Snacks and Starters

Oozy Focaccia Bread with Cheeses, Spinach and Tomato

Warm bread straight from the oven is always a winner but this loaf, stuffed with melted cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach as well as a hint of rosemary is just scrumptious! Ideal as a tearing and sharing starter or as part of a ‘fridge-raid’ supper (where we dump onto the table cheeses, patés and salads and just dive in), Oozy Focaccia bread with Cheeses, Spinach and Tomato is easy enough to ensure it has a regular place at the table.

 Serves 8

 What you need…

1 x lightly oiled baking sheet

500g packet garlic and rosemary focaccia bread mix (I use Wright’s)

300ml hand-hot water

3 tablespoons oil

100g dolcelatte

125g mozzarella

75g baby spinach leaves

55g sun-dried tomatoes

10 rosemary sprigs

1 tablespoon rock salt

What to do…

Tip the bread mix into a large bowl. Stir in the water and 2 tablespoons of oil to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured worktop and knead for 2 – 3 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse and dry your large bowl and lightly oil it. Pop the bread dough into the bowl, cling film it and leave it in a warm place (next to a radiator or in the airing cupboard in my case) for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto your floured work surface again and knead for a another two minutes.

Divide the dough into two and press each into circles of roughly 20cm. Lay one circle onto your baking sheet and scatter over the cheeses, tomatoes and spinach. Wet the rim and then cover with the remaining circle. Pinch the edges to seal. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes until slightly risen.

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

Push your fingers into the top of the bread to dimple the dough and push small springs of rosemary into the bread. Scatter with rock salt and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Pop in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and risen. Serve warm, gooey slices and enjoy!

Inspired by…

No idea! Another one of those recipes torn from a magazine and kept in a file for several years!

How easy…

Very easy and there is something wonderfully satisfying about kneading bread dough. The only concern, if there is one at all, is to remember before you get going that time is required for the two 30 minute proofings.

Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chilli Soup

This is a really wonderful soup, especially when it’s soooo cold out there! The spice provided by the cumin seeds and chilli make you feel all warm inside and give the soup a hint of the Middle-East; then there’s the contrasting fresh kick of the coriander. It’s robust, thick, filling and packed with flavour, it’s also really cheap, very fast and simple. And finally, no naughty ingredients so if you’re doing that whole January dieting thing, this fits in perfectly but tastes fantastic!

Serves 4 – 6

What you need…

850ml water, boiled, straight from the kettle

2 vegetable stock pots (I use Knorr)

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Pinch of hot chilli powder

Splash rapeseed oil

1 red onion, roughly chopped

140g red lentils

400g can chopped tomatoes

½ 400g can chickpeas (drain and freeze the rest for another time)

Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped plus some to scatter over the top

What to do…

Make vegetable stock by filling a large jug up to 850ml with boiling water and drop in the two vegetable stock pots. Use a balloon whisk to dissolve and mix in the stock pots.

In a large saucepan, dry-fry the cumin seeds for about a minute or until they start jumping around the pan! Add the chilli powder and give it a quick stir. Then, splash in some rapeseed oil together with the onion and cook for a further 5 minutes on a moderate heat. Stir in the lentils, stock and tomatoes, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Chuck in the chickpeas and coriander and then put all the soup ingredients into the blender jug of your food processor. Whizz until the soup is a lovely thick and smooth purée.

Pour into soup bowls or mugs and enjoy the heat and sunshine that emanates from your red lentil, chickpea and chilli soup – lovely.

Inspired by…

www.bbcgoodfood.com

How easy…

Childs’ Play!

 

Bread and Butter Pudding Brunch

This is a fabulous weekend breakfast – a real treat: something completely different, dead easy to make and minimal washing up! I tried the first version of this over Christmas and it was just dull but so obsessive has this little blogging project become that I woke up Friday morning re-jigging the recipe in my head and the new version is lovely – the light, fluffy, savoury ‘custard’ works brilliantly with the salty Parma Ham, mushrooms and cheese. Give it a go – perfect with the weekend papers and a leisurely day ahead.

Serves 4

What you need…

1 x baking dish, lightly buttered (mine is 26 x 18 x 7cms deep)

6 slices bread

80g butter

6 slices Parma Ham

200g mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3 large eggs

500ml milk

Pinch paprika

Sea salt and black pepper

100g Gruyère, grated

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180˚c / 350 f / gas 4.

