Chilli Prawn and Spring Greens Linguine

Quick Midweek Meal: Chilli Prawn and Spring Veg Linguine

Sometimes those long busy days call for a meal in a flash.

Chilli Prawn and Spring Greens Linguini - Veg and Prawns

Let’s face it: With a 3 month old baby, every day is long and busy which can make dinner time just one more problem to be solved. That’s on top of figuring out whether little one is just grouchy to test your nerves, or if they’re genuinely coming down with something; or remembering to refasten your nursing top before answering the door to the postie. But avoiding dinner-stress doesn’t mean that meals have to be a take away or ready meal.

One of my favourite go-to’s is pasta. Obviously because it cooks fast but also because it’s so versatile and you can pretty much chuck in whatever you have and make a meal.

Pasta is low maintenance, so even when you’re long overdue a shop because you just couldn’t face pushing a screaming child around the supermarket, nodding gratefully back at the sympathetic/judging smiles from other customers, pasta is an option. You can add as few or as many ingredients to it as you like and if you don’t have much in the way of a sauce, simple olive oil will do the job.

Chilli Prawn and Spring Greens Linguini - Peas and WokStep 1: Raid and Chop

The other evening called for just such a dinner and I found myself concocting linguine with prawns and spring veg.

Raiding the fridge I found courgette, orange pepper and leek. The prawns were quickly defrosted from the freezer to provide some substance to the dish.  Perfect!

I put the linguine on the hob to boil away while I chopped the veg into bite-sized pieces. I wanted everything about this meal to be easy, even the eating part, so that if little F decided that he needed holding/feeding just as I was tucking in, I could still devour it one-handed.

Chilli Prawn and Spring Greens Linguine - FryingStep 2: Flavour

The ingredients alone weren’t enough to make a mouth-watering offering, so I marinated the prawns in sweet chilli sauce from the cupboard. A half empty tub of cream cheese was pilfered to balance out the spiciness and add a creamy consistency when mixed with some of the pasta water.

Then I picked out cayenne pepper from the spice rack and gently heated a tablespoon of chilli infused olive oil in a frying pan.

Chilli Prawn and Spring Greens LinguineStep 3: Cooking

When the oil was hot enough I chucked the veg in to fry until soft.

Then I was struck by veggie inspiration: I’d bought some fresh pea pods from the greengrocers a few days earlier so I rooted them out and podded them into the pan.

I swirled the cream cheese around the pan until it melted and coated the veg. In went the prawns to heat through, and before you could say I’m Hungry, I was draining the pasta and dishing up. I even managed to get half way through it before F started making his presence known, a real achievement!

Tasty, relatively healthy and quick – definitely a great midweek go-to recipe.

Soup and Small Victories

Looking back at the first few weeks after having my son, I’ve concluded that there are two initial stages…

First, there’s ‘Just surviving’, followed by ‘Small victories’

This is something that I’m sure all new parents will be familiar with. The former is self-explanatory. The latter is all about recognising those small achievements each day that help you get up the next morning and not just hide under the duvet, secretly hoping that someone else will look after the baby so that you can get some sleep (ok, I still do this most of the time occasionally).

Parallel Baby Universe

In pre-child days, these tiny accomplishments would be sneered at as the everyday mundane tasks that don’t even get a mention in conversation. But when your universe is transformed into baby-central, where if you’re lucky, you may have one hand free to make a quick brew (which then goes cold) before little one kicks off, managing these boring jobs becomes something to be celebrated.

One step at a time

One of my first such achievements was managing the fastest shower imaginable without little F crying. In time this progressed to being able to wash and dry my hair as well. Ok, so he might have cried a little and I may have used the hairdryer as a soothing white noise sound, but it was still progress.

I’m far from a domestic goddess but in the early days, if I was able to put a clothes wash on and stem the overflow of the washing basket, I was happy. If I could go one step further and hang the washing out, possibly even drying and folding it all in the same day, it was ground-breaking.

It never takes long for my thoughts to turn to food but for weeks I’d only managed to make and eat bowls of cereal during the day, living the rest of the time off chocolate biscuits and cereal bars until my husband was home from work to make an actual meal. I longed to cook properly. To prep ingredients and fry, grill or roast was the stuff of dreams.

