Fun in a Lockdown Kitchen Spring 2020

A positive of the Coronavirus Lockdown in 2020 was the opportunity to share cooking skills with the children – guess it also helped pass the time and we all enjoyed the results.

We planned a weekly menu which included food that neither of them were used to preparing. Taking it in turns and introducing Themes. One week we cooked food from countries we would like to, or have, visited – India, China, Hungary, USA. We also prepared British national dishes and Oliver learnt how to make Yorkshire Puddings and Sage & Onion stuffing whilst cooking a roast chicken dinner.

Cooking UNI style food

He also introduced us to UNI food by cooking a meal he often cooks himself. It involved chicken, mashed potatoes, spices and herbs – not sure if it has a name but smelt and tasted delicious.

I purchased a new gadget – a Waffle iron. It did take some practice to perfect the technique but Oliver was a willing participant ?

His favourite cake is a Victoria Sponge and one day he decided to learn how to make one. We used the traditional method I had learnt at school although I permitted the use of a food mixer rather than a wooden spoon – I am really not that cruel.

The cake was very impressive, better than any I turn out.

Emma is already a very proficient chef and now was keen to learn how to make pasta. I know that the shops sell good quality dried and fresh pasta yet there is something very therapeutic about making your own. A stress-reducing activity I used frequently when I worked. 

Mixing flour and eggs, then kneading the dough could transport me to an Italian lakeside kitchen away from the trials of the day.


Her first attempt was spaghetti and again, we used the traditional process although we used a mechanical cutter rather than a sharp knife (I have used a pizza cutter on occasion, and it does work well). Once cut the spaghetti was spread over the clothes airer to dry whilst we prepared the meatballs.



Another day Emma made Orecchiette using an attachment on the Food Mixer. This method has its own challenges as the pasta has to be crumbly rather than a dough and good hand/eye co-ordination is required in order to cut the correct length. One hand needs to operate the blade whilst the other hand separates and spreads the pasta shapes as they fall. This also needs to dry for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.

We enjoyed the orecchiette along with a homemade marinara sauce, cheese, and roasted peppers.

Gnocchi can take on many shapes

Next on the list was Gnocchi, this is a mixture of potatoes and flour which is hand shaped then cooked in the same way as pasta. We both decided this was more tricky and it was easier to buy. Although we did enjoy eating the finished product.



The fourth, and most difficult was Ricotta and Basil Tortellini. A learning process for me too as I had not made these for a long time (like 2 decades ago). Once pasta dough is made and rolled thinly it was cut into circular shapes and the filling prepared. It is easy to overfill these so be careful. Turning and twisting to obtain the correct shape was fiddly – but by watching a short YouTube video ( )

Emma was soon producing professional looking Tortellini.

These were accompanied by a simple, but gorgeously tasteful Tomato, Garlic and Basil sauce and it all disappeared.

Emma ‘It took 3 hours to make and 10 minutes to eat’

‘Sign of a good meal’ said Oliver. 

Marmalade,Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Yes, we are in the middle of a heatwave but I had signed up to enter the Marmalade competition at our local Agricultural show in a few weeks’ time. The Seville oranges were in the freezer – well, they have a very short season around February time and I hadn’t wanted to make the preserve that far in advance. My diary for the summer is fairly full so it was now or never.

I spent the evening juicing and chopping the oranges. I used a Delia Smith recipe but, honestly, all those that I read were so similar I could have used any.

Up early the next morning to beat the heat of the day. My oven is a Rayburn – a joy in the winter but not so great in a heatwave as it maintains its cooking temperature for ages after use.

Oranges boiling into Marmalade

The recipe stated that the ‘setting point’ would be reached approx. 15 to 25 minutes after the mixture reaches a rolling boil – my pot of oranges took 40 minutes. This often happens and I think it is something to do with the Rayburn’s heat distribution so had factored it into my  plans (part of why I needed an early start).


Marmalade and Sorbet – oven companions (Note Star Anise)


When I had defrosted the oranges I realised I had more than was needed so as well as making marmalade I also made an Orange Sorbet.

I chose a recipe from the Internet, too hot and bothered to trawl through my recipe books and I found one that only needed 3 ingredients. Orange juice, sugar and Star Anise – mixed, boiled, removed Star Anise, once cooled into the Ice Cream maker then in the freezer for a few hours = Dessert ?

