If you could only keep one cookbook…

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…..what would it be?

Now, asking that question to someone like me, who has almost 500 books in her collection is tiny a bit cruel. I mean, how can I be expected to pick a favourite when there are just SO many good ones in my collection?

There are so many books that I love and many that are well-used (the two aren’t mutually exclusive for me – some I just like to read. Cookbook addicts will know what I’m talking about!) I mean, I pretty much adore anything from Jamie Oliver – his Ministry of Food book is perfect for anyone just starting out in the world of cooking and Gino D’Acampo’s books, well they are my favourite go-to for Italian meals. I’m also a fan of the Hairy Bikers and a spot of Nigella every now and again but when it comes to picking just one book FOREVER? It’s a really tough decision but I’m going to have to go with more of a simple classic – one that covers all bases.

Enter Mary Berry.

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Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook has everything you need.

This no-nonsense book contains over 1000 recipes for just about every occasion from adventurous dinner party dishes to firm family favourites this book is one for everyone from absolute beginners to competent cooks.  The recipes are easy to follow and include time-saving tips and there’s a whole heap of information on the general basics such as how to freeze, food safety and tips for flavouring and spices.    It is really well laid out and the pictures are great – always my bugbear in cookbooks – I need good clear pictures of recipes!

This is the book I would furnish my children with when they leave home!

Of course there are similar books out there that would also fit the bill – my hefty Good Housekeeping tome would come a close second and is very well thumbed. In fact I have a few versions from different years!

So over to you – if you could only keep one cookbook, which one would you keep and why?

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Mrs M’s Best Ever Sausage Rolls!

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Today I thought I’d share one of my favourite Christmas recipes. Okay, it’s not strictly a Christmas recipe but I ONLY make these at Christmas so that means they get filled in my ‘festive’ section!

I really love a sausage roll and I think they’re perfect fodder over the Christmas period. What’s better than a plate of leftover turkey, some cheese, chutney, a few pickled onions and a delicious sausage roll on the side while you catch up on some Christmas TV specials?

This is a pretty simple recipe but oh-so-tasty. Just delicious. The smell of them cooking in the oven? To die for. They are pretty damn perfect straight out of the oven but even when I open the tin the next day to snaffle a cold old, they smell divine.

The best thing about these is that they can be made in advance and frozen – which is what I will be doing. I used to make them on Christmas Eve but well, haven’t we all got enough to be doing that day? So now I make them a couple of weeks ahead so they all ready for cooking on Boxing Day.

The recipe makes around 16 decent sized sausage rolls – about twice the size of the small party ones you get at the supermarket but you can cut them to whatever size you like.

Enjoy – you won’t be disappointed!

Mrs M’s Best Ever Sausage Rolls!

Ingredients

8 large Cumberland sausages, skins removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
3-4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
500g fresh puff pastry
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
25g Parmesan, finely grated

Method

Place the sausage meat in a bowl with the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, sage, parsley, a pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Mix together with a wooden spoon, or with your hands, until well combined.

Cut the pastry in half and roll out 1 piece to make a long oblong shape, measuring about 40cm x 17cm x 3mm thick. Form half the filling into a long log shape which runs the length of the pastry. Place the sausage log about 5mm in from the edge of the pastry. Brush the edge with the beaten egg, then fold the pastry over the sausage filling and press to seal the edges. Crimp the pastry either with your fingers or by pressing down with a fork. Cut into 8 rolls. Prepare a second batch using the remaining pastry and filling.

If you are freezing them, do this now – pop them on a baking tray and cover with cling film until solid, than transfer to a freezerproof container for up to three months. When ready to eat, defrost thoroughly and continue with the recipe. 

Brush the tops of each sausage roll with beaten egg and sprinkle with the cheese. Place on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6 and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they’re golden, risen and flaky. Remove from the oven and cool slightly on a wire rack.

You can of course make your own pastry if you prefer but honestly, I don’t have the hands for pastry making, I just end up in a gloopy mess and to be fair Jus-Rol do it better than I do! Also, another hint from me – buy decent quality sausages or sausage meat – it makes all the difference – just not too organic (and by that I mean ‘lumpy’), the texture feels all wrong!

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7 fun foods for Halloween!