Feeling Souper

One day an opportunity presented itself for me to make a small leap towards that ambition. I’d been for a walk with F in his pram and once home, he stayed asleep – not a common occurrence. I’d had it in my head that it would be good to make a healthy hearty soup with some vegetables that we had left over. Knowing I was on borrowed time until the noisy one woke up, I grabbed said ingredients from the fridge and chopped them with the stealth and silence of a marine on a secret op. Quietly removing a pan from the cupboard, I tensed every sinew as the kettle boiled for the stock in case it was a sound too far. Still, F slept.

Into the pan went the butter and the vegetables quietly sizzled until soft, then I added the stock and brought it to a barely audible boil. I even managed to tidy up while the soup did its thing, just in time for the little man to stir.

IMG_4607

Vegetable Soup – One of my first small victories

Ok, so I may have chickened out of blitzing the soup with a stick blender just at that moment – that would have been a noise too far – but I’d done it. I’d created a dish from scratch using raw ingredients for the first time in weeks. Not only that, but it was a healthy soup and there was enough to see me through the week for lunch. If I ever had a spare hand to heat it up, that is…

It may have been a most basic of tasks back in the real world (and my old life!) but put into the context of this existence where your main priority is to constantly  see to your baby’s every need, it was practically climbing Mount Everest. So new parents, I call upon you to celebrate the mundane and congratulate the basics. After all, it’s these small victories that might just get you through.

The Joy of Food

As I mentioned (rather bitterly) in my last post, during my recent pregnancy I fell out of love with food a little.

It wasn’t some crisis of food faith but more that in my nauseous, indigestion-inflicted state, the enjoyment was overridden by various ailments. To top it all off, I could no longer consume the edible delights that had been making me smile for years. Surely I wasn’t the only expectant mother to feel hard done by with the food restrictions?

Ok, so I know it’s a small price to pay to help your baby’s wellbeing. But at the time it felt quite restrictive and looking back, I’d say that these were my 5 most missed foods from pregnancy:

1. Meats and Fish

Whilst protecting my unborn, cured meats and smoked fish and were out-of-bounds. Deep sea fish such as tuna and seabass were closely rationed because of the mercury levels. Shellfish were to be avoided, and if I did have prawns at home, they had to be cooked so thoroughly they were like chewing rubber!

Cured meats – Off the menu

2. Cheese

Some – or what felt like most – cheeses were off the menu too. I said goodbye to beloved Brie and bacon sarnies, baked Camembert, and many other delicious and pongy cheese varieties. A sad time indeed.

3. Eggs

Weekend cafe breakfasts of eggs Benedict became a mere dream, because of the runny yolk of the poached eggs and the raw ones in the hollandaise sauce. Scrambled eggs at home matched the prawns on the rubber scale, needing to be cooked to within an inch of their lives to be safe for consumption.

4. Steak

The rare (excuse the pun) treat of a steak dinner was no longer enjoyable, as the beef would need to be ‘well done’ and not my usual choice of that mouth-watering pink and juicy medium-rare. It just wasn’t worth it.

5. Alcohol and Caffeine

Of course the drinks – or lack of – need a big mention. For a long time, the thought of alcohol gave me a bilious feeling in my stomach, which helped me to feel that I wasn’t missing anything. But by the time Christmas arrived, I was pining for a snifter of red wine by a roaring fire, not to mention a mug of steaming Gluhwein at the Christmas market. And let’s face it, toasting in the new year with non-alcoholic elderflower fizz just isn’t the same…

It wasn’t just the alcohol that I came to miss. Being northern, I love a good brew and to be honest decaf tea didn’t really hit the spot. It wasn’t all bad though – I discovered that although a big fan of a barista-prepared latte, being no connoisseur I couldn’t really taste the difference between full strength and the safe stuff. Although I certainly missed that ‘I’ve had a caffeine hit, now I can get through the morning’ feeling!

