Mrs. Jackson Cooks

Life through food

The cake and bake show: chocolate & banana tarte tatin

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Last weekend I went to the cake and bake show with a good friend of mine. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but had so much fun, and bought loads of edible goodies.

I also watched a demonstration by Eric Lanlard, Patissier living in London. He’d just brought out a new book all about chocolate and I was really impressed by how simple his recipes were despite looking like something much more complex. So I bought his new book and to my delight, he had tarte tatin in his book.

You know how much I love tarte tatin, plus I had old bananas that Mr J had brought home from work (I am the banana dustbin for his work it seems), so it seemed like the perfect inspiration.

The book isn’t available to buy yet, although it will be in a week or two. Called Chocolat by Eric Lanlard – pic below.

Here is my version of his tarte tatin from the book, and very yummy it was too. If you’re craving chocolate, need a hangover cure, need some comforting or even a fantastic dinner party dessert – this is the one for you. It’s not for diets though! But you can’t diet forever.

Chocolate & Banana Tarte Tatin

Serves 4-6

  • 100g light brown sugar (you can use other sugar, it’ll just taste a bit different – this is quite treacle-fudgy)
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 75g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (or use 1 tsp ground cinnamon but it’s less decorative)
  • 4-5 bananas, sliced on the diagonal
  • 350g ready made puff pastry (I used ready rolled too to make it even easier)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius
  2. Roll out and cut the pastry to about 1 inch larger than a heavy flat bottomed frying pan
  3. Put the sugar in the frying pan with about 4 tbsp of water and gently heat, stirring constantly, until you have a dark orangey colour. Remove from the heat and keep stirring until it stops changing colour.
  4. Add the butter and chocolate and stir until melted. Then drop in the cinnamon.
  5. Arrange the bananas in the caramel sauce in circular patterns (this will be the top of your dessert)
  6. Cover with the pastry so that the pastry hangs over the sides of the pan and then tuck in all the edges.
  7. Pierce the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape and place in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.
  8. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for a few minutes. Then place a plate on top of the pastry and invert the pudding onto it.
  9. Serve immediately with custard, whipped cream or icecream.
  10. Enjoy 🙂

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Simple summer salad: Courgette and chickpea salad

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I got a vege box from one of the farm delivery places – they were doing an offer – and they sent it with a load of recipes, some of which look quite good. This particular company is called Riverford and are local to Manchester, in case you’re interested. So I thought I’d give one of the recipes a go. This salad is so simple and very tasty and can be put together in about 15 minutes. It’s about 400 calories too, so it’s great for a low fat, low carb lunch to keep you going til dinner.

The salad is just lovely, summer on a plate, and even better if you can enjoy in the garden – which we did. But even if you can’t the simple zesty flavours just conjure up summer.

The original recipe uses beans – haricot or borlotti – but I didn’t have any so I used chickpeas instead. It worked very well with chickpeas and I’m sure is tasty either way.

Courgette and chickpea salad

Serves 2 (as a main)

  • 2 courgettes, peeled into ribbons
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g lettuce, cut into ribbons
  • zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
  • small handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 50ml olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a griddle pan, or head the grill and griddle the courgettes until softened and browned in spots
  2. Put the chickpeas, lettuce and tomatoes into a bowl together.
  3. Blitz the lemon juice & zest, oil, basil and garlic in a blender or mash it in a pestle and mortar into a dressing. Season to taste.
  4. Add the courgettes to the chickpeas and tomatoes and pour over the dressing. Toss to combine and serve immediately
  5. Enjoy the lovely summer flavours 🙂
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Something for the weekend: cherry sours gin fizz

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This is a bit random to be honest. But we were given some cherries in brandy for Christmas and I thought I’d make a cocktail out of them. And it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. It’s a sort of version of a martini or a margarita, except with gin. And cherries of course. But very tasty, not too sweet, and very morish.

I’ve no idea about the calories, but really, if you’re going to make cocktails, neither should you. The good thing about this is it doesn’t involve any extra sugar.

You will need some alcohol infused cherries – of your own making or bought. Doesn’t really matter. You could even use fresh and just add extra gin. And a cocktail shaker – or in my case – as thermos flask! A small one – not a large one that you’d keep hot water in! And some martini glasses – or again, in my case, champagne glasses! Or anything really. Smallish glass in any case.

