Friday, 31 January 2014

Veggies in disguise: a useful sauce and speedy pizza muffins

I am in the lucky position that my son is a 'good eater'. He will try anything and everything and generally approaches most foods with great gusto. I am regularly astonished by how much he eats! He is, however, also a toddler. This means that he is prone to moments of inexplicable rage if the proposed meal isn't quite to his liking. A couple of days ago I dared to serve him yoghurt rather than fruit after his beef casserole. Big mistake (cue sudden screaming, leg kicking and general melodrama). In the end, he ate both fruit and yoghurt. Yesterday he was horrified when I suggested he might like a banana (after I had peeled it, of course) but was happy to wolf it down once I had mashed it up. One day, scrambled egg is the best food in the world; another day it is greeted with disdain. 

Vegetables are hit and miss, as with many youngsters. Carrots, peas, red cabbage and broad beans are currently in favour. Broccoli, mushrooms and parsnips are not (strange as these were all favourites when weaning). I always try to include extra vegetables in any dish that I cook for him in order to get as much goodness into him as possible. You could call it deception. I call it 'what normal mothers do'. One of the most useful things I have in my freezer at any time is a box of frozen cubes of homemade tomato and basil sauce. This sauce is packed full of 'hidden' vegetables and is handy for creating all kinds of delicious dishes. My boy will eat almost anything if accompanied by/covered in/spread with this sauce. I vary the hidden vegetables according to what I find in the veg drawer but it usually includes a carrot, celery and onion base. I usually add courgette and red, orange or yellow pepper. Sometimes a mushroom or two. After slow simmering and the addition of something creamy (mascarpone, cream cheese or crème fraîche) to temper the acidity of the tomatoes, I blitz the sauce with a hand blender and all suspicious-looking lumps disappear into a delicious and smooth sauce. 

I freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray or two before popping the cubes out into a re-sealable freezer bag. I them simply defrost the number of cubes required. Ideas for using the sauce are as follows:

- a simple pasta sauce topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese
- a healthier ketchup substitute - great for dipping strips of chicken, fish fingers etc...
- stirred into roasted vegetables with chicken and couscous
- add tinned tuna for a tuna pasta sauce
- spoon over cod and bake in the oven
- the base for hidden vegetable pizzas (as below)

Pizza with 'hidden' courgettes, red peppers, celery and carrots

Here is my recipe for this indispensable sauce, along with a simple serving idea. Mini muffin pizzas are a great speedy teatime dish for babies and children of all ages. Cut into tiny wedges, this could be a good idea for baby-led-weaners as well as a great finger food for traditionally-weaned babies. The idea came from Annabel Karmel. She goes further and decorates the pizzas with smiley faces - this would be fun for older children to try themselves. I first gave these to my son when he was approximately 9 months old. If you wanted to be super-healthy, you should choose wholemeal muffins. 

Very useful tomato and basil sauce
Makes 4 adult portions


1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stick celery, thinly sliced
1/2 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small courgette, grated
400g tin tomatoes (keep the tin)
1/2 low salt vegetable or chicken stock cube (optional)
handful basil, roughly torn
2 tbsp mascarpone, cream cheese or crème fraîche

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Sweat the onion, carrot, celery and pepper until starting to soften.

2. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add the grated courgette and stir together. Add the tomatoes and fill the tin halfway with water (or stock, if you prefer). Add half the basil and season with a little pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining basil and mascarpone/cream cheese. Leave to cool for a little while before blending to a smooth sauce using a hand-held blender or liquidiser.

Pizza muffins
Adapted from Annabel Karmel
Makes 2 mini pizzas


1 split English muffin
4 tbsp useful tomato and basil sauce (see above)
Grated cheese of choice, or torn mozzarella

1. Toast the muffins.
2. Spread with a layer of the sauce and top with cheese.
3. Grill until golden and bubbling.
4. Cut into small wedges and serve.