Latte

I missed that caffeine hit to help get through the morning

Food for Motivating Thought

So having been deprived of these edible pleasures, I did what I think a lot of expectant Mums probably do and made a list of everything I was going to enjoy stuffing my face with once the baby arrived. It was even part of the coaching technique my husband used to help me in labour. As well as reminding me that with every contraction I was closer to meeting our child, he also bribed me with the promise of being able to sample those delights I had missed for 9 months.

Making up for Lost Time

It turned out that the mention of those forbidden fruits did help during the labour, and now that little F is with us, I fully intend to make up for lost time and fall back in love with food again.

Forbidden Fruit

8 months has passed since I last published a post and it’s no coincidence that it was around the time when I discovered that my food-loving household would soon be welcoming a new addition.

Morning, Noon and Night Sickness

This joy-inducing news brought with it some physical feelings which were less welcome than the happy emotional ones – namely a constant nausea which rendered food the work of the devil to me. What could be worse for a food blogger than the conflict of feeling the need to graze constantly throughout the day (and occasionally at night) but hating it and the very thought of most things edible?

Adding a Burning Insult to Injury

A little bit later in my pregnancy, when I was feeling less nauseous and regained something of my appetite, the dreaded indigestion kicked in. Even the most mundane foods would cause an eye-popping, burp-creating reaction. So sadly, this did nothing to kick-start my passion for food again.

A New Arrival

Just one month ago, our little bundle of joy arrived and after a brief stay in hospital, we returned home looking forward to a somewhat adjusted version of normality.

I soon discovered that amongst all the others, having a baby meant changes to the way I ate too. I quickly developed the skill of eating with one hand from a bowl perched on the arm of the chair whilst breastfeeding. I began to eat at breakneck speeds in between bouts of crying (the baby, not me – honest!) to be available again quickly for soothing duties. Food that had gone cold became perfectly acceptable to continue eating. And of course there was no time to ‘cook’ in the true sense of the word, simply bunging dishes in the oven or microwave and adding some basic veg in an attempt to be healthy was a major achievement.

Pill Popping

Of course there has been quite a challenging time of recovery since I had our son, which meant that I was on a selection of tablets for various things, one of which was low iron. In an attempt to attack this ailment from all angles, I’ve also been eating dark green veg, cramming spinach, kale and broccoli in with each meal. Iron can only be absorbed when taken with vitamin C, so fruit juice and mid-morning bowls of fruit with yoghurt have also been on the menu.

Iron and Irony

Little F gained weight well and is thriving, but does suffer from being a ‘windy baby’ – lucky us! Our poor little man often cries after feeding and needs burping for quite a long time to settle. I thought this was probably just the luck of the draw with a newborn, but upon doing some research it seems that in an attempt to build myself back up, I’ve potentially exacerbated his belchy burden.

Apparently, foods which make it worse include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, citrus fruits, yoghurt and caffeine. Pretty much everything I’ve been having, except for the caffeine (sadly, I could kill for a full strength latte!).

Motherhood

So now the windy foods will be reduced and my iron levels will have to increase a bit more slowly, as I begin the journey of motherhood and put his welfare quite rightly before mine. This already started of course by watching what I did during pregnancy, but feels more tangible now that he’s here with us.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Apparently you need to eat more calories whilst breastfeeding (cue the cake) and I will make sure I get my own back on little F of course – when he’s older, he’s going to be my assistant in the kitchen…

 

On Test: Blueberry Scones

Blueberry Scones in the makingIt often helps to have some things in common with the people you work with. Luckily for me, my team and I all love food.

For a colleague’s birthday a few weeks ago, we decided to put on a surprise Afternoon Tea for her in the office. Well, you know what they say about all work and no play…

This gave me the perfect excuse to try out the Blueberry Scone recipe I’d seen in a recent edition of Good Food Magazine.

The Method

The method is what you would expect to see for a scone recipe: mixing the dry ingredients together and rubbing in the butter, before adding the liquids to turn it to a dough.

The Ingredients

The difference from the norm and the reason I wanted to try this recipe out is the ingredients. The use of blueberries instead of currants are the obvious one but these scones also contain lemon zest, plus single cream instead of milk.

