Snacks and Starters

Spiced Haddock Chowder

Real comfort food this, it’s a thick, chunky and really flavoursome soup – an ideal lunch or supper that will surely brighten even the coldest and most miserable winter’s day – also dead easy to make!

Serves 4

What you need…

2 haddock fillets

568ml (1 pint) milk

4 bay leaves

10 peppercorns

25g butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

½ swede, roughly chopped

1 large potato, peeled and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon plain flour

2 tablespoons flatleaf parsley, chopped

What to do…

Cut the haddock fillets in half and pop them into a saucepan with the milk, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to the boil and then pop the lid on, removing from the heat and leaving the flavours to infuse.

Melt the butter and then sauté the onion until just soft. Add the carrot, swede and potato together with the mustard seeds and turmeric and sauté the lot over a moderate heat, stirring the whole time, until lightly browned.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the haddock from the milk.

Scatter the flour over the vegetables cook over a moderate heat, stirring to evenly incorporate. Gradually pour in the infused milk, stirring as you go and then turn up the heat to create a thick sauce. Cook the vegetables in this sauce until they are soft (15 minutes or so).

Break up the haddock into bite-sized chunks and tip it into the pan to warm through.

Serve in rustic bowls (it’s that kind of a soup) with a little chopped parsley to garnish. Enjoy this soup that has the same warming effect as snuggling up in a warm blanket but with the added zing of a little spiciness.

Inspired by…

Nigel Slater

How easy…

A very easy-going, relaxed recipe, rather like the man himself

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

Baby, it’s cold outside but this soup is a real winter warmer! It’s also simplicity itself and is absolutely lovely, exuding the deep, rich flavours of the Stilton which are beautifully foiled by the broccoli – simply lovely and ridiculously simple to make. If you’ve got any leftover Stilton, this is definitely the way to go. I’m going to make sure that we regularly have some leftover Stilton!

Serves 4

What you need…

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

1 onion, chopped finely

2 sticks celery, sliced

1 leek, sliced

2 medium potatoes, diced

1 knob butter

1 litre boiling water from the kettle

2 x chicken stockpots (I use Knorr)

1 head broccoli, roughly chopped

140g Stilton, roughly chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Heat the rapeseed oil in a large saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the onions and cook until soft. Add the celery, leek, potato and a knob of butter; stir everything together until the butter has melted. Pop on the lid and let the lot sweat for 5 minutes.

In a jug, use a balloon whisk to dissolve the chicken stock pots into the boiling water to create a litre of chicken stock.

Remove the vegetable saucepan lid and pour in the stock and any tough, chunky bits of broccoli stalk. Cook for 10 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.

Add in the rest of the broccoli and cook for another 5 minutes. Tip your soup into a blender and whizz until smooth. Return the soup to your saucepan and add the Stilton, stirring it gently over a low heat until the cheese has melted. Taste, season, taste again and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Divide between 4 bowls and enjoy this wonderful winter warmer treat of a soup! (Or share between two of you and freeze the rest for another day)

Inspired by…

BBC Good Food

How easy…

Dead easy! I carried on unpacking shopping and sorting out admin whilst it cooked itself!

Chicken, Mozzarella and Pesto Filo Parcels

I saw Tom Daley do these on TV and thought that they looked so very tasty as well as being so very easy and they are exactly that! An ideal gift of a lunch or supper (you do feel like you’re opening a present when you cut into them), these are really lovely and much more filling than I had thought. We did also think ‘ideal student food’ – one for you, Maddie!

Serves 4

What you need…

1 x baking sheet, lined with reusable baking parchment

2 tablespoons olive oil

A large handful basil leaves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons pine nuts

450g skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces

8 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

250g mozzarella, chopped

8 rectangular sheets filo pastry, cut in half to make 16 squares

50g butter, melted

Sea salt and black pepper

What you do…

Preheat your oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6. Pop in your baking sheet to warm up whilst you make the parcels.

To create a pesto, put the oil, basil and pine nuts in mini chopper if you have one and whizz until smooth. If you don’t have a mini chopper, just chop the basil and nuts as finely as you can and then mix them with the oil.

Put the chicken, tomatoes and mozzarella into a bowl and add the pesto. Season liberally and stir everything together.

Take 4 squares of filo pastry and lay them one on top of another, but turning each one a little to the right to create a star outline once all four are on top of one another.

Divide the mixture evenly between the four pastry ‘stars’ piling it up in the middle of each.

Brush a little melted butter in a fat circle around the mixture and then scrunch each ‘star’ together to create 4 large moneybag shapes. Brush each parcel all over (except the base) with butter – this will help the pastry stick together and will also turn it a gorgeous golden brown when cooked.

Pop the parcels onto your preheated baking tray and bake them in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden.

There’s quite a bit of theatre to serving them: they look amazing and then when you cut into them for ‘the big reveal’ the delightful crunch of the buttery filo pastry gives way to the really very yummy contents inside!

