Wednesday 26 June 2013

Vegetarian Nachos

Vegetarian nachos with tortilla chips
On the rare occasions that we do venture out to an eating establishment I am always surprised at how little some meals cost and yet other very simple dishes cost a fortune. My latest bugbear in pubs and restaurants is the fashion to serve nachos with a few dips and pretend this constitutes a meal. The last time we went out the pub was proudly advertising such dish for £6.95. I noticed this while I was tucking into my steak and mushroom baguette complete with chips which had cost just £5.95. So if you are going to have nachos this is the way to do. I've used vegetarian mince because it works just well as beef mince and it's cheaper. If it is not for you then of course use beef instead.

Getting some flavour into tomato based dishes can be a little tricky at times. I've given this recipe a lift by using some Kikkoman Soy Sauce and a little chilli powder. My kids don't like anything 'too spicy' so the chilli quantity listed is very family friendly. Ramp it up if you prefer something a bit more head-blowing. The vegetables listed are what I had in fridge at the time. Substitute the carrots and mushrooms for whatever you like – peppers, peas and sweetcorn would also work well.

This makes enough for at least 6 people as we had the leftovers for lunch. You may want to buy another pack of tortilla chips though if you are serving more than 4 people.


1 tbsp (15ml) Oil, sunflower or vegetable
1 Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pack 500g Frozen vegetarian mince
2 Mushrooms, sliced
1 tin (around 400g) Baked Beans in tomato sauce (I used mixed beans)
1 tin (around 400g) Chopped tomatoes
¼ tsp (1.25ml) Chilli powder
1 tbsp (15ml) Kikkoman Soy Sauce
1 bag 200g Tortilla chips
2oz (55g) Cheddar cheese, grated


1. In a large saucepan heat the oil and then gently fry the onion and carrot until the onion starts to soften.
2. Add the mince and break it down with a spatula.
3. Once the mince can be stirred easily add the mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, chilli and soy sauce.
4. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer to cook for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
5. Once cooked lay out the tortilla chips on plates and divide the mixture between them. Sprinkle on top with the cheese.

Kikkoman sent me the Soy Sauce for free. No payment has been received for writing this post.

Monday 24 June 2013

Flower Cupcakes

Summer Flower Cupcakes
I'm always very pleased with anything that arrives at JibberJabber Towers for me to try out but I was particularly happy when a package was delivered from the lovely people at I am already familiar with a number of their products as they are people behind brands such as Billington's sugar, Silver Spoon baking products and Allinson flour. 

If you are ever stuck for a bit of baking inspiration there are a number of great picnic recipes on their website. With my garden now in full bloom I thought I would give the recipe for Flower Cupcakes a try. While you may have perfected your own basic cupcake recipe I was attracted by the addition of some ground almonds. I always keep a stock of ground almonds in my cupboard as I do like to throw a handful into my baking. One thing I have found with cupcake recipes is that often the mixture isn't enough to fill all the cases so a batch of 12 lined up looks rather mismatched. This was not the case with this recipe as they all came out evenly filled.

Another problem I have with cupcakes is the topping. I don't like piping bags simply because they are very messy and I'm rubbish at piping anyway. The recipe calls for a special piping nozzle in order to create the petal effect. Obviously I don't own such a thing so I just used a flat nozzle instead. My top tip for distracting the eye away from any dodgy piping work is to blind people with colour! Rather than sticking to just the pink I divided the icing mixture into three and use the green and yellow colours as well. Each of the boxes gives a colour guide as to how deep the colour will go depending on how many drops you use. So much better than liquid food colouring. I used 6 drops of each colour. To finish each 'flower' off I placed a Silver Spoon Coloured Choco Bean in the centre to represent the stigma.

With three different icing colours one easy way to get some flavour is to match the colour to the taste. A few drops on the peppermint flavouring in the green, raspberry in the pink and vanilla or almond in the yellow.