I had been planning to enter this to this month's Family Foodies blogging challenge at Bangers and Mash. The theme was 'Hidden Goodies' but unfortunately I have been a little disorganised and missed the deadline. If you are interested in cunning ways to sneak fruit and vegetables into your little foodies, then do take a look at the brilliant collection of recipes that were submitted on time!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Loving your leftovers: pistachio and raspberry clafoutis

There is something peculiarly satisfying about creating a meal from nothing. Or rather, creating food from 'what is there' rather than having to shop for specific items. I particularly like using 'leftovers' to create dishes which are just as delicious as (yet totally different to) their original incarnation or purpose. Most Sundays, Mr LBG and I end our weekend with a proper feast. At this time of year it is usually a roast followed by a 'proper pud'. I love this simple ritual and also love the ritual of inventing creative dishes with the leftover meat on a Monday. I am not a fan of repetition and have never enjoyed trying to re-create the previous night's roast the following evening with cold meat. Instead I like to create something completely different; a curry, a creamy pie, a tagine or hearty casserole for example.

Whilst I am fairly good at creating new dishes from the ingredients in my fridge, I must confess that my larder cupboard is overflowing with half-used packets of this-and-that. Nuts, seeds, flours and baking ingredients which have been purchased with a specific recipe in mind and the remainder left to sit unloved until a spring clean deems them past their best. I hate wastage and have been trying to make more effort to love all my leftovers - not just the fresh ones. 

Ground pistachios

Mr LBG cooked a fantastic feast for a friend and I on Saturday night and finished with a delicious dessert of pistachio meringues with fresh raspberries and cream. I could see that the half-used packed of shelled pistachios was just the sort of thing that would sit in the cupboard for a while and that by the time I decided to use them, they would no doubt have lost their charm and be on the stale side. Pistachios are expensive and I was determined that these beauties would not go to waste! Leftover raspberries were also available which was great news as I think the two go so well together. I wanted to make a warm, comforting sort of pudding and wondered how to combine the two into something homely without loosing the fragrant and slightly exotic flavour of the pistachios. What else could I find? There were egg yolks left over from the meringues and - as luck would have it - the remainder of the cream that Mr LBG had bought for his dessert. 

Arrange the raspberries in a greased, shallow dish

I wanted to create a more comforting, warm and homely dessert to follow our roast pork. Using (almost) the exact same ingredients as the night before, I came up with something completely different. I turned to a favourite clafoutis recipe and decided to replace the ground almonds with ground pistachios (a few extra to ensure the flavour of the nut shone through) and replace the mixed fruits with my raspberries. The result? A definite success and a recipe that I know I shall repeat. 

Here is my version of the recipe. It serves two with enough for a second helping each or three with no second helpings! It would be easily doubled for a larger group. It is good served warm rather than hot, I think. Also - I didn't have quite enough double cream and topped up to 125ml using single cream. This was not a problem and I think that milk would have worked fine too - next time I might try half cream and half milk in an effort to lower the naughtiness somewhat.

Pistachio and raspberry clafoutis
Adapted from this recipe by BBC Good Food
Serves 2-3


Butter or oil for greasing

150g fresh raspberries
30g shelled pistachio nuts
1 tbsp plain flour
50g golden caster sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
125ml double cream

1. Make the batter ahead of time, if you can. I made mine an hour or so before cooking. First, grind the nuts in a small food processor or coffee grinder. A few nibbly bits is fine but try to get them as fine as you can. Whisk or blend together all ingredients except for the raspberries until you have a smooth batter. Set aside.

2. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a small gratin or other ovenproof dish. Arrange the raspberries over the base and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven for approx. 40 minutes until the batter is risen, golden and just firm (a little wobble is good). Remove from oven and rest for a while - best served warm.

Variation: Next time, I might consider adding a few little chunks of dark chocolate for added naughtiness.