Take three slices of the bread and butter them. Cut the Parma Ham in half width-ways and lay two halves on each piece of bread, covering each slice. Butter the other three slices and pop on top of the Parma Ham, butter-sides down, making three sandwiches. Butter the top slice of bread. Cut the sandwiches in quarters, diagonally to create four triangles from each sandwich and wodge into your baking dish with the buttered sides facing upwards.

Push the slices of mushroom in between the bread triangles, sharing them evenly throughout.

In a large jug, chuck in your eggs, milk, paprika and seasoning and, using a balloon whisk, blend together to create the custard.

Pour the custard over the bread, ensuring that all of the bread is doused. Scatter over the Gruyère and pop the pudding in the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the bread is golden and crunchy on the top and the pudding is puffed up and gorgeous-looking! Plonk your bread and butter pudding brunch in the middle of the table and ask everyone to dive in – great start to a weekend day!

Inspired by…

Can’t remember which magazine I ripped out the original recipe from, but it didn’t work anyway! This version comes from that lovely place between being asleep and being properly awake when, if you’re me, you’re now re-writing recipes in your head!!!!

How easy…

Ever so. Stick on some laid-back music, sing along and create.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Caesars Salad, My Way

Many years ago I had a marketing job that meant, in the name of work, I ate out a lot. And I mean a lot. There was also the occasional overseas trips undertaken and twice I was lucky enough to visit New York on business. Labeled a ‘jolly’, the trip was as much about food as it was the thrills of Manhattan: huge hotel breakfasts followed by large, leisurely lunches and obscenely over-indulgent dinners punctuated each day. There’s only so much a girl can eat even if the food is amazing so I quickly took to choosing Caesars Salad as my default choice for lunch, being the perfect foil for the inevitable heavy, rich dinners that I knew would follow. I’ve never had a Caesars Salad as good as those I enjoyed in New York and so ended up developing my own version: New York Caesars Salad, My Way! I have no idea how close to the authentic recipe mine is but it’s pretty close to those savoured in Manhattan. It’s light but edgy – salad with attitude I’d say – and really enlivening – give it a go!

Serves 2

What you need…

4 good-sized slices back bacon

300g mixed salad leaves (including iceberg for the crunch), torn

A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan

for the croutons

1 slice bread from a large loaf

50g butter

for the dressing

60ml olive oil

30ml white wine vinegar

3 anchovies

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Sea salt and black pepper to season

What to do…

For the croutons, cut bread roughly into 1cm squares and pop into a bowl with the butter and then into the microwave for 1 minute. Stir to make sure the butter is evenly distributed and pop back in for another 40 seconds. Repeat this last process until the croutons are golden and crispy. In my microwave, I do 3 x 40 seconds.

(N.B. microwave times may vary – I rarely use a microwave so ours is old and pretty inferior so yours may do the job much quicker).

Set the croutons aside to cool.

Dry-fry the bacon until its crispy. Remove from the pan and as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, chop it up into bite-sized pieces (I use scissors for this – it’s quicker than a knife for me). Put the chopped pieces on kitchen paper to absorb the moisture whilst the bacon cools.

In a jam jar, chuck all the dressing ingredients in together, screw on the lid and shake vigorously to mix everything together and break down the anchovies.

When you are ready to serve, tip your salad leaves into a large roomy salad bowl and throw in the bacon. Add half the Parmesan and then the dressing. Toss everything together. Either divide into two bowls or serve to the table in the salad bowl. Whichever way, scatter over more Parmesan and finally, the croutons. Enjoy! It really is a wonderful salad!

Serving suggestion…

I like New York Caesar’s Salad on it’s own as a main course, but it also works well served with steak or as a starter, perhaps with garlic bread.

Tip…

Cooks’ Ingredients frozen, chopped garlic from Waitrose – just tip some in the dressing rather than all that peeling and chopping….

Inspired by…

New York!

How easy…

Ever so!

Christmas Breakfast Boudins

The original version of this went down an absolute storm in November – lots of friends tried it and loved it; so last night when I found a packet of pigs in blankets lurking in the fridge, my son suggested this version of the popular Breakfast Boudins. We made them this morning and they were absolutely delightful!

 Makes 6

 What you need…

1 x muffin tin, lightly buttered

1 x small baking tin, lightly buttered/oiled

1 x cookie cutter

3 slices bread

6 rashers back bacon

6 pigs in blankets

6 eggs

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Preheat oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Pop the pigs in blankets into the baking tin and then into the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, choose a cookie cutter that is the same size as the bottom of your muffin tin holes and cut six circles from your bread slices, nestling them snugly into the bottom of six of the holes.

