Pizzas of the world, 5 minute meal & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend started with a lazy morning on Saturday, followed by a trip to the local park in the afternoon. BabyChef was in her element, even though it took 40 minutes to walk home because we let her loose to walk with us. We stopped at every single tree on our road to enthusiastically say 'hello" and "night night". The plan for food on Saturday had been for me to make pizzas, however, by the time I remembered that I hadn't made the dough, it was too late. As we were needing wine (dessert), I decided to buy some supermarket frozen pizzas at the same time. Making homemade pizzas is so easy, so this is perhaps the only thing that I'm a food snob about - I hate buying them! I decided to try them out and how could I not, given the writing on the box?? - "Take your taste buds on a voyage of discovery... ...with our exciting pizzas of the world. From the medina of Morocco to the floating markets of Kashmir, our pizza chefs have gathered fabulous taste combinations to create a feast of flavours. The result? A world of inspired toppings the whole family will adore. Pizzas of the World. It's pizza - but like you've never tasted before." Hmmmm... One of the pizzas we had actually had nacho crisps on the top… Still, when washed down with a couple of cheap bottles of wine, they weren't AS bad as I was expecting, although they were more evocative of 'Gloucester indoor market', than 'the floating markets of Kashmir".

On Sunday, we did some dutiful tidying before cooking a shepherds pie for my in-laws. My poor mother-in-law has broken her wrist so we thought that a nice shepherds pie would go down a treat. Mrs AC and BabyChef delivered the pie on Sunday afternoon, leaving me to cook a roast chicken Sunday dinner. We're trying to eat with BabyChef as much as possible, allowing her to sit at the 'big girls table' - a table which does include me, a 36 year old man… The roast chicken was nice, but as BabyChef was eating with us, I had to omit salt from my cooking. I seasoned my plate at the table, but as someone who cooks and takes pride in the small details, I was disappointed at the lack of flavour in the chicken. Do any of you more experienced parents have any tips as to what I can do, and whether a 20 month baby can have added salt? I would love to hear any suggestions!

This week's cooking definitely hasn't followed a theme. On Monday, we had beef chilli from the freezer with sour cream in wraps. On Tuesday, I made what is fast becoming my 'go-to' meal when time is of the essence - Fresh pasta, pesto, mince and red pepper (catchy name). It is literally ready to serve in the 4 minutes it takes to cook the fresh pasta. Here's the recipe, for which there is no need for a cook-along video as it is SO simple: Pop 250g of fresh pasta into salted boiling water and cook for about 4 minutes. Add 250g of beef mince to a very hot frying pan. Break the mince up in the pan to get it nice and browned and, whilst this is browning, roughly chop a red or yellow pepper into little chunks. When the mince is ready, add the peppers and cook for about a minute. Add in a few tablespoons of red pesto (preferably homemade) and by this time the pasta should be ready. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water (draining it over a mug is the easiest way). Add the pasta to the pan of mince, and then loosen with a little cooking water. No more than 5 minutes from start to finish and it tastes really good!

On Wednesday, I perfected my Pumpkin Risotto and we filmed the recipe video for it last night, ready for my newsletter. As it's such an easy one, I even had time to make a nice Chocolate Ganache tart! Risotto is Mrs AC's favourite dish and the Chocolate Tart also went down a treat, so I was well and truly in the good books! 

In other news, BabyChef wants to be a dog when she grows up - a fact that I found out when a nice young sales assistant in the supermarket asked her. I thought she'd be too young to even understand what he was asking, but when you think about it, she did give quite a good answer. As a dog, you would get petted, fed and generally looked after. I'm not sure that this would be much different than what we already do for her, unless she was hinting that the meals I cook for her taste like dog food…

This weekend we're going on holiday. Well I say holiday, when I actually mean staying at my mum's house for the weekend as she's away. A sad indictment of our little world! But we're looking forward to the change of scenery and it will be lovely not to have the usual thoughts of household chores. On Sunday, Mrs AC is taking to the skies for a flying lesson which should be fun, with BabyChef and I watching from the ground!

5 things I've learnt this week

Pizza with nachos on top is so wrong and yet so right
A meal that takes 5 minutes to cook and can be eaten with one piece of cutlery makes me happy
My little puppy wants to grow up to become a dog
Holidaying at my mum's WILL be fun, no matter what you say!
If Mrs AC's driving is an indication, the skies had better be clear on Sunday…

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 13:40 on 26 October 2012


Daily Mail, Chillaxercise and 5 things I've learnt

It's been a few weeks since my last post. I've had one of those times that most people go through, when things are quiet. Not unenjoyable, but just not 'broadcast to the web' enjoyable. There have, however, been a few highlights over the last couple of weeks that I would like to share.

The main highlight for me has been getting mentioned in the Daily Mail Weekend Magazine! It makes me so proud of the hard work that has gone into my site, and the response from Daily Mail readers has been amazing. Thank you Daily Mail! As a result, if anyone knows of a ghost writer, I think I'm ready for a big autobiography book deal. Ahem. At least in my head I am...

My cooking is one thing that never stops and to see my kitchen over the last few weeks, you would think that Christmas was already here. I've been in mass experimenting mode so I can put new fun recipes on my site in time for Christmas, despite supermarkets making me feel that in October I'm already too late. The recipes aren't filmed yet though, as I think poor Mrs AC needs a break from eating any more Christmas food in October!

All is well with BabyChef and Mrs AC. We're currently trying to teach BabyChef colours, as she only knows one and has only ever said one - red. Everything is red according to her. The following is an example of why I will never fully understand the women in my household. Looking at the nice brown sheet on our bed - Me: "what colour is the sheet?", BabyChef: "red". Me: "no, the sheet is brown. Can you say brown?" BabyChef: "Brown". Me (thinking that we were making progress): "What colour is the sheet?", BabyChef: "Purple". I rest my case.

I've been feeling a bit old recently, a bit like a Ford Capri owner - they still think they're stylish but the reality is that they are a little bit dated. Perhaps this makes me 'retro' though…? I've also been trying to get back into doing some sort of exercise, something that's proving more difficult with each passing sloth-like week. I thought that maybe taking an exercise class might help inspire me, but the list of classes simply added to my feeling of old age. Years ago, the classes would be aerobics for the women and circuits for the men. Nowadays, there's everything from Zumbo to Chillaxercise to confuse my chubby little mind.

5 things I've learnt this week

I love the Daily Mail
Eating quirky mince pies in October is acceptable if you run a recipe website. Drinking sherry in the morning is not.
BabyChef, like her mother, will always baffle me.
At 37, I feel like the human equivalent of a Ford Capri.
Chillaxercise actually sounds like something I could get into... If I knew what it meant.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 10:00 on 20 October 2012


Gardeners' World, You are what you eat & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was mainly spent gardening. Exciting eh?! We're very lucky in that we have a really nice big garden that's not overlooked, however it has suffered from a little bit of neglect. So on Saturday, I took to the triffids, armed with more bin bags than Dexter and got rid of the lot! The problem was -the more I did, the more that it highlighted the areas that hadn't been done. But by late afternoon, I'd nearly finished and looked like a cross between Bear Grylls and Worzel Gummage. Mrs AC was out with the girls on Saturday night, which left me to my tired limbs and the comfort of an amazing club sandwich. Grilled pork chops, sliced finely, with thick white toast, cheese slices, tomato, mayo, mustard and ketchup. It was delicious and the perfect end to a hard days work.

On Sunday, all I had left to do was cut the grass and take the bags to the tip. Then it was barbecue time. This had been the light at the end of the tunnel on Saturday, when I was getting very grumpy about being scratched by thorns and bitten by horseflies. We had my marinated barbecue chicken, chinese pork ribs, burgers and sausages. Very tasty. Baby Chef trying to eat a chinese pork rib is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. She was attacking it with the vigour of a velociraptor and getting in more mess than seemingly possible. I think most of the chinese marinade ended up in her hair, which by the end, was standing straight up, such was the state of her. After a tiring couple of days gardening and a huge barbecue, I impressed Mrs AC (not) by falling asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm. Rock and roll!

This week's cooking has mainly been pasta-based, so much so that I feel a stone heavier than last week. I've cooked a nice tagliatelle with sausages, tomatoes and cayenne pepper, as well as lasagne and spaghetti carbonara! The lasagne was great as I had a portion of my bolognese recipe in the freezer, meaning all I had to do was make quick cheese and béchamel sauces and pop the lot in the oven. Now that the weather is changing, I'll be doing more batch cooking, and bolognese portions are great to have in the freezer. The carbonara was perhaps a little indulgent the night after a lasagne, but I was using up mushrooms, bacon & cream that I had in the fridge. At least, that's my excuse! I've also filmed this week's newsletter recipe, my Super Chicken Supreme - a real retro classic, but delicious nevertheless. On top of all of that heavy food, I've been experimenting with next week's newsletter recipe for my Jam Roly Poly. It's an appropriate name though, as I'll be looking like a Roly Poly if I keep practising it. I'm not too sure how many times I can get away with saying "It's not quite right, I better make it again…"

Thursday was a more sombre day, as it would have been my dad's 70th birthday and I felt like there was a little cloud over me for most of the day. My mood was brightened by picking up Baby Chef from my mum's and seeing her munching on some Maltesers, as these were my dad's favourite. Judging by the noises coming out of her, and the big chocolatey smile on her face, I think she may have inherited a love of Maltesers from her Granddad. It was a lovely scene and coupled with the messy hug she gave me, really helped to cheer me up.

The plan today is to go shopping in Bristol. Let me rephrase that. Today, Mrs AC and Baby Chef will be going shopping and I will be chief pram pusher. But I'll be a happy pram pusher, as I'll be spending time with my lovely little family.

5 things I've learnt this week

I want to join the Club Sandwiches club. I would enjoy it there.
Gardening is like exercise. The more effort you put in, the better the results.
Gardening is like exercise, in that eating is more fun than gardening or exercise.
With the help of family, a day that begins sadly can end very happily.
I am slowly morphing into a Jam Roly Poly.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 08:30 on 15 September 2012


Marathon Hangover, Clock Mistake & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend kicked off in style as Mrs AC and were invited to dinner at our friends Rachel & Martin's house. We had a really fun evening and were served some great food - home made canapés of smoked salmon, caviar and creme fraiche blinis, and smoked mussels with taramasalata. This was followed by a main course of pork tenderloin in breadcrumbs with an apricot sauce. For dessert, we had a mango & lemongrass pannacotta which was incredible! I'm quite boring when it comes to desserts… If I see chocolate on a menu, then the rest pales into the background. This pannacotta, however, was so good - fresh tasting, light and sweet, everything that you want from a dessert, without the heaviness that sometimes accompanies a big chocolate pud. Our friends were the perfect hosts too - never letting a glass get empty!! It means that I can say (with only a little bending of the truth) that I only had 1 glass of wine all evening…

Saturday, not surprisingly, started slowly. We had decided that if the weather was nice, we would go to the zoo. This would mean military efficiency from first thing in the morning to ensure that we got there before closing time. I think that, secretly, both Mrs AC and I were hoping that it would be raining, but with Baby Chef running round the house shouting "Zooooooooo", it would have been a little mean of us not to go because of hangovers. It took us 2 hours 15 minutes to leave the house. Probably because of the hangovers. Yes I timed it. And no it didn't make it 'fun'. Despite the fact that marathons have been run in less time, we were actually pleased and had a lovely time. There are some lovely lovely animals at Bristol Zoo and Baby Chef was squealing with delight. On Saturday evening, a very tired Mrs AC and I ate pizzas, watched x-factor, and had no wine…! Sunday was a day alone with Baby Chef as Mrs AC had work to do. We had a lovely day together and it was so nice to have some time just the two of us. At 18 months, Baby Chef is already a Daddy's girl! On Sunday evening, I made Macaroni Cheese - rich, heavy and the perfect way to end the weekend.

This week's cooking has been fun, throwing together meals with little planning and cooking some more retro recipes for my upcoming newsletters. We've had: Fresh pasta with mince and pesto sauce. This was nice as the mince gave it more substance - usually we'd just have it with the pesto or some sausage or chicken, but it was delicious with mince! I'd found some pesto in the freezer that I'd made ages ago, so it was a good excuse to use it up. On Tuesday evening, I made my latest retro dish for next week's newsletter - my Chicken Supreme. This was interesting as my brief from Mrs AC (who remembers more of the 80's than me…) was to have chicken chunks, cooked in a gloopy white sauce, normally with mushrooms and maybe white wine. So that's exactly what I did (except for the gloopy sauce!). It tasted fantastic… I seared some chicken and added some mushrooms, then cooked it in white wine and stock, using a little flour to thicken. At the end, I added parsley and cream and served it with mash and carrots. I look at food from the 70's and 80's and have a bit of a laugh, but I guess there's a reason why some dishes were so popular! Look out for next week's newsletter for the recipe. I've also filmed my Toffee Apple Sponge which is going out on Sunday's newsletter, and made a homemade pesto and pasta with mushrooms, using up the pasta and mushrooms from earlier in the week. All in all, a successful week's cooking!

Aside from cooking, we've had a poorly little Baby Chef this week. I say poorly, as she has a virus with spots on her hands, feet & mouth, but what a little trooper toddler she is. You would never really know that she was ill, if it wasn't for the spots. Mrs AC took the day off on Tuesday to take her to the doctors and I had her on Wednesday, during which time we had a VERY funny toddler talking moment. I was in a supermarket that required a coin for the trolley and obviously I didn't have a coin on me. I could't put Baby Chef down to walk for fear of her legging it for freedom, so I had to carry her. At the self checkout, to stop her whining to get down, I said to her "Tell me what you can see". She started pointing and mumbling cute incoherent toddler things. I then tried to help her by pointing at things that she might say. I pointed to a staff door and said "ooh there's a door", to which she said "door". All very good. I then noticed a clock and pointed to it saying "can you see the clock?". She certainly noticed it as she started saying "clock" very loudly throughout the time that I was paying and all the way out of the store until we got back to the car. The only problem was that she's not very good at pronouncing the letter 'L'…

This weekend, Mrs AC is out with the girls leaving me to fend for myself on Saturday night, and I think the zoo will get a miss this weekend in favour of "a walk through town". Who knows, we might even let Baby Chef off the leash in town and see what happens...

5 things I've learnt this week

There is a serious contender to chocolate on the dessert menu
I don't think there is a limit to the amount of taramasalata that I would eat if left unsupervised
Preparing to leave the house with a toddler makes me feel like I've run a marathon
Chicken supreme followed by 'Dallas' - is this really 2012?
Don't teach a toddler to say "Clock" and "Bank"

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:45 on 07 September 2012


Baby T-Rex, Retro Recipes & 5 things I've learnt

With seemingly constant thunder and lightning throughout Saturday, the day was literally a wash-out. The one thing I did manage to achieve was to sort out our stair-gate (not a scandal involving stairs…). This was a big deal to us, as it was the final piece of baby proofing our house. It meant that Mrs AC and I could relax downstairs, with Baby Chef free to roam (like a rampaging dinosaur) wherever she chose. On Saturday evening I made fajitas. They're so nice and so quick and easy to do. Perfect for a Saturday night with trashy (X-factor) tv on in the background. By 'perfect', I mean perfect when you can't go out and do something actually interesting because you have a small human asleep upstairs.

On Sunday, the clouds parted and the sun duly shone as the weather report had predicted (correctly for once). There was only one thing on my mind - barbecue. Mrs AC had work to do in the morning and afternoon, thus delaying proceedings to an evening barbecue. My mum & Mike came around late in the day, brought the meat with them and helped entertain a Baby Chef, whose sole purpose in the garden seemed to be finding the area most likely to cause her injury. We had beautiful chinese pork ribs, minted lamb steaks & thai chicken thighs… unsurprisingly, Mrs AC decided to join us to eat. She won't mind me saying that she likes her food! The barbecue was so good. One thing did dawn on me though - At what age do parents become really good company? Could it have something to do with the magic of wine - producing amusing conversation, that as a child you didn't understand?!

This week's cooking has been a lot of fun. As I mentioned in last week's blog, the theme for my September newsletters is 'Retro Recipes'. As themes go, this is certainly a lot more fun to practice than a month of generic pork or chicken recipes. I've cooked and filmed my Giant Sausage Vol-au-Vents, which is a really fun meal. It's basically a big upside down puff pastry pie, but the fact that it looks like a vol-au-vent and is filled with a delicious sausage filling makes it much more interesting. I've also been experimenting with my Toffee Apple Sponge. I made it for the third time last night and finally got it right. You see the practice that goes into one of my recipes??! I do the testing so that when you come to cook the recipe, it is just right! The idea is to make a toffee caramel sauce into which you toss some apples. This gets added to the bottom of a pyrex dish, which is then topped with sponge mix. The first time I made it with bramley apples. I cooked the apples for a few minutes with some sugar, but they were still way too sharp. I also forgot to put any sugar in the cake mix, so the end result was a dessert that should have been super sweet, but tasted awful. The next time was better (I even remembered the sugar), but not quite up to my standards. Take three - I got it perfect. Apples that still retained a bite, lovely toffee sauce, topped with a beautifully light sponge. I'll let you know when the recipe is out!

I've also been looking at other retro dishes and am trying (but as of yet, failing) to come up with a modern, nice tasting version of gammon and pineapple. The main idea that I'm currently scheming over though is Banana Split, with the banana being encased in pastry like a sausage roll. See the mind of a passionate home cook?!

Aside from cooking, Mrs AC and Baby Chef are well. Baby Chef's words are growing by the day, with 'muck' (milk), 'hoss' (horse) and 'luuurrrrvv' (love) being her current favourites. She's putting two words together now too which is cute. Talking of Baby Chef - whilst feeding her the other day, I had cause to say a phrase to her that I never thought I would say in my life - "No sweetheart, don't use the fork on a human". She was trying to stab my arm, presumably with the aim of eating it. This has shaken my belief system a little - should I be worried about other phrases that I previously couldn't see myself ever saying, such as "Ooh I could get the matching clutch bag", and "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard"? Hope not...