Delicious with Coconut and Lime Ice Cream and I think Star Anise added a background dimension

Photo Acknowledgement:

Dog Photo by North East Courier






Portuguese Custard Tart

I am not a great lover of pastry – pies and tarts – but I do like Portuguese Custard Tarts. I have enjoyed many when abroad, as well as from London’s Brixton and Borough Markets where they do taste authentic, unlike others I have purchased from local supermarkets, (although not yet in Portugal, still a country I have to visit).

Anyway, thought I would ‘give it a go’ and try making my own. A mixture of success and error, mostly errors, and as the saying goes ‘you  should learn from the mistakes of others as you will not live long enough to make them all yourself’ I thought I would share my experience.

I used a recipe from Pinterest – just Google ‘Portuguese Custard Tarts’ and read through the hundreds of options then pick one that appeals to you. The one I choose was written very simply in a ‘Steps’ format (appealed to the Simpleton in me)

Gather together the ingredients – I used half the recipe as I did not want, or need, 24 tarts. Rolled out the pastry to half the suggested length but the same width – am guessing the idea is to have many flaky layers so the more turns you have the better

I would suggest making the syrup first, although it was Step 5 in my instructions, as it needs to cool. 1st error – so I had to wait an hour before proceeding.

Having rolled out the pastry to a rectangle, then rolled it into the required sausage shape I cut this into 12 pieces and followed the instructions to slightly flatten out each circle. As instructed, I used a 12-hole fairy cake tin – 2nd error – this turned out to be too shallow and as a consequence my tarts could not hold the expected amount of the custard (it was not wasted as I cooked the remaining custard separately and ate it)

Don’t skip chilling the pastry cases once in the tin – pastry chefs are correct when they say this assists the cooking process and helps prevent shrinkage. A good pastry chef always sieves a sauce so don’t skip this step either.

This is a tart that needs time and attention so not one to do in a last-minute hurry, that said making them correctly is worth the effort. Not sure that they freeze so best eaten on the day.




Brining a Chicken, a positive experience.

Looking through my recipe books I came to ‘Mushroom Butter Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes’ in Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes. This is not a book I use often as many of the recipes need a lot of preparation and/or marinating for 8 hours – not a process compatible with full time working and 3 children. Time has now moved on and as a retiree with an empty nest I can look differently at these books.

This recipe, for example, needs to start the day before you need to eat (at least – it can be then left for up to 2 days but as I am a ‘bit iffy’ about chicken I kept to the minimum time). Also, I have never even considered ‘brining’ a chicken so had no idea of the merits/consequences of such a process.

Brined, ready for the butter and mushroom mixture (the brine is in the large pan – you need a container that is both big enough to carry the chicken and will fit into your fridge, my pasta pan suited the task)

Following the recipe steps as directed it was very simple. Pushing the butter mixture between the flesh and skin was easier if you did first separate the skin with oiled hands (as advised), it was delicate and easy to tear.

It was moist and tasty – delicious. Definitely worth a try



Featured Image – Sink – Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

A quick tour of Tom Kerridge’s ‘Fresh Start’

I have used some of Tom Kerridge’s recipes in the past and can fully recommend his book ‘Lose Weight for Good’ ( )  so looked forward to watching his new TV series. His aim, in this book, is to encourage families not only to cook food from ‘scratch’ but to do so together. Encouraging family interactions whilst preparing and eating wholesome food (and reducing the reliance on ‘Takeaways’). Sounded a good idea and I’m always keen to widen my food repertoire so tuned in – I was, as always, hooked in from the start so thought I would buy the book and try some items out myself.

I noticed the book for sale in my local supermarket so dashed over, keen to add it to my trolley but looked at the price – £26.00! Oh, that’s a shame I thought and put it back. Cannot remember ever noticing that high a price tag on a recipe book and as I had only seen one of the programmes thought it best to wait until either the remaining programmes persuaded me it would be worth the cost or it was in a sale (which often happens after TV series have finished) 

And, so glad I did. The following week I was in Edinburgh and wandered into Waterstones where I noticed a special half-price sale, and the book was included. Hastily picked it up and at the Service Till handed over my Loyalty Card, to be informed I had £10.00 worth of loyalty points. So, in the end I paid £3.00! What a bargain, the book is full of good ideas alongside useful hints and tips. As usual with Tom’s books do read the recipe through at least the day before as the need to marinade for ‘4 hours’ listed in paragraph 4 may come as a shock when you are expecting to put dinner on the table in 30 minutes! (I have been caught out in the past).

I plan meals in advance as a habit, mainly so I only need to shop once a week although many of these recipes used ingredients commonly found in the pantry – or could be easily substituted for similar ingredients.

