Snazzy yet simple party food

Fancy preparing something that is easy and will make your guests think you’re a bit of a professional?  Parmesan and poppy seed lollipops and white wine and pear jellies should do the trick.  Lollipop sticks (available from Hobbycraft, The Craft Company and Amazon) are not essential, so don’t worry if you can’t get hold of them – they can be parmesan and poppy seed biscuits instead.  The jellies need preparing at least five hours in advance to allow time to set, and can go in any type of glass, cup or ramekin.  They also make a good dessert in their own right.  Have fun seeing in 2013!

parmesan poppy seed lollies

Parmesan and poppy seed lollipops (makes approx 10 depending on the size of the cookie cutter)

Butter for greasing

80g parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 tsp poppy seeds

1 tsp sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees/Gas mark 7, line two large baking trays with baking paper and grease them with butter (or just use a non-stick baking tray without baking paper).  Toss the cheese and seeds together in a small bowl. Sit a 9cm/3½in chefs’ ring or cookie cutter on one of the baking trays and sprinkle a small handful of the cheese mixture into it, in a thin layer. Carefully lift the ring off to reveal a neatish-edged disc of parmesan and lay a lollipop stick on top, with the tip of the stick touching the middle of the disc.  Repeat with the remaining cheese and sticks to make 10 in total (leaving about 3cm/1¼in spaces between them to allow for any spreading during cooking).  You should have a little parmesan left over, so use it to cover up the part of the lollipop stick resting on the disc.

Bake in the oven for five minutes, swapping the lollipops to a different shelf halfway through. The cheese should be lightly golden-brown and bubbling.Remove from the oven, and if using baking paper then slide the paper off the baking trays and onto a rack to help speed up cooling. Leave to cool for 1–2 minutes, or until the lollipops have become crisp. Very carefully remove each one with a palette knife or thin spatula and serve upright in a glass or a box with holes in the top.

Recipe from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy

wine pear jellies

White wine and pear jellies (makes 6)

500ml dry white wine

1½ tbsp lemon juice

90g caster sugar

Contents of 10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Scraped seeds of ½ a vanilla pod, plus the pod

1 tinned pear, diced

3 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for a few minutes

(Optional – for a cream topping – 80g mascarpone, 60ml Greek yoghurt and 2 tsp icing sugar)

Pour the wine into a medium saucepan along with the lemon juice, sugar, cardamom and vanilla. Heat gently and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 15 minutes.  Leave the liquid to cool down for 20 minutes, then pour into a measuring jug and add water to bring it up to 500ml (you may not have to add any).  Place the diced pear in to the base of six small glasses or ramekins. Squeeze out the gelatine leaves to remove all the water, and stir into the saucepan mixture. Once dissolved, strain the liquid and pour into the glasses. Chill until set.

If you want the creamy topping then before serving, whip together the mascarpone, yoghurt and icing sugar until smooth, and spoon a dollop on top of each jelly.

Based on a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi


How to use up those brussel sprouts!

leftover sprouts recipe

Here is one way of livening up any sprouts left over from Christmas dinner.  Cut them in half and pop them on a roasting tray.  It’s best to slide them on to skewers, cut side up, but not essential.  Drizzle over some balsamic vinegar and lots of olive oil and roast for approximately 20 minutes on 190 degrees/gas mark 5, until slightly golden and crispy.  A few minutes before they are done, sprinkle over some finely grated parmesan or cheddar cheese and some finely chopped pine nuts.  If your leftover sprouts are already cooked, then just roast them for 5 minutes or until done.  Who knows, maybe even the kids will be persuaded to eat them…!  Recipe is from

Festive boozy treat – Swedish glogg

swedish glogg

I thought I’d give this a go after I had some at my nice new neighbours Siobhan and Matt’s house.  It’s like mulled wine but with interesting ingredients such as cardamon seeds.  You can quickly prepare the glogg the night before to let the flavours infuse, and then all you need to do before drinking it is heat it up.  For extra booziness replace the orange juice with vodka as in Nigella Lawson’s original recipe!  Merry Christmas to one and all.


Bottle of red wine (I reckon the cheapest is fine seeing as you’re adding lots of flavour)

Juice of 1 orange OR 150ml vodka

2 cinnamon sticks

10 cloves

12 cardamon seeds

25g caster sugar

25g blanched almonds

25g raisons

Combine all ingredients except for the raisons and almonds in a pan and let steep, preferably overnight.  To serve, put a sprinkling of raisons and almonds in the bottom of everyone’s mug, put the pan on the heat and slowly bring almost to the boil.  Strain, and pour in to the mugs.

All the reds soup – simple, frugal and hearty (5 mins prep and 25 mins cooking)

all the reds soup

Here is a rich, nutritious and good value soup to warm you up.  It’s particularly nice with one of those cheese twists you can get from the baking department of supermarkets, as when you dip the cheese twist in to the soup it melts a little.  Yum!  Goes down well with kids too.  Recipe is from the fantastic cookbook Vegetarian and Vegetable Cooking by Christine Ingram and serves 4.


1 red pepper, seeded and chopped

1 red onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tbsp olive/vegetable oil

400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 litre veg stock (I use OXO as it crumbles easily)

2 tbsp long grain rice

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (or a little more if you love this flavour!)