Friday, 17 January 2014

A lighter way to bake: Ginger oat cookies and lemon and blueberry cake

Like many cooking enthusiasts, Mr LBG and I have quite a collection of cookery books. 136 to be precise as I have just this moment been to count. I am actually rather staggered by the figure. You can spot our favourites easily; the pages bear the hallmarks of culinary exploits (splatters of tomato sauce or marks from buttery fingers), notes are scribbled in the margins and books that fall open on favourite recipes. Others look pristine and unloved as they have failed to inspire and some fall halfway between the two - much browsed but rarely 'used'. I confess that increasingly I find myself turning to the internet for recipes - it is so much quicker when you know what you want to tap 'chicken cacciatore' into google than to flick through the books looking for the perfect recipe. (Wouldn't it be marvellous to have an online directory of all the recipes in your bookshelves so you knew exactly which to turn to when looking for something specific?). However, when planning a special meal or looking for inspiration, I love to turn to the in-house library for a good browse through the books.

For some time I have been thinking that I should make more effort to try recipes from some of the less-used books and I have found the perfect excuse in the form of blogging challenge organised by Dominic from Belleau Kitchen. His monthly random recipes event challenges us to pick a book and recipe at random and cook what you find on that page (no excuses save budget or seasonality). This month's challenge suggests we choose at random (no peeking) from books we received as Christmas presents. This year I received two new books and had yet to try either so this was the perfect excuse. 

The book selected was Lorraine Pascale's 'A Lighter Way to Bake'. Very appropriate considering the January healthy-eating I am currently trying to embrace. The book has lots of tempting recipes from savoury pies and tarts to the expected cakes, cookies and breads. Lorraine aims to cut calories, sugar and fat whilst retaining as much flavour and authenticity as possible. An interesting challenge! I opened the book at random and it fell open on a page with no recipe but a photo of a rather good-looking cake studded with blueberries. I turned back a page to discover the recipe for 'Blueberry and Limoncello Drizzle Cake'. 


I waited until I had friends visiting for tea and set to work. As it would happen, this is just the sort of cake that I might have chosen to bake under ordinary circumstances. Lorraine's healthy version replaces some of the butter with (full fat) Greek yoghurt and as well as two whole eggs, four lightly whipped egg whites are folded into the mixture. I confess that I found the recipe a little confusing - she states that the whites should be whipped until 'light and frothy' before folding them into the mix. Flour (half of it) is then added afterwards along with baking powder etc and you are then instructed to 'beat' until you have a smooth batter. This seemed strange as it would surely undo the effect of folding in the airy egg whites? Rather odd, I thought. I also found that at the suggested temperature (150C fan oven), the cake took almost twice as long to cook as she suggested.

All this aside, I was quite pleased with this lighter cake. I didn't have any limoncello so I simply used lemon juice in its place for the icing - probably more appropriate for afternoon tea for four Mums in charge of toddlers (....or maybe not?!). It is definitely not what I would describe as a lemon drizzle cake. To me, a drizzle cake involves skewering the warm cake and pouring a sugar and citrus glaze over the cake. This was more a nice, dampish lemon cake bursting with blueberries and topped with a drizzly lemon (or limoncello) icing. I wasn't wowed but Mr LBG thought it was superb and ate more slices than perhaps he should have done. I would have preferred it more lemony and - let's face it - with more butter! Having said this, I would make it again and, for a light alternative, it was rather good. You can find the recipe here.

The labrador's favourite: oatmeal and ginger cookies

I don't like to judge a book by one recipe so I decided I would also try one of the cookie recipes. I plunked for 'Oatmeal and Ginger Cookies' and thought this was a great and speedy recipe. Made with oats and wholemeal flour, these slightly chewy but crisp on the outside treats are satisfying and pack a seriously gingery bite (too gingery for Mr LBG who took one bite and passed it to me in favour of another slice of the cake). I thought they were delicious though (and so did the labrador who snaffled THREE from the kitchen counter whilst my back was turned - he is now, quite literally, in the doghouse).

Thank you to Dominic for organising this challenge as I'm pleased to have got started on this new book. Next stop is the filo-topped 'Thai fish pie'.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Pretty in pink: beetroot and watercress salad

For some time now we have subscribed to a weekly vegetable box scheme via Abel and Cole. The vegetables are almost always in peak condition, taste exactly as they should and offer excellent value for money compared with our usual supermarket. Whilst we enjoy the challenge of cooking with vegetables we might not ordinarily choose, we also appreciate the fact that vegetables of which we are least fond can be swapped for something else. 

