End of Month Review: Year Review! New blogger tips

 

I particularly enjoy reading what people are doing with their blogs to try and encourage traffic/make it look better and easier. The movement to a hosted WordPress site has been a massive learning curve to say the least. I hope people new to blogging can use this and develop their site. I say blogger tips, that is a bit of a stretch, how about my blogging trials and errors?

If you don’t know our story, a quick summary is that Alyson and I met when we were 14 and finally got engaged in 2015 (on the Isle of Skye). We are both very keen cooks and Alyson started blogging about a year ago and I started about a month ago both on separate pages and it sort of made sense to combine things into a single site (this one), since in May we are combining everything! I used to write a football blog and gave up because free time vanished and something had to give. I was keen that if we did this page together it would spur both of us on when times got tough in terms of motivation.

A Name

The most difficult thing was trying to find a name. Alyson suggested “Brookers of Blunty’s” – which is a running joke from our wedding venue as the owners just took their surname and put it in front of the place name so we did the same! A close second was “LessMessCress” – Another Alyson suggestion since I decided that every labrador I own has to be named something ending “ess”, we have had Tess and Bess. It is all leading to the day we have three and when I call them I will shout “Less, Mess, Cress”…Another silly joke we have.

So the name was finalised and it was time to get a shift on. Firstly, there was the signing up on all of the social media sights to have some consistency and then on to registering the domain.

Tech Stuff

Obviously I had to buy the URL and hosting, I used a company called TSO Host because I had heard they are excellent and also very good value. There have been no problems so far and the customer service is great. I would recommend them. Thanks to WP EAGLE for the discount code! – and all of your excellent videos.

Given that the two blogs were both started with us both lacking any sort of knowledge, when I got round to importing the two blogs into the new WordPress install, a few issues arose. I will go into this later but some are still about and are yet to be dealt with!

I wanted to get all the widgets, plugins etc all set up before we settled on a theme and then find a theme that fitted our needs by using the live preview button. I like the current theme, the only thing I would say is it would be better if the top menu was under the image slideshow!

Getting Sidetracked

My big problem – I suppose in life – is getting sidetracked. Setting up the site has been awful for this because there is so much to do and I found myself getting annoyed with something and flitting to the next thing and the only thing that was being achieved was opening more internet browser windows than anyone thought was possible!

I realise that there are so many things that still need to be done. I am on a mission to find some really smart follow us social media buttons for the sidebar but this seems to be a long process and ultimately, it isn’t a priority Here are some of the things I have done:-

  • Worked out the method to crop all images for the slideshow to be the same aspect ratio – surprisingly easy, need to find some more pictures when I have a second!
  • Set up Mail Chimp for email subscriptions. Please join! This was relatively easy in the end but took a lot of research to find a good company. Mail Chimp is free for the first 2000 subscribers so gives a bit of time to think about it! And get the button and form set up.
  • Found some share post media buttons that look good and work.
  • Get Google Analytics set up and bar Alyson and I from the data.
  • Get the Instagram widget up and running.
  • Getting the index page set up – this was trial and error but it is at a level where we are happy with it, we just have to go through our posts and re-categorise everything. Maybe Alyson can use that as an opportunity to proof-read some of her articles!!! Silly old Crispy Repper…
  • Added a Twitter follow button. We have reached double figures, a fantastic time to be alive!
  • Started to try and get involved with aggregator sites. This is very much a work in progress.
  • A dabbling in SEO with Yeost. I’m even getting some green lights!

There is still plenty to look at getting done but I am just delighted to be getting some time to actually write an article instead of messing about – I even dabbled in doing some coding last night but that was a disaster.

No views!

I know everyone in every guide says that it gets tough battling through all of the posts where it seems like nobody is reading and becoming obsessed with checking Google Analytics. As far as I am concerned, you have to earn readers and it should be tough to start with. Just because 5 people look at a page today, it is a recipe in the armoury for people to look at when you have 10,000 people looking at your pages a day. Every photo I take, I am learning from at the moment and every post I write is practice for writing, honing a style and getting to grips with things.

What to do next month

I think next month is going to be about trying to find some avenues for people to find our blog. The nice thing about it is that we sort of have a 6 month grace period as we still live our separate lives and the blogging will really take off as a couples activity once we tie the knot and move in together, and hopefully do some YouTubing.

I am quite tempted to put an advert up just as a barometer of how many page views are counting in comparison to the Google Analytics data. This is more as an understanding exercise than trying to make any money.

We are talking a lot about how to get set up into a routine for doing posts and doing the things that aren’t obvious.

Oh, and get a picture on FoodGawker – just submitted my first one!

If you have any questions please drop a message in the newly formed contact section and we will get back to you promptly! And please leave some of your own new blogger tips in the comment section.