This weekend, the plan is to either go to Clark's Outlet Village and buy some unneeded rubbish solely because it was 50% off, or visit 'our' Zoo as we're now calling it (as new members of Bristol Zoo). Oh, and Mrs AC now has started a Twitter account so please follow her @MrsAmateurChef. She's the funny one in our marriage…

5 things I've learnt this week

A baby proofed house manages to contain a BabyChef in the same way that Jurassic Park 'contained' the T-Rex
I'm sad that Sunday may have been the last barbecue of the year
Giant vol-au-vents and Toffee Apple Sponge make for a fun, if not entirely light, week's cooking
Unless inspiration intervenes, gammon and pineapple might have to stay in the 80's
We should perhaps feed Baby Chef more, to ward off her attempts to eat me

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:00 on 31 August 2012


8 Sausages, 4 Burgers, 6 Chicken Wings & 5 things I've learnt

This week, I've been mainly barbecue-ing, containing an escaping toddler and making fun retro food.

On Saturday morning, we went to the park with Baby Chef. As she's now properly walking, this turned out to be a lot less relaxing than usual. Anyone watching would think that we don't care for Baby Chef, as every time we put her down she'd be off, arms flailing about her head. The only thing missing from her mad dash as far away from us as possible, was the scream of "Escape!". On Saturday night, the weather was nice so I fired up the barbecue. We had a great time eating far too much (and drinking far too much!), whilst sitting at the bottom of the garden surrounded by candlelight. The candles were on top of the table, exuding fragrant citronella oil to ward off mosquitos. Sadly, the mosquitos were not stupid. All they did was fly under the table and feast on my legs.

Sunday was a boring cleaning day, whilst trying to calm my spotty and infuriatingly itchy legs. You know the sort of day that we all hate where the cleaning goes on and on, after which, we always say "We're not going to let the house get in this mess again". That is, until the next time we have a spring cleaning day. I'm not talking documentary level dirty. It's just that it has been a very busy few weeks and every room needed a bit of attention. We stopped the fun (!) to have Sunday lunch with Baby Chef - Roast pork with various veg and cheese sauce. She turned her nose up at the pork and, surprisingly, the cheese sauce, so her meal consisted of 5 huge roast potatoes and 10 bits of carrot. At one point, whilst trying to feed her some (did I mention 'lovingly cooked'?) pork, I swear she said 'Atkins'. Isn't she a little young to be on a diet??!

Sunday afternoon was more of the same dull cleaning, including doing what any sane person with loft space does - shoving some stuff in the loft 'to be sorted out soon'. As a treat for all our hard work and gleaming skirting boards, we had another barbecue. This was also due to the enormous amount of food that Mrs AC had bought for Saturday night. I even managed to finish the coleslaw - something that I always find in the fridge a month after a barbecue.

The beginning of the week started fantastically as we had friends to stay for the night on Monday. This meant barbecue No3 in 3 days and a few drinks. It certainly made a boring 'school' night more fun! On Tuesday night however, the run ended. I know I may seem a failure to some of you, but I couldn't manage yet another barbecue. That, and it was raining. So, I made the next best thing - pork club sandwiches with a large large salad that our bodies were desperately craving. On Wednesday night, we filmed this week's newsletter recipe which is my Lemony Pork Parcels - lovely pork chops that are cooked in a large sealed foil bag, along with rice, coriander and lemon. The whole thing looked great, smelled great and tasted great. My newsletter with this really easy dish will be going out on Sunday, so if you like the sound of it, please sign up!

Yesterday, I decided upon next month's newsletter theme - 'Retro Recipes'. I did some of these last year - Battenburg Baked Alaska, Chunky Chicken Kiev, Prawn Cocktail and Crab & Avocado Salad. They went down really well, so I've come up with some more for September, including giant vol-au-vents (which I cooked last night), along with fun food such as the amusingly named Knickerbocker Glory and Apple Sponge. I think this sort of fun cooking goes down well in Autumn when the weather becomes (even more) rubbish.

This weekend, weather permitting, we may visit Bristol Zoo again, now that we are officially members. It was great value - we had already been once and they refunded our initial entry fee because we joined for the year. So it looks likely to be the Zoo followed by X-Factor. Living the dream…

5 things I've learnt this week

I seem to be the local catnip for mosquitos
3 barbecues is my limit in a week
You know you're getting old, when 'retro' refers to things you can easily remember the first time around
I still giggle when I say 'Knickerbocker Glory'
Watching animals at the Zoo and the contestants on X-Factor = same thing

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 10:45 on 24 August 2012


Bad Songs, Bad Dinner Guests & 5 Things I've Learnt

I've had a great busy week - I'm still busy selling cook-along recipes to food manufacturers and am very pleased with how it's going. This has dominated my week, along with lots of cooking as usual!

Last weekend, we went to my in-laws for a huge, delicious brunch - croissants, brioche, sausages and bacon were offered and dutifully consumed. We even found out that Baby Chef likes brown sauce on croissants. Don't knock it, such experimentation is how a lot of famous recipes were invented. Saturday evening was my birthday night out with Mrs AC, while Baby Chef went to stay with my mum. The length of time it takes us to get all Baby Chef's overnight belongings packed up and out the door would horrify a child-free person! It was lovely weather, so we decided to walk to a nearby pub with a big garden, to join the normal adult race and enjoy some al fresco drinking. That was the plan. The problem was the live band. Looking like The Wurzels, they could sing well, and the rest of the garden seemed to enjoy their banjos, but their choice of songs was… interesting. When they announced they were going to perform a 'more modern song', they sang 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion'. That was enough for us to drink up and move on! Annoyingly, I've been singing that song all week. Anyway, more pubs were visited and more drinks were consumed. We even walked 30 minutes home, just because we could, as there was no babysitter waiting.

On Sunday, I slept until 9.30am. This may seem normal for many of you, however this is BY FAR, the latest I've slept for about 18 months. After picking Baby Chef up, it was more cooking for me, and generally nursing hangovers whilst trying to entertain a spritely Baby Chef. Ouch. Still, it was all worth it. It was certainly a nice long weekend, finished off with what is fast becoming a tradition on Sunday night in our house... Macaroni Cheese.

This week has been taken up with working and testing recipes. On Monday, I cooked this week's newsletter dish which is my Spicy Pecorino Pasta. I'm really enjoying this month's theme of 'Only 4 Ingredients', as it requires a little more thought than some other themes. This recipe is wonderful as the flavour of the chorizo coats each and every piece of penne. The spicy chorizo is offset by the sweetness of red peppers and gorgeously creamy melting pecorino cheese. I've also cooked a recipe for pork chops baked in foil, for next week's newsletter. By baking the chops in a foil bag, along with microwave rice, lemon & coriander, all the flavours are trapped for the entire cooking process, giving fantastic results with just 4 ingredients!

On Wednesday, I was due to film the pecorino pasta recipe however we discovered that one of the huge lights we use for filming was broken. Lighting is a major consideration when filming inside. If you shine a light on one side, then you need to shine another light behind it to get rid of the shadow. Rather than creating a new cookery concept called 'Cooking in the dark', we postponed the filming and I rustled up a quick pesto pasta instead. I admit it was inspired by watching Celebrity Masterchef the night before. Last night, with our kitchen lit up once again like Wembley Stadium, we managed to film the pecorino dish. It was even better than the first time, and didn't last long after the photo was taken!

This week, on Twitter, I've been discussing worst dinner party guests. Not real people, like Dave from work and his wife Marjorie who argue the whole way through the meal, but famous people. My worst dinner party guests were the chimps from the PG Tips advert because of the mess, and the cast of Geordie Shore… for the same reason. Who would be on your dinner party nightmare list? Lots of people are tweeting about it at the moment so join in - Serial killers and dead dictators don't count, although cartoon characters do!

Other than being blog day, I'm selling my wares and hope to also get my newsletter finished today, ready for sending out on Sunday. This would mean a rare weekend off, other than changing nappies, wiping noses, saying 'No, teddy doesn't fit in your toy cooker' etc…

5 thing's I've learnt this week

Croissants and brown sauce might be the next big thing…
'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' is one of the worst songs ever…'They seek him here, they seek him there…'
Simplicity can produce fantastic results in the kitchen
'Cooking in the dark' might not catch on
Despite many arguments to the contrary, chimps would not make good dinner guests

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:30 on 17 August 2012


Beating Bolt, Wee Present & 5 Things I've learnt

Following the relaunch of my site last week and the efforts to get everything finished, I was looking forward to a nice stress-free weekend. The problem was the weather… Rain and going out with BabyChef just don't mix. A day of play in the house is fun, but the state of our home afterwards makes us look like we live in a permanent state of squalor. When we're struggling to think of things to do on a rainy day, we often ask "what did we do at weekends before BabyChef?". Unfortunately, the answer usually either involved alcohol or sleep, or both. So inevitably, on Saturday morning we went for 'a walk through town' with the shops providing respite from the rain.

On Saturday night, I cooked fajitas. This is one of my favourite Saturday meals as it's really sociable (even when it's just Mrs AC and I). My tip for perfect fajitas is to use a chopped red onion and sliced red pepper. Toss them in a little oil and add to a smoking hot pan. By tossing them in the oil first, rather than adding oil to the pan, the veg is charred, rather than fried, and the taste is incredible. It was lovely, munching away on fajitas, with lots of wine and the athletics on in the background. I even managed to convince Mrs AC that I once beat Usain Bolt in a race, as a child at Butlins. The less said, the better.

Sunday was to a lovely day as Baby Chef, Mrs AC and I had planned a nice lunch together. I cooked 'My mum's turkey curry', but substituted turkey for chicken thighs. Baby Chef had previously enjoyed curry at nursery so I was confident that she'd like this mild, fruity version. She hated it… Oh well, Mrs AC and I enjoyed it, despite the protestations coming from the high chair. The rest of Sunday was spent finalising and sending out the first of my newly designed weekly newsletters, with my new recipe for Salmon with Sundried Tomato Couscous. Thanks for all your feedback from the newsletter and I'm glad that some of you found my joke funny!

This week I've been contacting selected food companies to offer bespoke recipes with cook-along videos. I create a unique recipe and cook-along video using their product - they can then put the recipe and video on their website. I'm really excited about this side of my work and it gives me an opportunity to work on some great new recipes.

Thursday however was not a work day as it was my birthday. With the sun shining down on us, we went to Bristol Zoo. We had a great day as there's loads to see and do there with little people. I even managed to capture a really special moment on video. We were sitting in one of the gardens, enjoying the sunshine, with Baby Chef toddling about closely when I noticed that she had squatted on the grass and seemed to be talking to a daisy. It looked ever so cute, so I started videoing. 30 seconds later, I realised that she wasn't playing with the daisy, she was embarking on a 'personal errand' that needed changing soon after. Not quite the cute video after all… We had a great day, however I think that we all had a bit too much sun as we were all a bit cranky when we got back home. The mood lightened as we were trying to cool Baby Chef down by taking her clothes off and putting her in a cool bath. The minute the nappy came off and I was holding her, she wee'd all over me, with a look on her face that said "Happy Birthday Daddy". In the evening, Mrs AC cooked for me, my absolute favourite dish, her Spaghetti Carbonara. As much as I hog the kitchen, it was lovely to be waited on.

Last night, the Kansas Grillmaster 3000 had a runout. We had my Sticky Lemon & Thyme Chops and Hot Chicken with Blue Cheese Dip. This morning, we're going round to my lovely in-laws for brunch, then Baby Chef is staying at my mum's as Mrs AC and I spend a rare night exploring the joys of alcohol to celebrate my birthday.

5 things I've learnt this week

Baby Chef does not like my curry. YET.
Mrs AC wasn't even listening when I told her about beating Usain Bolt. She'd 'zoned out' apparently…
Talking about 'selling my services' causes much amusement
Being wee'd on is the best birthday present I could wish for
Making a marinade for meat makes me very very hungry

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend!

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 08:30 on 11 August 2012


New Website, The Warrington Wonder Grill & 5 things I've learnt

Welcome to the first blog of my new website! After 12 months of hard work, I've finally relaunched There are triple the number of recipes on the site, along with brand new sections and a more user friendly design! I've added social media links to all the recipes, so if you like a recipe, then share it with others! Please! I've also redesigned my weekly newsletter, which now includes a section on 'In-season ingredients', along with an exclusive recipe. I've also added 'Food news and amuse' - a round up of the latest entertaining food news on the internet. The first of my new newsletters will be sent out this Sunday, with my recipe for Salmon with Sundried Tomato Couscous. The theme for the August newsletters is 'Only 4 Ingredients' - proving that sometimes, less is better. I've come up with 4 great recipes for August, including a sticky caramelised banana tart, and pork chops baked in a foil bag. So if you haven't signed up, then please do!

It's been a rather lengthy process getting the site redesigned… not helped by having a new born baby at home when I started! Working from home, for yourself, with a new born, is not something I would recommend! Efficiency went out of the window as the sleepless nights, crying (from me), and cute distraction of having our baby around all the time, meant that the process was somewhat slower than anticipated! I'm so proud though of where I've come from my first design - I didn't have much of a clue about designing a website, let alone implementing it, but now know exactly what I'm doing. Before this, I only had a basic knowledge of website code, however the new site has been written and designed from scratch by me!

More recently, everything has been going well with my little family. Mrs AC (my wife - Michelle) and Baby Chef (not so much a baby anymore - Isabella) are both great. Baby Chef is finally, just about, but not quite, walking. She's 17 months old and although her baby friends have been walking for months, it's not something that we've been worried about. That said, we were growing a little concerned about having to take her to school for her first day, wearing knee and elbow pads so that she could crawl in the door…! What she has lacked in bipedalism however, she has been making up for in talking. She is constantly chatting away in her own little language, sounding like she's having in-depth debates about the merits of something important. Maybe she's concerned about the Eurozone crisis, or whether London is really delivering the Olympics it promised. Last week she saw a pigeon feather in the garden, and spent 20 minutes pointing at it and talking to it. I'm not sure if she was showing concern for the featherless bird, or whether the shape of the feather simply pleased her. Mrs AC moved to calm any fears by telling her that the feather was a gift dropped from the sky by a little birdie. This was after me telling her that the bird had probably lost a limb…

Aside from the constant noise of my 2 girls chatting away to themselves, I, like the rest of the population, have been obsessed with the weather. The gulf stream (something I thought was a private jet) isn't something I'd ever thought about, let alone discussed. So when the clouds parted and we had our week of nice weather, we invested in my new toy - a big gas barbecue. I opted for gas, simply for the convenience of it, despite the pleasing aroma created by charcoal. The names of gas barbecues amuse me though… Ours is called something like 'The Kansas Grillmaster 3000', whereas the charcoal equivalent was simply called ' A Large Charcoal Barbecue'… 'The Kansas' got me wondering… As Kansas is not an especially exotic place (although I'm sure it's lovely), are American barbecues called after places in England? Maybe they have the 'Stourbridge Grillmaster 3000', or 'The Hartlepool Deluxe BBQ'?.

As for cooking… I've also been creating new recipes for Baby Chef to demolish. No longer does she eat pureed everything, she is now 'more or less' able to eat with a fork and spoon. Just very badly. Imagine an inebriated adult trying to find their mouth with a blunt fork and you'll get the picture. Again, she's taken her time moving away from pureed food. We're happy that, taking her to school on her first day we won't have to ask the teachers to puree her lunch…

I've recently hosted a dinner party which was a lot of fun. Baby Chef was shipped off for the night so that loud music could be played without the backdrop of waking the toddler. I made mushroom soufflés to start, followed by chicken served with savoy cabbage & bacon, mashed potatoes and a mushroom sauce. I was really pleased with how it came out, more so given the amount of wine that had been consumed by that point! I was also pleased that I'd chosen to make a chocolate tart earlier in the day, meaning that the most taxing thing I had to do late that evening was slice it! I'm looking forward to hosting more dinner parties as they combine three of my favourite things - cooking, wine and good friends.

I'll be adding things to my site over the next few months, however if there's anything you would like to see, then please do get in touch.

5 things I've learnt this week

Baby Chef talks like she is cursing in Hungarian
'The Kansas Grillmaster 3000' sounds better than 'The Skegness Turbo Grill'
'The Kansas Grillmaster 3000' does not, however, operate very well in the rain
Mrs AC's support throughout the process of relaunching has been priceless
Baby Chef walks like Shaun of The Dead

That's all from me, I hope that you have a great weekend and my blog will be returning to a weekly affair from next week.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:00:00 on 03 August 2012  back to top


Arty Stag Do, Amazing Anniversary & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was full of opposites. A full-on stag do on Saturday, followed by a relaxing wedding anniversary on Sunday. Saturday's stag do took place in Bristol and was a classy affair. We spent the afternoon go-karting (I was spectacularly bad) followed by an evening visiting art galleries. By art galleries, I mean pubs. I think that if a pub has a picture of a dog playing snooker, surely that qualifies it as an art gallery…?? I actually woke up feeling ok on Sunday morning, which is a first for a stag do, however I think this probably had something to do with not going to bed ridiculously late or drunk, and having a lie-in until 8am (!) with no nappies needing changing. I made it back to my lovely Mrs AC, safe and sound, for our 6th wedding anniversary. We had a lovely relaxing day with Baby Chef in tow, but it was Sunday night that we were really looking forward to - our first night away without Baby Chef for 18 months…!