One of the vegetables which I struggle with is beetroot. I think it harks back to school days when it used to be served cold, swimming in vinegar, alongside mashed potato. The way the potato used to go pink still sends shivers down my spine. I still find the sweet taste and slightly strange texture of boiled beetroot hard to stomach but I have recently been converted to raw beetroot. Mr Little Bit Greedy loves beetroot and gets quite excited when it turns up in the veg box as he knows that it is highly unlikely that it will make an appearance in our household any other way. He usually roasts them whole and devours them whilst I nibble politely on the smallest one I can find. On this occasion, however, I decided to take the matter into my own hands. Accompanying the beets in our box was a suggested recipe which also made use of the fabulous watercress that was party of this week's bounty and I thought that I would try it out.

The combination of the grated sweet beetroot and peppery watercress did work together extremely well. A little freshly chopped chilli and a handful of toasted pinenuts were good additions too along with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing. Next time, a good few bits of crumbly goats cheese will make an appearance too. Crusty bread to mop up those pink juices was all but essential.

I loved this salad. Mr Little Bit Greedy was less keen. After tasting just one mouthful he looked at me in horror and asked whether there was orange in the dressing. Mr LBG has a severe hatred of orange (unless combined with chocolate and made by someone called Terry). There was no orange to be found but it was rather curious - the salad did indeed taste strongly of orange. Further investigation found the 'culprit' to be the beetroot itself which had a surprisingly orangey flavour. I know that orange is often paired with beetroot but have never eaten a beetroot that actually tasted 'orangey' before!

The recipe for the salad can be found over here and so I won't repeat it here. 

I am entering this salad into the No Croutons Required blogging challenge which this month is being hosted by Lisa over at Lisa'a Kitchen. The event requires participants to make a soup or salad which is suitable for vegetarians.

Friday, 10 January 2014

A lighter route to en croûte: salmon filo parcels

There are many items I like to have in my storecupboards, fridge and freezer 'just in case'. It is always satisfying to know that in the event of a sudden blizzard/earthquake/other apocalyptic event, I will be able to rustle up a quick pasta puttanesca. Must-have items for me include tinned tomatoes, pasta, an onion, a lemon, frozen peas, cheese and eggs. Wine and chocolate too, if I'm honest. I am also rarely to be found without readymade pastry in the freezer. Say what you like about homemade being better but, for me, ready-made and even (dare I say it?) ready rolled pastry is up there as one of man's greatest inventions. Actually, it was probably invented by a busy woman but that is beside the point.

Firstly, I don't accept that homemade is always better when it comes to pastry. I have politely eaten some absolutely dreadful pastry in my time. Some of it made by myself, some of it by others. Secondly, whilst I concur that there are occasions where homemade pastry is desirable (my mother's fabulous orange-scented mince pies, for example, where to replace the gorgeous citrussy pastry would defeat the entire object), most of the time a good quality ready-made version will do very nicely indeed. Particularly when lacking time. Or butter. Or flour. On more than one occasion, I have been complimented on my excellent pastry - I smile serenely as I push the packed of Jus-Rol further into the bin. Actually, I don't do this. I am far too honest and more likely to apologise in advance for my use of shortcuts before the tart or pie has even made it to the table.

A delicious mix of peas, broad beans, crème fraîche, dill, basil and lemon zest: this would make a great dip too!

Anyway, with a pack of puff in the freezer, I am happy in the knowledge that I am moments away from pie or tart glory. One of my current favourite recipes for when we have guests is a delicious salmon en croûte recipe from Tana Ramsay's 'I love to bake' book. The salmon is covered in a purée of frozen peas and broad beans with mint and then baked in a puff pastry case. Mint is the only herb that I really cannot bear and so I usually substitute for dill which I feel works really well. It is a great entertaining recipe as it can be made up in advance and there is no last minute fiddling.