Thought I would start with something straight forward and Crispy Beef and Pak Choi Noodles fitted the description. I recommend preparing all the ingredients in advance – then cook. It was all so quick and tasty, a great mid-week meal. 

Spanish Hake Bake was simple to put together needing very little attention, just as well as the Brexit Deal vote  was being broadcast and I was distracted – resorted to speaking to TV!  This fish dish was tastier than I expected and definitely one to do again.   

Asian-Style Glazed Chicken Thighs is another easy to make dinner, despite the long line of ingredients. Once in the oven it needed little attention. I cooked the wild rice rather than use ready cooked (I had a packet in the pantry so why buy some – the ‘Best Before’ date would scare you although we survived). Also, I used plain broccoli, besides cooking a little quicker and perhaps appearing more elegant I cannot see the point of tender stem broccoli.  The portion sizes were very generous so if inviting friends around for dinner I would advise a light dessert.

Miso Ramen – Fairly simple to cook although used a lot of dishes, I could not locate any Smoked Tofu so used Silken instead which broke into pieces too easily and did not ‘char’ in the same way, it remained looking pale rather than browning. No strong flavours although not bland, I have made similar dishes with meat/fish which I have preferred – I am not a fan of tofu so perhaps this dish is down to personal taste (luckily the husband liked it enough to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day) As always the servings are a good size and instructions easy to follow. 

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Curry – I made a few changes to this as I had no green beans so substituted baby broad beans from the freezer. I also had a few cooked artichokes going spare so throw them in. It was  not a hot curry so a good one for introducing children to the spices.

Prawn and Broccoli Rice Noodles – The recipe said this would take 30 minutes although it took  me more like 40. I had no Sriracha hot sauce so used chilli sauce and added a few broken sriracha peppers. I added the beaten egg as instructed – you have to be quick and careful that it didn’t become scrambled egg, I  think I prefer my method of making a thin omelette, chopping it up and throwing it in. I used cashew nuts instead of peanuts as I had an open packet, other than that I followed the recipe exactly ? It was very tasty and again one that was warm rather than hot so suitable for all the family.

Italian Turkey Meatballs – Really simple, really filling, really tasty. I served it with bread and salad as suggested but could just as easy have served pasta. As there was only two of us I made a quarter of the recipe and there was still enough left for a small lunch. The full recipe is for 8 although I think could easily feed 10 or supply the freezer. Use an ice cream scope to make the meatballs and then they only need a quick roll to be circular. 

Sausage and Bean Casserole – another easy mix with good sized servings. I had no tins of tomatoes (how did that happen!) so used pasatta instead. Nor did I have any red wine so used a red wine stockpot capsule and slightly extra fluid in the stock and it worked well. This was really filling so could leave out the bread and just serve with a salad. 

I have since made a few more of the dishes and have not been disappointed. I made the Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe recently which disappeared fast! I only used half the amount of ingredients and still made 15 large cookies, which is what the book suggests is the number to make using the full amount of ingredients – they must be enormous!

PS – having used the book for a few weeks, noting the quality of the publication and looked at other cookbooks currently for sale I would say that the original price tag is a fair cost, although only paying £3.00 was an absolute steal!

Fast Easy Food with Lorraine Pascale

To be honest I only bought the book ‘Fast, Fresh and Easy Food’ because it was reduced to £3.00 in a sale.

I have occasionally watched Lorraine Pascale on TV – she does make cooking look easy, so it was good to give some of her recipes ‘a try’.

As always, to really try out a recipe book, I used it every day for a week and everything I tried was simple to make. Most of the ingredients were already in the pantry although those I had to purchase were easily obtained and all in one shopping trip (otherwise we know what happens – go into the store for one item, come away with a basket load!)

I made Main dishes only – although the chapter on Canapes and Cocktails looked so delicious I nearly throw a party (still might)

The Sri Lankan Chicken Curry with Coconut and Cashew Rice was really quick to make. I used the minimum recommended spices and it was ‘warm’ so if you like your food Hot I would suggest using the maximum suggested.

Baked Jerk Chicken with Pineapple Salsa was another tasty dish – and attractive on the table (Below)

The Chicken Apple Cider Casserole required very little effort, although I guess I should rename mine as I used the chicken stock option rather than the cider – it was very tasty.

Tarragon Pork with Creamy Mustard Mushroom Sauce was again simple to make. I felt it needed a green veg otherwise the plate looked bland. I used stock rather than white wine – think the wine would have added more depth but as I didn’t have a bottle of wine open the stock had to do.

