Sunday 20 December 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

5 more sleeps till Christmas! I'm not quite sure how that happened but I for one am very excited. I've always loved Christmas but now that CM is old enough to understand it, it's even more fun. The tree's up and looking rather festive with its new gold and berry coloured baubles, although N and CM have already eaten all the chocolate decorations! 

So the start of my Christmas cooking journey started today with a Christmas biscuit baking session with CM. I was inspired by an excellent children's baking workshop we went to last weekend run by West London Kiddy Cook teacher Bernadette Ryder. Kiddy Cook is a fantastic franchise that runs cooking and baking workshops for children of all ages. I am a big fan of cooking with children and apart from hoping to pass on my love of cooking to CM I also think it is amazing way to help a child's development. Just in the simple act of baking you can improve motor skills, increase concentration, teach counting and practice colours. I bake with CM regularly but it was fun to go to a professional workshop as it also taught me how to cook with a toddler. I always wonder if I am giving her enough to do or maybe expecting too much from her. Bernadette's Christmas Cookery Workshop was fantastic. She had everything planned and tailored to capture the attention of the little ones, from a sing and dance session at the beginning, a doll called Katy Custard (that CM still talks about), picture cards to help visual recognition and appropriate equipment for young children. We made gingerbread people and chocolate truffles. Delicious. Sorry there are no photos, the family ate them all too quickly! But I will definitely be making the truffles again and I couldn't wait to make some Christmas Spiced biscuits today! 

And so to get into the Christmas spirit we sang Christmas songs and baked. Although the only song CM knows is jingle bells so we soon gave up and put the radio on. But it definitely got me in the mood for our trip to see Santa this afternoon. CM asked Santa to buy her 'a present'. That makes it pretty easy for mummy. But she did tell Santa that SG wants an orange car. I guess I better do some last minute shopping! 

For more information on children's cooking classes visit 

Spiced Christmas Biscuits 
(Makes approximately 24) 

- 350g plain flour
- 125g demarara sugar
- 100g butter
- 2 eggs
- 4 tbs golden syrup
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp all spice 

- heat the oven to 200C/180F 
- in a large bowl mix together the flour, butter, ground spices and bicarbonate of soda with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs 
- in a separate bowl beat together the eggs, sugar and syrup 
- add to the dry mix and work together to form a pastry. 
- if you have time, cover the bowl and put in the fridge for 30 mins to make it easier to work with 
- roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into Christmassy shapes 
- place the shapes onto a greased baking tray approx 2cm apart so they have room to spread when they bake 
- bake for 15 mins until golden 
- cool on a wire rack 
- decorate if your toddler has the patience! 

Thursday 22 October 2015

Use-it-all-up minestrone soup

My supermarket delivery comes tomorrow which means today was my clear-out-the-fridge day. I have a few recipes that help me use up my odds and ends - stir fries, risottos or casseroles are my classics. But as I didn't have any 'meaty' stuff like chicken or prawns in the fridge, today I decided to make a minestrone soup. Of course it you have some bacon that would taste great but it tastes just as good without. There's no formal recipe. Fry some onion and garlic, add a couple of chopped tomatoes, throw in whatever veggies you have at home - I used carrots, broccoli, courgette, celery and leek - add a small tin of beans (butter beans are great, but kidney beans work well too), a couple of handfuls of pasta or broken up spaghetti and a tablespoon of tomato purée. Give it a good stir and add some vegetable stock, a bouquet garni and some herbs (dry, fresh or frozen). Bring it to the boil and simmer for 15 mins. Serve with a crusty baguette. Or if you've got some bread going a bit stale (hard is fine but no mould please!) cut it up and fry it to make croutons. Perfect for a dark October evening. 


Friday 16 October 2015


I haven't had a ready meal in years.  They conjure up memories of my student days. The sound of a fork piercing the plastic, the ping of the microwave, the steam when you peel back the film...processed dinner in a black plastic container. Yum! Don't worry I know I'm exaggerating, things have improved a lot since the ready meals of the 90's and I'm not claiming to be completely virtuous by any means. I always have a pizza or a pie in the freezer and I use pre-prepared vegetables more often than I can justify. But still, it was with slight trepidation I entered the COOK shop the other day. 

I happened to stumble across a branch while I was out on one of my escapades with SG. My curiosity got the better of me. COOK claims to make 'home-cooked' ready meals, made in their kitchens in Kent and frozen within one hour of production. The range was amazing. Indian, Chinese, Italian, British, Thai, you name it. Starters, main course and desserts. Servings for one person, two people, families of four, dinner parties and a special childrens range with no added sugar or salt. There was definitely something for everybody. I had only intended to window shop but I couldn't resist. So last night we had pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce. I made the rice myself and I couldn't resist whipping up a side of garlic spinach, as a meal without veggies always feels incomplete to me. 