 

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Cranberry-Glazed Ham

There’s nothing lovelier to drop off to someone with your presents than something homemade or home baked during the festive season. I usually keep my parents stocked up with mince pies and shortbread for serving up when people come over, but I always like to have a boy of something to take with me when visiting over the festive season. I’ve just spent a lovely couple of days with my fiancé and his family, so I made sure I had a box of mince pies, a gingerbread and a ham to take with me. Primarily, though, my ham recipe is generally wheeled out on Boxing Day to bulk out the leftover turkey for a quick supper and lazy lunches in the days to come. 

 how to cook a gammon 
  

You will need:
1 gammon, I prefer smoked but I could only find an unsmoked one the right size 
1 litre apple juice 
1 chicken stock cube
Plenty of water 
3 bay leaves (optional)
1 bouquet garni (more optional)
1/3 to 1/2 jar cranberry sauce (bought or homemade) 
Cloves 
  
  

  

1. Check the suggested cooking time on your gammon’s label. It should give you a time for boiling and baking. Go with the boil time suggested. For this size it was 42 mins – 30 mins per 100g – as I knocked off the extra half hour for the pot – that will be replaced by the baking later on.

  
  

2. Unwrap the gammon and check whether there is a papery film wrapped around the joint. This is to help it to keep it’s shape. In my experience, it will remain round enough if you remove it, so carefully lift it up, and snip it off.    

  
3. Set the gammon in a large soup or stock pot. Pour in the apple juice, add the dissolved stock cube and top up with water until the gammon is just covered. Add the bay and bouquet garni. Put the lid on and set to a medium high heat.
    

    
4. When the pot hits a steady but not over-zealous boil, start the timer, then leave well alone until the boiling time is up.  

 ham recipe 5. Carefully remove the ham from the water (I’m not quite sure at what point a gammon becomes a ham but let’s go with when it’s cooked!). Set aside on a chopping board, and preheat the oven to 170c fan. 

 removing the rind from a ham6. Next, using a paring knife, carefully trim off the rind, making sure to leave a layer of fat to glaze.   

 7. Using the same knife, score the fat diagonally in both directions so that the scores criss cross. 

how to stud a ham with cloves 8. Stud each intersection with a clove. This can be a bit fiddly but it really helps to give the ham a bit more flavour. 

  

how to glaze a ham 9. Get the ham settled on a roasting tray. This one went a little wonky so I just scrunched up a ball of tin foil to shove under the higher end to help it balance. Spoon on the cranberry sauce. I just used the cheap stuff you can find in the supermarket but use whichever kind you like. Mr Brooker has a great recipe for homemade cranberry sauce if you’re feeling so inclined. 

 glazed ham recipes 

10. Put the ham in the oven for 30 minutes until the glaze sets. If any of it melts and drops off, just spoon it back on. 

 how to bake a ham 
 Your finished ham should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. You can thinly slice it for sandwiches or salads, or cut thickly and cube for a great tasting addition to a pie or pasta sauce.

Happy New Year everyone!

Alyson’s Top Ten Ingredients of 2015

The end of the year is always seen as the perfect time to reflect on the year that’s just gone by, and look forward to the next year. Since we’re a food blog, it’s only fitting that we look at the past year in terms of food and its impact on my life. So here are my top ten ingredients of 2015.

Garlic

1. Garlic 

The smell of garlic has always reminded me of the best kind of home cooking. It was my uncle who first inspired me to cook, letting me sit at his butcher’s block as he chopped and fried, throwing together the most delightful array of tasty little dishes in seemingly no time at all. Now I’m older and can look back on it, I suspect he lost whole mornings making lunch!

Garlic always featured heavily in his cooking, and was the predominant smell in his house, but in a “welcome to the nourishing bosom of our home” kind of way. So that’s what got me into garlic. And I just can’t seem to look past it. If it’s a pasta sauce, curry sauce, marinade, soup, roast or stir fry, garlic is the starting point. It’s good for you and it does so much flavour work!

 

2. Ginger

This year has been a turning point for me in terms of food and nutrition. I’ve finally had the willpower to make a few healthier changes which have helped me to drop the dress size I wanted to shed before our wedding, as well as helping me to realise that eating healthily is a lot less difficult, and much more tasty, than you might think.

Soups for lunch and stir fries for supper have played a massive part in this, particularly when I learned that it’s pretty easy to keep stocked up with the makings of a great stir fry marinade, delicious enough to forget about those calorie stuffed sachet sauces. Ginger is a big hitter for me, and I always have a knobble in my fridge (especially since Charles told me off for resorting to ginger purée!).


