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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pasta Bakes

 Pasta bakes, perfect for lazy days, busy days, quiet days or lazy next day left overs. Easy to make, fast. Tasty and the combinations between ingredients, you can use mean that no two pasta bakes, ever need be the same. I’ve used Kassler a German cured and slightly smoked pork, tuna, chicken and ham. You can throw in all kinds of veggies. Use tomato sauce, white sauce, creamy vodka sauce or cheese sauce, top it with cheese or bread crumbs or both. With a ready in time of 30-40 minutes and the most effort required is turning the dial of your oven, what’s not to love? For even less effort you could use store bought sauces, I normally have several of the powdered sachets from knorr, and there is a jarred tomato and garlic one we like, to hand, just in case. Although I prefer to make my own – on days where you need no fuss and ease, a pasta bake is the perfect answer, it can be whipped up in minutes. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from also adding your store bought sauce! Like I said the sky is your limit.

macaroni and bacon gratin

300 grams macaroni, cooked according to directions, drained

100 grams bacon strips, diced

1 tomato, diced

1 tap Italian seasonings

1 tsp basil

100 grams grated cheese

salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

3 egg yolks at room temperature

125 grams cream

1/8 litre milk

1. Mix the macaroni, bacon and tomato with the herbs and season with the salt and pepper.

 2. Preheat the oven to 200°C (410°F approximately). Mix the cheese egg, cream and milk with a little salt and pepper.

 3. Grease the dish you are using, put in the macaroni with the cheese and cream mix. Bake for the 30 minutes.

 As I said earlier I am all for “shortcuts” after all if it’s good enough for the likes of Jamie Oliver, it should be good enough for us all, especially on those busy days when cooking is the last thing on our minds, I think most of us live busy lives, whether it’s because we work or are stay at home parents. However when I say “shortcuts” this by no means, means take out every night, or pre-cooked, pre-prepared frozen meal or some such. By “shortcuts” I am referring to, store bought pastry or naan bread, jarred tomato sauce, powdered sauces, basically anything which will help reduce cooking times……. I take a dim view on anyone – unless single, buying frozen meals or eating take out everyday. There comes a certain satisfaction out of cooking when you make a meal, even when minimal effort has been applied and I defy anyone even someone who can’t abide being in the kitchen, to tell me that they don’t get some austere satisfaction or sense of pride when they’ve put a meal on the table that everyone has eaten and enjoyed! I guess that’s easy for me to say because I love being in the kitchen, I love buying cookbooks and kitchen gadgets or utensils, I only buy what I’m going to use though. My kitchen is not big enough to buy just anything! Cookbooks on the other hand are bedtime reading for me. I have read them all and once they go on the bookshelf they become points of reference, if I was asked for a recipe I could easily pull one or two books of the shelf and have it for you in a matter of minutes maybe even more than one variation of the same recipe. I’m quite possibly a kitchen zealot in which case I’m in no position to be defying anyone to do anything.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dips in abundance

The five layer dip I made, is a recipe which I first tried at a friends house, she would often hold parties with some really good finger food, nibbles or quite frankly posh, eat off your napkin type stuff, but this five layer dip so delicious, I had to recreate it, the combination of the heat from the salsa, creaminess of the guacamole, salty olives and the bitter sour cream, topped with the cheese is a taste bud tickler, especially if you get scoop tortilla chips, scooping all the way through to the bottom of the five layers. It’s easy to make and if you use a glass bowl, for parties it’s also very aesthetically pleasing. So not only do you have a crowd pleasing dip it looks pretty too. The only thing I would say about this one is that whilst it’s fine to use store bought salsa (although I am going to include a salsa recipe) I would fully recommend using the guacamole, included with this recipe. I find that store bought guacamole can be a little too sharp and you don’t get the same creaminess out of it, that you do when you make your own.

Five Layer Dip

2 medium ripe avocados, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp garlic salt

1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce

1 cup sour cream

1 can chopped ripe black olives

1 jar thick and chunky salsa

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

tortilla chips

1. In a large bowl mash the avocado, then stir in the lemon juice, garlic salt and hot pepper sauce, spoon into an 8" glass bowl.

2. Layer with sour cream, olives, salsa and cheese. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with chips.

This Salsa is a little fiddly to make in that it involves a lot of fine chopping (unless you want it chunky). I would suggest wearing latex gloves when you chop the jalapeño. I didn’t the first time around and had a rather painful experience when I made the mistake of rubbing my eyes. Also if you don’t want too much heat you can remove the seeds, the tomatoes are very refreshing so don’t be afraid to experiment with the jalapeños. Start off with a little and keep adding until you have just the right amount of heat for you. We aren’t cilantro (coriander) fans so I use parsley instead. Personally I prefer to use lime juice but you could use lemon juice instead, I would use a little and then taste and add some more if needed. If you have the time you could use this salsa in the five layer dip, but to be honest I use store bought and then make this one as an added extra – not everyone likes avocado and olives so to have a few extra ones is never a bad thing.