So there we go – cupcake making for people who are rubbish at piping! If you want some further hints and tips there is a video on on how to make cupcakes. With the other goodies I'm going to try some more summer baking. I think I may be brave and try the coloured icing. sent me the selection of products for free. No payment was made for writing this post.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mint Choc Chip Cookies
My local supermarket has recently been selling their 'bakery' cookies at just 50p a bag and the kids have been pestering me every time we have stepped foot in the store to buy some. On a couple of occasions I have given in and bought some but always at the back of my mind is the thought, “but I could easily make these myself.” The simple reality of life is there really isn't enough hours in the day to do and make everything. However, when there is just a small amount of time available these cookies are the thing to make.

To give them a hint of mint I used some of the clear mints I had left over from my Triple Mint Chocolate Cake. I did think about adding some mint extract to mix then crossed it out in my notes, added it again and then substituted vanilla extract. Once tasted I'm glad I left the mint extract out as the mint sweets give plenty of mint flavouring. I used a bar of Basics dark chocolate which I gave a good bashing with my rolling pin. I used the same method to crush the mint sweets but put them first into a plastic bag to stop them from flying everywhere. These are definitely a good thing to make when you want to take your anger out on something! The dark chocolate combined with the cocoa powder makes for quite a rich cookie so use milk chocolate if you want something less intense.

With the mint and chocolate combination I am forwarding this for Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog and Chele at Chocolate Teapot We Should Cocoa challenge. This month's host Victoria at A Kick At The Pantry Door has decided the theme should be mint.

Makes 12

Equipment: 2 baking trays, greased or lined, rolling pin or other crushing implement, electric whisk


5oz (140g) Plain flour
1oz (30g) Cocoa powder
½ tsp (2.5ml) Bicarbonate of soda
4oz (110g) Unsalted butter, softened or baking spread
5oz (140g) Caster sugar
1 Large egg
½ tsp (2.5ml) Vanilla extract
3½ oz (100g) Dark chocolate chips or bar of chocolate broken up
2oz (50g) Clear boiled mints, crushed


1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/Gas mark 5.
2. In a bowl sift the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda together and put to one side.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk.
4. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract.
5. Add the dry ingredients then stir in the chocolate until combined.
6. Spoon the mixture onto the baking trays leaving room for the cookies to spread.
7. Bake for 15-18 minutes until set and then cool on a wire rack.

Monday 17 June 2013

Bacon and Cheese Muffins

Bacon and Cheese Muffins with a dash of Soy Sauce

Some people ask how I come up with ideas for recipes. This is how I came up with this recipe for Bacon and Cheese muffins. I was idly flicking through a cookbook which of course has the starters at the front. I saw a recipe for something with cheese. Mmm, I like cheese. I don't know what cheese it was for but nevermind. Keep flicking and in the main courses there's a recipe with bacon in it. I like bacon too. I prefer it to be smoked bacon for the flavour. The recipe was for chicken breasts with bacon wrapped round it. Not really interested in that. I move on and I get to the cakes and sweet bakes. Ooh, chocolate muffins. I might make something with chocolate in later and then it hits me – cheese, bacon, muffins. All three of them could go well together. So there you go recipe idea.

Muffins, like in my cookbook, are usually of the sweet variety so you need something to replace the sugar in the basic mix. I added some mustard powder but also some Kikkoman Soy Sauce, which they kindly sent to me. Both the bacon and cheese are quite strong flavoured and salty so to help cut through that I used the Kikkoman Less Salt Soy Sauce.

To get the taste of both the cheese and bacon you do need to use some strong, mature cheddar and also some smoked bacon. Anything milder and the flavours won't be there. You can serve these cold like a sweet muffin or just let them cool slightly before serving warm. If you let them cool they would be a tasty addition to a picnic or an interesting alternative in your lunchbox.

Makes 12

Equipment: 12 cup muffin tin lined with paper cases


4 Rashers smoked streaky bacon
8oz (225g) Self-raising flour
2oz (55g) Plain flour
1 tsp (5ml) Baking powder
½ tsp (2.5ml) Bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp (2.5ml) Mustard powder
6 tbsp (90ml) Sunflower oil
7fl oz (200ml) Milk
1 Large egg
1 tbsp (15ml) Kikkoman Low Salt Soy Sauce
4oz (110g) Mature cheddar cheese, grated


1. Line the muffin tin with the paper cases.
2. Grill the bacon until cooked and crispy. Leave to cool then cut into small pieces.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6.
4. In a large bowl mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and, mustard powder.
5. In a separate bowl beat together the oil, milk, egg, Soy sauce, cheese and bacon.
6. Mix the two sets of ingredients together until just combined.
7. Cook for 20-25 minutes.
8. Leave to cool on a wire. Can be eaten warm or cold.