The end result was good but it also reminded me why I love to cook. By cooking yourself you can make dishes exactly the way you love them. COOK's Meatballs in a Rustic Tomato Sauce were perfectly good. The portion was generous for 2 people, the meatballs good quality and it really did feel home-cooked. But for me the sundried tomatoes made the sauce a bit too sweet and the large meatballs gave the dish a dense meaty taste. In my opinion smaller meatballs would have given a better sauce to meat ratio. But the fact it gave me a night off cooking made the compromises worthwhile. I may not buy this dish again but I will definitely be going back to COOK to try something else. In fact I have a one person portion of Chicken Pad Thai waiting in the freezer. All I need now is for N to make other plans...

Thursday 8 October 2015

Therapeutic Chocolate Tart

Saturday morning was stressful. Nothing serious of course, just the normal chaos you get when you have young children.  Toddler tantrums over clothes and colour of breakfast bowls are becoming the norm for me now but for some reason Saturday pushed me a little too far. CM and I ended up in a rut where we just spent the whole morning rubbing each other up the wrong way. I needed something to break the cycle and help me de-stress. I had to bake. I've never really thought about it before but there is something about cooking, in particular baking, which I find therapeutic. I think most people have something that helps them release the tension of the day and gives them time and space to clear their head. A fried mentioned this week that cleaning is her therapy, I think that's probably quite a common one. A more unusual one I heard recently was from someone who had bought a connect-the-dots book from an art gallery which allows you to recreate famous paintings. She said it helped her claer the muddle of thoughts in her head. I think this latest fad of colouring books for grown ups is along this same line. N's therapy is playing the drums (or playing really pointless computer games on his iPad)! So what is it about baking? For me it's the mindfulness of following a recipe and the precision involved with weighing and measuring. It reminds me of my A Level Chemistry, although I'm not sure I found that particularly therapeutic at the time! I also love that you can create something so beautiful and delicious from just basic raw ingredients. It gives me a real sense if achievement. But I don't have time to bake I hear you say.  Me neither, which is why I cheated and bought a ready made pastry case! But that's not baking then I hear you say. Who cares is my response to that. I got to a chance to organise my thoughts and eat a delicious desert. It's a win win! And to call a truce with CM I let her decorate it! 

Cheat's Chocolate Tart 
(Prep time 20 mins | setting time 2 hours) 

  • 300 ml double cream
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • A pinch of fine sea salt
  • 50 g unsalted butter - cubed
  • 200 g plain chocolate (50% cocoa) - broken into small pieces 
  • 50 ml milk
  • Waitrose sweet pastry case

  • Method

    - Put the cream, sugar and salt in a pan and bring to the boil. Remove as soon as the mixture starts to boils up.
    - Once off the heat, add the butter and chocolate and stir well until it is blended
    - Wait a few movements and then stir in the milk until it is shiny
    - Pour into the tart shell and leave at room temperature for 1 hour to set and then in the fridge for a further hour 
    - Top with fresh raspberries, chocolate sprinkles or anything that takes your fancy
    - Serve with cream or ice cream 

    Wednesday 30 September 2015

    Mamma's Homemade Chicken Karahi

    Although I've been brought up on Indian food I rarely make it. For starters it's not N's favourite but also I never thought I could make it as well as my mum so I never bothered. But every few weeks or so I get a random urge to cook something fragrant and full of spice. Or sometimes I am nudged into it as the case was last week! I had just defrosted a couple of chicken breast fillets with a view to making a casserole or a risotto but that very same morning my mum-in-law dropped round some yummy daal (lentils) that she had made. My two choices were to waste the chicken or cook something that went with daal. I normally make tandoori chicken but I had defrosted breast pieces and was worried it  would taste dry if it was oven cooked. A dish with gravy would be better. I happened to drop my dilemma into conversation with my mum and she gave me the inspiration I needed. The recipe below is hers, although if you ever asked her she would say she never cooks to recipes she just does what works! When I was growing up my mum used to tell me cooking was easy. I never believed her but I think she was right. Anyone can cook....but it helps to have a good teacher. Thank you mum! 