Cherry sours gin fizz

Serves 3-4

  • 2 shots gin (Not sure how big my shot glass was – I’d go with 35 mls)
  • 1 shot cointreau
  • 1 shot lime juice
  • 10 cherries plus juice from the cherries (about 1 shot of juice)
  • ice (about 5 cubes)
  • tonic water to top up
  1. Put the gin, cointreau, lime juice, cherries and cherry juice in a cocktail shaker with some ice. Shake well.
  2. Strain into glasses (this is where the thermos flask really comes into its own!) and top up with chilled tonic water.
  3. Add a couple of cherries to each glass (or a fresh one on a stalk on the top) and serve!
  4. Enjoy the fruity morishness!
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Healthy, quick stew: creamy seafood stew

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I was looking for inspiration the other day, and came across this recipe As I had pretty much everything in the recipe in my cupboards, it seemed like an excellent place to start. The added bonus is its only 270 calories (plus your garlic bread) so it’s very healthy, light, tasty, warming and generally great for this time of year.

I have to say – this one did cause controversy between me and hubby. He wasn’t so keen. But then he’s not so keen on pre-cooked mixed seafood – he likes to know what he’s eating. For me, however, I thought it was pretty good. And something I’d definitely eat again. I thought it was filling but light, creamy, indulgent without being full of sugar and fats. So up to you. Personally I think it’s great. But if you’re not a seafood lover, then maybe it’s not for you. But I was thinking it would work equally well as a fish stew with some chunky white fish – maybe pollack or coley or cod and some prawns or squid rings.

I do like it with garlic bread (we had garlic pitta bread!) but you could also do some boiled new potatoes with it instead.

It’s also very quick – so word of warning – get your garlic bread in the oven first and then cook the rest of it. It doesn’t take as long as the original recipe suggests – perhaps because I cook on gas?

Creamy seafood stew

Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 100ml white wine
  • 150ml chicken or fish stock
  • 1/2 tbsp cornflour mixed with same amount of cold water
  • 200g mixed seafood (frozen or fresh, defrosted if necessary)
  • 2.5 tbsp low fat creme fraiche (or use double cream if you don’t have, but it will increase the calories)
  • small handful of chopped fresh dill
  • salt & pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan or saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot and fry until softened and translucent but not browned. Add a little bit of salt if it starts browning.
  2. Then add the garlic and fry for another minute.
  3. Add in the wine and increase the heat to high. Allow to bubble until very reduced. Then add the stock and cornflour mix.
  4. Reduce to a thick sauce consistency then add in the seafood mix, dill and crème fraiche, stirring well to combine.
  5. Cook for a few minutes until the seafood is heated through and the sauce is a thickish consistency.
  6. Serve immediately with garlic bread or new potatoes.
  7. Enjoy your healthy tasty virtuousness 🙂
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Healthy and tasty: Sea bass with crushed potatoes and sauce vierge

This is one of those – looks fancy, tastes delicious but is actually very quick, simple, and low in calories. So pretty much perfect for January. It would also be good for a dinner party main if you wanted something fancy but light and didnt want to cook ahead.

I had no idea what sauce vierge was – so I sort of combined two sauce vierge recipes as they were quite different, based on what I had in the cupboards. Turns out, I did well, as since then I found this explanation on wikipedia which basically says its a sauce with olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes and basil. I put all of them in mine. And I think once you have that base you can add a whole variety of other things.

To reduce calories and fat further I used low fat spread in the potatoes instead of butter, I used a little bit of oil with the fish instead of butter again and I added water to my sauce instead of extra oil to thin it out.

The original recipe is here and in searching for more about sauce vierge, I actually came across a very similar Jamie Oliver recipe. This one may actually be just about do-able in 30 minutes! Probably more realistically 40 though.

I also substituted different herbs for what I had. I used dill in the sauce and rosemary in the potatoes. It worked very well, but Im sure tarragon and chives are equally good. All those herbs and great flavours (lemons, fish) make for an extremely tasty dish that doesnt feel at all like youre on a diet but is great for both detoxes and losing weight.

If you want to know – theres 402 calories per serving in my recipe – and thats a complete meal. Which is great for dinner. The calorie counter grades it an A in terms of nutrition (the only thing higher is A+) and is high in selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. So its packed with antioxidants, seratonin boosters and things to help ward off infections. What could be better?! And you definitely feel pleasantly full after, so no temptation to snack (put that quality street box out of eyesight!).

