance around 15 years ago. What it needed was a makeover.

With the help of Rust-Oleum chalky finish furniture paint (previously used to paint my plate rack here) I gave my old chair a face-lift with a distressed finish.

Upcycle an Old Chair with Chalk Paint
  • I painted the chair with two coats of Winter Grey and 3 coats of Chalk White before allowing to dry fully overnight. 
  • I then took some fine sandpaper and lightly sanded the edges where, over time, the chair would see natural wear, to reveal the grey underneath.
  • Finally, I applied a coat of Rust-Oleum Finishing Wax, which I buffed to a shine after around ten minutes. The wax is by far the easiest furniture wax that I've ever used, and I also gave my wooden kitchen island a going over at the same time.

 photo chair before_zpsp0mnqh7m.jpg

Sanding the bumpy paint splashes...

 photo chair sanding_zpsghsg8nbq.jpg

Give the paint a good stir before using...

 photo paint stirring_zpsmxrrwj5q.jpg

After 2 coats of Winter Grey...

 photo grey coats_zpsvsw4qoui.jpg

After 3 coats of Chalk White...

 photo white coats_zpsokb2fthp.jpg

Lightly sanding to reveal the grey...

 photo sanding edges_zpsly0fpnzl.jpg

Finish with a layer of furniture wax...

 photo waxing_zpstnaupdxk.jpg

The finished chair, in situ in my hallway, with a lovely yellow & grey cushion from John Lewis on...

 photo chair 1_zpsvrk9rixz.jpg

Tips for upcycling an old piece of furniture
  • Sand any rough edges, lumps or bumps with sandpaper - no need to sand down the rest, the paint will cover most surfaces easily.
  • Wipe the surfaces over with a damp cloth to remove any grease, grime, dust or cobwebs, and then dry it off.
  • Tighten any loose screws and fill any holes or cracks.
  • Stir the paint well - if it has become too thick then add a little tepid water
  • Allow 4 hours in between coats - wrap your brush in clingfilm or a plastic bag instead of washing it every time.
  • Stand the furniture on boxes or paint cans (if it's not too heavy) to allow easy access to the bottoms of the legs/feet and the underside

I received paint from Rust-Oleum as part of their Make It March challenge.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Vodka Bottle Soap Dispenser

I've mentioned before that I'm a bit of a hoarder - not a messy hoarder with piles of newspapers stacked around the house, but one of those that keeps an empty spirits bottle because it looks nice, or a piece of ribbon from a nicely packaged pair of pyjamas because you never know when you might need a piece of ribbon that length/colour. So when my lovely friend Maude (her real name is Michelle, but I'll call her Maude to protect her identity) mentioned over drinks one night (rather a lot of drinks to be honest so I'm surprised I can remember the conversation at all) that she uses an empty vodka bottle as a soap dispenser, I stored that nugget of useful information ready for when it came in handy.

I remember her telling me that you need to look for the right kind of hand soap to go in the bottle - there's no point in having green or blue in a vodka bottle as that won't look right, and the bottle needs to have a screw cap and be the same size as the bottle of hand soap. With this in mind I scoured the hand soap aisle in Asda for a clear hand soap and came across one scented with bergamot and lime. The tube inside was a little too short for my vodka bottle which means I'll have to refill the bottle before it comes to an end, or I could switch the tube for a longer one, but the finished article looks great in the downstairs toilet, ready for guests to wonder why I have a bottle of vodka on the sink!

Vodka Bottle Soap Dispenser Vodka Bottle Soap Dispenser

Sunday 15 March 2015

Mother's Day Carvery at Brewers Fayre

This year I made a special request for Mother's Day, that may come as a surprise to many. I specifically asked not to have breakfast in bed, and my reason for this was because I wanted to go for a run and then shower before devouring a late breakfast, skipping lunch and then enjoy our carvery later.

I never made the run but instead danced in front of the tv with Hanna & Jack for an hour, to the Red Nose Day Danceathon, televised last Sunday. I then showered and sat down to a lovely Weight Watchers friendly breakfast, cooked by my eldest (with a few hints dropped beforehand).

 photo breakfast _zpslp7qpxrb.jpg

Later in the day I went shopping with Jack before all of us went for dinner at the Brewers Fayre, Stafford. We've been to this branch a few times before, including a fun pre-Christmas lunch and the service has always been efficient and very friendly, and this time was no exception. 

We were seated quickly and the options available to us were explained. As it was later in the day (after 5pm) we were told that there wasn't much beef left on the carvery but the turkey and gammon were plentiful. We all chose to have the carvery and the kids had just the gammon and turkey and myself and the husband had the beef too, which was, unfortunately, a little on the chewy side. Whilst we were at the counter, the cabbage, peas and roast potatoes were being replenished and were lovely and fresh. The mashed potato looked a little on the sloppy side but tasted fine, as did the swede & carrot mash, braised red cabbage and cauliflower cheese. There is also an option of tomato soup and bread rolls for starters for those that choose it.

Mother's Day Carvery at Brewers Fayre Mother's Day Carvery at Brewers Fayre

Desserts can be added to the meal for an additional £2 for adults and £1 for children.

It was a lovely break for me not having to cook dinner, but at £9.99 for adults we would probably choose to go to our local pub on any normal Sunday for £8.95. However, as the prices aren't increased on Mother's Day at Brewers Fayre, it's a very reasonably priced Mother's Day meal compared to many places, and even when the place is busy it doesn't feel over crowded as there is plenty of room between tables.