1 cup tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

1/3 cup red onion, minced

2-4 fresh jalapeño's finely diced

2 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped

¼ tsp salt

4 Cloves fresh garlic minced

1. In a bowl stir together all the ingredients.

2. Cover and chill for 2-48 hours

You could try beer dip which is basically cream cheese, beer, salt, pepper, garlic and a few herbs (if your in the States, ranch dip seasoning mix is what I use)

Beer Dip

2 package (8oz) cream cheese

1/3 cup beer

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat all the ingredients until smooth.

Yield: 3½ cups

 Artichoke Dip

1 can of Artichoke hearts
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
Dash hot pepper sauce

1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together, well. Then place in a greased baking pan.

2. Place it in a 350 degree oven and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden, to be served warm.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Spanish Chucks

Chicken And Spanish Vegetables, this is one of those do I, don’t I? Recipes, my intention was to cook something, healthy and low in calories. 325 calories per portion seemed like a good option. The only down side was the peppers (bell peppers), I’m not a huge fan, but not totally against them either! This was the first time that I had really cooked with fresh vegetables and chicken breast. The lesson I learned from this recipe was that it is very easy to over cook chicken, mostly out of fear of not cooking it properly. Although, hindsight is a wonderful thing, cooking is definitely about letting go, whilst at the same time realising that you can’t ignore all the rules. You don’t want to over cook the chicken or it becomes dry (if not burnt, way to go me for stating the obvious), but at the same time under cooked chicken could leave you with that really icky bug, called Salmonella. You want to cook it until it is piping hot in the middle and the juices run clear. Better still it should reach a core temperature of a minimum 165˚F (taken from the USDA website) I don’t own a meat thermometer so I tend to guess at when it’s ready, but to be honest more often than not I use those bake in bag things you can buy, tastes delicious and you are pretty much guaranteed a perfectly cooked piece of chicken.

Chicken And Spanish Vegetables

2 green bell pepper seeded and sliced

2 red bell pepper seeded and sliced

50 grams green olives, sliced

150 grams mushrooms, sliced

4 chicken breast halves

salt and black pepper to taste

2 tbsp flour

½ teaspoon paprika

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp tomato paste

150 ml chicken stock

1. Pat the chicken dry, salt and pepper. Mix the flour and paprika on a flat plate, then cover the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess.

2. In a big pan heat the oil and fry the chicken on both sides until golden and cooked, place on a warm plate, cover and keep warm.

3. Mix the tomato puree in the fat from the chicken, add the vegetables, fry for a short time, stirring until soft, add the stock and boil.

4. place chicken breast on plate and cover with the vegetables - serve with pasta.

Servings: 4

Cooking Times

Total Time: 30 minutes

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Kitchen Antics; really began in October 2009 and my first recipe quiche lorraine is a fairly simple dish really, simple ingredients and with quiche you could add or substitute lots of different ingredients if you wanted to, for example you could add mushrooms, or you could just add smoked salmon and asparagus for something a little posher…. The possibilities are endless, it’s very versatile and leftovers can be eaten for lunch the following day, warm or cold the choice is yours.


2 Tbs butter

1 onion, chopped

6 thick slices of bacon, diced

1 cup (125 g) grated Gruyere cheese

1 cup (250 ml) light cream

2 eggs, beaten

salt and black pepper


1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour

4 Tbs butter

about 1 tbsp cold water

8-in (20-crn) quiche dish

or pan

dried beans or pie weights

1. Make the pastry, by sifting the flour into a large bowl, rub the butter, gently, into the flour so that it looks like breadcrumbs, now add the water and mix together with a tableknife, you should have a soft dough. Cover with cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Now you need to roll out your pastry onto a lightly floured work surface, not too much or it will incorprate into the pastry and change the consistancy. Then line your quiche or pie dish. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork, this is to prevent bubbles.

3. Next line your pastry with foil or baking paper, and with dried beans, rice, or pie weights if you have them. Place the quiche dish in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, at 425°F (220°C) remove the foil and dried beans after about 10 minutes, then put you pastry back in the oven for the final 5-10 minutes.

4. In the meantime, make your filling: melt the butter in a skillet, add the onion and bacon, and cook gently, until the onion is golden and your bacon is crisp.

5. Once your pastry is done, put the onion and bacon mixture into the pastry base and sprinkle with the cheese. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and then add the milk and whisk together, again, add salt and pepper to taste, then pour it into your pastry base as well.

6. Reduce the heat in your oven to 350°F (180°C) and bake the quiche for 25-30 minutes, until the filling is golden and set.