We were booked into The George Hotel in Cheltenham, with dinner at Monty's Brasserie. I know that staying in a hotel in your hometown might sound strange, but it meant we could be there in 5 minutes, relaxing with a drink! To say that the evening exceeded expectations is an understatement. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lovely lady who upgraded us because it was our wedding anniversary. We thought this was a nice touch and the room they gave us was gorgeous. They also gave us an anniversary card (not a 'compliments from the hotel' branded card, but someone had actually bought one from a shop). By this stage we we're wondering whether they thought that we were someone else, a glamorous celebrity couple like Posh & Becks perhaps…? We had a late dinner at Monty's Brasserie, a separate restaurant within the hotel. Initially, we were seated in the middle of the room, then a waitress said that she knew it was our wedding anniversary and had a nicer table for us. We were moved to the more 'romantic' table and were brought a complimentary glass of champagne each, definitely thinking that either we were the first people to ever celebrate a wedding anniversary there, or that they thought that we were someone else - the beautiful Brad & Angelina maybe…? We had a delicious meal - tasty chicken liver and black truffle parfait to start, followed by beef wellington for Mrs AC, and roasted loin of pork for me. Both dishes were stunning to look at and even better to taste. We were almost too full for dessert, but in the end, the piggy-side won and we ordered white chocolate & raspberry trifle plus a chocolate fondant. Both desserts were brought on one giant grey slate with the words 'happy anniversary' hand-piped in giant letters in the middle. It was lovely, although we were concerned that at the end of the meal we might have to pretend to be Kate & Wills. Anyway, we collapsed into bed and fell asleep watching Miss Congeniality on the TV, waking up 10 hours later at 9am - the longest that either of us have slept since Baby Chef was born! It was bliss. We even had time for a beautiful big breakfast. The service really was great and I can't recommend the hotel or restaurant highly enough. However, I think I heard one of the staff say on my way out: "Eamonn Holmes looks different in real life"…!

The rest of the week has somewhat paled into significance, with no upgrades or complimentary chocolates at bedtime. On Tuesday, I took Baby Chef to nursery and picked her up for the first time. I hated leaving her there but loved picking her up. She had been having a little cry, however her little face lit up when she saw me. As for cooking, I finally managed to film my Sea bass with Patatas Bravas - a lovely tomatoey Spanish classic, topped with a nice sea bass fillet. I've also cooked a lamb dish for next week's newsletter, which really fits the theme of weeknight cooking. It's lamb flavoured with cumin and turmeric, served with onions and courgette, bound together with rice - a kind of pilaff. The dish is ready in the time it takes to boil the rice - easy.

This weekend, I hope to do nothing. I won't achieve that but, if nothing is my starting point, then if I end up doing something, it won't be very strenuous. Almost certainly some chores will be done, but mainly I'll be trying to just relax with my lovely little family.

5 things I've learnt this week

I love going to 'art galleries' with my friends
6 years on, Mrs AC is as pretty as the day we were married
A night away is like supercharging your batteries
I don't know, but need to know, how Miss Congeniality ends (sorry)
Mrs AC is steadfastly refusing to put a chocolate on my pillow before bed

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy Cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:27:02 on 11 May 2012  back to top

Celebrity dog swap, unnamed Spanish creation and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was the relaxing weekend that I'd been wanting for weeks. Saturday was mainly spent entertaining Baby Chef or, when she was entertaining herself, playing iPhone Scrabble against Mrs AC, from horizontal positions on either sofa. Rock and roll… I also had time to make homemade pizzas, something which, by now, I'm sure you know that I absolutely love to do. It's the whole anticipation that it brings… The smell of the dough rising, personalising the toppings with weird and wonderful ingredients and the smell of them cooking. And, they taste SO much better than frozen supermarket pizzas. On Sunday, we went to my mum's for brunch. Getting greeted with a platter of french toast, square sausage and bacon was fantastic, even if we had to listen to my mum's stories about her recent amazing holiday. I'm not being mean, I'm just jealous! There was a time before Baby Chef, when Mrs AC and I could, and would, jet off on long haul holidays. Those days are no more… On the note of holidays, I've just unsubscribed from the Travelzoo e-mails. Every week, I get an e-mail of their top 20 holiday deals, all of which are amazing offers. However, none of them are baby friendly. As much as I would love a 14 day African cruise for less than we spend on nappies & nursery a month, it would seem a little inappropriate with a bustling Baby Chef! Every week, the e-mail hits my inbox and every week I read the list thinking that I would love to go on these amazing trips. No more. I will now wallow in blissful ignorance, thinking that no-one is going on holiday this year, and if they are, they will be paying full price.

On Monday, I had planned to cook my recipe for this week's newsletter - my Spanish, as-of-yet unnamed, but a little like patatas bravas with a sea bass fillet on top. Unfortunately, Mrs AC was delayed home from work so it was 'make it up' time for me. Would could I make? In times like this, my method is simple:

1. Open fridge. Nothing to eat.
2. Open food cupboard. Nothing to eat.
3. Lower standards and repeat.

For the sake of my reputation, I won't tell you what I ended up with. But it involved pasta bows, squeezy American mustard and rusks… I'm just glad I'd thrown out the gone-off rollmops. My creation was actually ok and I ended up eating it in front of mindless telly - 'Celebrity Dog Swap' or something like that. That actually sounds like a good idea for a programme… This week, I've also made a big batch of beef chilli, although cooking it under duress proved interesting. I was in the middle of feeding Baby Chef her dinner and thought that I would save a lot of time if I could get the chilli on the hob before her bath and milk time. Unfortunately, just before the vital stage of adding the mince, whilst sweeping up Baby Chef's dinner crumbs from under her high chair, I heard and saw a splat that missed my eyes by a whisker. As this is supposed to be a food blog, all I will say is that Poo-gate (as it is now called in our house) somewhat put the spoilers on the beef chilli. When I did finally get round to finishing it, I messed it up anyway! Nicely edible but disappointing as I'd made a big vat of it for the freezer. I finally cooked my 'Spanish as-of-yet unnamed, but a little like patatas bravas with a sea bass fillet on top' dish on Wednesday. It was delicious which was pleasing, as sometimes it takes me 3 or 4 attempts to get a new recipe to the stage that I'm happy with. All I need is a name for it… any suggestions are more than welcome before this evening when I'm filming it!

Last night I made Spanish omelette, a great light meal and a wonderful way to showcase cooking with only a few ingredients. All it requires is potato, onion, eggs & olive oil. Maybe Spanish food could/should be my next food fad?? Although it would mean cooking lots of seafood dishes, something that Mrs AC isn't too keen on - too many "boggley eyes" apparently...

This evening, I'm filming my 'Spanish as-of-yet unnamed but a little like patatas bravas with a sea bass fillet on top' dish, assuming I can come up with a proper title for it by then. As for this weekend, well it's jam packed! Tomorrow, I'm off to Bristol for the day and night for a stag do and on Sunday it's mine and Mrs AC's 6th wedding anniversary! I'm really looking forward to both, for very different reasons! I will report back on both next week, without obviously breaking the male code of silence that accompanies any stag do…

5 things I've learnt this week

Travel deals for luxury long haul holidays are like a form of torture (As far as I'm concerned, no one is going on a luxury holiday this year)
Simply calling a dish 'My Spanish Surprise' doesn't really cut it
Open fridge, lower standards and repeat works surprisingly well
'Celebrity Dog Swap' - you heard it here first
An inch to the left and my eyes would still be burning

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:09:27 on 04 May 2012  back to top


My Little Puppy, Nut Roast Nightmares and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was dominated by a poorly Baby Chef. Again. We were warned that, when we sent her to nursery, she would become ill more often due to the proximity of other babies - we hadn't realised how true this was though. In the 13 months and 25 days of her life prior to going to nursery, Baby Chef had only been properly ill once. In the 4 nursery sessions since, she has been properly ill twice. The first time was over Easter weekend, and the latest, this weekend. Needless to say our red-spotted, vomiting, hot water bottle of a baby took up most of our attention this weekend. The verdict from the doctor - "probably just a virus". I won the coin toss over who was going to look after her on Monday and actually we had a great day together, watching cartoons and building sticklebrick houses. By the end of Monday, Baby Chef's fever had gone down and she was back to her crawling, babbling best. Speaking of crawling, Baby Chef is now almost 15 months old and cannot stand unaided, yet alone walk. Baby friends of ours have been boasting for months about 1st steps, whereas our little charger still seems to prefer life as a quadruped. She's very fast at crawling, but maybe in our attempts to stop her crying in the early months, we showed her too many pictures and videos of dogs (always worked to stop her crying) - so, now she thinks that's how she is supposed to travel…

Baby Chef aside, my cooking has centred around the filming of this week's newsletter recipe for Homemade Crumpets. They've been really fun to make and require so little effort that they really are a viable alternative to cheap supermarket versions. Mrs AC says that, as I always get up first in the morning, I have no excuse now, not to make crumpets as a treat for breakfast! I've also cooked and filmed next week's newsletter recipe, which is for my Herby Sausage Crumble. Next month's theme for my newsletters is quick weeknight meals, for those occasions when you might be tempted by a microwave meal. The sausage crumble is a great example as everything gets thrown in the pan and then topped with herby parmesan breadcrumbs. Yum! Last week, I wrote about my current addiction to baked potatoes. I can report that this fad has fader faster than Chico's singing career and there isn't a potato in sight on this week's menu. I actually received an amusing email from a follower last week about my food fads, and was pleased to be told that I'm not alone in going through phases of cooking one thing, then forgetting about it. I was reminded of two favourites from the 1980s that I can certainly remember from childhood - Carob and Nut Roast (not together though). I can remember my mum's excitement at the introduction of carob as a replacement for chocolate. My brother, sister and I were informed that carob not only looked like chocolate, but it tasted like chocolate, with none of the fat. Unfortunately only 2 of these statements were true. It DID look like chocolate, and indeed it DID have less fat, however it tasted like something I might find on my shoe. Luckily, the carob fad didn't last long in our house, although I have nothing but respect for the entrepreneur who introduced carob to our shops. I struggle to see how that meeting went… Mr Carob: "Try my new product that tastes like chocolate." Shopkeeper: "Despite tasting like I'm chewing on a piece of old plastic, I'll order lots of bars please…" This brings me to the Nut Roast. My goodness were my siblings and I subjected to some experimentation as children! Don't get me wrong, my mum provided for us, loves us and is a great cook, but she is not a great cook of nut roasts. 20 years on, I can still taste the initial Frankenstein experiment. A cross between a paté and salted peanuts…

This weekend, we're planning to go out for the day somewhere, weather permitting. Although, judging by recent weather, it will probably be either raining or raining heavily, so maybe the best bet is swimming! With Baby Chef hopefully free of illness, homemade pizzas and a quiet time are also in order this weekend, ahead of next weekend's double whammy of a stag do and our wedding anniversary!

5 thing's I've learnt this week

Nursery is where you send your baby to get poorly
You can fake a lot of things, but you can't fake chocolate
Baby Chef thinks she's a puppy
Homemade crumpets are my new food fad
20 years on, the nut roast memories still haunt me

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef



Posted @ 11:47:37 on 27 April 2012  back to top

What would Bear do? Wonderful Welsh Cakes and 5 things I've learnt this week

Last weekend was nice as we went away! Well, only to my mum's house. With her away on a far more exotic break, it was an excuse for a nice little change of scenery - even though Sunday morning was spent back at our house doing spring cleaning, and Sunday afternoon saw the weekly 'big shop' at the supermarket. So, we ended up doing the same old chores, just from a different base, albeit a base that has frozen scampi in the freezer and enough gin to sink a ship. It was frozen scampi, oven chips and gin for Saturday night! My mum had kindly stocked the freezer with the entire contents of Iceland, proving that mums really do shop there. The scampi was nice in a 'take me back to childhood' kind of way - meals that require absolutely no effort other than opening the freezer door are nice occasionally. It also helped prove to myself that, despite my insistence on taking 'Cerebros Course Sea Salt' with me, I'm not (too much) of a food snob.

This week didn't start brilliantly as driving to our house on Monday morning, the smell of burning in my car was overwhelming. It was so bad that I was planning Bear Grylls-esque contingency measures should the car catch fire, whilst bemoaning the fact that I missed the "Bear Grylls Survives Cheltenham" episode. I got home flame free though! It's a sad state of affairs when the most exciting thing to happen to me this week was my car not catching fire. On Monday evening, we had jacket potatoes. Now, when compared to a car almost setting alight, this isn't interesting, but it made me realise how many food fads Mrs AC and I go through… A few weeks ago we had baked potatoes for the first time in about a year, and have had them probably once, if not twice, a week ever since. I do this a lot with food and I'm hoping that I'm not alone in this? Whether it's toasties, part baked baguettes, homemade bread or the biggest fad, the homemade smoothie, we all have these mini obsessions for about a month, then completely forget about them. I wonder how many of you, like me, have a smoothie maker in the back of your cupboard that you bought with the intention of using every day? One day we declare - "£3 for a smoothie? I can make it cheaper at home, saving money and it will get me healthy…" I remember saying that, probably back in 2010. Anyway, the jacket potato was accompanied by cheese and beans for those of you that care, and it was delicious. I still like eating them this week anyway.

The highlight for the rest of the week has been trying, and cooking this week's newsletter recipe, which is "Sam's Gluten Free Welsh Cakes". The 'Sam' in question is a 5 year old boy from New Zealand, whose mum, Beth, replied to one of my newsletters telling me that her son likes helping her cook, likes my videos and wants to meet me! I asked Beth to tell me Sam's favourite recipe - Welsh Cakes. They're not something I had ever tried before and, despite looking terrible, my first batch tasted delicious. I've just finished filming today for my newsletter to go out this weekend, so thanks Sam! I've also been making homemade crumpets for next week's newsletter. They're really good fun to do, and although you have to leave the dough to rise for a while, the effort is minimal. I've also failed this week and it really bugs me. The plan - little meringues that would be stuffed with a Baileys cream. Like anything, theory is easier than practice, and although I can get them to taste perfect, they look terrible. In order to give the meringues enough height to stuff with cream, they need to be cooked in something. I've tried muffin trays, silicone cup cake holders and regular cup cake holders, but the problem is always the same - the meringues are too fragile to remove from the cases, and once stuffed, they crumble in your hands. Watch this space though as I won't be beaten on this…

As for my car, the garage said that it was something under the bonnet to do with oil, at least that's all that I understood. It was patched up and put back on the road, and I was obviously pleased that it was fixable rather than being a write off. They say though that things come in threes. Well, if this is true, then one more thing is going to break this week, seemingly irreparably, but then turn out to be ok. Last week my laptop died and I feared the worst, but it turned out to be a faulty power cable. This week, my car died. Next week…??

This weekend we're fully booked doing fun stuff, chores and spending some time together as mum, dad & baby, something that we don't do enough of.

5 things I've learnt this week.

Raiding my mum's freezer is lovely. Gin hangovers are not
I must dig out my smoothie maker
Sam's Welsh Cakes are a joy to behold
My mini meringues may have won the fight, but I'll win the war
Being pleased to spend only spend £130 on my car might be looking at the positive

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a lovely weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 12:18:30 on 20 April 2012  back to top

Daddy Dog, Strawberry Curry & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was lovely! On Saturday we visited Bath for the day. Mrs AC and I had only been once before, separately, and being less than an hour away, it seemed a good choice. We had a great time including a nice Chinese buffet for lunch - although like most buffets it was quantity over quality and we left feeling fully stuffed. Saturday evening got off to a bad start with Baby Chef refusing to eat her dinner, but Mrs AC got some into her by jumping through hoops… Then Baby Chef was sick. A quick check of her temperature showed a hot baby with a temperature well over 39c. At least we knew that it was nothing to do with our day out - as keen as she was to taste King Prawn spring rolls, we thought it wise to keep a 13 month old away from an all-you-can-eat buffet that looked like it had been hanging around for a few weeks. We bathed her and drugged her and managed to get the temperature under control by bedtime. We had resigned ourselves to looking after a sickly baby but she slept fine all evening, before waking and crying every 20 minutes until morning. 

Easter Sunday was somewhat of a blur as both Mrs AC and I were broken from the night time crying. Baby Chef herself was still hot and not eating, but determined to be her happy chatty self. Mrs AC can cook, and likes doing so, but because of my website and how much I love cooking, she rarely gets to do much. My in-laws were joining us for Easter lunch so Mrs AC made one of my recipes and cooked along to the video. It was nice for me - Baby Chef asleep, Mrs AC cooking and me watching sport! My in-laws arrived in time for a beautiful cider braised pork dish and a screaming Baby Chef. Poor thing had a high fever again. She calmed down eventually and we ate a lovely meal, with the backdrop of Peppa Pig in the background. We wouldn't normally let Baby Chef watch TV whilst we eat, but she was poorly and it seemed to distract her. After lunch Baby Chef gave us all a laugh. Mrs AC is insistent that she understands a lot of words and wanted to demonstrate to the family. "Point to the garden" received a blank response. "Point to the food" was equally ignored, however "Point to the doggy" was hilarious. Mrs AC was referring to a photo of a dog on our computer but Baby Chef turned and pointed at me, then burst out laughing! Obviously everyone found this funny but when she did it again and again, I started to wonder if my baby has a rather low opinion of me!

By Tuesday, Baby Chef had not improved much and had a nice cold to go with it. Tuesday was supposed to be her second ever nursery day but it was apparent that she wasn't well enough to go. With Mrs AC working quite far away and me working from home, I decided to take Baby Chef over to my mum's so that I could get some work done. I took Baby Chef to the doctors, who confirmed that Baby Chef just had a nasty virus. The day worked out ok - my mum looked after Baby Chef so I could get on with my work, but I was still around if needed.

The rest of the week has flown by, pausing to film this week's newsletter recipe which is my Gypsy Cream Biscuits, a real sweet treat. I also made Mrs AC and I a nice Chicken Pasanda. Or at least that was the plan… Some of the best recipes come as a result of mistakes. Others, however, do not… Chicken Pasanda is made by adding natural yoghurt to onions and spices. I fried everything and added the yoghurt a tablespoon at a time. It was only after adding ALL the yoghurt that I noticed it was pink. I had used strawberry yoghurt. Nice. I can only put it down to tiredness that I didn't notice the colour as I carefully spooned 5 lots of it into the pan. Anyway, the result was a 'fruity' pasanda that was barely edible. Oops!

This weekend is another example of the 'sad' existence that is being parents of a baby. We're off on holiday to my mum's. My mum has jetted to the other side of the world for a luxury holiday so Mrs AC, Baby Chef and I are jetting 10 minutes down the road on holiday. Still, a fully stocked freezer and a full bottle of gin await us so we're looking forward to the change of scenery!