Kikkoman sent me sample of their sauces to try for free. No payment was made for this post.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Make Your Own Compost

Lovely, rich and healthy homemade compost
I've mentioned my garden in some posts recently. My garden isn't just somewhere to sit when the sun does make an appearance or a space to look at and admire. It's home to the blackbirds who have made a nest for the last couple of years and raised two young families. There are other small birds flying in and out. I've just seen a dunnock hopping in and out of the strawberry patch. The bees are loving the aquilegia; gathering pollen before flying off to another flower. The aphids on the flowering currant are simply the next meal for the ladybirds. All this seems to carry on without much intervention from me but one thing I do to help the garden out is to feed it with compost and the best kind is the stuff you can make yourself.
A happy garden is one that is inviting to wildlife. Love those bees!
Making your own compost isn't just about cost and knowing what you put in in will benefit what comes out as soil. It's about reconnecting with the land around us – even if like mine your garden is a small suburban plot. A recent survey by the British Nutrition Foundation revealed that a third of primary school children thought cheese came from a plant. Do we really want our kids to think that everything we eat is processed and not know the delight of eating a home-grown strawberry?
Just a few weeks before we can enjoy the fruits of our labours
With so councils now only collecting household bins fortnightly saving as much waste from going in your bin has both practical and environmental consequences. Around 30% of the waste we generate is compostable. If we compost this at home we can make rich and healthy soil for our gardens. If it goes to landfill the air cannot get to it as it gets trapped under the other rubbish. When the waste finally breaks without the vital oxygen it releases methane instead. This is classed as one of the harmful greenhouse gases.
So much of our everyday rubbish can be composted
Making your own compost helps to feed the vital soil-living creatures and microbes. Once added to the existing soil these break down into nutrients that the plants can absorb. For some great tips on how to improve your soil quality even more head over to the Westland Garden Health site.

Find some more composting tips at Westland Garden Health (photo from site)
If you cook, eat fruit and vegetables, drink tea and coffee, mow a lawn, have dead leaves and shred paper you can make your own compost. The most important rules about composting are what you can and can't put in:

Things to compost

Lawn clippings
Vegetable and fruit peelings
Tea leaves and coffee grounds
Egg shells
Cardboard egg boxes
Shredded paper
Chopped or shredded prunings
Hair or fur
Vacuum dust from woollen carpets
Straw and hay
Don't send it to landfill - compost it!
Things to avoid

Weeds – in a small home garden composter the temperature may not get high enough to kill off the weed seeds. You'll just be putting weeds into your soil! Take to your council recycling unit as their composters are huge and deal with weeds.

Anything diseased - Likewise for the weeds. You want to put healthy stuff in to get healthy stuff out.

Excrement – human or animal! Don't be tempted to put dog poo in. Bag it and bin it. It's not nice and even worse when heated up in a home composter.

Paper hankies – They may seem harmless enough but a hankie full of snot has not a place in a composter.

Disposable nappies – Even without the wee and poo in them disposable nappies take forever to break down in landfill and are never going to shift in a composter.

Meat, raw or cooked – If you want to attract the local rat population into your garden put some in, otherwise steer clear of meat and the vermin will stay away too.

Brightly coloured or shiny paper and card – They may look pretty but the chemicals in the inks are hard to break down and not good for making healthy soil.

Big branches or thick twigs – The bigger the bit of tree you have the longer it will take to break down. Either use a garden shredder or cut into small pieces. Alternatively make a pile of them in the garden and let them rot down naturally. The local beetles will benefit from this. If you can't do either take it to the council tip. 
Too big to go in the composter. Either chop it up or take to the council recycling unit
If you don't want to go down to the composter every time you eat an apple to put the core in get an old ice cream or margarine tub to store in the kitchen. The lid helps to keep the smells in. Alternatively splash out on a purpose designed kitchen compost bin to fit in with your décor.

