Friday, March 24, 2017

Creamy Garlic Ham and Leek Pies

Ham and Leek Pies pinnable image

This week I made a batch of one of my favourite slow cooker dishes- Brown Sugar Gammon.  We had it for dinner, then the next day in sandwiches, but there was still some leftover! It's absolutely delicious, so I couldn't let it go to waste. I decided to make some ham and leek pies to use it up, as I had plenty of leeks ready to make soup.

These ham and leek pies are individual portion sizes with a creamy, garlic, ham and leek filling. The creamy sauce is really what separates them from just any old ham pie. It's essentially a classic white sauce but with garlic and double cream added. I used my leftover brown sugar gammon for the ham filling, but you can buy a ready-cooked bacon joint or use leftovers of any type of ham you have cooked recently.

I used ready-made shortcrust pastry but you can, of course make your own. I recommend this recipe: Shortcrust Pastry Recipe from BBC Good Food.

The traditional enamel pie dishes with the blue edges are the ones I use for cooking my pies in. They are incredibly durable and pastry just slides off them. You can buy them in most cook shops and Lakeland sell them too: Lakeland Enamel Pie Dishes I use the 16cm ones for individual pies.

There was a tiny bit of pastry and filling left at the end so I made a handful of  mini pies that I thought might make a nice lunch. I was a bit too over enthusiastic with the filling so they popped their tops and made a bid for freedom! Let's just gloss over that and say that, as long as you don't over-fill them, and you wet the edges enough, you can also use this recipe  to make a big batch of mini ham and leek pies. Perfect for a buffet lunch!

Ham and Leek Pies pinnable image

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb

Last week, I spotted that Lamb Shoulder was on offer when I was doing my online shopping. I don't cook a lot of lamb but whenever I do eat it I love it, so I ordered some. When it arrived, I laughed because it was such a tiny, wee cut of lamb shoulder. I had made the classic online food shopping error of not checking the weight- 400g! Oh well, it was the perfect size for two.

Lamb shoulder is best slow cooked until it's soft and juicy and can be pulled easily off the bone, so I got my slow cooker out.  Most recipes you find will talk about slow cooking it in the oven, but I always prefer the slow cooker. It's more economical and it means I can use my oven for other things at the same time as cooking the meat, if I want to. I tend not to move away from the classic complimentary flavours for lamb- garlic and rosemary because they just work so beautifully. But I also added thyme, cider vinegar and red wine vinegar. The juices at the end of the cooking made a delicious, sweet, tangy gravy when the meat and veg were lifted out and a few gravy granules were added.

This slow cooker lamb shoulder recipe is suitable for a family. Just make sure you order the right weight! For a family of 4, you ideally need 800g-1kg.

This recipe is syn free on Slimming World if you cut the visible fat from the meat and don't use gravy granules in the gravy. On calorie controlled diets like My Fitness Pal, it's   calories per portion.

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb Pinnable Image

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

I am a big fan of hot cross buns, so when I saw that Marks and Spencers had a sliced, hot cross bun loaf on the shelves, I bought one straight away. It was perfect- just the thing for an afternoon snack. It got me thinking- I'm pretty sure I could make a hot cross bun loaf myself. Even better, I could make one in the breadmaker! 

Generally, I don't like anything with a lot of mixed, dried fruit in it. Christmas cake- ugh! Traditional wedding cake- no thank you. But hot cross buns, I love! I don't mind that they appear in the shops the second that Christmas is over. So much the better!

The very idea of a hot cross bun loaf is brilliant. Pop slices in the toaster without any danger of them getting stuck, burnt and mangled and you get a lot more out of one loaf than you do out of a packet of the traditional style.

Making a hot cross bun loaf in the breadmaker is very easy. You don't need the fancy type with the automatic raisin dispenser, just add the fruit before the final stage of kneading. Most breadmakers have a function for making fruited loaves like a hot cross bun loaf, and they beep at the right moment. A loaf takes around 4 hours in total from adding ingredients to the completed loaf.

If you don't have a breadmaker, you can still make a hot cross bun loaf, once the dough has had it's second rise, bake at 200 for 35-40 minutes.

Enjoy with lashings of butter!

Hot Cross Bun Loaf pinnable image

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew in a bowl

Butternut squash goes with almost everything, and this beef stew is no exception. The butternut squash adds a lovely sweetness to the meatiness of the beef. Definitely one to add to your winter warmers list.

Let's face it you can never have too many 'chuck it all in and leave it to cook' stew recipes. Slow cooking it gives you that rich flavour and the perfect, just falling apart beef that can't be beaten.