5 things I've learnt this week

Following a Chinese buffet, I require hot towels and a lie down
Finishing my Easter egg by 9am is nothing to be proud of
My baby thinks I'm a dog
Strawberry Chicken Pasanda is more grotesque than Heston-esque
2 nights at my mum's had better not constitute our summer holiday

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef



Posted @ 15:15:43 on 13 April 2012  back to top

Daddy Day Care, Edible Nests and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend started brilliantly with live sport and ended brilliantly with a barbecue. On Saturday I went to watch Gloucester play rugby against Exeter. It was a great atmosphere and a few drinks before and after the match helped numb the pain of Gloucester losing. I was pleased to be back in time to help bath Baby Chef and then get dinner (fajitas) ready for a fun Saturday night of trashy tv -  'The Voice' followed by 'Britain's Got Talent'. Mrs AC and I have a drinking game we play. I play the mean role and Mrs AC plays the nice role. Every time the crowd boo or the judges give four buzzes, I have a drink. Every time the crowd give a standing ovation, or get four yes-es, Mrs AC has a drink. It makes for a much more entertaining evening!

Sunday saw our first barbecue of the year. Moving from a flat to a house with an 80ft garden in October was just a tease. Having this lovely outdoor space that the weather wouldn't allow us to use was so frustrating. Sunday banished the winter memories though, as the sun was shining, the barbecue coals were hot and we had a lovely afternoon. I think the enjoyment had more to do with the significance of the situation - our first sunny day in the garden, as the food was… well charred… Flame grilled actually sounds better…

The beginning of the week saw a role reversal as I took the day off to look after Baby Chef whilst Mrs AC went back to work. Her first day came out of the blue and we hadn't sorted a nursery, so I was (literally) left holding the baby. It's a lot more tiring than it looks! We had a lovely day together but it's just so tiring. Baby Chef is still crawling at a pace that would win gold in the baby crawling at London 2012. And she's still so loud! She's also teething badly so biting everything in sight. Luckily she ate her food and went down for a nap fine, giving me some precious time to eat, clean and generally make the house not look like it had been burgled by a soft toy-loving criminal. I made the clever decision to take Baby Chef round to my mum's in the afternoon. We took her out for a walk which was a great idea, as there's only so much mess that she can make in a pram. We fed the ducks, cooed at the dogs and enjoyed some quality time together.  Back home after tea, the focus was on bath time and getting Baby Chef to sleep. Bathing her on my own was 'interesting'. It was as if she was trying to test me by constantly trying to drown herself in 4 inches of water. The amount of water on the floor, and on me, was as though we had spontaneously created a 'wet room'. After we were both dry, milk was drunk, baby books were read, and the highlight for me - Baby Chef went to sleep with no problems! I felt simultaneously elated at my achievement and broken by the efforts of the day.

The rest of the week has been taken up with inventing a new recipe for this week's newsletter (being filmed this evening to go out tomorrow) and planning everything for next month. This month's theme has been Budget Recipes and I had a delicious slow cooked beef pilaff recipe, however I decided to keep it back for a future month and came up with a pasta dish instead. The dish - Tagliatelle with Chorizo and Cream Cheese. It's fairly simple - chorizo has such big flavour and, with the addition of cream cheese, this makes a super rich dish that is cheap, quick and only uses 5 ingredients. The inspiration actually came from my mum, who discovered Boursin soft cheese last year. Since then, at every available opportunity, she has made 'chorizo & boursin' on bruschetta, scallops and a whole host of other 'interesting' bases. This was my little homage to that!

The other thing I've been making is the recipe for next week's newsletter. The theme for April will be Sweet Treats, and kicking it off in time for Easter will be my posh chocolate nests. These are the little chocolate things that we loved as children. I've made them a little more indulgent and grown-up with the addition of a chocolate ganache to bind the shredded wheat together, and white chocolate ganache mini eggs on top. These really worked fantastically as they brought back lovely childhood memories of making them with my mum, but were so much nicer. So far, I've made 8 this week and guess how many I have left…? None… I even gave Baby Chef a spatula with white chocolate on it which was lovely to see. She took it warily, as she always does with food, then tasted a little. She then literally shook with delight and licked the spatula clean.

This weekend, other than hoping to get petrol without joining what looks like a Russian bread queue, I will be clearing the garden. On the note of the garden, I found a robin's nest in the hedge outside our patio doors, complete with four tiny blue eggs. So cute and it will be lovely to see the robin chicks. Is it wrong though, when seeing the eggs, the thought entered my food obsessed mind as to what they might taste like…

5 things I've learnt this week

Britain seems infinitely more talented after a bottle of wine
Flame-grilled chicken sounds much better than cremated chicken
Full time baby care is a job for a professional athlete. Or a mum
Chocolate nests look cute and are made to be eaten
Robins nests look cute and must not be eaten

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 13:39:38 on 30 March 2012  back to top

Mother's Day, Tomato Soup Pie & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was dominated by one thing - Mother's Day. Following a liquid night out with friends on Friday, Mrs AC and I battled our way through Saturday and had a quiet, alcohol-free Saturday night. In the afternoon, I realised that Baby Chef hadn't got Mrs AC a card, flowers, or anything for Mothers' Day. Looking back, it might have been a little harsh of me to expect a 13 month old baby to do anything other than, eat, sleep & cry. So, I made an ingredient related excuse and went out to buy a card and flowers. Mrs AC was none the wiser, although she didn't believe me when I told her that Baby Chef had ordered the card & flowers off the internet. Actually I'm doing Baby Chef a big disservice here. Just because she's too young to speak, it doesn't mean that she didn't WANT to buy the card. What we have been taking as word number three - "Car" (following No1 "Mama" & No2 "Milkman!"), may have actually been "Card". Every time we've been going out in the car recently, Baby Chef has been saying some form of the word "Car". But maybe she was actually trying to remind me to buy her a card, only for me to reply "That's right, you are in the car". I won't be surprised now if word No4 is "Idiot".

Anyway, back to the day itself. Mrs AC loved the card and flowers and we went out for lunch to a pub. This was the same pub that we went to last year on Mother's Day when Baby Chef was 5 weeks old. This year, we had such a nice time, not because of the food, (although my Blue Cheese Burger was delicious). It was because of the vast difference between this year and last year . Followers of my blog may know that Baby Chef was a very loud young baby - the official term is colicky, but basically she was a little crying machine. In a packed pub, full of people trying to enjoy a nice Mother's Day meal, Mrs AC and I played pass the baby. I would have a mouthful of food whilst Mrs AC held her, then we'd swap, otherwise Baby Chef would scream. This year, Baby Chef sat in the little high chair, played with her toys like an angel and wolfed down the chips we offered her. I think that was the best Mother's Day present Mrs AC could have asked for. That or diamonds.

The beginning of this week has been taken up with cooking and filming. On Monday, I cooked the recipe for next week's newsletter, a Slow Cooked Beef & Mushroom Pilaff. The theme for this month's newsletter is budget food and I've really enjoyed coming up with the cheap and easy recipes. I think it feels more rewarding to cook a meal that costs very little but is delicious, than to spend money on expensive ingredients that already taste amazing. I was so pleased with the beef pilaff. I cooked the meat slowly for 1.5 hours so that it completely broke down to melt in your mouth yumminess. I then added it to a pan of fried mushrooms & onions, added the obligatory rice and loosened it with the cooking stock from the beef. A final stir in of parsley made this a really tasty Monday evening. The other cheap dish I cooked was for this week's newsletter recipe that went out yesterday - my quick and simple Tuna Fish Pie. This was another fun one to do and one that I've been wanting to put out to my followers for ages. I've had tuna fish pie for as long as I can remember, and it's one of my favourite comforting recipes (well, it's my mum's recipe to give credit where credit is due). The pie consists of onions and mushrooms, tinned tuna, and the key ingredient, condensed tomato soup. It might sound a strange thing to add, but it really gives the dish the comfort of a bowl of soup, with the comfort of a pie - all topped with cheesy mash. And, just like the beef pilaff, it's really cheap!

Yesterday saw Mrs AC's return to the workplace after her maternity leave. No longer a national TV reporter, she's putting her skills to good use elsewhere and seemed to love the new challenge. People say that babies can sense change, and never was this more evident than on Thursday. It was as if Baby Chef knew that Friday was a big day, so she decided to put Mrs AC's nerves to the test. Every day Baby Chef naps for roughly 2 hours, give or take 20 minutes. On Thursday, she decided that she wasn't going to sleep at all! Not even for one minute. As this had never happened before, Mrs AC was worried. "What will happen this evening?", "What will happen when she goes into nursery, if she won't even sleep at home?", and all the other typical things that a loving, worrying mum would feel. After all that, Baby Chef was her usual chatty self in the evening with strangely no signs of irritation or tiredness. She ate her tea as normal, had her milk as normal and slept through the night. We've no idea what was going on. Maybe it was Baby Chef being nice and saying "Look, if I don't sleep when mummy's at work, then I'll be fine." Either that or the stubborn female streak that her mummy shows, is rubbing off on her.

This weekend I'm of to see the mighty Glaaaaaster play rugby against Exeter which should be fun. And there might be the first bbq of the year on Sunday if this weather continues...

5 things I've learnt this week.

Baby Chef can be bribed with chips
What a difference a year can make
My baby may think I'm an idiot
Great food doesn't have to come at a price, it just needs tomato soup
After 18 months without a barbecue, the weather had better stay nice

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 09:17:06 on 24 March 2012  back to top

Personalised Chickens, Women's Day and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was a rainy affair with the weather seriously limiting what we could do with Baby Chef. So, instead of the rock n' roll Saturday routine of a walk though town, we stayed in, cleaned and I cooked. I made Baby Chef a big batch of her favourite meal - a chicken and peach casserole, the recipe for which came from one of our baby books. Chicken and peaches are two ingredients that I think should never be put on a plate together. Like steak and strawberries, or pork and chocolate spread. Baby Chef loved it though, it's nicely nutritious and she wolfed it down. On Saturday evening, I made homemade pizzas for Mrs AC and I which were fantastic, aided by dollops of wonderful creamy mascarpone and 'hand torn' rocket.

On Sunday, I sent out my newsletter with my recipe for creamy chicken livers, bacon and tagliatelle which seemed to go down well. In the afternoon it was weekly shop time and, having already planned the meals for the week, I set off to buy the ingredients. Having a bit of time to peruse the aisles, something struck me. What on earth is going on with food labeling? I know that brands have to sell themselves and, if they are ethically grown or caught, the labels will reflect it as a mark of quality (and to justify the often increased price!). But I think it's gone too far. Scallops and chicken are two of the worst offenders… Scallop producers, wishing to distance themselves from the environmentally inferior 'dredged' scallops, will state that they are 'hand dived'. They could obviously just call them 'environmentally friendly' (except for the poor scallop who might disagree), but this wouldn't sound as pretentiously good. Anything 'hand-picked' gives an aura of quality, I suppose. Whether it's hotels, shoes or scallops, 'hand-picked' sounds better. But why stop there? Why not 'Hand-dived by Raul, a swarthy Cornish fisherman, risking his life by diving into the deep blue seas, for YOU.' That's an extra couple of quid by the way. Chicken is the other product that goes way over the top with labeling. In my opinion, battery chickens should be banished from our shelves completely but, as they're still there, we're bombarded with positive labels on the other poultry. Soon we will be told that 'This chicken, named Alan, had a good, free life, three square meals a day and a decent education'. Until he was killed.

This week is British Pie week which, being a pie muncher of some skill, I've thoroughly enjoyed. I experimented then cooked and filmed a pie for this week's newsletter which is my Sausage & Mash Pie with Onion Gravy. I don't mind saying it's good! I wanted to make sure that it was a typically British pie and good old sausage and mash certainly fulfills this criteria! I used a layer of mash, a layer of sausages and thick homemade onion gravy, all encased in beautifully crisp shortcrust pastry. I also tried making a Chicken Tikka Pie. Tikka Masala is a British invention so I decided to try it in a pie, however it lacked the 'pie-ness' of the sausage and mash (if you know what i mean?!). Still, it was fun to make and even more fun to eat!

Yesterday was International Women's Day. I knew this fact before yesterday but, living in a house with two women, I thought it would be in my best interests to keep it to myself. At about midday yesterday Mrs AC saw it on the internet, then promptly marched upstairs to my office room, armed with another women (Baby Chef), and informed me that it was International Women's Day. She asked what I had bought for her and Baby Chef. "A surprise" was all I could muster, buying me some precious time to think. I made a rubbish card which Baby Chef proceeded to try and eat. Mrs AC said she would've preferred the money - probably about 5p for paper and ink. I then asked when is it International Men's Day? At that precise moment, Baby Chef stopped consuming her card, turned to face me and gave me the cutest smile she has ever given. At 1 year old, she already knows the power of the female perfectly. Conversation ended.

This morning gave me another vocabulary based annoyance which I would like to share please. I was out in the car doing a spot of early shopping when I drove past a chain pub. It had a board outside suggesting that people 'Brunch up their weekend'. I didn't catch the rest of the sign but it probably went on to mention 'chillaxing'. Why is this necessary? What bright spark thought of making brunch (in itself a made up word) into a verb? And don't get me started on the word 'chillax'… It reminds me of when I was on honeymoon at Atlanta airport (that wasn't the honeymoon destination) and I went into an electronics accessory shop selling phone cases etc. It was about 9 o'clock at night, the place was pretty much deserted and I was met by an extremely smartly dressed man (complete with blue tooth headset) who greeted me with "Good evening sir, how can I accessorise you this evening?".

This weekend we have my mum and partner coming round for dinner - I'm making mushroom soufflés and pork tenderloin which I hope will go down well. On Sunday, we have a joint birthday party for Baby Chef and her baby friends, all of whom were born within a month of each other. It will definitely be fun but with 8 babies charging around it will definitely be tiring!

5 thing's I've learnt this week.

Chicken and peaches together is simply wrong
Raul dived scallops are to die for
International Men's Day sounds like a toilet convention
Baby Chef is a wily woman (albeit little)
I will not be 'brunching up my weekend'

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:13:41 on 09 March 2012  back to top

Mick Hucknall's love child, I hate my tin opener and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend flew by in a mix of shopping, rugby, fajitas and party food. The party food came courtesy of my mum and was a lovely treat, and a great way to end the weekend. What buffet style party food lacks in elegance, it makes up for in choice. Whilst eating, Mrs AC and I sat and watched a slideshow of our wedding photos, followed by our honeymoon dvd. Although it was almost 6 years ago, the memories are so fresh. I even managed a top drawer compliment when I said that Mrs AC looks as beautiful today as the day we were married. That's where I should've stopped. Me being me however, and thinking I was on a roll, continued with "you're like a fine wine, maturing with age." That didn't go down as well and any brownie points were instantly negated.

Last week, I wrote about feeling old and this week compounded that feeling when I heard Brit winner Ed Sheeran on the radio. I didn't know that it was Ed Sheeran though, and asked Mrs AC if it was Simply Red. Mrs AC is much cooler and down with the kids than me, and laughed at me for days.

Before I go any further, there is something I need to get off my chest. I hate my tin opener. I mean I really hate it. It cost £10, which is about mid range for a tin opener, and it has one function to perform. Opening tins. Yet EVERY time I use it, it starts opening, then just gets bored and stops. This results in me stabbing at the tin with a knife like Norman Bates, and the result is a tin so traumatised that it looks like it was opened by smashing it between two bricks. I hate the fact that I have to use a tin opener in the first place. Paying £10 to open something I paid 25p for annoys me, and then for it not to work is infuriating. It's a bit like going into a clothes shop, buying some clothes then being charged £10 to leave the shop. Except they don't let you out. This is the 4th tin opener that has done the same thing - that's about £40 spent primarily to open tins of 25p tomato puree. The answer - from now on I'll buy a tube of tomato puree instead. I've worked out that it would take me 14 years to spend more on tomato puree than it would to use a tin opener. There. I feel much better now.

Cooking wise, I have tinkered too much. Last week, I had my chicken livers recipe nailed down for the newsletter but on Monday decided to cook with lambs liver instead, to see if it made for an improvement. It didn't. Instead of filming the original recipe, I had now wasted a day experimenting with something that didn't work. I should have trusted my instincts and not monkeyed with a recipe that already worked. This week I've also cooked a great chinese chicken thigh stir fry which is so cheap to make and so easy to cook - it will be going out on my newsletter either next week or the week after. Next week is British Pie week so I'm currently beavering away with my recipe head on to make a lovely pie that is super cheap, to keep in line with this month's newsletter theme of 'Budget Food'. Yesterday evening, I made a big vat of bolognese. I love making this, as with every stage, the smells are amazing, then the final result is probably my most comforting food of all. I've frozen down 12 portions - bargain.

This weekend we have no plans yet, which worries me. No plans can turn to chore plans very quickly. Baby Chef is getting very close to standing for the first time so we'll probably spend most of the time watching her eagerly, camera phones at the ready, only to capture her 'making a bathroom' instead. We spend so much time filming her doing inane things that I wouldn't be surprised if, when she's older, she asks if we used to be part of a documentary.

5 things I've learnt this week

Women do not like to be compared to a 'fine wine'
Ed Sheeran sounds like, looks like, but apparently is not, Mick Hucknall
I have anger management issues thanks to a kitchen utensil...
Tomato puree is my innocent victim.
I am overly excited about British Pie week

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 13:34:50 on 02 March 2012  back to top

Growing old, impatient puddings and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend we went away for the night. Exciting eh? We went to my mum's house a whole mile down the road. Not so exciting. My mum was away for the weekend so Mrs AC and decided to kill two birds with one stone - get Baby Chef used to sleeping somewhere other than at home, whilst we had a much needed change of scenery. Such is the sadness of our lives, that spending the night at my mum's is a change of scenery… Baby Chef slept like a dream which was amazing for us, as she hasn't been the best sleeper and we've only had 1 night without her in the last 12 months. Mrs AC and I had a really nice evening, homemade pizzas and trashy Saturday night tv. The nice thing was that, at home, there are always chores to do, but when you stay anywhere else, you have nothing to think about.