I received a voucher towards the cost of our meal at Brewers Fayre, Redhill

Thursday 12 March 2015

Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake

Last Sunday I went to London for the Comic Relief Danceathon, and was out of the house for 14 hours. I left dinner for the family that they just needed to reheat once they got home after football. They couldn't find anything in the house for pudding and Sam was dispatched to the local shop for a chocolate swiss roll, which they ate with custard. 

Next month I'll be away for a few days so I thought it was time that I got the recipe for my emergency chocolate cake written up, to make sure they're not left without a pudding again.

The cake takes just a couple of minutes to prepare and only 4 minutes to cook in the microwave, which means it's actually quicker to make this from scratch than it is to go to the shop and buy one. It's mixed and cooked in the same bowl, which means less washing up too. If cooked in a glass bowl it makes it easy to see if it's cooked underneath, as well as it coming away from the sides easily and being easy to turn out.

It can be eaten warm, straight from the microwave with custard or ice cream, or allowed to cool and decorated with whatever you have available - last week I had some cream that needed using up so I made a chocolate sauce, and this week I topped with some caramel sauce and fudge pieces.

Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake

Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake

2 eggs
butter *
2 tbsp cocoa powder
75ml milk
caster sugar *
self raising flour *

*weigh both of the eggs in their shells and this will give you the weight for the butter, sugar and flour. (ie if 2 eggs in their shells weigh 140g you need 140g of each of butter, sugar and flour)

  • In a large microwaveable glass bowl melt the butter
  • Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth
  • Whisk in the milk, sugar and eggs, until smooth
  • Then whisk in the flour, but don't over mix, scraping the sides down with a spatula as you go
  • Cover the bowl with clingfilm and microwave on high for 4 minutes (this time may vary depending on the power of your microwave - a glass bowl enables you to see if it's cooked underneath)

Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake Mum's Emergency Microwave Chocolate Cake

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Slow Cooker Chinese Beef

For a few months I was without a slow cooker, after I overloaded my extremely small one with a joint for pulled pork and burnt all of the inside. I now have two large 6.5 litre slow cookers that I use to feed my son's football team (and opponents) sausage and bean chilli on a budget - 60 sausages + numerous cans of beans = 30 happy boys.

I now use my slow cooker as often as I can to make fuss free dinners for the family. This Chinese beef is one of those easy meals that takes very little preparation, and if you use a large joint (I used 1.6kg) it can easily stretch to two meals for a family of 4/5.

Slow Cooker Chinese Beef

Slow Cooker Chinese Beef

Beef roasting joint (1-2kg)
200ml Hoisin sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp honey
75ml dark soy sauce
bunch of spring onions, sliced
sesame seeds
  • Heat a frying pan and place the beef in it to seal all sides
  • Transfer the beef to the slow cooker
  • Add the the Hoisin, garlic, honey and soy sauce
  • Spoon the sauce over the beef and cook on high for 4-5 hours until tender, basting with the sauce every so often
  • Remove the beef from the slow cooker and pull apart with two forks & set aside
  • Add the sauce to a saucepan and bring to the boil and simmer until reduced in volume and thickened
  • Add the beef into the sauce and toss to coat
  • Serve over a bed of steamed rice and scattered with spring onions and sesame seeds

Serve any leftovers with noodles and stir fried vegetables.

How often do use your slow cooker, and what's your favourite slow cooker recipe?

Slow Cooker Chinese Beef Slow Cooker Chinese Beef

I have lots more slow cooker recipes on this blog, and Aly from Bug, Bird Bee runs a Slow Cooker Sunday linky, where you can find some great recipes, such as this slow cooker vegetable lasagna.

recipe created for Tesco

Friday 6 March 2015

Vintage Family Recipes - Jam Puffs

When I was growing up I used to cook with my Nan. I have fond memories of sitting in front of the gas fire softening the butter for a cake, as well as picking rhubarb and apples from their garden for a pie. I would also help to make jam rolls or parcels using the scraps of pastry left over from pie making. Sadly my Nan passed away when I was about 10, but I'm sure if she was around now she would have a big input in my blog!

family christmas

This is our crazy family, at what was possibly my Nan's last Christmas. That's me on the left with the bowl cut, the widest flares you ever did see, furry slippers, turtle neck and checked shirt - a trend-setter I was not! That's my Nan in the white jumper holding my baby cousin. 

Jam Puffs

I'm sharing a recipe for similar jam parcels which includes a recipe for my own favourite pastry rather than my Nans, as sadly she never passed any recipes down apart from her Christmas cake, which I make now (with a few of my own touches). You could make these with any pastry scraps, whether they are puff or shortcrust, and you could fill with marmalade or chocolate spread instead.

Jam Puffs

Jam Puffs

Leftover pastry
Caster sugar

  • Roll the pastry out as thin as you can
  • Cut discs with a pastry cutter
  • Brush around the edges of the discs with milk
  • Spoon a little jam into the centre of the discs
  • Fold one side of the pastry over the other and press sides together to seal
  • Crimp edges with a fork
  • Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar
  • Bake in a preheated 200C oven for around 15 minutes, until golden brown

Jam Puffs Jam Puffs Jam Puffs Jam Puffs Jam Puffs

If you want to make my pastry that's easy to make, yet tastes as good as puff pastry, without the effort, here's the recipe :

Cream Cheese Pastry
250g plain flour
150g butter
150g full fat cream cheese
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer add the flour, butter and cream cheese
  • Mix on a low speed until it becomes like breadcrumbs and then starts to come together
  • Squeeze together into a ball and wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for around 30 minutes
Jam Puffs Jam Puffs Jam Puffs

this post has been commissioned by BEKO, who have a range of  induction hobs, and ovens perfect for cooking your own comforting jam puffs, whether it be for Mother's Day on Sunday 15th March, or every day.

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