Our freezer was looking a bit bare this week and the butternut squash was staring up at me from the potato cupboard, so I started with that and added everything else around it to make this Beef and Butternut Squash Stew. It makes a nice big batch, so you could serve it up to the whole family or freeze some, or use some as a meat pie filling. So many options! You could serve it with potatoes, which is what I do, or throw some pearl barley in with it to add bulk and then serve it as it is.

This beef and butternut squash stew is syn free on Slimming World and it's around 200 calories a portion if you are following a calories controlled diet like My Fitness Pal.

Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew pinnable image

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Apple and Cinnamon Scones

The Improving Cook Apple Cinnamon Scones

Today I made a lovely, big batch of Apple Cinnamon Scones. Apple and cinnamon just belong together don't they? There's something very warm and comforting about the flavours. Adding them to scones makes a winning combination. They are amazing when still warm and served with butter. Seriously, droooool! 

The recipe for my Apple and Cinnamon Scones is based on my Rustic Choc-Chip Scone recipe. Essentially rustic is code for lazy, because you use you hands to mould the dough instead of rolling it out. You can choose to do it the proper way with a rolling pin and get a smoother surface to your scones. If you do choose to be a lazy baker like me, make sure you glaze them well so that they aren't too floury. My only other tip for this recipe is to cut the apple nice and small. Great big chunks make it much harder to shape.

Once you've eaten one apple cinnamon scone, it's very easy to accidentally eat two, three, four! they're not too sweet so it doesn't feel like you're being too naughty. They are very easy to make in big batches and you can freeze them. So you could whip some out at very short notice and wow your guests with what a super host you are. I won't tell if you won't!

The Improving Cook Apple Cinnamon Scones pinnable image

Friday, February 24, 2017

The BEST Chicken Marinade

The Best Chicken Marinade- pinnable image

You're about to read about the BEST chicken marinade (in my humble opinion) and once you try it, I promise you'll keep going back again and again and again.

I'm not usually one to boldly proclaim that my recipes are the 'best ever' because there are so many amazing recipes out there and it really depends on personal preference. That being said- you must try this marinade! 

I keep trying to describe the flavour and just coming up with yummy, delicious, juicy (is juicy a flavour???) er delicious... and other hopeless descriptions. All I can really say is that it's the ultimate chicken marinade and you won't be disappointed if you try it.

I love marinated chicken. I have a couple of marinades on the blog already: Spicy Maple Chicken and Sweet Smoked Paprika Chicken and I quite often have a lot of fun playing about with different ingredients and seeing what kind of marinade comes out of it. One of these experimental marinades was frankly amazing and all those other hopeless descriptions I came up with earlier. The trouble was, as I had just thrown various ingredients into a dish and added chicken, I didn't really know what I had done! I knew what I had used, but I hadn't paid attention to the quantities so I had to try and recreate it. (Note to self- write experiments down!)

I finally cracked it and the recipe is recorded for posterity below. The ingredients are pretty simple. The only item you might not have readily to hand is onion powder. It's widely available in supermarkets though and it's a useful little pot to have in your store cupboard, so you might want to grab some next time you go shopping. The marinade recipe also comes in pretty light on the calories, which is an added bonus.

I tend to chargrill the chicken when I use this marinade because it adds so much to the flavour. I bought a chargrill pan a few years ago and I really love it. If you don't have one, you could could cook the chicken under the grill, or in a frying pan instead. It's perfect with rice or to top off a salad or on the side on a jacket potato. Today I served it with mini rosemary potatoes because I was a bit 'riced out'.

So next time you're staring at some chicken breasts in the fridge and wondering what to do with them- give this a try! You'll be hooked in no time.

If you are following a calorie controlled diet such as My Fitness Pal, this recipe has 260 calories per portion.

The Best Chicken Marinade- pinnable image

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hazelnut Brownies

Hazelnut Brownies

It was half-term this week and, after a couple of days of enjoying my freedom and visiting family and seeing friends, I got the baking itch. I wanted to make something that would serve as dessert and as an afternoon treat to have with a cuppa. Brownies fit the bill perfectly!

I had a packet of crushed hazelnuts in my baking cupboard that I had been hoping to use for something, and brownies seemed to fit for that too. Chocolate and nuts is never a bad idea, so I threw them in with the mixture to add some extra texture. My husband is not a fan of nuts in any form, so I ended up doubling the mixture and only putting hazlenuts in half.

We were going away for a few days to Canterbury for our anniversary, so I packaged them up to take with us. I thought it might save some pennies if we had our own treats instead of buying cafe treats everyday. Unfortunately, even though we packed very light, there still wasn't room for an enormous tupperware of hazelnut brownies so, at the last minute I popped the tub in the freezer.

I've already defrosted them, ready to have warm with ice cream for dessert. 

I hope you will enjoy making a batch for your family too! You might also want to try my Cappuccino Brownies.

Hazelnut Brownies pinnable image

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