Dry-fry the bacon so that it’s only just cooked and remove from the pan, setting aside until it’s cool enough to handle. Wrap each rasher around the edge of each muffin hole.

Remove the pigs in blankets from the oven and pop one in each muffin hole. Then break an egg into each one.

Season with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve your Christmas Breakfast Boudins with steaming mugs of tea or coffee and enjoy a lovely light breakfast with a little reminder of the seasonal festivities! Yum.

Tip…

I reckon that you could also swap out the pigs in blankets for a little spinach and smoked salmon for a different take on this lovely breakfast.

Inspired by…

www.facebook.com/buzzfeedtasty for the original recipe and Connagh, for the inspired twist!

How easy…

Really easy. A lovely, light and different breakfast.

 

Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Colourful, light and really tasty, you can throw this tart together in minutes for a really lovely light lunch, starter or tasty snack when you’ve had enough indulging in really rich food. Very lovely. Enjoy!

Serves 4

 What you need…

 15g butter

2 red onions, halved and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

500g puff pastry

100g ricotta

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

Olive oil for drizzling

A few fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked

What to do…

Preheat oven to 200°c / 400° / gas 7.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the onions, season and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the puff pastry to about 5mm thick. Transfer to a baking tray that has been slightly warmed in the oven but isn’t too hot to handle! Spread over the onion and garlic mix, leaving a 1cm border uncovered. Dollop on the ricotta, scatter over the tomatoes, season well and then drizzle over olive oil, sprinkle with thyme and then pop in the oven for 20 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden and the tomatoes are soft and juicy.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for 5 minutes. Serve your tomato and ricotta tart as a ‘rough cut and share’ snack or starter.

Tip…

Instead of peeling and crushing garlic cloves, use Cooks’ Ingredients frozen, chopped garlic from Waitrose – a quick shake directly into the pan is so much easier!

Goats cheese and olives are a nice alternative to the ricotta.

Inspired by…

Delicious magazine (from a long time ago)

How easy…

Dead easy providing you assemble on the baking tray – the original instructions suggested assembling on your work surface and then transferring to an oven hot baking tray – this required me, my cousin and her husband-to-be to achieved. It’s much easier my way and tastes great!

Stilton and Port

Completely stuffed after Christmas Day but still we eat as the fridge abounds with treats. This one is my favourite – the perfect pairing – Stilton and port!

Serves 1 very happy person

What you need…

1 large slice of good quality Stilton (we schedule an annual trip to Fortnum & Mason, specifically to facilitate this)

1 bottle of late bottled vintage port

What to do…

Remove Stilton from fridge at least an hour before you want to indulge. Place it on attractive plate or slate: there needs to be some ceremony and decorum for the King of English Cheeses.

When ready, pour a good snifter of port. Take a bite of Stilton and enjoy the unique combination of delicious creaminess with the soft piquancy provided by the blue. Take a sip of Port and indulge in the simple but fabulous combination of the two ingredients. So much more together than merely the sum of two parts. Eat and sip, savouring every decadent moment of your Stilton and port. Ideal fare for a Boxing Day snack!

Inspired by…

Decades of tradition, certainly in our house

How easy…

Mastering the art of simply savouring, indulging and relaxing in this simple treat is perhaps the most difficult element to the whole thing – I recommend practice!

 

 

Toasted Walnut and Roquefort Salad

Salads are not just for summer! They are also not boring, well not in this house, anyway. I love this salad and particularly at this time of the year – it is fresh, tasty and feels healthy in comparison to all the heavy meals and naughty desserts. The warmth of the toasted walnuts together with the piquancy of the Roquefort makes for an unexpected and quite delicious pairing – a gorgeous salad that never fails to delight, this is a lovely starter or light lunch.

Serves 4

What you need…

120g walnut halves

120g Roquefort cheese

1 tablespoon walnut oil

Sea salt and black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

100g mixed salad leaves, washed and dried

2 big handfuls of basil leaves, torn

for the dressing

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons walnut oil

3 tablespoons olive oil

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350° f / gas 4.

Make the dressing by chucking all the ingredients in a screw-top jar, pop the lid on and shake vigorously.

Pop the walnuts into a small baking tin and pour over 1 tablespoon walnut oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until toasted.

Just before you are ready to serve, chuck your salad leaves into a pretty salad bowl, crumble in the Roquefort, tip in the dressing and finally, the walnuts. Toss your toasted walnut and Roquefort salad so that all the ingredients are evenly mixed and serve immediately. The warmth of the toasted walnuts will soften the Roquefort and taking a forkful of the cheese, nuts and a couple of leaves is quite heavenly! Absolutely delish!