3. Soy Sauce 

For similar reasons to the above story about stir fries, soy sauce has been hugely helpful in letting me throw together healthy but filling suppers, satisfying enough to stop me rescuing for a takeaway menu or a bag of pasta. Even if it doesn’t feature in your stir fry, it’s a slightly heather way to ass on your Asian food, so stick it on the table in case there isn’t enough salt on your noodles or rice.

The legend says that light soy is for flavour, whilst dark soy is for colour, but I just prefer dark soy sauce – it seems a little less bitter to me.

 

4. Honey 

Honey has been getting a bad rep, recently  – “oh it’s not as healthy as you think”, “it’s as bad for you as sugar”, yadda yadda, but everything in moderation.  A teaspoon in your marinade isn’t going to kill you, but it will give you the perfect dash of Asian sweetness, as well as the most beautiful sticky glaze to your stir-fried meat (see my Chicken Teriyaki for the evidence!).  I like to buy the runny kind in a squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I’m not at all fussy about brand so don’t take the photo as a specific recommendation – whichever is on offer will be the bottle which makes it into my basket.

 

5. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Really, I could be giving you a top ten rundown of my favourite/most eaten fruits and vegetables, so I’m afraid the title of this item will have to be as general as this!  You may remember (if you’ve followed my blog from the beginning) that one of my major resolutions for 2015 was to do my darnedest to eat my 5-a-day.  And, for the most part, I’ve achieved this (apart from the odd Saturday and Sunday, but that will change in the Brooker household).  It’s really much easier than you think.  I’m sure I’ll eventually get round to a post about the little changes you can make to the everyday to make your diet that little bit healthier, but generally melons and grapes have replaced my lunchtime packet of crisps, homemade soups and salads take the place of M&S sandwiches, apples and clementines float around my handbag in case I get peckish mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and bulking out my suppers with lots of fresh vegetables helps me to cut down on the carbs.  It can seem like an expensive way to eat, but once you’ve figured out your favourites, your weekly shop becomes a lot easier and a lot better for you.

 

6. Ribeye Steak

Charles has the credit for introducing me to this one.  The lovely, succulent, tasty ribeye.  It has more flavour that a sirloin or a fillet, and it’s generally pretty easy to trim out the excess fat.  It just has more…steakiness about it.  We had ribeyes from my butcher for our first supper as an engaged couple (I didn’t know we would be an engaged couple but we were otherwise celebrating heading off for a wonderful week together on Skye, it just worked out quite well) and Charles has also introduced me to the wonders of Aldi steaks.  Seriously. Try them.  They beat the butcher hands down because they are hung for a bit to tenderise and mature the beef, and yet they are sourced locally from farmers who meet the highest standards.  When I’m not celebrating, however, I love these Tesco ribeyes, which, at £3 a pop and big enough to make two stir fries, are my protein-packed best friend for a tasty midweek supper which will help my muscles to recover from HIIT and Pilates.

 

 

7. Brown Rice 

My name’s Alyson and I used to be a brown rice sceptic.  Until I bought a bag, learned that it took forever and a day to cook it, and tasted it.  It’s easier to prepare than basmati (provided you have 20+ minutes to let it simmer),it won’t turn stodgy on you, it tastes beautiful and nutty and delicious enough to eat alone, and it has a low GI, which means it takes longer to break down in your body and is therefore less likely to turn to fat.  Sorted.  Although you should definitely stock up when i’s on offer as it can get fairly pricey (£2.50 from Tilda in Tesco right now ….on the shelf you will stay).

Olive ou


 

8. Olive Oil

Everyone, surely, knows the benefits of olive oil.  It’s a staple. It’s always kicking around somewhere in both of our kitchens.  If I’m stir frying, I prefer groundnut oil as it can handle a higher heat without burning (be careful if you’re allergic to nuts), but olive is still a great starter for dressings, marinades, pestos, and getting a gently sweat or fry on the go.  Let’s try some new oils in 2016…

 9. Tinned Tomatoes 

Such a staple, even my Mum keeps them in the house, tinned tomatoes are a must-have store cupboard ingredient.  They’re a great start to a pasta sauce, a curry base or a casserole and they help to make an excellent minestrone.  Buy a four-pack when they’re on offer.  I used to be all about the chopped tomatoes but I think I’ve convinced myself that tinned plum tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush) give you a better flavour and texture.

image

10. Stock Cubes and Stock Pots

I’ll probably be breaking a “foodie” (yeurgh) law by telling you that I swear by Knorr stock cubes.  Chuck two or three in some boiling water and add to some vegetables in a soup pot and you’re halfway to a week of nutritious hot lunches.  They also give a great savoury backbone to sauces, and one beef stockpot added to a stew or casserole will hit all the right notes.  By all means, make fresh stock if you have leftover bones and the wherewithal, but don’t be too much of a snob to reach for reach for a helping hand from your cupboard.  Cooking loses it’s shine a little if make things too difficult for yourself, so take shortcuts when you can!