After the excess of Christmas, Mr Greedy and I are (predictably) back on a bit of a health drive. Being greedy has its downsides and we both struggle with our weight. We have both had great success with Weight Watchers and are back to counting those points! It isn't for everyone but it works for us - allowing us to eat whatever we want within our daily allowance along with scope for the odd blowout or weekend treat. We try to stick to it 80% of the time. Thinking creatively comes with the territory and there are lots of things we do to ensure we can still enjoy our favourite foods by making small, 'healthier' tweaks. Enter stage left: filo pastry. We use it as a scrunched up topping for pies, a base for quiches and tarts and for wrapping parcels of fish! Don't get me wrong - I would choose puff over filo every single time. But it is a decent alternative if you are watching the weight. 

Here, I smothered individual salmon fillets in a purée of peas, broad beans slipped from their skins, lemon zest dill and basil. I then wrapped them up in filo pastry, brushed with a scant bit of melted butter and baked in the oven. Not very seasonal but absolutely delicious!

Herbs, glorious herbs: dill and basil

Cooking with Herbs

I am entering this recipe to this month's cooking with herbs blogging challenge over at Lavender and Lovage. This month, Karen has asked that we try to include citrus alongside our herbs. This recipe contains two fabulous herbs: basil and dill. Dill has a faint aniseed flavour which marries brilliantly with many kinds of fish. I also think it goes rather well with broad beans, hence I use it in this recipe. I am not really keen on aniseed but somehow I find dill rather delicious as long as it doesn't dominate a dish. Basil is a real favourite of mine - I love to crush the leaves lightly in my hand and breathe in that lovely, summery scent. A little lemon zest is a must with this fishy dish - I could never be without a lemon in the fruit bowl! What could you never be without?

On a final note, I should add that we particularly enjoyed our wine match with this dish. The Society's Exhibition Albariño, 2012 was just the ticket - peachy with a lovely limey freshness that matched well with the herby purée as well as the fish

Filo Salmon Parcels
Serves 2


50g frozen peas
50g frozen broad beans
1 tbsp low fat creme fraîche
1 tbsp (small handful) chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped basil
zest of half a lemon

2 salmon fillets, skinned
2 rectangular sheets filo pastry

20g melted butter

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Make the purée: boil peas and broad beans for a couple of minutes, drain and cool under cold running water. Slip the beans from their skins. Ideally using a small food processor, blitz together the peas, beans, herbs, crème fraîche and lemon zest until you have a smoothish purée. Season generously with salt and pepper.

2. Lay out the sheets of filo and place one salmon fillet at one end, leaving an inch of pastry as a border. Smother salmon with half the purée and then tuck in the edge and sides of the pastry before rolling down the rectangle to form a parcel. Repeat with second fillet. Transfer both to a non-stick baking sheet and brush with melted butter.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Serve with boiled potatoes and lots of greens.

For those following weight watchers, I calculate this recipe as 11 Propoints.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A treat for tiny tastebuds: Moroccan lamb

Moroccan lamb tagine - a treat for tiny tastebuds

I have never really understood the notion that young children prefer bland food. It is often assumed that when cooking for babies or toddlers, you hold back on the garlic, spices and herbs. I know that I am lucky that my boy is a 'good eater' (so far) but I think that it is important to introduce children to as wide a variety of flavours as possible in their first few years of life. How dull to have the same things over and over again! There are plenty of the usual staples on my toddler's menu (cottage pie, pasta with tomato sauce, fish pie, chicken casserole) but I do try to inject as much variety as possible and make a habit of regularly trying new recipes for him. From mild fruity curries to fish chowders via barbecue pulled pork and basil-heavy pesto: I love watching him discover new flavours for the first time. For the record, so far grapefruit and spinach are the only two flavours that have had a resolute thumbs down.

Where practical, he eats the same things as us but, as we generally eat at different times (not ideal, but hey ho), this is not always do-able. I also like to have good stash of homemade 'ready meals' stashed away in the freezer for him so tend to do a lot of batch cooking.  At the weekend, we indulged in a fantastic lamb curry and there we had some lamb left over. Rather than cook up the usual casserole (Master Greedy is a huge fan of all slow cooked meat and vegetable combinations), I decided to inject a little Moroccan flavour into his diet. I slightly toned down the spices of my favourite lamb tagine and simmered the meat with tomatoes, carrots and dried fruit. The combination of sweet spices and a touch of honey was a winning one which he wolfed down.