Servings: 4

The only issue I had with this recipe, was the pastry making, for two reasons, A) I am totally rubbish at anything to do with baking (although I am practicing) and B) I am one of those unfortunate souls, whose hands are too warm and no matter how hard I try, and I have tried a variety of methods, from sticking my hands round a carton of milk to putting them inside the freezer, still nothing works……. So cheating and store bought it is!! :o)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

As you will discover throughout this blog, whilst I cook with fresh ingredients often making my own sauces, or chopping and mincing fresh garlic, I’ll also use cheats and short cuts, I mostly buy frozen vegetables and cheap cuts of meat, usually pieces which I can cut up into, two people size portions, simple because, yes! We eat a massive variety of meals but something has to give somewhere, unless of course money is of no concern, like most people though I have to watch what I spend, so I keep my eyes out for a bargain and buy things which won’t spoil in a hurry, this doesn’t mean you have to skimp on flavour.

Try new things, just because you don’t like an ingredient one way, doesn’t mean you won’t like it done another; for example my husband didn’t like the avocado in the Apple, Spinach and Brie salad I made but will perfectly happily eat it in the guacamole which makes up a layer in my five layer dip.

Remember that not everything will come out perfectly, that doesn’t mean it’s a total disaster, just that next time it needs a little tweaking and the ones that are inedible need to be regarded as a learning curve and something to laugh about later. Mine was so, so bad that we had to order out for pizza, it couldn’t be saved, I will blog the recipe later….. At the time I was very disheartened and disappointed, but I have learnt to take mishaps in my stride, we all have them. That said I too have had mishaps which leave me cross – I admit to few but at least two where I have stepped on my peddle bin and emptied the contents of my saucepan into it, in hind sight this is a travesty and a total waste in the moment of anger and frustration.

The following recipes are MY story, my failures as well as my successes. I want to tell how it all came about, to show that with a little ambition and by putting those ‘kitchen fears’ to one side, you can achieve anything from the very simple to the more complicated, and that a few short cuts by no means any less effort or love went into the dish – although I am sure some would argue the toss on that one!  
I’m a 30 something woman who up until 2008, loved the thought of churning out weird and wonderful meals from my kitchen, collecting cheap recipe magazines and little cookbooks here and there, which I would read cover to cover, but the actual cooking of meals was slightly repressed, until Christmas ’08. My husband was living and working in the U.S.A at the time and I had gone over to visit for two weeks. All of a sudden I found myself cooking up a storm, using simple ingredients that whilst common place, seemed totally foreign to me. Two weeks later I was back in Germany and I found myself not only missing my husband but also my kitchen. It was nine months later when I was finally able to move to America and my love of food and cooking became an obsession. Suddenly my cookbooks which were either passed onto me by my mother or weedy little things, started becoming more extensive as did the list of different meals being cooked everyday.

 I am no Chef nor do I know anything more about cooking than I have read in either my cookbooks, magazines or online… This blog is not geared out to be preachy with do’s and don’ts in the kitchen and apart from the obvious, like if you have a dog the likes rolling around in all things dirty, then don’t eat off your kitchen floor, health and safety is not an issue I intend to comment on, not because I dismiss it, but because I am a housewife, I haven’t done any classes on cooking or health and safety in the kitchen. My aim, plain and simple is to show that if I can do it anyone can and that home cooked meals can be and more often than not are just as delicious as those from a restaurant.

 I want to show that just because a recipe is there in black and white written by a professional chef, by no means, means you can’t change it to suit you, in fact the more cookbooks you read the more you realise that just because it’s called Spaghetti Bolognese, doesn’t mean that anyone recipe is going to be the same. I regularly show wanton disregard to recipes these days, (with the exception of baking recipes) substituting ingredients I don’t like with something I do, or adding a little something here or just omitting an ingredient there. Nothing about cooking is set in stone, and there are no rules about what ingredients may or may not go together, for example if you want to eat gherkins and capers with chocolate, caramel topping and a side of pasta and chips (fries), who am I or anyone else for that matter, to tell you, you can’t?

Just the other day, I added chunky bacon bits to my mushroom ragout, that doesn’t make it any less of a ragout, just because I added them, just as it wouldn’t be any less of a ragout, if I had omitted the onions and garlic. It’s all about personal preference. I found myself skipping over recipes because they had ingredients we don’t like, I don’t remember now which recipe it was, but I couldn’t find an ingredient I needed and substituted it with something else, which is when I realised I could and can cook anything I like! Your substitute ingredient doesn’t even have to be something similar in taste, for example there is little point in something that tastes similar to a red pepper if you don’t like them? I try to keep in the boundaries of what I am cooking to a certain extent. If I was cooking a Mexican dish I would take out the red pepper and add an ingredient in keeping with Mexican food, corn maybe? But that’s just me, you might decide to use, spinach or even jelly babies that’s fine too.

The only piece of advice I really feel I must give and mostly out of experience is that you really should read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking. There’s nothing worse than becoming stuck because you “need” some piece of silly equipment that you don’t own, and then spend ages trying to botch together something viable, while the rest of your meal is still cooking, so you end up with burnt or limp veggies, or watery rice or potatoes. Yes this comes out of experience, one which is frustrating and disheartening but one which can easily be avoided.


Some of my recipes are horrifically calorific, whilst others are low in fat and calories. My personal opinion is that anything is fine in moderation, stay healthy and enjoy what you eat!!!