The result

Blueberry SconesMy baking attempts have been hit and miss in the past, so I was slightly smug when my scones came out of the oven looking the part. Sadly, they were somewhat all mouth and no trousers as they didn’t quite pack the punch I was looking for.

The lemon zest was nowhere to be tasted and although the blueberries gave a wet texture against the almost dry crumb, they didn’t provide enough sweetness to contrast with the plain scone that you would get from using currants or raisins.

suggested Improvements

So where did I go wrong? They weren’t terrible by a long stretch and most of them were gobbled up by the office lot. With jam and clotted cream added, they were perfectly pleasant. For anyone tempted to do a better job than I did, I’d recommend the following:

  • Banish the blueberries – Unless you’re trying to get extra brain food into your diet I wouldn’t recommend using blueberries in this way as it certainly doesn’t do them much justice.
  • Less is more – Scale down the ingredients or cut smaller scones out of the dough. The recipe says that is makes 8 but I got 10 from it and they were less than dainty.
  • Turn down the heat – Because my scones were bordering on dry, I could have rescued them from the oven a bit quicker, although I had them in less than the recommended 25 minutes. But then that’s the beauty of ovens – they’ve all got a mind of their own.

The verdict

Top marks for creativity but sadly this recipe didn’t work in practice for me. However my blueberry scones were still edible so I would give a stoic 6 out of 10.

Sprout revival

I spend a lot of time in the run up to Christmas thinking about food and planning what I can make/eat. I’d say probably only about 30% of my fantasising actually comes into fruition, but it’s good fun going through the motions!

One dish that I did make this festive season when we were invited to eat a traditional pre-Christmas feast with friends, was a sprout gratin. I first made this last year after spotting it in the bible – aka Good Food magazine – and have adapted it slightly to my own style. It’s been a hit every time and I think could convert sprout haters the country over.

Roasted sproutsStarting by halving any big sprouts, I then seasoned and roasted them in a little olive oil for around 20 mins. While they were in the oven, I fried small pieces of bacon on the stove until they were mostly crispy.Fry the bacon

Just about remembering to take the sprouts out of the oven before they welded themselves to the dish and became inedible before I’d even started, I spooned the bacon in with them, leaving the fat in the pan.

Toasted breadcrumbsOne of my northern inspired mottos is waste not want not, so abiding by this rule I’d blitzed some french bread that I had left over to make chunky breadcrumbs. I tipped these into the pan, soaking up the bacon fat for flavour and nicely crisping the breadcrumbs.

Grinding mustard seedsMy sprout make-over was shaping up nicely but in danger of being a bit dry, so the next step in the recipe is to make a white sauce. The Good Food recipe says to add Gruyère and Parmesan, but I had neither of these in and didn’t want to make the dish too cheesy, so instead I chose a different taste.

White sauce with ground mustard seedsIn a pestle and mortar I ground a handful of mustard seeds into a rough powder to release the flavour, then stirred it into a basic white sauce.

Sprinkled with breadcrumbsOver the sprouts and bacon this went before I topped it with an even layer of the breadcrumbs. Then into the oven for around 20 minutes and you have a perfect vegetable accompaniment to a traditional Christmas dinner or just to liven up a Sunday roast. A proper sprout revival!

The Random Factor

I do enjoy picking out a recipe and planning to make it. Making sure I’ve got all the ingredients and getting to grips with the method. Then admiring the result, seeing if it actually looks anything like the recipe tells you it should.

But there’s something really satisfying about seeing what you’ve got in the garden, fridge, cupboards and spice rack and making a dish up as you go along. Using your creative skills to make the best of the resources you have to hand.

Also known as blagging it.

Up north, there’s a saying where some people boast that they could “make a meal out of a dirty dish cloth”. This strikes me as a valuable skill to have in life, and I hope that by the end of this post I will able to add myself to the list of those who own such a talent.

Hollow marrowSo the prize for the most random dish of recent days goes to the stuffed marrow I concocted last week. It started life (obviously) as a courgette but after going away for a few weeks on a summer hol, it transformed into a mammoth marrow which, quite frankly my dear, I was at a loss as to what to do with.