Chick, Mozz & Pesto Filo Parcels Open w

Serving suggestion…

Green vegetables or a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and avocado, drizzled with a olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard dressing (which is what we did together with some fresh, warm, chunky bread – delish!)

Inspired by…

Olympic diver and now chef, Tom Daley

How easy…

Fabulously easy and very attractive on the eye as well as the palette!

 

 

Creamy Artichoke Soup with Parmesan-Coated Peelings

Simply gorgeous! I’ve had this recipe for a couple of years but had difficulty locating the lumpy bumpy tubers called artichokes. Spotted in Waitrose this week, I thought I’d give this a go. Having never tried artichokes, I had no idea what to expect so I was delighted to taste a gorgeous soup that is distinctive, smooth and elegant. We had it for supper but it would make a fabulous (and easy) dinner party starter – give it a go!

Serves 4

What you need…

1 x baking sheet, lined with baking parchment

Juice ½ lemon

500g Jerusalem artichokes

2 teaspoons rapeseed oil

25g butter

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 x 140g floury potato, roughly chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

600ml boiling water from the kettle

2 chicken stockpots (I use Knorr)

3 tablespoons double cream

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked and finely chopped

What to do…

Half-fill a large bowl with tap water and squeeze in the lemon juice. Peel the artichokes and cut them into chunks, chucking them into the lemony water. Toss the peelings into a separate bowl, add the oil and stir in. That’s the prep done!

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, potato, sea salt and black pepper. Drain the artichokes and tip them in as well. Cover the pan and sweat the vegetables over a low heat with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat your oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6.

Use a balloon whisk to dissolve the stockpots into the boiling water and then pour it over the vegetables. Pop the lid back on and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the artichokes are tender.

Tip the lot into your blender and whizz until smooth. Tip back into the saucepan, stir in the cream, taste and adjust the seasoning to suit.

Meanwhile, prepare the artichoke peelings to garnish. Spread the oiled peelings over your baking tray and pop in the oven for 5 minutes. Turn them over and scatter with Parmesan and rosemary. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Pour this gorgeous soup into four bowls and garnish with the Parmesan peelings – just divine!

What Jerusalem artichokes are all about…

From the sunflower family and also known as sunchokes, these tubers grow underground and look like large, lumpy, bumpy knobs of ginger. They taste slightly nutty and smoothly savoury: a cross between an artichoke heart and the best potato you’ve ever had!

Inspired by…

bbcgoodfood.com

How easy…

Really easy; the only tricky and somewhat time-consuming bit is peeling the artichokes because they’re so knobbly.

 

 

Perky Porky Sausagemeat

For the latest batch of sausage rolls, I couldn’t get to my favourite butchers to acquire really flavoursome sausagemeat and ended up just throwing a carton of the stuff into my trolley at the supermarket. It looked dull. I knew it was going to taste dull. I can’t be doing with dull sausage rolls so I had a rummage around the fridge and came up with the following addition to transform your bog-standard sausagemeat into something rather lovely, really tasty and quite Christmassy.

What you need…

700g sausagemeat

1 apple, peeled, cored and grated

A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

Sea salt and black pepper

1½ teaspoons cloves, crushed

What to do…

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and then make your sausage rolls as per normal (recipe already blogged). Bloody lovely: transforms very ordinary supermarket sausagemeat into something quite delish!!!

Inspired by…

A rummage around the kitchen and the motivation to distance my sausage rolls from dull!

How easy…

Couldn’t be simpler!

 

 

Watermelon, Feta and Mint Canapés

We first tried these a couple of weeks ago at friends and neighbours, Chris and Suzy, who kindly invited us for lovely, leisurely Sunday evening drinks. So gorgeous were these little delights that we’ve since had them three times (in just two weeks). They go brilliantly with a glass of fizz, G&T or scrumptious white wine. The watermelon is fresh, sweet and juicy: the perfect foil for the earthy dryness of the feta and the mint provides a lovely zing at the end. All together with a little squeeze of lime, they are simply delicious! Give them a go: they’re quick, easy and just yummy!

Makes around 12 – 15 depending on how large or small you cut your chunks!

What you need…

100g water melon, chopped into chunky, small slices (I buy ready-prepared from Waitrose and just halve each one)

100g feta cheese, cut into chunks of a similar size to the water melon

A handful of mint leaves

A squeeze of fresh lime juice

A bunch of cocktail sticks

What to do…

Choose a pretty serving plate and stack these little lovelies together using a cocktail stick to pierce through each layer – watermelon on the bottom, then feta and on the top, either a couple of tiny mint leaves or a larger one folded.

Arrange on your plate and just before you want to enjoy them, give them a quick spritz of lime juice. So simple, so utterly yummy!

Inspired by…

Chris and Suzy: thank you!

How easy…

You can knock them up in seconds – no mess, no stress!