Let us know which ingredients you haven’t been able to keep out of your shopping basket this year, and have a great time at New Year!

Baileys Cheesecake

This cheesecake has become a bit of a festive tradition for me (we always have Christmas pudding, trifle and another pudding I’m in charge of), but you can of course make it at any time of year. And of course, my traditions will very soon be replaced by new ones Charles and I make ourselves. 

  
You will need:
125g or so Digestive biscuits
125g or so of butter 
2 large tubs Philadelphia cream cheese (280g each)
1 medium sized tub double cream (300ml)
Around 80g icing sugar, depending on your taste 
75ml Baileys or unbranded Irish Cream Liqueur 
100g milk chocolate 
Additional chocolate or sprinkles to decorate – I used a 150g bar of dark chocolate, some cherries and some gold confetti sprinkles but you can go as mad or as understated as you’d like 
A large round springform tin
    

crush the digestives 1. Put the Digestives into a freezer or sandwich bag, seal the top and bash them up with a rolling pin or anything heavy. You should aim for mostly even crumbs with a few small lumps to keep things interesting. 
 how to crush Digestives

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low to medium heat. This is just to bind the base so you don’t need to go mad with heat.

 melt the butter 
3. Once the biscuits have been suitably bashed up and the butter has melted, tip the biscuits into the butter and mix until the crumbs have been evenly coated in butter and look like they’ll hold together when chilled. If it looks a bit dry, you can push the crumbs to the side, add more butter to melt and mix up again. 
 how to make a cheesecake base 
4. Tip the crumb mixture into the tin and press it down into the tin, spreading it out as evenly as possible.    

 5. Pop it into the fridge and chill for 30 mins to an hour, or longer if convenient.  

whip the cream6. Next, whip the cream until it is holding well but stop before that horrible curdle point.

  
7. Set that aside and pop the cream cheese into a bowl. Give it a quick mix to loosen it then add around half of the icing sugar and the Baileys. You can use more or less Baileys depending on your taste, but adding more than 50ml or so is likely to give you a looser filling which is harder to serve. I used about 75ml by the time I as finished swigging and that was about the edge of tolerance. If in doubt, use less, mix, taste then add more if necessary. Add a little more icing sugar, mix together and taste. If you are happy with that, leave it be.

 how to make a cheesecake 
 

8. Grate the chocolate. If your hands are relatively cold, this should be easy, but if you are in a warm environment I’d recommend chilling the chocolate in the fridge first to avoid it melting in your hand. Or use a larger bar than necessary and keep the wrapper on the unused portion to avoid sticky fingers. I use milk chocolate because the texture is softer and gives a subtler constrast to the smooth filling, but you can by all means use dark or even white if you prefer, or, of course, skip the chocolate altogether. 
 

  

9. Stir in the grated chocolate, and then you have your cheesecake filling. 

 Christmas dessert recipes
10. Pour into the tin, spread evenly and chill for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

 how to make a no-bake cheesecake 
Now comes the garnish! I did this on the day of serving but you can do it whenever you like. 

how to make chocolate covered cherries Melt a bar of chocolate, the easiest way is in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirred until just melted to avoid burning or blooming but you can of course use a Bain Marie.  
  

 
Dip the cherries in, one at a time, and place on a piece of grease proof paper or a non-stick baking mat until set. 

   

  
If you have any chocolate left, use a spoon to drizzle into shapes on the paper. These will also set and can then be stuck into the cheesecake as prettily as you can manage.
 

  
Sprinkle on the edible confetti and crumble up and failed decorations. 
Put back in the fridge until it’s wanted on the table, then carefully remove the ring and present. 

  
 

Sticky Gingerbread Loaf Cake

*DISCLAIMER: if you don’t like treacle or molasses, don’t bother reading this any further – this loaf tastes very treacley and I don’t want you to go to the effort of baking a loaf cake only to realise you hate it: it’s not the recipe, it’s the treacle!*
    
If you do like treacle, go for your life. Personally, I can’t stand treacle, but it’s become a bit of an annual tradition for me to bake one of these guys for Mr Brooker, whose sweet tooth is more subtle than my own. He likes to keep it wrapped in foil for a couple of weeks to get really sticky, but you can serve it as soon as it’s ready, either plain or buttered. I’m going to experiment a bit before next Christmas to see if I can work out a treacle-less loaf which isn’t just a syrup cake. Oh, and there’s no electric mixer necessary for this recipe. 