Soup was no good, I’d have to add so many other ingredients just to make it taste of anything that it would defeat the object. And this beast was so huge that just to eat it gradually as a vegetable accompaniment to meals would take weeks. Possibly months. No, my best bet was to stuff the thing.

Sausage mixture

Bravely conquering my fear of seeds (yes, I know, but apparently it is a recognised phobia with an unpronounceable name and everything), I cut two hefty slices and hollowed them out. A quick drizzle of olive oil and a grinding of salt and pepper, then into the oven they went.

In the meantime, I raided the fridge. As a result I ended up with onion, red pepper and sausage meat in a frying pan. Not a bad start. A rummage in the cupboard produced some chopped tomatoes followed by a sprinkling of sweet paprika and cumin.

ParsleyWhile this was simmering away the bread bin gave a wholemeal bap perfect for grating into breadcrumbs, and another trip into the garden added some greenery to the dish in the form of parsley. That was the topping sorted but the filling still needed something else.

Ah ha! A left over corn on the cob was lurking towards the back of the fridge. I steamed it for 10 minutes then chopped the corn from the sides and added it to the pan.

By now the marrow boats were becoming tender, so I filled each one with the sausage and tomato mixture, wrapped them in foil and placed them back into the oven for around 15 minutes.

Cooked stuffed marrowAfter a good roasting, off came the foil and on went some grated cheese and the chopped parsley.

Another 10 minutes baking and my random meal was complete. And for a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants dish, it was deliciously tasty with the sweet flavours of the tomatoes and sweetcorn contrasting just enough with the salt of the sausage meat.

Yes, it worked. So I think I can now boast that I, like many resourceful northerners before me, can make a meal out of a dirty dish cloth.

A pie too far??

A few months ago, my Mum came on a visit from Lancashire, bringing with her one of her good friends of more years than I’ve been alive for. They were joined – and driven – by my Uncle. Their plan was to do a bit of sight seeing and generally soak up the delights of the South West, as well as visiting me and my sister, as both of us now reside in the West Country.

Image: www.answers.com

Wigan Pier. Image: http://www.answers.com

The visitors all hail from good old Wigan, famous for many things: The ‘Casino‘, in which many influential bands wowed crowds of people who flocked from all over during the 60s and 70s; The pier, made famous by George Orwell’s work ‘The Road to Wigan Pier‘; An ‘ancient and loyal’ (and highly successful, not that I’m biased at all) rugby league team, the Wigan Warriors; and of course, pies.

Funny how the pies are the things that stick in most people’s minds, even when they are unlikely to understand the real reason for us Wiganers being called ‘pie eaters’. But you know what, we do like pies and there’s no shame in that! So when the Wigan three were coming over for dinner, I wanted to cook something worthy, some ‘proper’ grub.

So I decided to go all out, northern style. That’s right, I went for a pie duo, two courses of traditional tasty pastry dishes. Risky, I know. This plan had a high probability of causing indigestion/stodge overload/instant fatigue. But hey, my guests were Lancastrians: I went for it.

Bacon and onionsI started with a steak and ale beast, from the Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies book, the subtitle of which is ‘The Ultimate Pie Bible from the Kings of Pies‘. If that didn’t fill me with confidence nothing would!

Frying the beef until brownedThe humble beginnings of this recipe were dicing bacon, onion and garlic then frying until brown in a heavy pan. Once the bacon was nicely cremated and the onions soft, I tipped them into a bowl and covered to keep warm.

Next it was the beef’s turn. After heating a little olive oil to stop it sticking to the pan, I left it to sizzle away, turning to make sure it browned all over.

P1030033I exercised my puny muscles by lifting my insanely heavy cast iron Le Creuset casserole dish down from on top of the cupboards, then heated it for a few minutes on the hob. In went the bacon and onion mixture, plus the beef. Once they were sizzling I added some thyme, beef stock and about half a pint of dark ale – specifically Hobgoblin, I believe. Don’t worry, the other half went to good use.

In a separate pan I gently fried some sliced mushrooms in a little olive oil until just soft, then added them to the bubbling pot. While that was reducing down, I made a start on the pastry. This really was a complex and time consuming process: I took it out of the packet and rolled it to the size I needed.