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Halloween is fast-approaching and with it being the second-best time of year (Christmas obviously being the first one…) we tend to go a bit overboard in our house, and it never passes by without a party. With that in mind I thought that today I’d share a few of the great foody ideas I’ve seen on while I have been searching for new things to try at this years party.

Some of these are goodies that I will be making next week and some, well there are some that I don’t quite feel qualified for and/or don’t have the patience but I know that there are many talented people out there who could make an awesome job of these!

Why 7? Well I thought 10 was a bit predictable really so thought I’d break from the norm, edgy, aren’t I?

Rice Krispie Treats from One Little Project

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Brownie Cupcakes from Two Sisters Crafting

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Frozen Banana Ghosts from BBC Good Food

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Vampire Donuts from She Knows

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Spooky Eyeball Halloween Cake from Betty Crocker

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Day of the Dead Biscuits from BBC Good Food

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Spooky Boo Brownies from Betty Crocker

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Have you seen anything you like here? If you’ve seen any other great ideas or you have some tasty recipes of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below. I am always looking for new ideas and things to try!

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Cookbook Review: Mary Berry Foolproof Cooking

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Who doesn’t love a bit of Mary Berry huh? I have a couple of well-thumbed Mary Berry books in my extensive cookbook collection – both vintage and modern – so I was keen to see another of her most recent books. Foolproof Cooking was published earlier this year to accompany her TV series of the same name.

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I’m sure that Mary Berry needs no introduction whatsoever so I am not going to insult my readers intelligence however I will tell you, in case you didn’t know, that another of her recent books, Mary Berry Cooks, was the fastest-selling hardback non-fiction title in 6 years and was the Number 1 food and drink title in 2014. Her popularity is certainly not waning.

As you would expect with Mary, the recipes contained in the book are straightforward and simple and for the most part quick, though some do take a little more prep than others. Generally all recipes would be suitable for a novice cook or someone less confident in the kitchen.

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The book is split into several sections as follows; Sharing Platters & Nibbles, Breads Soups & Starters, Fish, Poultry & Game, Pork Beef & Lamb, Pasta & Rice, Salads & Vegetables, Desserts & Puddings, Sweet Pies & Tarts, Cakes & Biscuits and The Foolproof Kitchen.  Each section contains foolproof no-fuss advice and tips.

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I really liked the Foolproof Kitchen section at the back of the book. In it Mary takes you through the essentials for a well-stocked store cupboard – splitting this between the basics and extras to enhance your cooking. She also talks about what you can and can’t freeze and how to prepare food for the freezer and there is a really helpful section on foolproof family food. These pages give you some tips on preparing tasty, nutritious family food when you’re short on time and on a budget – most of us know what a challenge that can be!

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My only bugbear with the book is that there is not a colour photo accompanying each recipe. It’s not a huge deal but it is something I like to see in a cookbook. I am won over by a nice picture and always more inclined to cook something if I have seen it first – I’m quite a visual person.

Recipes I have put on my “to try” list include;

Tomato & Basil Salad with Whipped Goat’s Cheese and Parma Ham
Spiced Blackened Salmon
All-in-One Fish Gratin
Chicken & Bacon Lattice Pie
Mexican Tortilla Bake
Passion Fruit Pots
Creme Caramel
Apple Frangipane Tart
Apple & Apricot Pie

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Can’t wait to give a few of these ago, and of course when I do I will be telling you all about how they went on this here blog!

Mary Berry Foolproof Cooking is published by BBC Books and is available to buy from Amazon with a current selling price of £9.99 (RRP £25).

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Back-to-school packed lunch ideas for all!

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It’s back to school for us today and I think by now most of the country will have returned. I’m not one of those parents counting down the days to the end of the holidays, I actually love having them at home and we’ve had an awesome summer so I’m sad that they’re not here today however they were happy to go in and left with a smile on their face so it’s all good!

It does of course mean we’re back to making packed lunches, a task that is a bit love/hate for me. I’m always quite pleased with my lunch efforts and they enjoy them but sometimes I have a real bad case of the cant-be-arsed about me.

The biggest challenge when making packed lunches is making sure there is enough variety in there and I love to mix it up. These days I keep a stock of supplies in the cupboard and fridge for when inspirational thoughts evade me. It also helps to keep a list.