Sea bass with crushed potatoes and sauce vierge

Serves 2

  • 6-8 new, baby or other small potatoes (although if you have big ones, it doesnt matter, just cut them up smaller), halved or quartered if larger
  • 1 bunch of asparagus – woody ends snapped off
  • 1/2 tbsp low fat spread
  • 1 tbsp rosemary leaves, choppped
  • 5 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 5-6 cherry tomatoes or 2-3 larger tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • handful of chopped fresh dill
  • handful of chopped fresh basil
  • salt pepper
  • 2 sea bass fillets, skin on, pin boned.
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  2. Boil the potatoes (skin on) until cooked – about 15-20 minutes.
  3. When the potatoes are nearly done, drop the asparagus into the water as well, to blanche. Remove when cooked and refresh under cold water.
  4. Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp of the olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes and shallots in a pan and set over a low heat, stirring occasionally until you have a nice thickish sauce. This will take about 15 minutes.
  5. When the sauce is reduced, add some water if its too thick and add the herbs and seasoning into the sauce. Stir well, adding more water as necessary until you have a dropping consistency sauce.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a pan, on medium. Dry the sea bass with kitchen towel and season. Place skin down in the pan. Fry for 3-4 of minutes skin side down until nice and crispy, then put in the oven for a further 3-4 minutes. When its done, turn off the oven and turn the sea bass over so its skin side up. Leave in the oven until ready to serve.
  7. Drain the potatoes and lightly crush them with a fork and the margarine. Add some seasoning and the rosemary, crush a little more until you have what looks like very bad mashed potato.
  8. Place the potatoes in the centre of the plate making them flat-ish. Place the fish on top and the asparagus to the side. Drizzle over the sauce. And serve, perhaps with a lovely glass of crisp white wine – as you’ve been very good with your calories!
  9. Enjoy all the wonderful flavours 🙂
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January detox: lentil, roasted vege and feta salad

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Happy New Year! I’m starting as I mean to go on. It may not last but if I don’t try, I won’t know. January is detox month for me (with the exception of the last weekend when I usually abandon it!). After Christmas and new years excesses, a detox is definitely needed. I don’t follow any strict regime, I just basically cut out alcohol, reduce my calories and stay away from high sugar and salt things (e.g. crisps and cake) and fat things, except for good fats. And stop spending so much. Which is ok if I’m not going out and not buying clothes to go out in! And reacquaint myself with the gym – I’ve not been in 3 weeks! Eek! I went for a run yesterday though and that wasn’t too bad.

Lentils, as I’m sure you’ve seen me go on about before, are wonderful things – full of protein and energy, low in GI and sugars and things that make you sleepy. Also low in calories. And feta is a very low fat, low calorie cheese too. And what’s not to love about roasted vege? And just to be sure, there’s some chilli and garlic thrown in to speed up your metabolism, eliminate free radicals and stave off colds. Really, you can’t go wrong with this. And it’s vege friendly. Leave out the feta and its even vegan friendly. It’s easy to make and if you do like I did, and make the night before, it’s perfect for lunch at work.

I got the recipe from here, and it’s utterly delicious

Lentil, roasted vege and feta salad

Serves 4

1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small cubes

2 peppers, cut into thin strips

1 red onion, finely sliced

9 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chilli flakes

salt & pepper

250g green or puy lentils

2 garlic cloves, peeled, one whole, one mashed

1 bay leaf

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

handful of basil leaves

200g feta cheese

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Put all the vege in a roasting pan and drizzle with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and the chilli flakes.
  2. Roast in the middle of the oven for about 25-30 minutes, stiring half way through, until all the vege is cooked and slightly charred.
  3. Meanwhile put the lentils with the whole peeled garlic clove, 1 tbsp olive oil, bay leaf and enough cold water to cover the lentils plus 2 cm into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer slowly, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked but still hold their shape. Add salt about half way through and you may need to add more water if the lentils look too dry.
  4. To make the dressing, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, the remaining 7 tbsp of olive oil, salt, pepper and mashed garlic clove (I just used one of those garlic pressing machines).
  5. When the lentils are done, drain them and rinse under cold water to cool them down. Place in a large bowl. Add the roasted vege when it’s ready. Allow to cool before adding the dressing, torn basil leaves and feta, crumbled. Stir well and serve!
  6. Enjoy the yummy goodness!
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Food favourite: Moules Frites (or mussels & chips)

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I absolutely adore Moules Frites, and given an opportunity, I’ll order it at pretty much any restaurant I go to. Probably the best place I’ve had them was in France (big surprise there!) on the Ile de Re. I think the mussels had been caught earlier that day, as they were unbelievably fresh.