P1030036That’s right! I don’t make my own. If I didn’t have to work and spent all my time in the kitchen (my dream, by the way), I would happily make pastry from scratch, perfecting my own recipe just as I like it. But sadly this is not the case, so if buying ready rolled pastry makes it possible for me to make a pie, I’ll stick with it.

There was some effort involved though – once the filling had thickened and the meat was tender, I poured it into my pie dish then brushed the lip with milk. I laid the pastry lid on top then copying my Mum’s technique, held the dish high in one hand and turned it in a circle, cutting the excess pastry from around the edges as I went.

P1030039Then the final touches – I cut a few delicate little leaf shapes out of the left over pastry and stuck them on with milk, before brushing the whole thing over with another milky layer to give it a nice colour once cooked in the oven.

I served it with mash, carrots and broccoli and of course, gravy. It was homely and tasty, very welcoming for my guests. In fact, they were nearly too full for dessert, but given this was a special pie-fest, they succumbed and we indulged in apple pie and cream.

Apples from my friend's gardenThe apples, which came from a friend’s garden, were a mixture of yellowy greens and blushing reds, with lovely shiny skins. They were fair whoppers and made a generous filling for my apple pie, a traditional dessert that my Mum made a lot when we were little. I can still taste it now, delicious! If my creation was half as good as that I’d be happy.

P1020758After peeling the pretty skins off the apples, I cored and sliced them, then again using my trusted Le Creuset pan, I simmered them with a few tablespoons of light brown soft sugar and a sprinkling of water. To add a different texture and extra sweetness to the filling, I added a handful of raisins. I kept the mixture on a gentle heat until the apples had begun to break down, then tipped it into a pie dish to cool.

P1020761I did my same strenuous pastry making routine, then covered the dish, trimmed the excess and pressed the edges down to seal it. A neat little cross in the centre to allow steam to escape and a brushing of milk finished the dessert.

The pie had been cooking in the oven whilst we were enjoying the steak pie, so the sweet aromas had begun to drift through to the table as we were putting the world to rights and allowing the first course to go down. It didn’t take much encouragement for us to dive into pastry treat number two.

The sweetness of the raisins complimented the tang of the apples, which had caramelised slightly in the sugar. The pastry was just crunchy, giving a base for the mushy filling. Along with the delicious flavours of this dish, I also love the temperature contrast of the cool cream with the pie just hot from the oven.

So after the pie duo, we were full to the brim, buttons were straining and post-good food sluggishness was setting in.  We could hardly move, but we still managed some after dinner entertainment in the form of the family classic, ‘Charades‘, or as we call it, being from the north, ‘Give us a clue‘. Our farcical gestures and guess attempts had us in absolute stitches, creating a wonderful ending to a special evening of good food and great company.

Not only that, but I think it’s safe to say we answered the age-old question, “Who ate all the pies?”

Hollandaise and Flapjacks: My Nemeses

Everybody’s got one, even in the cooking world. More than one, possibly.

A nemesis.

I am no different.

So apologies for the lack of images in this post, but quite frankly it would be like posting pictures of a culinary car crash as it happened.

My first is something that I love – Hollandaise sauce. Delicious with poached eggs, asparagus, salmon, the list goes on. One weekend I was feeling confident, cocky even, about my cooking abilities. It’s only a few ingredients, I thought, surely I can do this. Well, apparently not.

I know you shouldn’t be defeated once never to try again, but the problem is, I don’t really know where I went wrong. I suspect that I burned the butter. There was also a very strong vinegar taste, so I was obviously a bit over generous there. Whatever the errors were, they were significant and it was inedible. Gutted!

The second, more recent failure was a classic baking recipe. A sweet treat which you would think is easy to make. So easy in fact, that I remember making it – successfully, I might add – in Home Ec at school. That’s right, the humble flapjack.

My mistake the first time round was that it didn’t bind. Too crumbly and not sticky enough. It looked happy enough in the oven, but when it was cool and I tried to cut it into slices, I quickly realised that it was more like a crumble than a tray bake. I ended up eating it with a spoon out of a bowl.