Just in case you also struggle with ideas for packed lunches I thought I’d share details of what ours normally consist of. Okay, there’s nothing completely off-the-wall here but when you’re lacking in inspiration, this might help.  I have a fussy eater, thought he is becoming better with his food choices every day and his saving grace is that he loves fruit and veg. I’ll put a disclaimer right in here – I’m not a food snob – and I happily turn to tinned fruit when I have no fresh to hand as it’s easy to keep in the cupboard for those times when the bananas have gone brown and the apples are starting to walk out the door.

As I mentioned above, I think the key is variety and therefore I tend to put lots of little bits in of different things to keep them interested, and that seems to work well for us.

  • Sandwiches – I use a variety of different breads for sandwiches – sliced bread, tortilla wraps, mini pitta breads, bread rolls, croissants, cream crackers, bagels and stick to basic fillings such as ham, cheese, jam, chicken, grated carrot & cream cheese etc.  Despite how much my daughter begs I never  put egg in a school sarnie, or onion. Nobody needs that going on next to them when they are chowing down.
  • Sandwich Alternatives – Only occasionally, and only ever for one as fussy boy would never entertain it but we might do a pasta salad, rice salad, cous cous or something like a small prawn cocktail salad. a big wedge of quiche is also a regular feature.
  • Vegetables – There is always some type of vegetable portion in the lunchbox, in addition to any salad that may be lurking in a sandwich. This is normally carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, red pepper sticks or a pot of tinned sweetcorn (which is probably their favourite).
  • Fruit – Easy-to-eat fruit is the key here or it just doesn’t get eaten. We stick to berries and chunks of fruit like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon chunks, grapes, pineapple chunks and then tinned fruit like mandarin segments or tinned peaches. I also pop in dried fruit like raisins and apricots and the only “whole” fruit I put in is a satsuma or a banana. Never an apple or pear – I get big complaints about this!  Much to my children’s annoyance, they’re no longer allowed kiwi in school – their ultimate favourite fruit.
  • Other Snacks – I often turn to other snacks to liven it up a bit. Generally there’s always some kind of cheese in there, normally cubes or Red Leicester or Cheddar (for smaller children cut this into shapes with small cookie cutters) and then there might be something like a sausage roll, mini pizzas, cold cooked chicken nuggets, cocktail sausages, breadsticks, pretzels, scotch eggs, popcorn, coleslaw and whatever else might be nesting in the fridge.
  • Dips – Depending on what snacks are in the lunch box, my children might find a dip. This could be ketchup to go with cocktail sausages or chicken nuggets, sour cream, mayonnaise, hummus or cream cheese to go with veggies.
  • Yoghurt/Jelly – I generally always put in a yoghurt, only a small one like a yoghurt tube. If they’re lucky they might find a jelly in the lunchbox and Sainsburys also do jelly tubes which went down well.  Sometimes my daughter will like a custard pot in there but my son would rather starve than eat that!
  • Cake – I don’t care what school or experts say, there is always a small cake or biscuit in a lunch box. So long as it’s a balanced diet, who cares? Normally I’ll go for something like a muffin, flapjack, gingerbread biscuit, mini roll or maybe just a cereal bar.
  • Drinks – The children have water bottles at school so a drink isn’t strictly necessary but I always put in a carton of pure juice – either apple, orange and pineapple – as it’s another portion of fruit.
On Fridays which is ‘treat day’ at school, I will put a bag of crisps in and they might get slightly nicer cake!

I’ve read all the recent articles about healthy lunches and do you know what? I. DON’T. CARE. Judge me if you like but life is too short not to eat cake. My children have a healthy, active life with a well-balanced diet. Just because they eat a cake with their packed lunch does not mean they are going to be giant obese monsters with bad teeth.

And finally my biggest tip, especially if you’ve got yoghurt munchers, is put in a small sandwich bag for rubbish and a napkin to mop up any spills. School tend to like to send the rubbish home so you can see what has been eaten but yoghurt often seeps out and by encouraging them to wrap up the rubbish those insulated lunch bags stay cleaner and less whiffy!

I hope you find that a little helpful in some way. I don’t go overboard, it’s all pretty simple and basic but I just try to mix it up.

I’d love to hear any of your hints, tips and ideas for packed lunches so please do share in the comments, I am always looking for new ideas myself!
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