This week has been filled with fun food. Not junk food, but interesting food. It's easy to cook the same things that you know and like again and again, especially when you're tired. This week began, true to my Scottish roots, with a macaroni pie. Leftover macaroni cheese from the night before, which I topped with some puff pastry. Really really delicious. I also experimented with a new recipe for next month's newsletters - a chicken liver & bacon creamy spaghetti. Next month's newsletter theme is going to be cheap meals and chicken livers fit that bill perfectly. Cooked pink, with some crispy bacon, spaghetti, cream and a handful of rocket at the end - it was delicious. Yesterday, I filmed this week's newsletter dish which is the last of the dessert recipes I've been sending out in February. It's my Cheats' Cheesecake which I created after a rare evening of healthy eating. Mrs AC and I fancied something sweet and she challenged me to come up with the quickest dessert I could make. Knowing that she loves cheesecake, I wondered if I could make something that resembled a cheesecake but didn't take ages to set. For me, sitting waiting for a dessert to set in the fridge is a bit like telling a child that their birthday presents are in the cupboard but they can't open them yet. So my Cheats' Raspberry Cheesecake was born. Whilst butter was melting in a pan, I blended some hobnobs (oat biscuits for any foreign readers). The biscuit was then mixed into the melted butter and pressed into the base of a cooking ring. I then whipped some cream and stirred though some leftover raspberries from the fridge, together with a little vanilla extract. I dolloped the cream into the ring and drizzled some raspberry juice around the outside. I thought it might collapse when I took the ring off, but no, it stood proud and looked great. All in just 6 minutes! Mrs AC said it tasted great too, so I decided to use the recipe on my newsletter to go out later today.

Cooking aside, this week I have felt very old. It started last weekend at my mum's when I found myself leafing through old Marguerite Patten cook books. Now, I love a good cook book and Maggie was one of the originals. But it was Saturday night and it dawned on me how things have changed. In my teens I used to read Match magazine (a football mag, not a dating one…!). In my 20's, it was FHM and now in my mid 30's, on a Saturday night, I was reading a 50 year old cook book. This feeling wasn't helped with the Brit Awards this week when I realised I'd never heard of runaway winner Ed Sheeran. Is it me or did the list of Brit winners and nominees sound like a list of potential holiday destinations?: Lana Del Rey, Emile Sandes and Bruno Mars. Having said all that, I'm happy with my lot and I love my little family and our life together. Although maybe a lie-in more than once a year would be nice...

This weekend will involve eating and watching rugby - hoping Scotland can beat France. I might just buy a lottery ticket as me winning the lottery is just as likely as a Scottish victory…

5 things I've learnt this week.

Chicken livers do not have to taste like the sole of a shoe
Our next night away needs to be somewhere more exciting
The best desserts come to those who don't wait
Lana Del Rey is apparently not down the road from Barcelona
My optimism for Scottish sport is sadly not based on reality

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 13:34:09 on 24 February 2012  back to top

Sickly Peppa Pig, Smashing Pancakes and 5 things I've learnt

This week's blog is shamelessly baby related, following Baby Chef's birthday and what we now refer to as 'Sick-gate'.

Last Saturday was Baby Chef's 1st Birthday. After watching her munch her way through a slice of french toast we went to the Playfarm in Cheltenham. For those of you lucky enough not to have gone to one of these places, it's a large pen for children to play, mingle and run crawl around safely because everything is padded. The idea is that you can let your little ones run wild whilst you sit back at a nearby table enjoying a skinny Schmockacchino latte, or some such made up drink. It doesn't really work if you're restricted to the 'baby section' however. Baby Chef loved the place but was too little to be let loose so Mrs AC and I, along with several other parents, were all playing in the pen too. This sounds cute, but the reality is that trying to move in a soft floored area with a low roof, whilst simultaneously trying not to stand on someone's baby, is quite exhausting! There was also a great moment of interaction - Baby Chef and another little cutie saw each other, crawled towards each other and seemed to be playing blissfully. The two sets of parents looked at each other (through cricked necks due to the 3 foot ceiling) with a mutual look of "Aw, our baby has found a friend". Something about the other baby must have looked appealing because Baby Chef leaned forward (we were all thinking it might be a nice little kiss) and pulled the other baby's hair rather roughly. Oops. Apologies and tears all around, the mood had changed. It wasn't helped by me saying "she does that to all the boys", only for Mrs AC to point out that it was in fact a little girl… Still, Baby Chef had fun…

The afternoon was spent with the grandparents, and Mrs AC's huge birthday cake not only looked incredible, but tasted perfect.  To commemorate the fact that it was also the end of our 1st year as parents. we decided on a chinese takeaway. We had a great feast, plenty of wine and a really lovely evening. Little did we know that the fun stopped there.

Waking up on Sunday morning we went into Baby Chef's nursery and were greeted by a stench of sick so bad that Mrs AC and I were gagging. Baby Chef was on her feet, however, standing in her cot, happy as can be. Her Peppa Pig cuddly toy seemed to take the brunt of it, and Baby Chef was sporting a great sicky hairdo. After bathing the baby and soaking Peppa Pig in the sink, it was time to deal with the foam mattress. It was soaked through and the smell was horrendous so I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to soak it in the bath, sponging it down with washing up liquid. 3 hours later I finally had most of the bubbles out. I thought it would dry in a few hours against a radiator. It was finally dry 5 days later… The rest of the day was pretty much a write off but Baby Chef was fine and her usual happy little self.

The other highlights of the week (other than trying to dry a foam mattress) have been Valentine's Day and practising (showing off) my pancake flipping skills ready for Pancake Day next week. The most embarrassing thing about Valentine's Day was buying 2 cards - 1 for Mrs AC and 1 for Baby Chef. Taking them to the checkout I was greeted by a look so foul, that Germaine Greer would've been proud. I can only think that the combination of my wedding ring and the 2 cards did look rather bad. So there I was, blushing, thinking that if I explain the 2 cards it'll only make me look worse ("he who protests too much" and all that). I remained silent and walked out with an adulterous shadow of shame hanging over me. For Valentine's night we had takeaway pizza… Both Mrs AC and I were very tired, we know that we love each other and regularly do nice things for each other. And we like pizza! Whilst ordering, we politely asked if the driver would mind not ringing the doorbell. 30 minutes later the doorbell rang twice. Luckily though, Baby Chef didn't wake up and smell the pizza. On departing, the nice driver said "enjoy your meal." Now, we all like the occasional pizza, and we all know they're not good for you, but describing two medium pepperoni passions as a 'meal' might be pushing it. It's a bit like when McDonalds describe themselves as a 'restaurant'. I wonder if anyone actually uses that word to describe them…? "Darling, I've found a great little restaurant that we must try. American themed and the service is extremely fast". We enjoyed our pizza though and had a lovely evening, just as we wanted it. We even held hands on the sofa whilst watching The Sopranos on tv.

This week I've also been making pancakes. They're really not difficult and this lunchtime I'm filming making them for my newsletter, which is going out later. I've been practising flipping them so hopefully under the glare of the camera I can get it right. One thing I won't be filming though, is flipping the pancake from the pan onto a plate. I tried it earlier this week - the pancake left the pan, gaining a nice height (important) and landed on the plate. However, I forgot to hold onto the plate and the result was a smashed dinner plate and a wasted pancake.

This weekend we have no plans. This sounds great if you're a 'see what comes' type of person. I usually find though that, if we don't make plans, the weekend goes by so fast and Monday rears it ugly face with nothing nice to show for it other than catching 10 minutes of football on Sunday. So this afternoon, plans will be made, fought over and changed. But plans will be made.

5 things I've learnt this week.

Baby boys and girls look surprisingly alike
I will never soak a foam mattress again
Two pizzas constitutes a romantic meal
If I'm showing off, I must use plastic plates
Peppa Pig still smells of sick

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 13:04:36 on 17 February 2012  back to top

Sunken Tarts, Baby Birthday, and 5 things I've learnt

Beginning my weekend with a terrible hangover was maybe not the best idea, but that's how Saturday morning greeted me. The previous night, Mrs AC and I went to friends for dinner. Meeting them in a hotel bar for drinks before the meal set the tone for the evening. By the time the six of us had wandered back for food, the conversation and wine were flowing. Dinner was a lovely lasagne, expertly cooked. As far as I was aware though, I only had one or two glasses of wine… The fact that my glass was full for the entire evening was a testament to our hosts' ability to refill it! Needless to say, both Mrs AC and I felt like death warmed up on Saturday. Baby Chef didn't. So at 7am, as usual, we were up and about with our beaming, energetic bundle of joy…

A cold walk through town did the trick in blowing away the cobwebs and by early evening I was feeling great. So much so, that watching Scotland v England at rugby on TV, I was confident that we would beat the English. An hour and half later, I felt worse than I did in the morning, following Scotland's defeat at the hands of our arch rivals. There was one thing that I knew could help me - Fajitas. Steak (cooked rare) with red onion and pepper, guacamole, sour cream and all the rest. It was delicious and Mrs AC and I gladly polished off the lot!

On Sunday we went to my mum's for brunch. How very civilised. It was delicious and had the added benefit of us being able to walk in the door and hand over Baby Chef to a grateful granny. The rest of the day was spent back home doing boring chores, before what is fast becoming a Sunday night tradition - macaroni and cheese. I discovered a few weeks ago that adding a tablespoon (or two) of mascarpone to a cheese sauce makes it super rich and creamy. Delicious comforting food.

This week I've been practising my desserts for my remaining February newsletters with mixed success. On Wednesday I filmed my Strawberry Heart-Tatin (tart -tatin!!) for my newsletter that went out this morning. This worked really well first time - shaped like a heart and oozing with yummy strawberries. On Wednesday evening I cooked a custard tart, topped with raspberries soaked in Galliano (vanilla liquer), which didn't turn out so well. As all of the recipes on my site are my own creations, sometimes the prototype doesn't work! Sometimes that's not a bad thing though as it makes me stop and take stock of what I did and why. In this case, I put too much air (through whisking) into the custard and it collapsed when I opened the oven door half way through cooking. I try to see the positive when this happens and I'm going to remake the tart this evening. Sometimes it's knowing what NOT to do (over whisk and open the oven door) that's useful. And hopefully I can convey this to you when I put the recipe out next week! The tart still tasted great, and the boozy raspberries were incredible.

In other news, I've been getting increasing irritated at my subconscious ability to hear a song in a supermarket, then find myself singing it for the rest of the week. Or until the next visit. This week, I have been haunted by singing "Gold" by Spandau Ballet and "Hungry like the Wolf" by Duran Duran. At least the last one is vaguely cookery related, but only having a vague idea of any of the lyrics, makes for uncomfortable listening. Poor Mrs AC.

Following last week's declaration that I'm enjoying using Twitter, and my ever increasing number of followers (315 as of today…Ooooh), I discovered that a cat that held up a Liverpool football match (not at gunpoint) has vastly more followers than me. As of today, @AnfieldCat has 52,228 followers. I am not one of them and this has disgruntled me greatly. Humph.

Today Mrs AC is getting everything ready for Baby Chef's 1st birthday tomorrow, including baking her a cake! At this point one year ago, Baby Chef was still a bump, albeit a bump that was packing her bags and getting ready to check out, with Mrs AC writhing in the early stages of labour. I can't believe that a year has passed, and how our tiny little crying machine has developed into a happy, and rather huge, baby girl. Tomorrow will be a really emotional day for both of us, remembering the moment when Baby Chef was handed to us for the first time, purple, screaming and gorgeous.

5 things I've learnt this week

Scotland are not the best rugby team (still hurts)
Cooking mishaps can turn out for the best
I really don't like Spandau Ballet
I really do like boozy raspberries
A year goes by very sweetly when you have a Baby Chef

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 14:11:43 on 10 February 2012  back to top


Dangerous crackling, Twitterarchy & 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend I felt good. Following last week's face burning incident, I had developed quite a tan. So, it was as a tanned adonis that I walked Baby Chef through Cheltenham town centre with Mrs AC. Or so I thought. Mrs AC pointed to my face and announced that it looked like fake tan and that I was less Don Juan and more Gok Wan. With hindsight, maybe the white linen suit was a bit OTT (!!). On Saturday evening, I made homemade pizzas. I'd planned to cook a proper meal but we both fancied pizza so that's what we had. Homemade pizzas are great, so easy to make and adorned with melted blobs of mascarpone they were just the thing for a Saturday night of wine and trashy TV.

Sunday was boring. I swept leaves. I picked up leaves. I swore at leaves. A nice roast pork dinner in the evening was the incentive though, and it would have been great. However, just at the point when the pork should have come out of the oven, Baby Chef, very dramatically over the baby monitor, um…how to say this politely…was sick everywhere. I forgot to turn the oven off or even remove the pork, and by the time that Mrs AC and I had cleaned up her mess, the pork resembled leather. At least the crackling was crispy, if not a little dangerously so. You know that something's overcooked when you have to dunk it in wine to eat it!

This week I've really enjoyed two things - cooking fun meals and rediscovering Twitter. As far as the food goes, we've had homemade fillet of fish sandwiches with salad, hot dogs and salad, lasagne and bolognese in wraps with goats cheese. Not the best of diets but certainly not the worst as I have eaten enough salad this week to make a rabbit proud. Then there's been the desserts which a happy Mrs AC has been readily consuming. Each month I choose a theme for my newsletter recipes and this month it's desserts. On Monday I made a strawberry tarte-tatin, shaped in a heart, ready to be filmed for next week's newsletter in time for Valentine's Day. Mrs AC described it as like eating the best, richest strawberry jam on a perfect croissant. That'll do for me! I also filmed my recipe for my white chocolate mousse with a raspberry and mint coulis for this week's newsletter. This had the added fun factor of spun sugar so I've made a demonstration video for my website. Spun sugar is the little caramelised sugar decorations that you get on top of posh desserts. They're not that difficult to do and I had a lot of fun filming them.

The other thing that I've been enjoying recently is Twitter. I signed up (@TheAmateurChef) when I launched my site, however I didn't really understand how to use it. I thought that it would be simple. Find someone that has millions of followers, like Lady Gaga, tweet to them, and then sit back and let the followers roll in. It may surprise you to realise that Lady Gaga never got back to me. Neither did any of the other celebs. Last year, I more or less stopped tweeting as moving house twice and having a baby to deal with meant that something had to give. This year though I was determined to try again. This time, rather than simply tweeting to celebs and tweeting what amounted to marketing messages about my website, I'm just being me. I tweet my thoughts - food related, baby related and the rest in between. In doing so I seem to have found my place on Twitter. I started 2012 with 72 followers and now have 295. Now, that's not many compared to a lot of people, but it works for me and has transferred into an increase in users on my actual site. Which brings me to my next point… As in society, Twitter has a clear hierarchy (Twitterarchy I like to call it). This isn't a bad thing, but understanding this makes the whole experience more enjoyable and certainly less disappointing. For instance, celebs will tweet to celebs. But very rarely will celebs tweet to non-celebs. Fair enough, as they have millions of followers and it just wouldn't be practical. Next, are the industry leaders - people who have thousands of followers and are well respected within their field eg. food. To get a tweet from these people feels like quite an achievement. To be followed by one, well, that's brilliant. The next rung down has the majority of normal, non-famous people. We all have a similar number of followers and these are the people that tweet back to you and generally engage with you. Finding these people and my proper place within Twitter has been great. Not only does it give Mrs AC a break from hearing my every thought, it gives me a level credibility within my chosen community of food-lovers. So, if you want to read my tweets and have a chat then follow me!

In Baby Chef related news, after last week's first word, Baby Chef can almost say "hi" - not enough to class it as word No.2, but she's definitely making the right noise at the right time. All of which leads me to believe that 'Daddy' will be so far down the list that she'll be saying "postie" before that…

This afternoon I'll be sending out my newsletter and this evening Mrs AC and I are off round to friends for dinner and drinks which will be great fun. Other than that, this week has been pretty normal. So much so that last week's fame is a distant memory - there have been more 'spotted' sightings of the 'Cotswolds Big Cat' than me this week.

5 things I've learned this week.

My oven tan made me look like the man from Del Monte
Overcooked crackling makes a good makeshift weapon
I love my place within the Twitterarchy
Baby Chef may never say my name
Mythical local 'big cats' are more famous than me

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 13:03:32 on 03 February 2012  back to top

First word, First fame and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend, we braved the adverse conditions and headed over to the nearby city of Gloucester. Gloucester has a reputation in Cheltenham for being, well, a bit rough. Saying that though, most places are 'a bit rougher' than leafy Cheltenham, and it doesn't make them bad places. Anyway, we really really liked it. Lots of big shops and an amusing indoor market left me thinking that the reputation was definitely unjust! With the newly renovated docks area, maybe they should think of rebranding themselves as the MonteCarlo of the South West…?

On Saturday evening I cooked up a treat. We had steak with truffled chips and a big old portabello mushroom. I have to say this was one of the best meals I think I've ever cooked! Not often do I get everything just right, but this time it all hit the mark. The steak was perfectly caramelised on the outside and beautifully rare (for me) in the middle. The chips were crispy and golden on the outside and nice and fluffy in the middle, and the mushroom was big, meaty and flavoursome. A bottle(s) of wine were drunk and Mrs AC and I had a lovely evening.

Sunday was a more sedate day - I actually did some gardening inbetween cooking a Sunday lunch of roast pork loin, pork belly and all the trimmings. A very busy but fruitful morning. The only problem with having Sunday lunch is that by the evening, I'm hungry again! Unable to justify eating another proper meal, we had sausage sandwiches which were lovely.