I made the classic error of starting the cooking without actually checking to see that I had the relevant ingredients. I do this fairly often - you'd think that I would have learnt by now. Normally I use tinned tomatoes for a tagine and these would be fine if you can't be bothered with all the peeling and chopping. I also had to use sultanas rather than dried apricots as I didn't appear to have any. Master Greedy didn't mind but I think I would prefer apricots myself. Dates would be an alternative too.

He tried that tagine alongside plain couscous and yes, I did sprinkle a little fresh coriander on top. You may laugh (I almost laughed at myself) but I do think that we all eat with our eyes as much as our tummies. If the flash of green made the dish look more appealing to me, then perhaps it would to him too. Besides, fresh coriander is so delicious. 

This is a great dish for toddlers but also for babies once protein is well established. The sweet flavour will appeal to their palates and you can simply purée to the desired consistency. Honey should be avoided for the first 12 months so just leave this out or perhaps use a little maple syrup instead. You could also add extra sweet vegetables such as sweet potato or butternut squash.

(Incidentally, I find couscous to be a great standby for a hungry toddler when waiting for rice to cook simply isn't going to happen.)

Moroccan Lamb
Makes 4 toddler portions


1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
250g leg or shoulder of lamb, diced into small pieces
4-5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped* (mine were small - I used 8) or 200g tinned tomtsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ginger
small pinch saffron, soaked in 1tbsp warm water
1 tsp runny honey (omit for under-1s)
1 tbsp tomato purée
6 dried apricots, quartered (or use dates or sultanas)
4-5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped* (mine were small - I used 8) or 200g tinned tomatoes
500 ml low-salt lamb stock or water 
Couscous and fresh coriander to serve

*To peel tomatoes, score a cross on bottom of each tomato with sharp knife, pour over boiling water and leave for 5 minutes. The skins will peel off easily.

1. Pre-heat oven to 170C.

2. Heat oil in a small casserole and brown the lamb. Set to one side.

3. Add a touch more oil if necessary and sweat the onion and carrot together until starting to soften at the edges. Add the crushed garlic and cook gently for a minute.

4. Add the dry spices and stir to coat onion mixture. Next add the saffron along with the soaking liquid, tomato purée, honey and apricots. Return lamb to the pan. Cook for a minute or so, stirring to coat.

5. Finally add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a gently simmer and transfer to oven. Cook for 1.5-2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Check after an hour and add a little more water if it is drying out.

6. Serve with couscous and a sprinkling of fresh coriander!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

An indulgent farewell to 2013: smoked salmon towers

Happy New Year! The festive fortnight has (so far) left me almost unable to move due to the sheer volume of deliciousness that I have consumed. Having been away for Christmas itself (deliciousness prepared by my brother), we felt slightly worried by the fact that upon returning home, we would have none of the usual leftovers to pick at over the days to come.

Rather than allowing normal service to resume (an option the more sensible and health-conscious might have chosen), we headed to the supermarket in search of bargains and snapped up a fridge worth of tasty canapes, cocktail sausages, a whole ham, various cheeses, festive biscuits and chocolates. None of which were required but all of which have been consumed with dedication and appreciation. 

By New Year's Eve, I must confess that, greedy as we are, we had pretty much reached our limit. Rather than leaping with joy at the prospect of another gourmet meal, we groaned slightly and checked the supplies of Zantac. We had planned a spoiling meal for two, taking it in turns to cook the courses. No expense spared (within reason) due to the fact that 'staying in' saved the cost of a babysitter. At 5pm, neither of us looked particularly thrilled by the idea of yet more food but miraculously (and thankfully), one glass of Champagne in and we rallied! I call it the power of Perrier Jouët.