 You will need: 
150g butter – can be cold!
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle or molasses
125g dark muscovado sugar 
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger 
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground cloves 
250ml full-fat (whole) milk
2 eggs 
300g self-raising flour
A loaf tin
Geese proof paper to line the tin
A little more butter to grease the paper 
    
 1. To prepare, remove the top shelf from the oven and lower the middle shelf so there’s plebty of room for the loaf. Pre-heat the oven to 160c fan or 170c non-fan. Line a loaf tin with grease proof paper and lightly grease with butter. Weigh out the butter and sugar into a medium saucepan. 

  
  2. Add the syrup. Lyle’s now make syrup in a squeezey bottle which is so much handier for baking. Just squeeze in, pop the cap back on and stick it back in the cupboard; none of that messing around with a mental tin which needs the lid levering off. 

  
3. Add the treacle, fresh ginger and ground spices. Unfortunately you will need to faff about with a treacle tin now! 
   

 4. Put the saucepan over a low heat and mix the ingredients together as they melt. 
 

  
5. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl, just to break up the yolks for even mixing into the cake batter, and measure the milk into a jug. Then seive and weigh the flour into a large bowl, big enough to take the total volume of all the ingredients.   

  
6. Stir the melted ingredients together until well-combined then remove from the heat for a few minutes. 
    

 7. Pour in the milk and mix together. Then add the beaten eggs. Stir very quickly after you have added the eggs to help the temperature even out, though the milk should have given the cooling process a good start. 
    

 8. Tip the wet ingredients into the flour and mix everything together well. The lumps are easier to get rid of with an electric mixer but if you don’t have one just spend a few extra minutes gently stirring, pushing the lumps against the side of the bowl to help them to disperse. And using a seive to measure the flour will help too. 
  
9. Pour into the loaf tin and shove it in the oven. It should take around an hour to bake but it’s best to keep an eye on it. Don’t open the door until it has risen and looks to be firm. It’s ready when you push a skewer into it which is clean when removed. If it’s not quite ready,give it another 10 minutes then try again. 
    

 Serve in slices, plain or buttered, or give as a host gift when visiting someone, wrapped in paper or foil. Kept airtight, it should last for a couple of weeks. 

Butternut Squash Risotto

The last few weeks have been a bit of a festive whirlwind with present-buying and wrapping sitting alongside Christmas baking and work, of course. But at last (hooray, hurrah) I’m off work until 29th December, so finally I have a chance to breathe.

Roasted squash risotto recipe

My first free evening was largely spent in the kitchen and on the floor wrapping presents, but I was feeling a bit more chilled than I have been and I’d bought a butternut squash at the weekend as an antidote to lots of meaty meals, so I thought I’d throw together a wholesome risotto for a bit of relaxation (yeah, I do actually find that sort of thing therapeutic!). This tasted so wholesome, comforting and filling without having to cook up any meat. You could so easily make this fully vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and if you use 80g of each vegetable, it can also make up 4 of your 5-a-day. Add whichever veg you fancy – it’s also great with roasted sweet potato.

Squash risotto recipes

As a bit of a warning, though, you’ll need about half an hour and a great deal of patience to make this dish. Once the liquid hits the rice, you’ll need to constantly stir it until it’s ready. Be prepared! I forgot about this part when I thought I’d be able to get a batch of mince pies ready for the oven at the same time!

How to make risotto
You will need:

Half an onion or a few shallots

1 clove garlic

Dash white wine or vermouth (optional but delightful; essential on a Friday evening)

80g carnaroli rice (or however much you care to pour in by eye – who has time for scales?!)

Chicken stock (a good cube dissolved in hot water and standing by or fresh if you’d like – I have a stock recipe coming soon)

A few florets of broccoli

Half a small butternut squash

Olive oil

A cupful of peas

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper

How to cook butternut squash

1. Pre-heat your oven to 200c, line a baking tray with tin foil and get ready to roast. Carefully cut the squash in half from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. If you need a hand with how to tackle one of these beasts for the first time, there’s a quick rundown in my squash soup recipe. Once you’ve done that, place one half of the squash on the tray, sprinkle on the chilli and cumin, season and drizzle with oil, then shove it in the oven.

Chop the onion and garlic
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

Making a risotto baseI
3. Drizzle a little oil into a medium saucepan and place on a medium to high heat. Chuck in the onion and garlic and allow to soften, stirring every now and then.

Carnaroli rice recipes
4. Tip the rice into the saucepan to join the rice and stir around for about 30 seconds or so, until you hear the rice start to crackle and pop, then pour in the wine.

Winter risotto recipes

5. Cook out the wine until the saucepan is nearly dry. Now comes the stock. This needs to be added a ladleful at a time, cooked out whilst stirring the rice, then repeated. This process will take 20-30 minutes – risotto is traditionally served al dente, but I would recommend tasting it before serving up because home cooking is all about what you like. The stirring process is really important because it helps the starch to be released from each grain of rice, and it’s the starch which will give you a really creamy, unctuous risotto.