So on my second attempt, using a usually sure as eggs Mary Berry recipe too, I was determined not to make the same mistake. I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t…

There was plenty of golden syrup. I packed the mixture down in the baking tray. It bubbled away nicely in the oven.

And when it came out? It was so tough, I couldn’t even get a knife in to mark the squares! It was solid. Once it was cooled I lifted it out in one whole piece. It was not dissimilar to peanut brittle. I could have used it as an offensive weapon if I’d wanted to, and believe me by this time I felt like it! If I’d have thrown it to the ducks it would have been like that scene out of ‘About a Boy’ when he chucked the whole stale loaf of bread into the pond resulting in the demise of one of our feathered friends.

So, sadly, I think that’s the end of my very short, very catastrophic career as a flapjack maker. I think it’s best to know when you’re beaten. I’ll leave this particular recipe to the kids at school.

Sunday Blues and Toad in the Hole

It was a cold and rainy Sunday. One of those days where you do the minimum chores required to make you feel like you haven’t totally wasted a weekend. Then you snuggle up on the couch with a brew to watch some classic Sunday television or to read your favourite book or magazine.

My bible: Good Food magazine

My bible: Good Food magazine

For me, it was my precious time to read my bible: Good Food magazine. I hate to admit it but there are times when food is not at the top of my agenda (shocking, I know) and I end up with a stack of Good Foods just waiting to be devoured. This Sunday afternoon was feast time.

Perhaps it was a craving to counteract the Sunday blues with some comfort food, but every time I turned the page, a recipe jumped out at me and I could practically taste the dish in the picture in front of me. I kept “mmmming” and shoving the magazine in front of my fiance’s eyes (yes that’s right, I’m now a betrothed grown-up!). He joined me in my dribbling session and we started pointing at the pages and shouting “I want that one!” like delightful Andy out of Little Britain. We had food envy from a magazine and I literally wanted to cook the entire contents of the January edition.

Sadly, there were a few problems with this idea. Firstly, I’d need something close to a week solid to do that and secondly, the ingredients would probably cost me a week’s wages. So instead, I picked a dish which was up there on the dribbling-stakes but that only needed ingredients that I already had to hand. What was on our Sunday menu? Toad-in-the-Hole.

A winter warmer classic which is simplicity itself, but we all know that failing to get a rise out of your Yorkshire pud mixture can ruin the dish entirely. Let’s face it, nobody likes a soggy batter. So not only was that a challenge, but in my greedy eyes-bigger-than-belly state I decided to up the ante by accompanying my toad with a potato and onion gratin. Calories don’t count on a Sunday.

Beating the batter

So the first job was to get the toads in the oven to begin sizzling away. Then I made the batter by beating two eggs into submission and combining them with plain flour and salt, gradually, to avoid any unwanted lumps.

Whisk in the milkNext I whisked in the milk until the batter was smooth and not too thick, and that was pretty much it. Except there was another ingredient that I haven’t yet mentioned. A magic addition to help avoid that sogginess: Baking powder. It works just as well as it does when baking a cake in giving the elevation a helping hand.

Potato and onion gratinSo while the bangers were getting hot enough for the batter to be added, I made the gratin. I peeled the potatoes and sliced them into discs of about 5mm depth and layered into a buttered metal oven dish, with sliced onion sprinkled in between the layers of potato.

Once the layers had reached the top I poured over a mixture of double cream and milk, then finished this already rich dish with a healthy dose of grated cheese. Well, why not?? The gratin went into the oven for around 25 minutes, until the top was bubbling and the potato was soft all the way through the dish.

Pour the better over the sausagesBy now the sausages were browned and their fat was smoking – another essential to ensure the batter rises. I whipped the tin out of the oven and quickly poured over the batter before the sausages had chance to cool at all. Then there was nothing left to do except watch my creation grow…

The end result may not look like the prettiest offeringToad in the hole with potato gratin ever, but for this chilly and wet Sunday, which had been spent imagining all kinds of homely and comforting foods, it was just the job to chase away the blues. And yes, I’m happy to say that my batter certainly did rise, Yorkshire would be proud. But as I’m from Lancashire that obviously didn’t matter to me…