I was in charge of the starter and pudding with Mr Greedy taking responsibility for the main course and side dishes. I was quite pleased with my pretty starter which I made up as I went along - a stack of smoked salmon, avocado and cucumber with a layer of smoked salmon pâté, topped off with lumpfish caviar. They were rather large and I would scale them down next time (I need smaller rings) but I will definitely do them again - they can be prepared well in advance and are easy to do. If you have individual ring moulds (timbales), then so much the better. If not, you can make your own with old, clean yoghurt pots or similar.

An empty pot of cream makes a handy make-shift mould!

Roast duck was the main event, accompanied by a rather tasty red wine blackberry sauce from a Gary Rhodes recipe. Gratin dauphinoise, braised red cabbage and glazed carrots were welcome additions alongside. Pudding was chocolate fondants. Not particularly adventurous, you might think, but actually something I have never attempted to make. I have always assumed they would be tricky to get just right but this recipe from Gordon Ramsay is absolutely foolproof. The best part is that you can make them in advance and even cook the straight from frozen. I halved the recipe to make four fondants and have two in the freezer to whip out when we have an urge for a treat further down the line. I will definitely make these again for a dinner party for this reason - I had always assumed that they would have to be made last minute which always puts me off! As suggested, I served with a caramel sauce and good vanilla ice-cream. A dusting of chocolate honeycomb topped it off nicely and gave it a little New Year glitz.

Fondant au chocolat - before
Fondant au chocolat - after

All in all, our New Year dinner-à-deux was a great success and a good excuse to test-drive some new recipes for entertaining. It was also a great excuse to enjoy some fabulous wines - the starter was served with a lovely St Veran from Château de Beauregard but we felt a crisp Alsace riesling might have been a better match. A reserva Rioja from Muga was beautiful with the duck and The Wine Society's Tawny Port a reasonable match with the chocolate pudding. A touch of Trivial Pursuit kept us going until midnight and we toasted the 2014 amidst resolutions to focus on quality not quantity on all things food and drink related going forward!

Trivial Pursuit - A festive essential!

Here is the recipe for the salmon starter. Quantities are very approximate - it will depend on the size of your moulds. Also, feel free to layer it up however you choose - I liked to alternate green and pink and the crunch of the cucumber made a nice contrasting texture. A layer of prawns might be good if you are that way inclined. Perhaps a layer of quail's egg mayonnaise? 

Smoked salmon towers
Serves 4 (based on small 2.5 inch ring moulds, or individual yoghurt pots with the bottom cut out!)

*Note: I topped my towers with a layer of lumpfish 'caviar'. I found this too overpowering and next time would just use a small blog with the crème fraîche as a garnish. My husband thought it worked well though, so each to their own!

For the smoked salmon pâté:

100g hot smoked salmon, flaked
50g cream cheese
1 tsp horseradish sauce
1 tsp freshly chopped chives
good squeeze lemon juice (to taste)

1 large, ripe avocado pear
good squeeze lemon juice
100g cold smoked salmon
4 inch piece cucumber
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill, plus extra to garnish
Small jar lumpfish roe/caviar*
Crème fraîche to garnish

1. To make the pâté, place all ingredients in a food processor (I use a mini one). Add lemon juice and pepper to taste. Set to one side whilst you prepare the other layers.

2. Chop the avocado up into chunks and squeeze over lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and mash slightly.

3. Peel the cucumber, scoop out the majority of the seedy middle with a teaspoon and chop into tiny dice. Stir through the dill and set aside.

4. Chop the smoked salmon into small pieces - I used a pair of scissors for this.

5. Assemble your towers: take the plates upon which you plan to serve the starter and place the moulds/rings in the centre of each plate. Start with a layer of avocado mix - spoon evenly between the moulds and gently push to the edges of the ring so that you have an even-ish layer. Repeat this process with a layer of pâté, then cucumber and finally the smoked salmon. I then topped mine with a layer of caviar but please see note*.

6. Place plates in the fridge for at least half an hour but longer is fine too (you could make late morning for that evening). When ready to serve, carefully lift the moulds up and garnish the towers with a blob of crème fraîche and a sprig of dill. A little melba toast on the side might be a nice addition too!