Why do you have to constantly stir risotto

6. About 5 minutes from the end, cut up the broccoli into fine florets and boil it up in salted water. When the rice is ready, add the broccoli to the saucepan, then stir in the frozen peas. A couple of minutes in the risotto should be enough to defrost and cook them.

Vegetable rice recipes
7. Check the squash. It should take 20-30 minutes to cook as well. It should be tender throughout and browning on the edges.

Easy squash recipes

8. Chop up the squash into chunks. You can remove the skin before or after cooking, but, like many vegetables, a lot of the nutrients the squash offers are in the skin, plus it turns sort of sticky and marshmallowy when roasted. So yes, you definitely can eat the skin on a butternut squash!

Can you eat the skin of a butternut squash

9. Serve up the rice and add the squash chunks on top so they stay crispy on the edges. Then enjoy! If you want this to be extra creamy, you could stir in a tablespoon of crême fraiche before serving, or even grate some Parmesan over the top, however that would seriously bump up the calories, and of course remove the dish’s vegan and vegetarian credentials, but the world is your rice bowl.

Roasted butternut squash risotto
I’d love to hear about your favourite risotto and your favourite way to prepare and eat butternut squash.

Mediterranean (ish) Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce
Slow cooked tomato sauce
Please excuse the slow posting. I have had not only a very busy week with work – the sitting room in the house we are building now has a sitting room floor and the porch has a roof (well roof trusses!(since I started writing this, it has now got most of a roof.)). All of my free time has been taken up by my other blog which I am resurrecting from 2010. It is a football (soccer) one, that I had a lot of fun with at the time but life sort of ran away with me. I am using it as a project to learn how to make a proper wordpress.org site so I can help Alyson with hers. And this if I ever get enough views to make it worthwhile! I have also been helping to do some of the cooking for my mother and step-father’s Xmas party. Endlessly tedious! However, I did get the chance to make this tomato sauce, which turned out to be absolutely delicious!

 

IMG_0182

Since then, we decided that we might as well have a joint website so if you want to have a look at the very early stages, it can be found at www.brookersofbluntys.co.uk – we will both keep our wordpress.com pages going though.

On to the recipe!

This isn’t so much of a recipe as a throwing stuff into a pan sort of touch. I have been so busy that there was no meat in the house so I decided it was time to do a tomato sauce. Admittedly, given the stuff I had kicking about dictated the ingredients. It quickly became a bit less tomato based and more of a Mediterranean sort of thing. I will also apologise for the level of photography because I was in a rush and only had my phone with me.

There are so many different ways to produce a great tomato sauce. If you are in a rush you can just fry some diced onions and chuck in a tin of tinned tomatoes with some basil and it will be more than passable with some pasta. While there was a lot of cooking for my recipe, it was pretty low maintenance. Great if you work from home.

2 Onions

4 Tomatoes

3 Peppers (not green)

A big squeeze of tomato puree

1 Chilli

1 Tin of chopped tomatoes

A touch of sugar

A small handful of fresh basil

Season with salt, pepper and a mix of your favourite dried herbs

 

IMG_0181

Notes

It might be worth peeling the peppers after they have been cooked as the skin doesn’t break down very well if it gets a bit scorched.

A touch of sugar will help to caramelise the tomatoes

  1. Roughly chop up the onion, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and chillies and throw them into a baking tray, squeeze some tomato puree into the peppers and a good drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Put them into a medium temperature oven (about 170 degrees C) and let them start to brown. The caramelisation of the baked veg will be amazing flavour later on.
  3. Once everything is softened take it out of the oven, take everything out of the pan and roughly chop it. It is a good opportunity to pull of any charred bits of pepper skin.
  4. Pour the dark rich in flavour olive oil from you baking tray into a pan and fry off the diced onions, they will pick up all of the amazing flavour. Once they are transparent, add the chopped tomatoes, all of the chopped up cooked veg and all the dried herbs you want to add, bring it to the boil and then leave it to simmer as long as you have. Top up with any tomato juice or stock in order to thin it a bit.
  5. sprinkle in some fresh basil and serve.
IMG_0205
Not the prettiest but so much flavour.

Teriyaki Pork

 Let’s clear something up before we start. I stir fry a lot. I know, I started this blog to help me keep out of my food rut, but there’s just something about a stir fry. In fact, there’s a lot about a stir fry. They’re quick, easy, light, healthy, packed with freshness and flavour and so so versatile. Provided you like a couple if types of vegetable, know how to cook a variety of meats/fish/tofu (I suppose, but why would you?!) you could probably whip up a different stir fry every day and still enjoy it. In fact, one of my colleagues eats chicken stir fry every night, though that’s a very different situation and the sauce comes out of a sachet.   