Once you've got the stuff to put in your composter here are some general tips:

Put the composter straight onto the soil rather than concrete or a paving slab. Worms and other little helpers will be able to get in and start to 'digest' the contents to help it along.

Make sure it has a tight fitting lid as wind, rain and snow are no friends of the compost maker.

Try to place your composter in sunlight. - The heat will speed up the process and help to break down the contents quicker.

It's often advised to turn the contents of your compost bin. I don't as it's quite small and makes it difficult. To help aerate it I put in scrunched up newspaper which creates air pockets. This will compost as well.

Layer, layer, layer – If you just put in vegetable peelings all you will end up with is a slimy mess. Try to alternate between dry and wet materials. Combine dry clippings like prunings with moister ones like grass clippings.
A tight fitting lid helps keep the heat in and elements out
You'll know when the compost is ready when it starts to smell earthy rather than have a rotting one. It will look like proper soil and not just a collection of old waste.

So don't throw that apple core in the bin, compost it today and within months you could be using your own soil to help grow some delicious produce of your own.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Westland Horticulture. The thoughts and views are my own. Photographs used with permission as credited.

Monday 10 June 2013

Smoked Salmon and Courgette (Zucchini) Pasta

Smoked Salmon and Courgette (Zucchini) Pasta
“Smoked salmon at JibberJabber Towers!” I hear you cry, “Is the Queen coming to supper?” No, just the four of us but this pasta dish with just some courgettes, olive oil and garlic makes a seemingly luxury meal a midweek family meal.

I love smoked salmon and in fact Christmas Day just isn't right without having scrambled eggs with smoked salmon for breakfast, a smoked salmon timbale starter and smoked salmon sandwiches for tea. Thankfully the rest of the occupants at JibberJibber Towers are also smoked salmon lovers. My local supermarket currently sells a 120g packet of smoked salmon trimmings for 98p, which is just the right amount for this recipe. I use the smoked salmon trimmings in a number of dishes but this recipe is particularly nice for summer as contains no heavy cream sauce and the courgettes give it a fresh and light taste.

There are two things to bear in mind when making this meal. Firstly, use olive oil as stated. Do not substitute sunflower or vegetable for it. The olive oil gives the pasta a distinct flavour that doesn't taste as good if other oils are used. Second thing concerns the courgettes. I grate them using the fine cutter attachment on my food processor. I do this for reasons of speed, to save my fingers being shredded and also because the courgettes don't get pulped when grated. You must also make sure you squeeze some of the water out of the courgettes as described. If you skip this stage do not come back to me complaining your courgettes ended up as a watery mush!

When we made this the last time we had it with farfalle or bow-tie shaped pasta because as any Doctor Who fan knows (and there are two here) that, “Bow-ties are cool”. However, choose your own favourite shape but spaghetti or linguine do work very well too.

With the three main ingredients of smoked salmon, courgettes and pasta this is being put forward for the Recipes for Life challenge for the SWALLOW Charity on Vanesther's Bangers and Mash blog.
 recipes for life

Serves 4

300g Dried pasta
2 Courgettes, grated
2 Cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbsp (45ml) Olive oil
100-150g Packet of Smoked salmon trimmings


1. Start the pasta cooking in boiling water.
2. Using kitchen towels put the courgettes between two and squeeze the excess water out of the courgettes. You will need to do this in a couple of batches.
3. In a large saucepan heat the oil.
4. Cook the courgettes and garlic until the courgettes start to soften. Do not let the garlic to burn.
5. Once the pasta has cooked drain it and then add it to the courgettes and garlic.
6. Add the smoked salmon and stir until the mixture is well combined.
Serve immediately.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

The British asparagus season is very short and starts at when the weather in the UK normally isn't that summery. This bacon and asparagus quiche is designed so that it can be served warm on colder days but still makes a great cold lunch or picnic dish for when the weather is good.

Asparagus really is a luxury item because of the short growing season and the fact that a lot of growing space is needed for a relatively low yield. Therefore you can understand my delight when I saw it reduced and snapped up a bunch quickly.