Tapenade Crusted Cod on a bed of Crunchy Ciabatta, Tomato and Basil – I thought the tapenade would over power the fish but it didn’t, I used an olive pandaluz bread as I had no Ciabatta. It was all very tasty and simple to cook.

The Buttered Fish with Roasted Ginger Butternut Squash was very enjoyable even though I changed a few ingredients – I did not have any pancetta so used smoked streaky bacon instead, if I had neither I would have used smoked turkey rashers or simply used smoked rapeseed oil as I think the aim was to introduce a ‘smokiness’ to the dish. I had some leftover fine beans and courgettes so used them instead of the peas. I used fish already in the freezer – one cod, one halibut and both cooked well. Think it all worked – no one complained 


The Warm Salmon and Lentils with Chorizo was very simple and easy to make. A good mid week supper.

Butternut and Sweet Potato Lasagne was not so simple to organise – there were many steps to this dish so I made it earlier in the day, and I made two so one could be frozen (have since eaten it and it was just as good)

Overall the instructions were easy to follow, I found the added ‘Hints & Tips’ useful. Many of the recipes survived changes in ingredients which always encourages me. This cookbook is definitely staying on my kitchen shelf.



Tempted to try Sugar-free?

Well, we hear a lot about the evils of sugar and there was sure to be a book (if not many) informing us how we can live without it. Really, I think, it is more about substituting refined sugars for ingredients in their natural state such as honey as some foods would be unpalatable without some form of sweetness.

Not sure how I acquired the book ‘Davina’s Sugar-free In a Hurry’ by Davina McCall but thought I would use it during one of our healthy eating weeks and did enjoy the recipes we tried.

Although mainly focusing on the main meal dishes I did try a few of the cake recipes. The Malt loaf was wonderful – you do need to make it a day in advance to enjoy true stickiness although I am sure those impatient souls will still have a good cake if eaten as soon as it has cooled. It is now a family regular.

I started off with something simple – a Tomato Risotto. This was very tasty. I substituted finely sliced cabbage for the Spinach (to which I am allergic – yes, really) and just added it in approx. 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.



Provencal Beef Casserole was next – I used the Slow Cooker, throw all ingredients in together and came back 4 hours later. Wonderful. Davina listed it as something to cook at a weekend, with a slow cooker and pre-planning it easily became a mid-week meal. The orange peel added a fresh taste, I added 2/3rds initially then the remaining 1/3 towards the end of the cooking period (showing against the white plate , not sloppy serving – is that what you were thinking?).


Chicken Cacciatore was easy to prepare and does look rustic and wholesome cooking away on the stove.



Salmon is a fish that can be overcooked easily so this dish needs attention. That said, it was quick and easy so no effort and with attentive serving onto the plate looked restaurant standard (well, I thought so)



The Lamb and Apricot Pilaf was so tasty that I have made it a few times now. The Lamb Neck Fillet is not always available so have substituted other lamb cuts and all work well – just need to alter the cooking time accordingly.


Then back to chicken – this time to make a Crunchy Buttermilk chicken with roasted ratatouille.

The recipes I tried have all been easy to prepare with good servings. The soups all freeze well, so handy to make double batches. For the Bean and Chorizo Soup I used a jar of roasted peppers instead of fresh ones (none in the pantry and it was raining) – worked well.

After using the book for a few weeks, I did not miss the sugar – then realised that the dishes I used were mainly savoury so would not have had sugar as a main ingredient anyway. The cakes I tried were good (judged by the fact all were eaten) and it was easy enough to obtain the sugar substitutes.

I would recommend the book if you are keen to gain information about how to reduce your refined sugar intake and I certainly will use the recipes for the Malt Loaf and the Pecan/Banana Bread again and again. As I bake using unrefined sugars I am more likely to continue using recipes I am used to, especially as I rarely eat cake so it’s a treat (so deserves the sugar, fat etc etc).

The instructions are clear and easy to follow so I would also recommend this book if you are just starting to be creative in the kitchen.




Posh Omelette

Having accumulated a good pile of eggs as a reward for taking care of the hens recently ( I thought I would cook something ‘up market and posh’ to recognise the privilege I felt making their acquaintance. In Jamie Oliver’s book ‘15 Minute Meals’ I found a suitable recipe ‘Arnold Bennett Frittata with Focaccia & Emmental Waldorf Salad’.

It soon became apparent the 15-minute challenge was not going to happen when I could not buy Focaccia, ready made or in a packet, in either of the two supermarkets nearby. (Not mentioning any names – the one at the edge of Stockton and the one at the edge of the village, you know who you are!) so I hot footed it home and made my own.