200g tin red kidney beans

1 tsp dried mixed herbs/oregano

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

Put the pepper, onion, garlic and oil in to a large saucepan.  Heat until sizzling then turn down low.  Cover and cook gently for 5 mins.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil. Stir well then simmer – covered – for 15 mins.  Serve with crusty bread or a cheese twist.

Christmas morning muffins

christmas morning muffins

Fancy rustling up some festive muffins that taste like Christmas?  Ingredients such as cinnamon, cranberries and orange juice create just the thing.  The muffins only take 15 mins to prepare and 20 mins to bake, and are best eaten the day you make them  Thanks Nigella.  Makes 12.

For the muffins:

200g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

75g demerara sugar

Good grating fresh nutmeg or pinch ground nutmeg

Juice of clementine or small orange

Approximately 50ml milk

60g unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg

150g dried cranberries

12-bun muffin tin with cases

For the topping:

2 tsp demerara sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar, and grate over a generous amount of fresh nutmeg/sprinkle over some ground nutmeg. Squeeze the orange or clementine juice into a measuring jug, then pour in milk on top until it comes up to the 150ml mark. Add the melted butter and the egg, and beat to combine. Pour the jug of liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until the ingredients are more or less combined.  Last of all, lightly fold in the cranberries and fill the muffin cases.

Mix together the demerara sugar and ground cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins. Stick them in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until they are puffy, golden brown and a knife inserted in to them pretty much comes out clean.  Be careful not to overbake them or they will be too dry.

My posh mushrooms on toast (in 15 mins)

posh mushrooms on toast

This is a delicious treat to have for breakfast or brunch at the weekend, especially if you have guests and want to impress them!  It is best served with some toasted granary bread but any bread will do.  If you want to avoid cream then just sprinkle a veg stock cube in to the mushrooms instead.  Or if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, top with an oozy poached egg.

This dish contains fennel seeds, which are one of my *exciting ingredients*, as they add an unusual flavour when sprinkled over veg or fish when you are cooking, or in fish pie.

Ingredients (serves 4)

Standard size tub mushrooms, chopped

Clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped

Handful of parsley, chopped or 1/2 tsp dried herbs

Sprinkle of fennel seeds

Tub of small double cream

Fry the garlic, fennel seeds and the mushrooms in some oil or butter/marge until tender.  Add the parsley/dried herbs and cream and continue frying until heated through.  Serve on top of toast.

Paneer tikka masala – authentic curry in 50 mins!

paneer tikka masala

This recipe, using Indian paneer cheese, is by Anjum Anand and comes courtesy of my friend Esmee, who cooks Indian style food regularly.  Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients – it is straightforward to make (promise!) and you should be able to get the items in a large supermarket or international shop.  I was really excited when I sat down to eat it as it actually tastes authentic and better than a lot of take away curries I’ve had!

The most interesting discovery for a food geek like me is that cashew nuts blended with water give dishes a creamy, thick texture.  Serve the tikka masala with rice or chapati/naan bread, to soak up the sauce.  I am sure it would work brilliantly with quorn or prawns as an alternative to the paneer.   And of course chicken, which it is most commonly made with.


1 packet Paneer cheese (available in supermarkets), cut in to bite size pieces

3 tbsp vegetable oil/olive oil

1 tbsp butter

Contents of 6 cardamom pods, crushed (you can use the back of a spoon to crush in to a rough powdery mixture)

1 cinnamon shard

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and made into a paste (a fine grater is fine for this)

Thumb sized piece of ginger, made into a paste (a fine grater is fine for this)

Tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1¼ tsp garam masala

Salt to taste

¼-1/2 tsp red chilli powder or to taste

6 tbsp double cream

15 cashew nuts blended (in a food processor) with a little water to make a thick paste

Boil the paneer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil and 1 tbsp of butter until hot, add the cardamom and cinnamon stick and follow, 10 seconds later with the onions. Cook on a moderate flame until the excess water has dried off and the onions are starting to turn golden.

Add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté, over a gentle flame, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, powdered spices and salt. Cook, over a moderate flame, for approx 20 minutes or until well reduced and you can see oil coming out of the sauce. Turn the heat up and fry this paste for a further 3-4 minutes.

Add the paneer, cream, water if necessary, and the cashew nuts blended in a little water. Bring to the boil and simmer for another 5-7 minutes. You may want to add a little more water, depending on how thick you like your sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve.

Chocolate walnut fudge – a great Christmas gift!

chocolate fudge

Fancy impressing friends and family with an edible gift, suggested by my friend Paul?  This delicious chocolate walnut fudge takes just 10 minutes to prepare plus approximately 3 hours to set in the fridge.  It looks quite professional presented in a box, such as these ones from the brilliant Hobbycraft shop along with one of these gingham labels

sweet treat box

gingham label

Check out these previously posted edible gift recipes for further ideas  And finally, here is the chocolate walnut fudge recipe:


Can condensed milk

150g milk chocolate chips or bar, broken in to pieces

300g dark chocolate chips or bar, broken in to pieces

150g walnut pieces

Pinch salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Heat the condensed milk on a low heat and then stir in the chocolate.  Once melted add the walnut pieces, salt and vanilla essence.  Stir it all together and then fill a tin foil lined smallish baking tray with the mixture.  Put in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours then turn it out and cut it in to pieces.  Can keep for up to three weeks in an airtight container.