There’s not a huge amount wrong with that either, I suppose. I used to be a huge fan of the stir fry sauce sachet (and in fact still have a few lounging about in my cupboard – should probably check the use by) but they are packed with all sorts of E numbers and preservatives, not to mention calories, and really there’s nothing in them that’s terribly good for you. So once you’ve mastered frying up some chicken and vegetables and boiling up (or microwaving, I suppose; those microwave rice sachets are pretty good, albeit terrible value for money) some rice or noodles (preferably without cutting or burning yourself), you should definitely try to make your own sauce. Though to call it a sauce is actually a bit grand. As long as you can cook meat to the point that it’s safe to eat but still juicy, you don’t really need a sauce, you just need flavour. A sort of hot dressing, if you will. Trust me, it will taste so much fresher and more vibrant than a sachet. Plus it means that nice you have the ingredients in the house, you can throw something like this together whenever you need it for a quick home-cooked meal without necessarily having to shop. 

  

You will need:

1/2 onion

1/2 red pepper

1 medium carrot

A few florets of broccoli 

1 piece pork tenderloin (about 1/3 of a fillet)

1 clove garlic

1 3cm piece ginger 

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp honey

Dash groundnut oil 

  
1. Slice the onion, and pepper, peel and chop the carrot into small pieces. Chop the broccoli into little tiny trees, bearing in mind that the only cooking they’ll get is in the wok i.e. with no water. 

  
2. Grate the ginger and garlic into a bowl then add in the soy and honey. Stir it together and that’s your sauce made!

3. Thinly slice the pork, add to the marinade and set-aside to flavour and tenderise.  

4. Hear the oil in a wok and chuck in the onions and carrots. Allow them to start to cook down a little then add in the broccoli and peppers. Turn the heat down to medium. If you’re having noodles, get those ready to go on. Boil them for a few minutes in salted water, as per the packaging; I used soba noodles here. 

  
5. Use your spoon to hold back the pork while you pour the extra marinade into the vegetables, and stir. 

  
6. Set a medium frying pan on at a very high heat and add a dash of groundnut oil. Once the pan is screaming hot (but please don’t test this with your fingers) add in half of the pork. Sear on both sides, then remove and replace with the remaining pork slices.

  
7. Add the pork to the wok with the remaining marinade that’s left in the bowl, add in your cooked noodles, and heat everything through,making sure your pork is just cooked. 

  
Serve and enjoy!

This recipe can be repeated with chicken, turkey or beef, and is great with salmon if you bake it in the oven for 7 minutes instead of frying it. 

If you’re having rice though, put that on while you’re chopping your veg, especially if it’s brown rice!

  

Roasted Squash and Pepper Soup

Is it just me or is it starting to feel like winter is never going to end? It’s too cold. What I will say though is that whilst I’m getting bored of winter food already in some ways, it is the time of year when a steaming bowl of something will hit the spot like nothing else. Especially on a work day in a draughty old building when you’re having one of those days that makes you wish you were back in bed. 

 squash soup recipes 
I don’t know about you, but if a soup is good enough and hot enough, one spoonful will immediately revive me to the point of begging winter’s forgiveness for ever speaking badly of it. I’m not talking about those crazy Pinterest soups though; there’ll be no cheese or nachos in my soup pot. What a good soup can give you is a vibrant, hot bowl of bright goodness. It tastes like nourishment. And it can be so packed with flavour. With a little bit of time and a lot of love and patience, you can turn a small bag of groceries into somethings spectacular which can keep you in healthy, warming lunches all week.

 pepper recipes  

 You will need:

2 onions

1 leek

2 cloves garlic 

3 peppers, choose your poison (I bought a 3 pack of yellow, orange and red, but 3 red would do you just fine)

1 3cm piece ginger 

2 butternut squash (3 if they’re small)

1 sharp green apple (a bramley is perfect)

3 chicken stock cubes (or vegetable if you’re vegetarian) 

Salt and pepper

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp thyme 

1/2 tsp smoked paprika 

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder 

Dash Worcestershire sauce 

 roast for better flavour 
1. Preheat the oven to 200c and line 2 trays with foil. Peel and quarter the onions and core the peppers before cutting them in half. Place in one of the trays, along with the garlic, and drizzle with a little olive oil. 

 winter warming soup recipes 
2. Cut the squashes (squash, squashi?!) in half down the middle from top to bottom. Be careful; these can be tricky nuggets! I find it easiest to cut off the knobbly bit on the top first, stand them upright on a board and slice top to bottom with a chef’s knife. It’s hard to get the knife through to start with but once you get to the bulbous section it’ll be plain sailing. Scoop out the seeds and place them in the other tray, flesh facing up. Season and drizzle with oil then shove them in the oven too. Both trays will take around half an hour, but have a look at them after 20 minutes.

 winter squash recipes 

3. In the mean time, chop up the leek and add it to your soup pot with a little oil. Try to keep the heat relatively middling so they don’t brown, but hot enough to sauteé them. Grate in the ginger.