I used a recipe from the Hairy Bikers ‘Big Book Of Baking’ and it was very easy. Their side note informing the reader that they had made it by the side of a canal in Venice was slightly depressing as the weather here was damp and drizzly and I sooo love Venice.

The frittata was quick to make and tasty as was the salad. I felt that I was eating two meals – the omelette would have been fine with a green salad and the Focaccia went well with the Apple and Cheese salad .

(Note- this was a post on my FaceBook page but as I am having issues uploading to it I thought I would reproduce it here)

In Only 15 minutes …. Really?

Having fallen for the promise of tasty nutritious meals in 30 minutes and discovered that it is more difficult than that, you would have thought I was wise to Jamie’s promise of meals in 15 minutes but no – I once again heard but did not listen.

I have watched his programmes, I see the clock ticking as he gallops through the preparation and cooking, and I know he can do it in 15 minutes but me – I either have a malfunctioning clock or my kitchen is without elves because I just cannot do it!

I have reconciled myself to accepting that the 30-minute meals will take at least 45 minutes and the 15 minutes meals (from start to finish) a minimum of 30 minutes.

The reason I would advise persisting is the tastiest of each of the recipes, the recipes are easy to follow, if you have a ‘missing ingredient’ it is easy to substitute something else from the cupboard and the portions sizes are good.

The Chicken Dim Sum is one that I have made more than once – although I do need to allow 40 minutes as I have slightly changed how it’s cooked. By following the book instructions I found my chicken was always dry, so I now cook the chicken and accompaniments in a separate pan rather than using a second steamer.

The coconut buns are delicious and spread with a jam such as Lotus jelly make an easy dessert.





The Grilled Cajun Prawns was very tasty and went well with the Sweet Potato mash. Due to the number of vegetables needing chopping this usually takes around 30 minutes. 

The Crab Bolognese with a Fennel Salad was a nice surprise – crab is not a meat I usually eat. I could not obtain fresh crab meat so used tinned, the meal was very nice, so I guessed it worked. Will make it again when fresh crab available.

The Beef Chimichurri was another success and one I would recommend although the portion of steak was small if you are feeding young men, especially athletic ones, so would suggest altering that according to who will be at your table.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Seared Asian Beef was a surprising favourite (not really a beef person) – again, such a lot of ingredients just gathering them up takes 15 minutes but so worth the effort, and so pretty on the plate.




Certainly a book I go back to frequently.

Photo Acknowledgements:

End Photo  – Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

Featured Image – Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

Pre-holiday healthy eating

Ever in search of that ‘Beach Body’ we once again view the few weeks before a holiday as a time to rectify 11 months of over-indulgence. Well, it never works in reality and I don’t spend time on the beach anyway.

I do, however, aim to lose a couple of pounds before travelling so I can enjoy trying new foods in strange locations without fear of an expanding waistline (as I have already removed the weight I would have gained- if you follow my logic) 

This year I have been using Tom Kerridge’s book ‘Lose weight for good’. Overall the meals have been tasty and easy to prepare although – word of warning – read the recipe instructions the day before. The number of times I arrive at ‘Step 4’ to read ‘and now marinate for 8 hours’ – 8 hours??, I’m serving it in 30 minutes!!

The servings are a very good size and often I would find that there would be enough left over for lunch the next day. Obviously, that depends on the size of your appetite, but husband never complained of hunger and he can eat a lot! 


Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas was an instant favourite and the recipe used more than once. One of those that I would use even when not ‘healthy eating’



The Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel was another popular dish – very easy to prepare and all in the same dish. I used Salmon as Trout was unavailable on the day, worked just as well.

The Pulled Pork Tacos looked so pretty on the plate that you could be forgiven for doubting their ‘healthiness’. (my photo does not do them justice) This recipe would work as well with Chicken, Turkey and especially with Slow roasted lamb.



Another success was ‘Chinese Meatball Stir fry’. The servings were enormous and even though I halved the recipe there was still enough for lunch the next day for busy husband.


One of my favourites was the Italian Seafood Pot– easy to prepare and all in one pot. What’s not to like? 

As to the soups – I would recommend them all as they made satisfying lunches and the surplus sat in the freezer happily. The North African Soup is so filling it could be a main course. The Thai-style Butternut squash looks so pretty and by adding some fish easily becomes a main dish. Cream of celeriac soup with Truffle Oil is, oh so sophisticated, I felt the title ‘Chef’ would not have been out of place when serving it.

So, despite feasting well, we did shed a few pounds.






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