    Chicken Karahi 
    (Serves 2 | total prep and cooking time 30-40 mins plus marinating time) 

    - 2 chicken breasts (or equivalent thighs) cut into 1-inch pieces
    - marinade (2 tbs yoghurt, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, pinch garam masala, 1/2 tsp tumeric, pinch salt)
    - 1 small onion - very finely chopped
    - 3-4 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
    - 1-2 inch piece of ginger - finely chopped 
    - teaspoon finely chopped chilli (optional) 
    - cumin seeds (approx 1 heaped teaspoon) 
    - coriander powder (1 teaspoon)
    - cumin powder (1 teaspoon) 
    - tumeric (1/2 teaspoon) 
    - 3 tomatoes - chopped 
    - 1 tablespoon tomato purée
    - 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander 
    - salt to taste 
    - water 

    - mix the marinade in a large bowl and stir in the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours but overnight is better
    - heat a large frying pan and place the chicken and all the marinade in it. Fry it until the marinade dries out and the chicken starts to colour. Set aside 
    - heat some oil in a saucepan or sauté pan and add the cumin seeds. Fry until they start to colour
    - fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli (to make sure they are finely chopped and made into a paste consistency you can do this in a food processor)
    - add the dry spices
    - add the tomatoes and tomato purée and stir well 
    - add the chicken and stir well 
    - add coriander, salt and pour in a little bit if water
    - cover and cook for 20-30 mins until the chicken is cooked. Add more water if it dries out 

    Monday 21 September 2015

    Autumnal Lamb Ragu with Papardelle Pasta

    I can't believe summer has gone. Did we have one this year, I'm not sure I remember. Or at least I definitely didn't make the most of it. I remember a few baking hot days when I was heavily pregnant. They were torture. And I remember some hot days when I was cooped up indoors to nervous to go out in the heat with a newborn. They were frustrating. But the weather seems to have become dreary ever so sudden. One minute I had painted toenails and strappy sandals and now I have a chest infection and a hooded anorak. Oh hang on, painted toenails, that must have been 3 years ago before I had children! But the hacking cough is definitely not an exaggeration, we all have it thanks to some nursery germs CM brought home! 

    The thing that made me realise it was autumn was when I noticed spiky green balls all over my driveway. Yes you've got it in one, it's conker time! CM has been having a whale of a time jumping on conkers. I have to plan an extra 20 minutes every time I need to go anywhere because the minute I open the front door she runs out shouting 'flatten it, flatten it!', something I guess I must have said when I introduced her to the art of conker collecting. Just like she runs around flapping her arms and saying 'kill it, kill it!' every time she sees a spider or an insect! Another phrase she must have learnt from me! 

    Collecting conkers is one of the most vivid memories from my childhood. My journey home from school included walking through a very long avenue if horse chestnut trees. Every day in conker season I used to rummage around finding the biggest, shiniest conkers and putting them in my pockets for safe keeping whilst my childminder stood patiently watching and waiting. She never once tried to hurry me or tell me I had enough even though it was approaching tea time and my coat pockets were starting to scrape the ground. It's one of those special memories you hope will stay with you forever. 

    But autumn also allows me to eat my favourite meals. Tasty, hearty comfort foods. My cooking is not particularly seasonal but I do follow a few patterns. Apart from the odd spring lamb casserole I rarely cook red meat in summer. But I do love lamb. We try not to eat red meat too often for health reasons but I think as long as it is lean meat once a week is fine. This recipe is delicious. A slight twist on a classic bolognese with thick ribbons of pasta and a sauce laced with the last of the summer rosemary and mint from our garden. 

    And while it is simmering it gives me a chance to take CM out for some more conker collecting. I only wish I was patient as my childminder when CM asks for the millionth time
    CM: "What's dat mummy?"
    Me: "It's a conker darling"
    CM: "Why?"
    Me: "Because it has fallen from a horse chestnut tree"
    CM: "Why?" 
    Me: "Because it's autumn"
    CM: "Why?"
    Me: "Because. It. Just. Is!"

    Lamb Ragu with Papardelle Pasta 
    (Serves 2-3 | total prep and cooking time minimum 1 hour) 

    - 1 onion - diced
    - 3 cloves of garlic - finely chopped 
    - 1 carrot - diced
    - 2 sticks of celery - finely sliced 
    - 8-10 mushrooms - sliced 
    - 400g lamb mince
    - 1 lamb stock cube dissolved in 200 ml of water 
    - tablespoon chopped mint
    - 1 sprig of rosemary - chopped 
    - 120-150g dried Papardelle pasta 
    - olive oil

    - cook pasta according to packet instructions 
    - brown the mince in a frying pan, draining off the excess fat 
    - heat the olive oil in another large frying pan or sauté pan 
    - fry the onions for a few mins until softened
    - add the garlic, carrots and celery and stir for a few minutes 
    - add the mushrooms and stir for a few minutes
    - add the browned mince and mix well 
    - add the herbs and stock and stir 
    - simmer for a minimum of 40 minutes, but the longer the better. Keep adding water if it starts to dry out
    - add the drained pasta 

    Thursday 17 September 2015

    Chocolate cake with a difference

    Yesterday I made a special chocolate cake. And no before you ask it wasn't an Amsterdam-style special chocolate cake!