Serving suggestions…

A little garlic bread on the side and a really crisp dry white wine are perfect accompaniments

Inspired by…

No idea – another one ripped out of a magazine years ago – it’s a firm favourite in our house though!

How Easy…

Couldn’t be easier!

Chicken Liver Pate with Brandy

I have a penchant for foie gras parfait, but let’s face it, that’s not very realistic on a regular basis. I have had this recipe for years – torn out from a magazine but I only got around making it this week. I tentatively tried a little and then found that I just wanted more and more! The combination of the brandy and the chicken livers is fabulously rich but the pate is also quite light. Its sufficiently good that can also carry off being served as a starter with a delicious dessert wine – the perfect foil. Try it – it won’t be the last time you make it! Absolutely delicious!

Serves 10 as a starter

What you need…

500g chicken livers, trimmed

2 tablespoons brandy

110g butter

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves torn from stalks

Pinch nutmeg/a few gratings of fresh nutmeg

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons sherry

4 tablespoons double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Drain the chicken livers and put them in a small bowl. Add the brandy, mix well, cover with cling film and pop in the fridge for 2 hours.

Heat 25g of the butter in a frying pan. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken livers from the brandy (keeping the brandy for later) and add to the pan, stir-frying on a moderate heat for 3-5 minutes, until they are browned all over but still pink on the inside. Again, using your slotted spoon, remove the chicken livers from the pan and tip them into your food processor.

Add the brandy into the pan and turn up the heat – cook for a minute or so until the alcohol has evaporated. Using a spatula, scrape every last scrap out of the frying pan and into the food processor.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, heat 25g of the butter and cook the bacon, onion, thyme, nutmeg and bay leaf over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the onion is quite soft and golden brown. Remove the bay leaf and tip the lot into the food processor with the other ingredients.

In a third (small) saucepan, melt the remaining butter over a gentle heat.

Whilst that’s melting, whizz all the ingredients in your food processor to form a smooth purée. Blend in the parsley and then add the sherry, cream and melted butter. Season to taste. Pour this mixture into either one mould, 10 small ramekin dishes or, as I did, four pretty serving dishes – we ate two over the course of the weekend and I’ve frozen the other two for future enjoyment. Whichever choice you make, chill the pate for at least 12 hours to allow the flavours to gather.

Serve your chicken liver pate with brandy with toasted fresh bread or toasted brioche. If you can run to a dessert wine as well, it works indulgently well. Talk about feasting like kings – fabulous!

Inspired by…

Don’t know – torn from a magazine so many years ago that the page is yellow.

How easy…

Very, very easy and for fantastic results!

 

 

Poached Egg with Asparagus and Parma Ham

 

You know how sometimes the ridiculously simple can be stunningly good – this little recipe fits that description. I can’t give you exact measurements because this is definitely one that is defined by your individual taste and appetite. Bottom line though, it’s a gorgeous little indulgent lunch or starter that you can knock out in no time and will knock your socks off! This version of poaching an egg is also fabulous, creates no washing up and is failsafe (dare I say it!)

Serves 1

What you need…

A few slices of Parma Ham, up to you; it depends how much you fancy

A few asparagus spears, again as much as you fancy

1 Large Egg

Parmesan, grated, again the amount depends on your taste

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

On your worktop, layout out one 30cm square piece of cling film. Lay another, the same size on top. (The size is a rough guide). Rub a teaspoon of olive oil all over the middle of the top piece. Pick up the double cling film layers gently push into a teacup. Break your egg into the cling film and then pick up the corners and edges of the cling film layers and tie in a knot so that you egg is in a little cling film bundle. Pop into a saucepan of boiling water, turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 5-6 minutes.

Take the asparagus and cut the hard ends off (usually about half of the spear) and pop them into a separate shallow pan of boiling, salted water. Boil for about 4 minutes – test one to see if it’s cooked to your liking. Drain in a colander.

Arrange the Parma ham and cooked asparagus on a plate.

Cut your poached egg ‘bundle’ just below the knot and tip the egg out onto the Parma ham and asparagus.

Season with Parmesan, salt and pepper. Break open the egg and watch with delight as the yolk dribbles all over the asparagus and ham. For maximum enjoyment, try a bit of everything with each forkful. Serve with toasted Italian bread – Pane Pugliese (very crispy). Altogether poached egg with asparagus and Parma ham can be described as very yummy!

Inspired by…

The poached egg is Jamie Oliver’s. The dish itself is just kinda out there I think.

How easy…

About as easy as it gets!