Monday was a momentus day in the AmateurChef household as it saw Baby Chef's first word - 'Mama'. I lost. For months now, Mrs AC and I have been trying to train our little one to say our names. Inside our front door, we have photos of Mrs AC and I from our wedding day. We've been pointing to the photo and saying "Mama" or "Dada" with the hope of some sort of recognition. For a few weeks now, Baby Chef has been comprehending that the person in one of the photos is Mrs AC, as she smiles and tries to say the word "Mama". When looking at my photo, however, she just laughs… I mean properly laughs. It's quite rude and almost as if she's saying "That's the funniest thing I've seen. The person in the photo looks young." Anyway, on Monday morning, I pointed to the photo of Mrs AC then pointed at Mrs AC herself. Unprompted, Baby Chef looked into her mum's eyes and said "Mama". It was a lovely lovely moment to share. It was less lovely 30 minutes later when, in her cot, she was still saying it over and over again instead of sleeping.

Tuesday was the highlight of my week (Baby Chef didn't say MY name after all) as I was recognised for the 1st time whilst in a supermarket. I was walking up an aisle then a women (young, beautiful, long flowing hair) in her 50's approached me smiling and pointing. My first thought was that my flies were undone, or worse but as she approached, she said: "You're that Amateur Chef". Now I'm not one for a scene so, already blushing, my mouth (not controlled by my brain at that point) replied "and you must be the person that looks at my website". The lady then went on to tell me that she loved my site and thought that it was a great idea. It was really really lovely, but very very embarrassing. Still, by the time I got home, I had an ego to rival Piers Morgan, so when Mrs AC asked me to take the bins out, I replied "I'll have my people get back to you". I then went and took the bins out…

Wednesday was a bit of a let down to tell you the truth. After the highs of Tuesday, I was always going to face a losing battle to better it. What I didn't except was to burn my face. I'd put a big dish in the oven with a beef mince casserole thingy for Baby Chef. I came downstairs to remove the dish from the oven, opened the oven door, stuck my face in, and was greeted by a gust of 200c steam. Oops. It was so stupid as it's not as though I've never used an oven before. My face resembled a true Brit abroad - it looked like I'd been sunbathing with baby oil. I managed to find some after aftersun in our holiday drawer which helped. A holiday drawer is a bit like a man drawer but for holiday stuff that you'd never think about using at home - oversized sunglasses, packs of cards and a sarong. And that's just my stuff… Anyway, I plastered myself in aftersun and, despite the tingling face, it did the trick. It was a bit weird though, applying aftersun in January in Britain. On the plus side, two days later, I now have a great tan down the front of my face. On Wednesday evening, we went out for dinner, with the beacon that was my face leading the way. It was my father-in-law's birthday meal and we had a delicious Thai meal at the Thai Emerald.

Yesterday, I filmed my recipe for this week's newsletter. It's a Cobb Salad, which has so many beautiful ingredients that come together into a great, tasty dish. Yesterday evening, I made a treat for Mrs AC - white chocolate mousse with a shortbread base, raspberry & mint coulis and some spun sugar. It went down well and I've added it to my list of desserts for next month's newsletters. I hope to actually do it as the recipe on next week's newsletter as it would be a perfect dessert for Valentine's Day.

This weekend is already packed with chores. More gardening to do, which I loath with a passion, along with more 'putting boxes of stuff into the loft.' We're having Chicken Passanda tonight, and tomorrow I'll be cooking something special again. Other than that, I'll be trying to get Baby Chef to say "Dada" as her second word. Mrs AC has informed me however that "2nd place is 1st loser"…

5 things I've learnt this week

Gloucester is the MonteCarlo of the South West
I am not the favourite parent
15 minutes of fame isn't nearly enough
An oven makes for a surprisingly effective, but dangerous, tanning tool
The key to a woman's heart is through chocolate mousse

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 13:14:19 on 27 January 2012  back to top

New Flavours, Geordie Love and 5 things I've learnt.

Last weekend was nice and relaxed, although I think I might be looking back with rose tinted glasses. We didn't actually do much, but this was mainly due to how long it takes us to get anything done. Comedian Michael McIntyre jokes about how long it takes parents to leave the house, and never was this truer than last Saturday. The plan - leave home early (well the original plan was to go to a zoo, but that didn't happen), have a leisurely walk around the leafy town of Cheltenham, before an even more leisurely lunch. Notice the use of the word 'leisurely'? It featured quite prominently in our plans for the weekend. Anyway, the reality saw us leave 1.5 hours later than planned, meaning that we had time to walk past the shops that we wanted to go in, and straight to the pub for lunch. Baby Chef was popped in a high chair, menus were read and decisions were made. We knew that if we fed Baby Chef whilst waiting for our food to arrive, we would be able to eat (leisurely) and get home for Baby Chef to have her afternoon nap - giving us around 2 hours of NBT at home (Non-Baby-Time). Again, it didn't go quite as planned. By the time our food eventually arrived, after a wait of about 35 minutes, Baby Chef had finished her food, and was in her 'I want to get down and crawl' mood. As this wasn't the best idea (sticky pub floors not being known for their hygiene), we tried to placate her with rattly toys, much to the obvious annoyance of the old couple sitting behind us. Anyway, we had to wolf our lunch down and get out. The rest of the day was much better - I made the dough for homemade pizzas which we ate whilst watching trashy Saturday night tv. Sunday was one of those boring chores days. Lightbulbs were changed, floors were mopped, shelves tightened etc. Boring stuff but apparently all things that responsible adults need to attend to. Delicious macaroni cheese was our evening reward.

The early part of this week was spent finalising the recipes for next month's newsletters. February's theme will be desserts. February is a great month as it follows the bleak dieting of January. People start venturing out again, it's acceptable to drink again and eat much less healthy food. I cooked and filmed this week's newsletter recipe for my Trout salad which is a great showcase of natural flavour - Pan-fried trout on a bed of lightly grilled mangetout and peppers, with lemony rocket leaves. On Wednesday evening, I finally got around to trying something I'd wanted to try for ages - making my own fajita seasoning. Every evening whilst Mrs AC is upstairs giving Baby Chef her milk and putting her to bed, I have about an hour to experiment in the kitchen, and hopefully end up with something that we want to eat that evening. I love fajitas and I love the little jars of seasoning that you can buy to add some spice to proceedings. I tried and tried and tried, but each effort was worse than the last - I used lemon zest, garlic, tabasco, celery salt and honey to name a few ingredients. I should actually be pleased with myself as at one point, I think I managed to create a new 'never-been-tasted' flavour. Just not in a good way… Needless to say an hour later the jar of seasoning was opened and used. I had fun though.

Yesterday I witnessed another example of just how middle-class Cheltenham is, as twice I heard people throw French phrases into conversation. Now I know this is considered acceptable these days, due to the notion that French is the language of sophistication. What struck me though was why French? After all, French is just another latin based language. I understand it being used in cookery, as so many recipes originate from classic French cuisine, but I don't understand saying 'bonjour' or 'sans' or 'to my chagrin' in general conversation to someone who isn't French. The only explanation I can think of is that years ago, a vote took place to officially select the language of sophistication for us all to adopt. Perhaps every country and region put their languages and dialects forward and France won. Maybe if things had gone differently, we would have super-cool French men wooing women under the Eiffel Tower using Geordie phrases such as "Yalreet Pet?' or "Howay let's get us a kebab".

Last night we were supposed to watch a film. Yes, that is the level of crazy excitement in my life at the moment! Unfortunately, Baby Chef decided to 'decorate' her cot shortly after going to bed. She had started crying through the monitor, so I went up to find her standing up in the dark. I simply put her back down with calming 'shushes', before thinking 'hold on, what's that smell?'. It was soon apparent that Baby Chef had been sick all over herself whilst standing up, and by putting her back down on her tummy, I'd managed to spread the mess everywhere. An hour later, Baby Chef was all cleaned and back asleep but the idea of watching a film was a distant memory. Still, we did have a lovely spaghetti bolognese and an extra glass of wine.

This weekend is, as yet, unplanned. The weather isn't looking too promising so a visit to the zoo is, again, looking unlikely. Poor Baby Chef (nothing to do with Mrs AC and I wanting to go). Tomorrow night I'm going to cook Mrs AC a special meal as I did a few weeks ago for her birthday. We had such a nice evening that night so it's definitely something I want to do regularly.

5 things I've learnt this week

Tortoises move quicker than parents
Testing desserts is SO much fun
Creating new flavours isn't always a good thing
'Geordie' is a much better language of love
Watching a film on a school night is a distant dream

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 10:45:28 on 20 January 2012  back to top

El Nino, Iron Baby & 5 things I've learnt

It's the second week in January and officially (according to people with too much time on their hands) the most depressing week of the year. There's a happy start to a blog for you! This week Mrs AC and I have mainly been nocturnal. As I mentioned in last week's blog, Baby Chef did us a favour and slept well following our New Years Eve excesses, BUT in a manner worthy of an equine head in the bed, this week it was payback time.

After enjoying a great night out on Friday night and the ensuing suffering on Saturday, we were looking forward to a nice evening where I cooked Mrs AC a proper meal, rather than the inventions she normally has to deal with. Two courses were ordered - main and dessert. I cooked pan fried chicken with a lovely crispy skin, basted in lots of butter, on a bed of kale and bacon, with parmesan ultra-rich duchess mash and a wild mushroom sauce. I was really
pleased with the result and, more importantly, so was Mrs AC! For dessert, the brief was something fruity (not like that…!) so I made a summer fruit tart. A thin, crisp, buttery pastry case, with a layer of mascarpone, topped with strawberries, blackberries and blueberries that were tossed in a sugar syrup then left to semi-harden - like little toffee apple bits. Again, the feedback was great and it was a lovely evening.

On Sunday we went out for brunch - how very Cheltenham. Actually, talking of Cheltenham, we're a week short of a year here now. Looking back, I love the differences between residents here and the more urban area of Manchester, where we used to live. Never, ever in Manchester did I overhear (as I have done in Cheltenham) older women in supermarkets ask each other "do you think this will be the year El Nino finally gets us?". Living in Cheltenham is like living in The Daily Mail but, on the other hand, not as many people get shot in Cheltenham. Anyway, back to brunch - it was really, really lovely. There was hardly anyone around and we ordered a full English brunch (calling it brunch sounds less greasy). A lazy afternoon was followed by macaroni and cheese, to complete Mrs AC's birthday weekend. Yes that's right. Not just one day, but a weekend of birthday fun.

On Sunday night Baby Chef started crying. She finally stopped at 5.30am, thus setting the tone for the week ahead. Monday was a complete write off as Mrs AC and I implemented a sort of parenting shift system whereby one of us would try to sleep whilst the other looked after an annoyingly spritely Baby Chef. To say we looked like zombies would be an insult to the zombie community. Tuesday and Wednesday were, pleasingly, exactly the same. Like Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray or any form of humour. In case you were worrying what incurable illness Baby Chef has been suffering from - teething and a cold. All I can say is that they had better be nice teeth. Throughout all three days, Baby Chef didn't seem to notice that she hadn't slept - a fact that further added to the 'fun' of the situation whilst watching her charge around the house like a wind-up toy. I've actually come to the conclusion that Baby Chef might turn out to be a future Prime Minister, seeing as she shares a few key characteristics with The Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher. Baby Chef is very strong willed, very loud, and only apparently needs two hours sleep a night (something that Thatcher was known for).

On Wednesday I at least attempted to do some work even though Mrs AC and I had only managed 6 hours sleep over 3 nights. My website thankfully is all but finished now, I'm just spell checking the 150 pages and checking the finer details at the moment - something which is known to be good idea following a programme of sleep deprivation. Trying to concentrate whilst sleep deprived felt like some kind of torture endurance test (apologies to anyone who has actually been tortured and feels my comparison is a touch trite).

On Thursday the cloud lifted. Baby Chef and, more importantly, Mrs AC and I, had slept well. Back into action, although a little late, I filmed this week's newsletter recipe for my bacon & spring onion pasta salad. I was really pleased with the result and that something so simple could be so tasty. Not particularly pretty, but very tasty. This weekend, there's been talk of a visit to a zoo, Mrs AC is out with the girls tonight, and tomorrow night we're venturing out into the bright lights of Cheltenham for a bite to eat. Baby Chef willing…

5 things I've learnt this week.

A smile and an empty plate is the perfect compliment to a cooked meal
Late breakfasts are much more fun when you call them brunch
The tooth fairy offers no help whatsoever during the teething process
Sleepy spell checking is an effective torture technique
The Iron Baby rules the roost

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 11:46:51 on 13 January 2012  back to top

Happy New Year, The Godfather Baby and 5 things I've learnt

Firstly, I'd like to say a big Happy New Year to you all! At the end of my last blog, we were just about ready to get away for New Years Eve. In my mind, it felt like we were building up to a Route 66-esque road trip, rather than a rainy drive up the M5. We had a great time at Mandy & Simon's - as usual they provided food and drink of great standard and volume. The worry of Baby Chef sleeping somewhere strange proved unnecessary as Baby Chef slept like a…baby? At least until after midnight, which was the most important thing. Needless to say, we woke the following morning with sore heads. There should be some sort of deal that you can make with your baby. Maybe once or twice a year, you could have a morning pass, whereby they'll lie in like teenagers without feeding? Alas this wasn't the case for us and, from 6.30am, Baby Chef was singing the new year in. At least she sounded happy. The same couldn't be said for Mrs AC and I who both looked like we had un-evolved (?) by a few million years.

It's such a strange thing to do - to celebrate New Years Eve so that you wake up the following day, the dawn of a new year, feeling sick and nursing a sore head. There's no other night before an occasion when you would do that. Can you imagine going out on the night before a big birthday, or the night before Valentines day, so that the following day is a wash out? Actually that last one doesn't sound too bad at all!

We returned home safe and sound via my mum's, who allowed us the opportunity to refuel on delicious party food. Needless to say, we were praying for a calm Baby Chef that evening, and even asked her directly if she wouldn't mind sleeping for 12 hours straight. At one point, I swear that Baby Chef looked at me, and as only women and Don Corleone can do, the look said "ok, but you're going to pay later".

The early part of the week (after the bonus day off on Bank Holiday Monday) was spent trying to get back into a routine that doesn't involve wearing paper hats or eating chocolates for breakfast. I even managed to return to the gym for the first time since before Christmas. Ouch. On Tuesday, I ate broccoli soup then on Wednesday, I filmed and ate this week's newsletter recipe - my Creamy Gorgonzola Salad, using up the last of the Christmas turkey in the process. On Thursday, I made a big vat of leek and potato soup, perfect for the freezer.

Yesterday was actually Mrs AC's birthday (she's in the background muttering something about being 21). In the morning we ventured into town with Baby Chef who, unsurprisingly, come away with the most presents. Last night we went out for dinner and drinks! It only took two weeks to plan one evening out. Such is life with a baby.

This evening, I'm cooking Mrs AC a three course meal of her choosing. I haven't done this for a while as I spend so much time experimenting and saying 'taste this', so I think she'll appreciate a bit of fine dining AmateurChef style.

5 things I've learnt this week.

I saw the old year out with a bang
I saw the new year in with a banging headache
The Godfather Baby Chef is likely to call in my debt at any time
Papal visits have taken less planning than our night out last night
Baby Chef loves The Gruffalo - watch her laughing hysterically here. I guarantee you'll laugh!

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:58:01 on 07 January 2012  back to top

3 Ovens and a Baby and 5 things I've learnt

What a year. What a week. Firstly, it wouldn't be New Year's Eve without looking back ponderously at the year that has almost passed. This has been, without doubt, the most important year of my (youngish) life so far. I've moved house three times, with three new ovens to play with, but the most memorable thing has obviously  been having a baby (Mrs AC did most all of the work).

I started the year in Manchester with a wife who looked more like Santa than the modelesque figure in front of me today (she didn't have a facial hair problem, she was just heavily pregnant). A move to Cheltenham was followed VERY quickly by the arrival of Baby Chef. Our little bundle of joy arrived on February 11 and has had us wrapped round her tiny little fingers ever since. Baby Chef is now crawling and eating her way through our new home.

Cooking has been great fun this year, starting off with the cold meals induced by a crying new baby, moving onto an attempted indoor bbq (we were living in a flat with no garden during the summer), and finally to Christmas dinner itself. Which leads me nicely to this week…!

Christmas Day was fantastic and everything it should be with family packed around a too-small table. It was the first year (since leaving home) that I haven't had to visit anyone on Christmas Day which meant that Mrs AC, Baby Chef and I could have a relaxing morning before the chaos arrived. It was so lovely to see Baby Chef tearing at the wrapping paper, discarding the presents and happily playing with her new empty boxes. Nearly a week on, the boxes are still the favourite toys.

Christmas dinner itself went down well with port and chorizo stuffing balls being the unlikely stars. I was in my element, preparing the meal before the family arrived, whilst Mrs AC was entertaining Baby Chef. Drinking cheap Cava at 11am on your own in the kitchen is somehow ok on Christmas Day. The family arrived, wine was drunk, food was eaten and we all had an amazing day. The parents even did the clearing up whilst Mrs AC and I bathed a, by then, hyperactive Baby Chef.

The rest of the week has blown by in a whirlwind of visiting, being visited and eating far too much, with the only excuse necessary - it's Christmas. This evening we're off to visit friends for the night, our first night away with Baby Chef in ages. Her sleeping has been so erratic that, until now, it hasn't seemed worth it but since moving to our new house 2 months ago, she's been sleeping like an angel. So fingers crossed for tonight….

5 things I've learnt this week

Drinking Cava and cutting veg should probably not be attempted at the same time
Boxing Day hangover with a baby is something I will gladly wait another year for
A biscuit box and an empty Pringles tube are the highlights of Baby Chef's Christmas
With enough mayo, there is no limit to how much turkey I can eat
I really need someone to roll me to the gym next week

That's all from me this year, thanks for your support in 2011 and Happy New Year to you all!