4. Remove the onions and peppers from the oven when the peppers are beautifully tender with dark brown skins. If the onions are still a little hard don’t worry too much, but you can put them back in the oven on their own if you’d prefer. 

 How to roast onions, garlic and peppers   
When cool enough to touch, chop the onions into smallish pieces (but don’t worry about them being too fine) and add these to the pot as you go. You should be able to squeeze the garlic out of its skin and into the pot. Cook the onions down a little more whilst you carry on to the next stages. 

Before chopping up the peppers, carefully remove their skins. If they’re cooked enough, this should be easy. Simply pint the skin at its darkest and it should tear and peel away really easily. Then chop up the pepper flesh and add it to the pot. 

Roasted butternut squash   6. When your squash looks sticky and tender, remove from the oven and chop into chunks. Leave the skin on as it will have turned marshmallow in the oven and will be liquidised later. Peel, core and chop the apple and add than too. Trust me on the apple. It sounds a bit “out there” but it really balances out the flavour, adding a little earth and a bit of sharpness. I made this soup last week without the apple and it just wasn’t the same. 

Give everything a good stir to get nice and hot. best ever butternut squash soup recipe  
7. Prepare your stock by dissolving it in hot water if you’re using cubes or just pour it in if you have liquid stock instead. Add a little seasoning and stick the lid on. Allow to simmer on a low to medium (just bubbling) heat for around 40 minutes. 

tasty soup recipes8. Liquidise in a blender or on a big bowl using a stick blender. You can do it in your stock pot if you want but mine is non-stick and I don’t want to risk scratching it so I always use a big metal mixing bowl to blend then pour it back into the stock pot to finish. 

  

 
9. Add the herbs, spices and Worcestershire sauce, allow to cook through and then taste. This is the tricky part where you need to work out whether it needs more salt, more spice or nothing at all. You have to trust your tastebuds here I’m afraid! 

And that’s your soup! Enjoy!
 

Gifts for Your Gentlemen

We all have a demographic for whom Christmas shopping is most difficult. For me, it seems to change from year to year, depending on what the person has coming up, whether they have made requests, and how inspired I’m feeling. This year, I’ve been pretty well-organised, with most ideas gradually hitting me. My last sticking point is one of my Grandads, but everyone else is pretty well sorted, after lots of head scratching surrounding uncles, Dads, fiancés and so on. So when I finally got there, I thought it might be an idea to share some of my better ideas (sharing is caring).

 Christmas Blog 
1. A washbag. Is it just me, or do men seem to be becoming more and more concerned about their accessories, hair and skincare? Even the older generation seems to be going mad for beard oil. Every self-respecting man about town, therefore, should have a respectable washbag. This season, there seem to be lots of these on the market. Just hit a department store and you’ll find a range of options to meet a range of budgets. This one is by Jasper Conran, can be found in Debenhams, and will be under the tree for my Dad. If only they hadn’t left the security tag on….need to take a trip into the shop before I can wrap it.

 Jasper Conran Washbag 
2. Socks. Whether you have a stocking to fill or a little extra to pad your other presents up to your budget, lovely or wacky socks are a bit of a Christmas must-buy for boys and girls alike. My uncle likes to wear brightly coloured socks (really really), so gets them every year, but these ones are lovely thick, soft work socks for my future Father in-law. 

 Work socks  

3. A good jumper. Or any clothes, really. You have to know the person fairly well, though, or have a particular eye for style, as clothing can be a pretty personal thing. And then there’s the dilemma surrounding choosing the right size (please don’t offend someone – if in doubt, steer clear!) I found this jumper (reasonably priced but smart) quite by accident in the men’s section of Debenhams but later ordered it online as they only had it in medium. This is for my dad and is a sort of crisis cross knit with surfer shoulder panels. Cosy and smart and relatively stylish for a 50 plus. I also bought my grandad a £10 shirt and tie set from Tesco (who’s to know?!).

Men's Christmas Gifts 
4. Man chocolate. Unless your gifted has a particular favourite (my Dad’s used to be Toblerone), experience tells me that 9 out of 19 men prefer manly dark chocolate. These mint batons are a slightly classier After Eight, and are a great extra to throw in.  Chocolate Mint Batons 
5. The Amazon Fire TV Stick. This is my Dad’s main present. I bought him a Now TV box last Christmas but I had to throw this one in this year because Top Gear is coming back, and this little stick lets you access Amazon Instant Video and Netflix (provided you pay the subscriptions) without shelling out for a smart TV. 

 Christmas Gifts for Dads