Prawn Cocktail with Avocado

Hurtling back to the 1970s, this was the dinner party starter that was bang on trend! I don’t know why its popularity waned but it is definitely on the rise again now. I love it – it’s so fast and easy to put together, the sauce is pretty much from bits and pieces in the store cupboard and it tastes great – rich, smooth avocado providing the perfect foil to the fresh, tangy sauce and the plump prawns – yummy. Take a trip down memory lane with this one – it’ll be worth it!

Serves 2 as a starter

What you need…

100g cooked prawns or crayfish tails

1 avocado, halved, stone removed and then sliced

for the Marie Rose sauce

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon salad cream

1 dessertspoon tomato ketchup

Squeeze of lemon

8 – 10 drops Tabasco sauce

Pinch of paprika (optional)

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Measure out all your Marie Rose sauce ingredients into a jug and beat together with a fork. Stir in the prawns/crayfish so they are smothered in its loveliness.

Lay out your avocado slices however you fancy and either plop the prawns and sauce on the top or to the side. Again, however you fancy. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy this simple but lovely starter!

Inspired by…

The 1970s and I think I just played with the sauce until I got it how I like it!

How easy…

Couldn’t be any easier!

 

 

Chilled Lemon Grass and Coriander Vichyssoise

 

This is an absolutely delightful chilled soup: perfect for a starter at a summer lunch or supper party when the weather is hot. It’s light and refreshing, fragrant and elegant; and the combination of the coriander with lemon grass produce a really lovely but delicate Thai flavour. There’s no coconut milk in it, which I was surprised about, but the inclusion of new potatoes provide the necessary substance without the cloyiness that you sometimes experience with coconut milk. Really delicious – give it a go!

Serves 4

What you need…

2 handfuls fresh coriander

4 lemon grass stems

4 spring onions

50g butter

2 medium onions, chopped

275g new potatoes, chunked

150ml milk

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

First of all, you need to make a stock. In a large saucepan, pour 850ml water. Pick the leaves from the coriander and chuck the stalks into the water, saving the leaves for later. Likewise, with the spring onions and lemon grass: trim the ends, remove the outer skin, chucking those bits that you would normally discard into the water as well. Pop a lid on the pan, and bring the water to boil before reducing the heat to gently simmer the ‘stock’ for 30 minutes – it is this process that provides the soup with real depth of flavour.

Meanwhile, chop up your lemon grass and spring onions.

Strain the stock into a jug, discarding the trimmings. Wipe out your saucepan and then add the butter, melting it over a low heat. Add the lemon grass, onions and potatoes, pop the lid back on the pan and gently ‘sweat’ the vegetables over a low heat for 10 minutes. Then, add the stock, milk and three quarters of the coriander leaves (retaining the rest for the garnish). Season with sea salt and black pepper, pop the lid back on, turn the heat up so that the soup just starts to boil and then reduce the heat again and let the soup simmer gently for 25 minutes.

Leave the soup to cool and then chuck the lot into your food processor/blender and whizz until smooth. If you want a really smooth, silky soup, strain it through a sieve into a jug. If not, just tip it from the processor into the jug. Cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy this lovely soup.

Pour into bowls and sprinkle over the remaining coriander leaves and chopped spring onions: delightfully delicious!

Inspired by…

Delia Smith

How easy…

An absolute sinch – takes some time but you can walk away to do other things whilst it’s gathering its flavours. Also, you can make it the day before and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to garnish and serve: no hassle!

John’s Luscious Barbecued Lobster Tails with Garlic Butter

So, if you fancy a bit of a treat and have the available pennies, this little number is totally indulgent and absolutely gorgeous. The garlic butter essentially sautés the lobster meat and the combination of flavours is out of this world: moist, delicately flavoured lobster and ever so garlicky butter – they don’t compete but just enhance one another. Simply delicious!

Serves 4 as a starter treat

What you need…

1 x barbecue!

2 raw lobster tails

Garlic butter (recipe already blogged), softened

What to do…

Lay the lobster tails, shell-side up, on a good, solid board. Taking your sharpest knife, cut the lobster in half lengthways. Be very careful: the lobster shells are hard and the knife can slip – it’s always nice to continue life with 10 fingers!!!!

Turn the tails over and spray them with a little olive oil. To seal them, lay the lobster tails flesh-side down on a very hot barbecue grill and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the flesh just starts to turn a golden brown. Set aside to cool.

When cool and you’re just about ready to eat, spread lashings of garlic butter over the seared lobster flesh – don’t hold back – particularly making sure that there’s a goodly portion where the flesh meets the shell.

On the barbecue, return the lobster tails to the high heat but this time, shell side down. As the lobster heats up, the flesh will start to come away from the shell and the garlic butter will melt, seep down the sides and then start to bubble, effectively sautéing the flesh in the delicious butter. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the barbecue, serve and demolish immediately – that’s the only problem with them – you know you should be savouring the lusciousness of them but you can’t just help attacking them! Watch out for the garlic butter chin dribble!

Inspired by…

My lovely husband,  John

How easy…

Wonderfully easy but should be prepared with a lovely glass of wine.