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:20:49 on 31 December 2011  back to top

Chemical Turkey, Cheesy Karaoke and 5 Things I've learnt

Christmas Day is only 3 days away… I love this time of year and particularly Christmas week. No-one is ever disappointed or argues with relatives during the build-up week to Christmas. It's all about the anticipation of the day itself. Whether you're out enjoying Christmas parties or staying in eating indulgent treats, this is the fun week. As for Christmas Day, I foolishly offered to host for Mrs AC and I, Baby Chef and the Grandparents. 6 people + a baby isn't too bad though and I have my military style plan ready for execution on the day. Maybe 'execution' is the wrong word to use within earshot of any turkeys, but I'm really looking forward to cooking! I'm not going to veer too far from the traditional - Turkey and the obligatory tableful of veg that won't get finished. I'm doing a starter - keeping it classic again with a prawn cocktail, accompanied with roulades of smoked salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon. I'm going to make this on Christmas Eve, with a glass of Rioja in hand, then assemble it just before serving the following day. That way, on Christmas Day the only thing to worry about should be how to cook 5 veg, bread sauce and gravy using a 5 burner hob and no microwave…

I finally took out my gas oven and installed a shiny new (single) electric one on Tuesday. Luckily, I had the foresight to read the instructions (Mrs AC commented "for once"). It said to turn the oven on full for 45 minutes before using it, to burn off any smells. On Tuesday afternoon, despite all the doors and windows being open, our house smelt like a chemical plant on the verge of exploding. Still, I'm glad that I did it, otherwise our Christmas turkey would have been infused with the smell of burning chemicals.

Aside from cooking, we're so excited to be having our first Christmas with Baby Chef. It's so difficult though, trying not to go mad buying loads of toys for her when she's no idea what's going on. As of today, her favourite two toys are the box that her rag doll came in and the box that Mrs AC's latest shoes came in. I wish her Mum was as easy to buy for!

This evening I'm making chocolate truffles and Mrs AC is making shortbread with new cutters, and Baby Chef will be making… a mess. Tomorrow is present buying day for me. Baby Chef and I will be venturing into Cheltenham and hopefully returning with items not just from the Disney store. Although a Finding Nemo bib might be useful for granny…

On Christmas Eve I'll be making the starter and party nibbles, then Mrs AC has requested a cheese and wine party, for the two of us. It should be fun, but whether it leads to karaoke, as it has in years gone by (complete with Mrs AC in leg warmers and a woolly hat singing Abba), we'll have to see. I wonder if I can soundproof our lounge in 2 days...

I'm really looking forward to Christmas this year and being able to cook on the day is a privilege. It works out best for everyone really, as I get to do the thing I love for the people I love.  I just wish that my brother and sister where here this Christmas. They're not dead, they're just not coming home for Christmas.

5 things I've learnt in December

I have 26 things to do on Christmas Day
Having our 1st Christmas together as a family is very exciting
Baby Chef is scared of department store Santas
An old shoe box might make the perfect gift
I'm still not sure what bread sauce is...

That's all from me, for now. I'll be doing another blog next week when, no doubt, I will be in poetic reflective mood ahead of the New Year. Either that, or still drunk from Christmas...

Merry Christmas and Happy Cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 18:11:27 on 22 December 2011  back to top

New Kitchen, Mobile Baby and 5 things I've learnt
It's been ages since my last blog and so much has happened. The main thing being that I've moved kitchens! I now have a shiny new kitchen to play in, and a shiny new gas hob. It's so nice to be out of a flat and into a proper house, with stairs and everything… We even have a nice garden, just in time for winter, which I think I've stepped foot in once. Saying that, the view as I sitting typing this is considerably nicer than before, so smiles all around.

'They' say that moving is one of the most stressful things we can do in life, and 'they' are not wrong. In the last 10 months, we've done it twice, and had a baby in-between. Not easy. Speaking of baby, Baby Chef is growing bigger and bigger by the day. Still no decipherable words yet, but she's now mobile. Watching her crawl around the kitchen, avoiding obstacles, at a speed Lewis Hamilton would be proud of, is a real joy. Keeping her away from sharp edges, however, is less fun! I thought we could make the most of her new mobility by maybe fashioning a baby backpack for her to transport things around the house, but Mrs AC isn't keen.

As for cooking, it's so nice to be in a kitchen with space to cook! I've made a lot in the month since we moved in. It's the one room that didn't get piled up with boxes, so I was able to get cooking from day one. In October I was focusing on starters which made a nice change. My mushroom soufflé, baked camembert, trout with a creamy dill sauce and mushroom paté went down well with my newsletter people. In November, I was focusing on winter warming recipes - a yummy lamb hotpot, chunky salmon with a creamy dill sauce, beer braised pork & a butternut & lentil stew - all to warm tummies on cold winter evenings. We've had a couple of them twice as they were such big hits with Mrs AC.

December has finally reached us once again. I've been really busy experimenting with Christmassy dishes and honing the ones for this month's newsletters. Speaking of Christmas, for some strange reason we suggested 'hosting' Christmas this year. First off though, I need to get a new oven as I must be the only person in the country who still has a gas oven? The thing is rubbish and has made cooking much more challenging! It's also far too small, so without a new oven I'll be wedging the turkey in and it would come out square! There's not even enough room to fit my head in, should things get too much for me… Ebay seems like a good place to start but if anyone has any ideas about where I could pick up a cheap double (electric) oven, then please let me know!!?

Mrs AC is well and is still (in my biased opinion) the best mum and wife in the world. This was proven a few weeks ago, when an increasingly irritable Baby Chef starting throwing up everywhere (nothing to do with my cooking…). I said, in true man fashion, that she would be fine, but Mrs AC used that weird intuition thing that us men lack, and whisked her off to the doctors. A temperature of 39.4 was recorded and a poorly Baby Chef was very unsettled for a few days. She's all better now though and back to her super smiley ways. And sleeping better too (touch wood!).

Other than that, I've been trying to catch up on Bear Grylls on the TV. I now know what to do if I'm stranded in… the African savannah, the Florida Everglades and the Rocky Mountains. Not sure how useful any of that is in leafy Cheltenham… Zebra's don't exactly run wild around our local park (maybe some cougars at night!), and stepping on a leaf is more likely to result in dog doodoo than a snake bite. It still makes me feel manly though, in a house dominated by two strong headed women…

I'm really looking forward to this weekend as we're getting a Christmas tree and putting up sparkly lights everywhere. 2 women, 1 man in our house. I'll be lucky if I get to watch Match of the Day.

5 things I've learnt this month

Death-proof gas ovens are rubbish.
Baby haulage is the future.
Square turkey might be a novelty.
Mum's know best.
Camu camu berries can save your life. If you're stranded in the Amazon rainforest.

That's all from me and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 18:30:28 on 02 December 2011  back to top

Terry Mossalata, Singing Chef and 5 things I've learnt.

The last two weeks I've been head-down getting on with things so instead of a diary style blog, this time I'm going to give you the highlights.

Cooking wise it's been non-stop. The final two weeks of September saw the last two recipes for my Pasta newsletters. My Zesty Rocket Pasta & my Serano Ham & Manchego Tortellini. I had a lot of fun cooking the pasta dishes last month as making fresh pasta makes me feel like I'm properly cooking, but it's also really really easy to do which is always nice. It's amazing what can be created with some eggs and flour.

Aside from cooking, I've found in the last two weeks that I've really turned into a proper Gloucestershire resident. I was in a little supermarket last week and overheard a lady shouting to her friend in full Cheltenham accent "Get some Terry Mossalata". It made me smile as she made it sound like the name of Man Utd's new foreign signing or a character from The Sopranos. Just after that though, fate bit back at me -  I was talking about Baby Chef (Isabella) and realised that I now add an 'er' onto the end of her name - Isabeller. As I said, I'm fully ensconced in Gloucestershire now.

Talking of Baby Chef, she is so close to saying her first word. She now has three noises she makes. One is mamamamamama, Two is dadadadadada and Three is a guttural version of the first two that sounds like something from The Exorcist… To say that the battle for her first word has commenced between Mrs AC and I is an understatement. Our flat is alive with either Mrs AC saying to Baby Chef, "Say Mummy, say Mummy", or me insisting "Say Daddy, say Daddy." What must our neighbours think…

I've also been planning this month's theme for my newsletters. For October I've chosen Starters as the theme. Too often forgotten, the first course can make or break a meal so I've got 4 great starter recipes that I'll be sending out, starting with my Twice Baked Mushroom Soufflés (one of my old favourites), that was sent out this morning. These soufflés look impressive and are great for entertaining as they can be made in advance and just need a second baking of 5 minutes in the oven before serving. This afternoon, I filmed next week's recipe which is my Baked Camembert with Parmesan Croutons - a complete opposite to the fancy looking soufflés but fantastic to put in the middle of the table and let everyone dive in.

We're moving to our new kitchen (forget the rest of the house, the kitchen is where I live) soon, and I'll be back to cooking on a gas hob. Cooking on electric for the past 8 months has been challenging. The main difference that I can see is that using gas, you're able to control the heat a lot better - you turn the gas hob off and the heat is no longer there. An electric hob takes ages to cool down so you can have problems if you have 4 pans cooking and need to turn the heat off one. I'm like a child at Christmas now I'm so excited!

Mrs AC got a little confused yesterday evening. At about quarter to eight in the evening, she looked at the display on the DVD recorder and saw  06:10 1946… Cue questions about why the date is over 60 years wrong. It really brightened up my week though. This weekend, I'll be watching the rugby, although I'm a neutral now that Scotland have joined Namibia, USA and Japan on the plane home. Other than that, it will be pizzas tomorrow night and good old X-factor. Talking of X-factor, I was moaning about the quality this year and someone suggested that I go on Britain's Got Talent, as a singing Chef. I can see the billing now: "Face like Subo and he sings like Worral-Thompson"…

5 things i've learnt this week.

Rolling out pasta twice a month makes me feel like Jamie Oliver. But poorer
I've nailed the Gloucestershire accent, all that's left is to suck some straw
Terry Mossalata is alive and well and living in Cheltenham
"Daddy" will be the first word
I sing like the Swedish Chef from The Muppets

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:32:24 on 07 October 2011  back to top

Watching Rugby, Happy Eaters and 5 things I've learnt.

Last weekend I had a rare day out with the boys. Off to the rugby I went but, as is the norm when watching rugby, the match was secondary to the pre/post (and during) refreshments. All I can say is that we must've been very thirsty! Gloucester won the match and I even managed to get home with my limbs (if not my faculties) fully intact. I had a little bit of a sore head on Sunday morning but Baby Chef soon put paid to that. Sunday itself was lovely as it was the christening of a baby friend of ours. It was even more special as it was held in the church that Mrs AC and I were married in, all those (5) years ago… We had a lovely time at the after-show party (I'm not sure what you call a post-christening gathering??). The food was really good with delicious homemade sausages and burgers on the barbecue, and it didn't rain! In the evening I made a nice macaroni cheese - so so comforting, accompanied by a couple of lovely pork, tomato and basil sausages. I decided to try more expensive sausages for a change and it really did make a difference.

This week has been mainly dominated by more website work. Tuesday was a little sad as it would've been my Dad's birthday, although Baby Chef did her best to cheer me up with all the cuddles I could want. That evening we had lovely homemade Beef Chilli in flour tortillas - real 'cheer-you-up' food. I've found a different brand of tortillas that are just a little sweet tasting - it may sound weird but they go really well with chilli!

Wednesday was newsletter day which went out with my own recipe for Spaghetti alle Vongole. I had real fun making this dish as I love mussels but I don't eat them often so it was a big treat. I also included mini-recipes for Moules Mariniere, Thai Mussels and little Baked Mussels because I know that if people try cooking fresh mussels once they'll want to do it again and again.

Baby Chef is flying through her new food groups. She's had most of the chicken casserole I made, and has followed that up with Lentil Stew and Lamb Hotpot. She definitely eats better than Mrs AC and I! It just pains me to see food that could be really nice, blended to a pulp and completely devoid of any salt. Still, a happy diner with an empty bowl is definitely a good thing. Yesterday evening I made a little more effort with dinner. As Mrs AC was locked away feeding and putting Baby Chef down for the night, I made us pan-fried chicken with a mushroom sauce and parmesan mash. (If you've never tried adding some parmesan into your mash, you've got to try it, it's so rich and makes a great change). On surfacing from the nursery, the smile on Mrs AC's face when she saw the food made the effort all worthwhile. That's why I love cooking -  a smile and an empty bowl from an adult is just as rewarding as when Baby Chef looks up over her little empty bowl and, with her food-covered chops, gives us a big smile.

Today I'm filming next week's newsletter which is for my Zesty Rocket Pasta - Fresh tagliatelle with lemon, parmesan and creme fraiche sauce, with wilted rocket leaves mixed through. This is great because it can all be done in the the few minutes that it takes to cook the fresh pasta - 4 minutes from start to finish can't be bad!

This weekend will be sociable for us, although in a more mature way than last weekend! We have dinner on Saturday with friends followed by another Sunday lunch with all the baby friends.

5 things I've learnt this week.

My liver doesn't like watching rugby
Returning to the church we were married in was lovely
Mussels might actually be my favourite food
Mrs AC and Baby Chef look the same after eating… smiley
I'm secretly worried about missing X-Factor again

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 14:16:49 on 16 September 2011  back to top

Gloopy haddock, Jaws and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was super successful following a great day out on Saturday at The Cotswold Wildlife Park. It was one of those (rare) days that just worked perfectly. We carried Baby Chef around the park in her baby sling so that she could see all the animals. She absolutely loved the ones that were moving, but we realised that a stationary giraffe to a baby is like looking at a tree - it's only interesting if you actually know that it's a giraffe. She especially liked the farmyard animals and the piggies, though we could've seen those for free in a field down the road.

On Sunday I cooked Roast Lamb with all the trimmings and we sat down as a little family to eat. Well, Mrs AC and I ate whilst Baby Chef sat in her baby seat chewing a carrot baton and staring wishfully at our food. Lamb is one of those meats that I tend to not mess around with - I don't see the need for adding herbs or additional flavour. For me, lamb is the most flavoursome meat and tastes great done simply - well seared then roasted in the oven until pink.

The beginning of the week was taken up with ploughing through the hundreds of pages on my website that are all being completely redesigned - I'm really really close to relaunching now! On Tuesday evening Mrs AC was out so I went experimental in the kitchen, whilst watching football obviously (I've got to keep up my manly image). I made a Smoked Haddock Open Lasagne. It didn't really work, which was disappointing as it was going to be a newsletter recipe later in the month. I made a light mustard and chive sauce and mixed the smoked haddock through it, but it was all a little gloopy. If it is to make the website, then it will need a big rethink over the next few weeks.

Wednesday was taken up with more website work and I cooked my version of Spaghetti Vongolle (Spaghetti with Clams). Except I used mussels. Clams can be a little hard to find outside of cities so mussels seem a fair substitute. It really worked well - the mussels steamed in white wine with garlic, chilli and parsley. I always add some cherry tomatoes to mine as I love the sweetness - I know this might not be traditional but it tastes great. I've actually just filmed this recipe this lunchtime (Friday) to go out in next week's newsletter. Wednesday also saw the start of Baby Chef's 'shark-like' behaviour. We put her in the bath only for her to thrash around like a shark that had just been caught. It was the funniest thing I've seen in ages, her thrashing and splashing with a massive smile on her face. I've no idea what sparked this as her bath was the same as the night before, and the night before that. I told Mrs AC that it's one of those incidents that we should video so that, if in 21 years time she wins swimming gold at the 2032 Olympics, we can show the video and say "she loved being in the water from an early age". This has led me to want to film videos of her doing all sorts of activities, such as sitting at the piano, holding a microphone, even cooking, so that if she becomes good at any one of them, we can trot out the video and say "she showed an interest from an early age".

Yesterday, I filmed this week's newsletter recipe which is my Goats Cheese & Poppy Seed Ravioli with a Mushroom Foam. This is a little fancy-sounding but ravioli are a great thing to learn to make and really good fun. Fresh pasta is so easy to make and once you've made one type of ravioli, you can try out different fillings and your repertoire will have suddenly increased massively. It's great show-off dinner party food too. Like any good recipe, this came about by accident. I ate some goats cheese on a poppy seed cracker, loved the taste, and the seed of an idea was born (pardon the pun). Oh, and yesterday evening saw a return of the shark. I've still no idea what's going on there...

This morning I sent out my newsletter and, as I mentioned, I filmed my Spaghetti Vongolle this lunchtime. Yum yum. This weekend I'm off to watch some rugby, and to see a handsome baby friend get Christened which will be really nice.

5 things I've learnt this week.

Peppa Pig is alive and well and living at the Cotswold Wildlife Park
Roast lamb on a Sunday  = A happy little family
My smoked haddock lasagne needs a major overhaul on the scale of a Gok Wan makeover
If splashing was an Olympic sport, Baby Chef would be the champ
A good idea is like an energy saving lightbulb - it may take time to turn on, but it'll save you in the long run.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 14:33:39 on 09 September 2011  back to top

Bright Eyes, Snazzy Casseroles and 5 things I've learnt.

Last weekend was a nice and relaxed affair. Following a lovely lunch at my mum's on Saturday, it was back home for homemade pizza and X-factor. Judging by the noises that Baby Chef was making, however, it seemed she wanted to put on her own private singing audition for Mrs AC and I… and everyone else in the block of flats we live in… On Sunday we did a 'proper parent' thing and had a drive out into the countryside. We visited the quaint little town of Stow-On-The-Wold. It's a lovely place full of little shops and pubs, even though I couldn't see what a 'Wold' is.  In one of the shops I was pleased to find a cast iron enamel casserole dish that I'd been looking for. Oh the sad things that a food obsessive finds interesting…! We had a great lunch of Salmon and King Prawn Salad with Lemon Mayonnaise which was delicious. We were even treated to 80's power ballads being pumped into the 'olde world' dining room. This was fine except for the fact that since then I can't stop singing Bright Eyes…

The beginning of the week was dominated by the Bank Holiday. I did some work on my website in the morning then we had a lazy afternoon. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to try out my new casserole dish. What delight did I make? Chicken Casserole for Baby Chef. Yes, I cooked a whole chicken casserole, pureed the lot and Baby Chef ate… a tablespoon of it. I was a bit disappointed but then realised that I'd made so much, she would probably being eating the same casserole until she went to school. For my Baby Chef followers, the recipe was… 2 chicken breasts cut up, 1 carrot diced, 1 parsnip diced, 1 small onion finely chopped. All cooked in a pan for a few minutes then covered with half a pint of homemade (see last week's blog) chicken stock. 180c in the oven for 45 mins. No salt though, as I gather the plan is to make food as bland as possible for babies. As for Mrs AC and I, we had delicious homemade beef chilli in the evening - the remainder of which is portioned up in the freezer.