I’ve never actually cooked mussels from fresh (or alive!) before. But the fishmonger was selling them at £3 a kilo – which is just pennies really. I’m always impressed with the quality at the fishmonger (well it is in Chorlton and does have a tendency to win awards, as does the butchers, the deli and the co-op grocers, I am pretty much in foodie heaven where I live!) so I thought I’d give them a go. They didn’t dissapoint – most were still alive (and reminded me by the odd squeaking and creaking they’d make when I was preparing them! Don’t let this put you off, its more disconcerting than worrying), pretty much cleaned and almost none cracked. There were fewer to be removed than in most restaurant servings. They’d come from Cornwall, by the way. And I’d left them in my fridge for a day (in the bottom wrapped in newspaper , removed from plastic bags, as recommended by the fishmonger).

I cooked them in a very simple white wine and cream sauce and they were utterly delicious, exceedingly fresh and I don’t think I found any that hadn’t opened on cooking. They also take about 5 minutes to cook (and about 15-20 mins to prep – so be warned) so it’s a very simple, very delicious, very cheap and very healthy diner.

As for the frites, well, I’ve never cooked proper french fries before. I do baked wedges on a regular basis, but fries are something different. And you can’t have moules frites with wedges! So, I did a bit of googling and found this blog on how to make the perfect fries

I followed it pretty much to the letter (as I didn’t know what I was doing), and they were delicious – and just as they said – crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Wonderful. I did a large baking potato per person and this was just the right amount.

The mussels recipe was actually adapted from the one in the Twelve Days of Christmas cookbook by the Hairy Bikers. I didn’t bother with the brandy – and just kept it simple with white wine and single cream.

One word of warning – I used my largest saucepan and only just fit in the kilo of mussels, and struggled in mixing them properly. It can be done, but you may want to mix as much as you can, then fish out the mussels into a serving bowl and add the parsley and cream to the juices at the bottom before pouring the sauce over the mussels.

You can, of course, serve with baguettes instead of fries to soak up the juices. 1 kilo is good for 2 people for a main course. If doing as a starter – I’d suggest 4 people per kilo. I worked out, it cost about £5.50 in total for the both of us. Very bargainous! Maybe bump it up to £6 if you have to buy the herbs – mine are in my garden.

Moules Frites

Serves 2

  • 1 kg fresh mussels in their shells
  • 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into thin sticks (see blog link for sizes) a la mcdonalds
  • Approx 300ml oil (I used a mix of olive and rapeseed – but anything really – nothing too strong like sesame or flavoured oils).
  • 25g butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • handful of fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 30ml white wine
  • pepper
  • 30ml single (or double if you prefer) cream
  1. First clean the mussels by rinsing under cold water to remove seaweed, mud and anything else. If it’s stubborn use a blunt knife or scrubbing brush. Discard any that are broken or cracked. Any that are open – if they don’t close with a sharp tap, discard them too. Remove the ‘beards’ or bits of stringy stuff hanging off them – just pull it out, you’ll need to be forceful. Or if it really won’t come out, snip off as close to the shell as possible, with scissors.
  2. Next, put the oil in a flat broad based frying pan (see the blog link for a photo of one). You want about 1/2inch to 1inch of oil in the pan. I started with 1/2 inch. Do not turn on the heat. Put the potatoes in the cold oil and turn the heat up the medium-high (my hob is gas and has, low, medium and high settings – I put it between the medium and highest setting on the dial). Leave them and get on with cooking the mussels – it will take a good 10 minutes for them to cook. But hold your nerve, they’re worth it.
  3. Heat the butter in a large saucepan (the largest you have), on a medium heat. When it’s bubbling, add the shallots and garlic and fry until softened but not browned. Then add the wine, thyme, bay leaf, half the parsley, and a good amount of pepper (the mussels are salty enough, you don’t need salt). Bring to the boil for a minute or two.
  4. Then add in the mussels and cover with a lid. Steam for about two minutes. Then take a very large spatula or slotted spoon and carefully stir the mussels, bringing the bottom ones to the top and vice versa. Replace the lid and steam for a further 3 minutes or until the mussels are fully open.
  5. Remove the mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.
  6. Add the cream and remaining parsley to the juices and stir well, continue to heat if it needs thickening a bit but don’t boil if it’s single cream.
  7. By this time your chips should be looking golden and crispy on the outside. Remove them from the oil onto some kitchen towel to drain.
  8. Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve it all immediately with a glass of crisp white wine.
  9. Enjoy 🙂

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