    I've never been a big baker, I dabble in the odd biscuit or muffin but that's about the extent of it. But cake are big at the moment. Having young children means you spend a lot of weekends shuffling from one birthday party to the next. At the last two parties the cakes were both homemade and spectacular. One was a delightful chocolate cake with a Frozen theme (I've still not seen that so someone please tell me what the fuss is all about!) and the other was a light jam filled sponge in the shape of Frireman Sam's fire engine! They were both amazing and I can only imagine how long they took to make. But rather than being inspired by the Great British Bake Off I was inspired by watching Eat Well for Less with Greg of the John and Greg franchise and some bloke named Chris whom I've never heard of. They followed a family from Birmingham on their weekly shop in order to try and change their eating habits to both save them some money and make them healthier. Now please tell me that it was exaggerated for TV because otherwise I have serious concerns about any family that buys over 40 bags of crisps on a weekly shop. Where would you store them for a start! So one of the recipes they showed them how to make was a chocolate and beetroot cake made without eggs or butter. The crisp-addict family seemed to like it so I thought I'd give it a go. I had no particular reason to make an eggless cake as I eat eggs like they are going out if fashion but curiosity got the better of me and I wondered what a cake bound with yoghurt would taste like. 

    So here it is. My magical chocolate cake. I got the recipe from the BBC Good Food website but as usual made some Accidental Cook changes. I reduced the sugar from 175g to 125g and I made only half the suggested amount of icing. It tasted good. The texture was a bit denser and more muffin-like than a regular cake but unless someone told you you wouldn't have know that it was devoid of fun things like butter and eggs. To be honest I would probably stick to traditional chocolate cake in the future but it's a great way to hide some vegetables for fussy eater children! As for my baking skills, I was planning to make CM a cake for her next birthday but I'm not sure her or her friends would want a beetroot and rapeseed oil cake and given my art skills the only thing I could disguise it as would be a peppa pig muddy puddle. I wonder if either of my show-stopper-cake-baking friends take orders instead...

    Chocolate and Beetroot Eggless Cake


    125g sugar instead of 175g
    Half the quantity of icing 

    Thursday 10 September 2015

    Prawn, Courgette and Chilli Spaghetti

    What would you say is your least favourite vegetable? Mine has got to be cauliflower. I'm a very unfussy eater so it's quite unusual for me to really dislike something but cauliflower has to be the one thing I try to avoid at all costs. N has slightly more things on his vegetable black list. Taking the number one slot is definitely courgettes. I can understand his dislike. If a courgette is not cooked properly it can taste pretty bad. I have distinct childhood memories of boiled, mushy, bland courgette. The problem is after a while you get bored of the same vegetables on your shopping list, so over the years the humble courgette has become one of my staples. The challenge is hiding it in food so N will eat it! Up till now I've only ever used it in stir fries and casseroles but I've finally found a winning recipe! It's taken 6 years but I think N has finally accepted that he does like this summer squash relative of the cucumber. Perhaps if I refer to it as a zucchini from now on he will find it even more appealing!! 

    Prawn, courgette and chilli spaghetti
    (Serves 2 | Total prep and cooking time: 20-30 mins)


    4 cloves of garlic - finely chopped 
    1 red chilli - deseeded and finely chopped
    250g cooked jumbo king prawns 
    1 courgette - thinly sliced using a mandolin or a potato peeler 
    Juice of half a lemon
    Tablespoon chopped parsley 
    Olive oil for frying 
    120-150g spaghetti 


    - Cook the spaghetti according to instructions on packet 
    - Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan 
    - Fry the garlic and chilli
    - Add the courgettes and prawns and pan fry for a couple of mins 
    - Add the lemon juice and parsley and stir well
    - Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan 
    - Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes 

    Thursday 3 September 2015

    I'm Back!

    Ok so I lied. Not intentionally of course, but at the end of my last post I did promise to continue to update my blog regularly and all I can say is that I clearly haven't. I think posting every day throughout November scarred me. Not only did I not want to write about food for a while I didn't even want to eat it, cook it or think about it! Poor N, he has been surviving on bread and water since the end of last year. Well clearly not, but I have to say my cooking hasn't been all that adventurous. 

    Now of course I have a whole host of excuses to explain my prolonged absence but i won't bore you with them all. But, it has been 9 months since my last post which is a really long time. In fact it's long enough to have a baby. And that's precisely what I did. May I welcome the newest addition to accidental cook family...Seagull (SG). That refers to both the sound he makes and the little 'presents' he leaves for me to clear up! He joins my toddler CM (cheeky monkey) in a house full of chaos and culinary experimentation. 

    So back to business. Adventures of an Accidental Cook is back. And this time it's bigger, bolder and brighter (well the blog background is anyway)! And this time I've also learnt my lesson. I'm not going to do anything crazy like post every day but I will promise to post more than once every 9 months! In fact I will post every week. By the end of every Thursday there will be a new post. I'm not promising they will be long and detailed with elaborate recipes but they will be food related and they will be regular. 

    So see you next Thursday!