I use cooking bacon for this recipe. Some supermarkets now sell it pre-packed but you can also find it on butcher's and deli counters. Yes, it is cheaper but you normally get a mix of smoked and unsmoked bacon and big chunks which I think gives a better taste and texture when in dishes. Alternatively, you could use leftover gammon.

If you don't fancy the asparagus and bacon combination or the asparagus has gone out of season then use the pastry base and quiche but swap it for different ingredients. Another favourite of ours is smoked salmon and red onion. If you'd like an accompaniment to the quiche may I humbly suggest potato salad with chives.

As this uses seasonal British asparagus I am putting this forward for Ren Behan's Simple and In Season.

Simple and in Season 

Equipment: 9in (23cm) flan case/tin, frying pan, rolling pin


6oz (170g) Wholemeal plain flour (I use Doves Farm)
3oz (85g) Butter or pastry spread (like Stork)
2-3 tbsp (30-45ml) Cold water
About 5 spears of asparagus (around 125g in weight)
10oz (300g) Bacon, cut in chunks
¼ pint (150ml) Milk
¼ pint (150ml) Low fat natural yoghurt
3 Large eggs
Salt & pepper to season, as required
4oz (110g) Cheese, grated (I use Cheddar)


1. Either by hand or in a food processor mix the flour and butter together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Add the water and then stir or process again until it comes together in a ball. Add more water if required.
3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and put in the fridge.
4. Heat the oven to 170°C.
5. In a frying pan fry off the bacon in its own fat. Drain off any excess liquid if necessary.
6. Take out of the frying pan and put on a plate with some kitchen towel on it to soak up any fat.
7. Beat together the milk, yoghurt and eggs. Add 2oz (55g) of the cheese, seasoning to taste (I just use black pepper) and stir.
8. Roll out the dough to fit the flan tin.
9. Fold the pastry over the rolling pin and lift into the tin.
10. Trim the edges off with a knife.
11. Press down the sides with a fork and then stab holes in the base with the fork.

12. Arrange the bacon and the asparagus on the base.

13. Pour over the liquid mixture and then put the rest of the cheese on top.

14. Cook for 25 minutes until the quiche has set.

Serve either warm or cold ( makes a great 'leftovers' lunch the next day).

Friday 7 June 2013

Tuna and Vegetable Spaghetti

Veggies galore in this tuna and vegetable spaghetti dish
When I was a child the only pasta we used to eat was spaghetti. This was once a week on Friday when my Nan made 'Meaty Bolognese' and not a single tomato was used in this recipe. Until I was about 15 and Dad bought some penne not a single other variety of pasta came into our house (except tinned ravioli). Now the choice of pasta in shops takes up many shelves but spaghetti still remains a favourite.

Getting kids to eat vegetables can often be a tricky task so I find one of the easiest ways is to load it into pasta sauce. For some added protein there's tuna in this recipe but you could easily omit it if you just want to stick to the vegetables. My personal preference for tinned tuna is in just spring water as I like to keep the taste of it. So this isn't just another ordinary tomato sauce I've included some Kikkoman Soy Sauce for some added tang.

Serves 4


10½ oz (300g) Spaghetti
1 tbsp (15ml) oil, sunflower or vegetable
1 Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, sliced
1 small tin of Tuna, drained (around 100-150g)
1 tin chopped Tomatoes (around 400g)
1 tbsp (15ml) Tomato purée
1 tsp Dried mixed herbs
2 tsp (10ml) Kikkoman Soy Sauce
1 Red pepper, sliced
1 Green pepper, sliced


1. Start to cook the spaghetti in boiling water.
2. In a large saucepan heat the oil then cook the onion, carrot and garlic until the onion starts to soften.
3. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, mixed herbs and soy sauce to the saucepan.
4. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat
5. Add the peppers and stir together.
6. When the spaghetti has cooked drain it and then put it in a large dish.
7. Add the vegetable tuna mixture to the spaghetti and stir together before serving.

Kikkoman sent the Soy Sauce for free to try and use. No payment was received for this post.