The rest of the week has flown by in a whizz of web design and planning the rest of the recipes for September's newsletters. The theme this month is pasta, and this week's newsletter went out yesterday with my Magnificently Moreish Pork Pasta. I was really pleased with this one and I think it tastes fantastic. If you want the recipe, just sign up for my free newsletter in the box to the left of the page. I've also planned and perfected next week's recipe which sounds  a little bit fancier but is great for a dinner party - my Goats Cheese and Poppy Seed Ravioli with a Mushroom Foam!

I have also been the victim this week of a cruel and vicious attack by Mrs AC. I was boring talking to Mrs AC about my new casserole dish. Yes, I am still talking about that. I commented that I thought that it looked very "snazzy". You would've thought that I was Michael McIntyre from the laughter that it caused. Apparently at 35, using the word 'snazzy' is inappropriate. So, if you are reading this and thinking "I use the word snazzy" then check your age. If you're in your mid thirties then there's a good chance people are laughing at you…

Today I've been doing more web design, this blog and thinking about what to do this weekend. We're thinking about taking Baby Chef to somewhere with animals so if anyone can recommend somewhere in Gloucestershire that would be great. On another note, I finally feel like I'm cracking this 'Dad' thing. All I need to do is find something that makes Baby Chef laugh (such as the word "boo"), then repeat it again and again until one of us cries.

5 things I've learnt this week.

It's actually impossible to stop singing Bright Eyes
I'm not old enough to use the word 'snazzy'
My casserole dish really is nice though...
A 'Wold' is a piece of high, open, uncultivated land or moor…
2 hours of continuously making Baby Chef laugh leaves me in tears

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a nice weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:39:44 on 02 September 2011  back to top

Night of the living dead, homemade baby stock and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend kicked off with a good deed, albeit about 4 months late, as I fixed a kitchen cupboard door for my mum. I did feel quite the handyman, if not a little guilty for taking so long to screw a door back on. My reasoning is sound though - Now that I have my own little family, had I done the job for my mum months ago when she asked, it would've sent the wrong signal to Mrs AC about my willingness to fix things. Now that Mrs AC has seen that there's a 4 month waiting list, she'll hopefully prioritise her requests…

It was inevitably another Saturday night in for us and the start of X-Factor. Every year I feel older and older watching it as now the contestants are young enough (or I'm old enough) to be their father. I quietly enjoyed it though… What? did someone say something? Hmmm? Whilst watching the cream of British singing talent, we tucked into homemade fajitas. I'm trying to come up with a replacement for the jar of fajita seasoning, but so far the results are either painfully hot or so tasteless I needn't have bothered.

Now for an example of looking at the positive in a situation… One thing that has been difficult amazing about having a baby is that every day starts at the same time, regardless of the day of the week. This means that weekend lie-ins are a thing of the past. However, it does mean that at the weekend we can be out of the house, and actually doing something, far earlier than we've ever done in our lives! How about that for positivity?! On Sunday we were up and out early to go and visit some of Mrs AC's friends in a nearby village which was lovely. Sunday lunchtime was really good fun as we met my best man Matt and his lovely girlfriend Sarah for lunch. It was a predictable pub affair and nice to sit out in the beer garden. I wanted a roast dinner but that just felt wrong in the hot weather so I opted for an overpriced steak sandwich instead. Nice though.

The beginning, and the middle, and the end of this week has been dominated by Baby Chef's decision to stop sleeping. The result being that I've resembled a zombie all week. From the outside I just about look human, but on the inside I feel anything but. It's amazing just how much everything is affected when you don't sleep. Life seems rubbish, Mrs AC and I argue about the most trivial of things and everyday activities become a chore.

On Monday I actually made homemade chicken stock. Not for a new and exciting recipe for my website. Not for a lovely romantic meal for Mrs AC. No, I made chicken stock for Baby Chef. I've only ever made chicken stock a few times before, yet Baby Chef gets it for her first taste of chicken! If there are any babies reading this who want the recipe, then here goes - 1 chicken carcass, 2 litres of water, 1 carrot, 1 onion & 1 stick of celery. Put it all in a large pot simmering for 2 hours. The resulting stock desperately needed salt, but Mrs AC tells me that's not allowed.

The rest of the week has blended into 1 big tired day. I've done some more web designing, I've cooked delicious Poached Salmon Tagliatelle and Mrs AC's Breaded Fish (still not as good as her version) and I've decided on September's newsletter theme. It's going to be Pasta. My last few themes have been very specific ('only 4 ingredients', 'barbecue' 'low calorie') so I'm looking forward to a month where I can cook some lovely recipes and add as many or as few ingredients as I like! Next week's recipe is actually one of my favourites, a really moreish pork pasta dish with cream, parmesan and sage. Yum yum. I actually made fresh pasta this morning and have just taken a break from writing this to roll it out. Gorgeous smell… if you haven't made your own then try it. It tastes far nicer and it's good fun to do.

This morning I received extra brownie points from Mrs AC as I delivered her breakfast in bed. Baby Chef has been sleeping badly, frequently waking both of us, but Mrs AC has done the majority of the getting up and settling her. As a result, Mrs AC also resembles a zombie so I thought scrambled eggs on toast would go down well and I wasn't wrong. It's also good to have brownie points in the bank, especially when I handed the food over and Mrs AC asked "what have you broken?"… 

This weekend will be dominated by watching sport (rugby tomorrow and football on Sunday), although when Mrs AC reads this she may have other ideas… if only I had brownie points in the bank…

5 things I've learnt this week.

I am quite the handyman
In a sad indictment of my life, I enjoyed X-Factor
I look like an extra in the 'Thriller' video
Baby Chef doesn't like sleeping but does like chicken stock
Breakfast in bed on Friday = watching sport on Saturday

That's all from me and I hope that you have a great Bank Holiday weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:52:22 on 26 August 2011  back to top

Boiled sock biscuits, strange wife and 5 things I've learnt.

Last weekend was nice and busy. We had lunch at my mum-in-law's - a lovely Chinese/Burmese mix. Mrs AC then had a rare evening out on Saturday meaning I could have a night in to myself. I wanted to be a real man and watch a film called something like 'War IV', however the choice was between 'Julie and Julia' (again) or 'Dinner for Schmucks'. I wasted 2 hours of my life I'll never get back watching 'Dinner for Schmucks'. Admittedly, I was watching the film whilst mucking about in the kitchen trying not to wake up a slightly unsettled Baby Chef, but it was a rubbish way to pass the time before 'Match of The Day'.

Sunday was nice as we had lunch out with the couples and babies from our NCT ante-natal group. We booked a room in a pub that we'd used 6 months ago, when all our wives and girlfriends were heavily pregnant. Needless to say, things were a little more cramped and noisy with 8 prams and babies this time. Still, I had lovely roast beef and a great time.

The beginning of this week was taken up with web design and experimenting with flour-less biscuits. I'm determined to make them work, however, so far the results are not exactly great. The latest creations were made using dried, then ground, red lentils. I used a little butter to bind them together and some pureed strawberries for sweetness. The mix came together like a normal shortbready mix and looked fine. So far so good… they even smelled amazing in the oven. However, 'they' say that it's all about the taste and sadly the biscuits tasted like boiled socks. It was back to the drawing board, or so I thought. 'They' also say that you first eat with your eyes… I had cut the biscuits out into neat circles and they actually looked nice. I left a few on a plate for Mrs AC to try, just to show her how minging they really were. On her return home I smiled and said, "Try these biscuits. I made them today and they don't contain any flour". I was then genuinely planning to say "…but they taste like gone-off meat". However, Mrs AC had taken one and wolfed most of it down before I had the chance to warn her. My wife likes a biscuit, but I was expecting her to spit it out. Instead, she actually like them. Call me stupid, but a little over a year ago, Mrs AC started having funny taste cravings and we know what that led to… Put it this way - I'll be monitoring Mrs AC's taste buds very closely in the coming weeks!

The rest of the week has whizzed by. On Wednesday, after a lot of testing, I filmed this week's newsletter recipe - my Spicy Salmon with Courgette Spaghetti. The remit was a low-calorie recipe and I liked the idea of replacing the pasta with courgettes strands. The tasty combination I came up with is tomatoes, chilli and chopped parsley, with delicious grilled salmon. I've also done more web designing and changed my recipe for next week's newsletter. This involved a bit of experimenting which was fun, except I was using couscous. I love couscous as it's really versatile and definitely underused. The only problem is that using couscous without spilling it is like trying to eat sandwiches on a beach without getting sand in them - impossible. The recipe was eventually honed and I'll be finding grains of couscous for months.

This morning I sent out my newsletter problem free with the salmon recipe. For the rest of the day I'm doing more web designing and looking forward to a weekend packed with seeing friends which should be fun.

5 things I've learnt this week.

8 couples + 8 babies = underpaid waitress
Red lentil and strawberry biscuits taste as bad as they sound
Mrs AC is displaying some worrying behaviour…
Given half a chance, the couscous will escape
Courgette puree, apple puree and 'milk' makes for a happy (but windy) Baby Chef

That's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:20:20 on 19 August 2011  back to top

Spicy birthday, cooking for Baby Chef and 5 things I've learnt

Last weekend was really good… As soon as I finished last week's blog it was out for lunch for us. The only question was which quality establishment to eat at…? There's been a lot of excitement surrounding the recent opening of a Jamie's Italian restaurant in Cheltenham so, walking into town, it was in that direction we headed. As is typical for Mrs AC and I, we didn't actually eat in Jamie's Italian, but the cheap pub opposite instead. We did have a nice view of Jamie's back entrance though…. Saturday night was homemade pizzas and another night in. I'm trying to convince myself that going out on a Saturday night is soooo 2010… Sunday was spent relaxing and I actually managed to watch some sport. I lay on the sofa watching the Charity Shield for most of the afternoon. Following the football we headed to a local park for an event called 'Paws-in-the-park' where there would be dogs galore for Mrs AC and Baby Chef to look at. The only problem was that by the time we got there, most of the 'paws' had gone home and the stalls were all closing. Still, we had a nice walk around a park and saw where the dogs would've been.

Monday was a boring web design day, made better by a nice Chicken Pie in the evening. We had leftover chicken thighs, carrots, celery and puff pastry in the fridge so it was thrown together in no time at all. Cooking things like pies are great as you get to watch them literally take shape in the oven. The gradual delicious smells that fill the kitchen make you really hungry. Sometimes, when you anticipate something being really tasty and build it up too much, it can be really disappointing. I'm proud to say that, as yet, this hasn't happened with any of my pies. Here's the recipe and video for the Chicken Pie if you want to have a go!

Tuesday was great as it was my birthday! We had a lovely morning at a nearby outlet centre, followed by a lazy afternoon-in of lunch and a dvd (a film called 'Source Code' which I can thoroughly recommend). On Tuesday evening my Mum 'Baby Chef-sat' whilst Mrs AC and I went out for dinner. We went to a restaurant called Spice Lodge - I had a Lamb Shank dish that was honestly the nicest curry that I've ever had. Meal, wine and a few drinks later we arrived back to a still sleeping Baby Chef. A great Birthday.

The rest of the week has been taken up with web design, filming this week's newsletter recipe for my Chilled Celery Soup and more web design. I'm really proud of the soup as it only contains 157 calories and tastes great. The other significant thing this week is that I've been cooking for someone else too… Baby Chef is being weaned onto solids so I've 'cooked' pear puree, sweet potato puree, ground baby rice and a mixture of all three together. Ok, so it's not really cooking but it feels great to know that I've prepared food for my little girl. The feeding, however, has been left to Mrs AC - after a few days of them both wearing the food, Baby Chef is chomping down everything that's put in front of her. The combination I was most surprised at was pear puree, baby rice and 'ahem' milk. It looked and tasted foul but Baby Chef wolfed it down. This bodes well for the years to come when I try and feed her with my cooking creations that haven't quite worked. She may even like my Duck a L'Orange Squash! One food item that Baby Chef is showing an interest in is the exotic Kumquat. Mrs AC was messing about asking Baby Chef what fruits she'd had that day and, at the mention of the word 'Kumquat', Baby Chef laughed hysterically. I mean like a mad person. 10 times more than she's ever laughed before. So Mrs AC said it again. And got the same reaction. Every time we now mention the word 'Kumquat', Baby Chef laughs hysterically. I didn't realise that a fruit could have such comedic properties…

This weekend is going to be busy with lots of nice things planned. We've got lunch at my in-laws tomorrow then on Sunday we're meeting with some baby friends and then maybe cinema…

5 things I've learnt this week.

'Paws-in-the-park' without dogs = walk-in-the-park
I ate all the pies
35 years old is the new 21…
Even Baby Chef likes my cooking
It's official - Kumquats are funny

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 15:03:34 on 12 August 2011  back to top

Beers in a field, Man-flu and 5 thing I've learnt.

Last weekend kicked off in style as a group of friends and I went to the Cotswold Beer Festival. Led by veteran Ross - for most of us, this was our first foray into the world of real ales and seriously strong ciders. We had a great time standing in the middle of a field, from the first pint of Golden Pride to the last pint of stinky cider.  Saturday morning however was not such a great time. In what can only be described as an act of spite, Mrs AC had a hair appointment booked for 8.15am. Apparently that was the only time that they could do… This meant no lie-in so I nursed both Baby Chef and my increasing hangover. Luckily, Baby Chef was a dream and caused me no added headaches. Playing with her smiley little face certainly helped brighten up my morning.

Saturday evening saw the return of the homemade pizza to our table. For long term readers of this blog, you may remember that before Baby Chef arrived, the homemade pizza was a staple of our Saturday night, complete with Mrs AC's ever changing, ever strange, pregnancy-influenced toppings. They were really delicious and really helped the hangover. So easy to do, cheaper than a takeaway and customisable down to every last ingredient.

Sunday the sun was shining, and I hadn't woken up with a hangover. Two reasons to be thankful. Mrs AC also left me to sleep until gone 9am (for the childless amongst you, anything past 6.30am is a bonus). Feeling refreshed, we decided to go for a nice picnic in the park. Food prepared and packed, off we went. We found our spot which, in typical British fashion, was equidistant from every other family, who in turn, were equidistant from every other group! Whilst Baby Chef slept, Mrs AC and I munched on sandwiches, homemade quiche and, as a token to my diet, cold veg crudites. Calling them 'crud-de-tays' really is pushing the boundary of advertising when referring to thinly sliced pieces of raw carrot and celery.

Monday and Tuesday were a write off for me as I spent most of both days in bed with a horrible chest cold. I'd had a sore throat for a few days but I think the weekend hangover masked the symptoms. By Monday lunchtime I wanted Mrs AC to take me to A&E, but she just laughed and tucked me into bed with a hot drink. I couldn't get out of bed… Sympathy please. The most embarrassing thing is that I'm sure I caught it off Baby Chef, but when she had it last week, my 5 and a half month old baby brushed it off like an inconvenience getting between her and her toys.

Wednesday I filmed the recipe video for my Citrus Salad for this week's newsletter. This month's newsletter theme is 'low-calorie' and at 181 calories, I'm sure that my Citrus Salad will be a hit. If you haven't signed up for my free newsletter then you can on the left of this page. Low-calorie food doesn't have to be boring, it's just that you have to carefully choose the ingredients! e.g using a few strong herbs will add lots of flavour but zero calories. The rest of the day was spent doing web design before enjoying a chicken salad for dinner. 

Thursday was a day of cookery experiments - trying to come up with the lowest-calorie dishes that still really taste great. I was so pleased with the results and have my line-up for the newsletter recipes perfected. The only problem is that I don't like wasting food so throughout the course of the day I probably consumed so much low-calorie food that I could have had 5 burgers!

Yesterday was newsletter day, web design and planning the weekend. Baby Chef's 7am alarm call has given me plenty of time to do this blog but I don't have anything else website-related to do all weekend which is great, as I often end up working on it at some point. However, I'm sure I won't be able to stay out of the kitchen as I'll end up monkeying about with something or other. Mrs AC has talked about baking this weekend, something that she's taken to over recent weeks. She says that she's happy to leave the main cooking to me but she wants to do the fun stuff! As long as it's not her millionaire shortbread, otherwise my diet will face its toughest battle yet.

5 things I've learnt this week.

1 stinking bishop = 1 stinking hangover
Crudites - a posh word for distinctly boring raw veg
Man flu should be taken more seriously by the medical community
I cannot do simple maths: Lots of low-calorie food = lots of calories
Mrs AC's millionaire shortbread is like Kryptonite to my diet

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:16:52 on 06 August 2011  back to top

Food fit for a bin, running like Rocky and 5 things I've learnt.

Other than living like a web designing hermit for a few weeks, the most interesting things to happen have been the daily updates from Mrs AC about her poorly tooth. Her ongoing inability to chew like a normal human has led me to cook a variety of foods that were easy to eat. Maybe this is fate's way of preparing us for when BabyChef starts being weaned onto solids soon although we might not start her off on homemade tortellini with goats cheese. Talking of Baby Chef… she's been great! She had a little cold last week, but in true female fashion, handled it far better than I would have. I've got a fun few weeks coming up so should be blogging weekly from now on.

I've actually been cooking loads this month - lots of new and different things. It's so easy to keep cooking the same old familiar recipes that you know and like, until you realise that you're having the same 4 or 5 meals every week. Obviously cooking the same meal from scratch every week is still better than getting a takeaway or throwing a ready meal in the microwave, but as someone with a passion for cookery, coming up with new ideas and trying (and failing) is where the real fun is. Some of my creations of recent weeks will eventually make the website, but some (my spinach, pea and tuna bake) are best left in the bin. Interestingly my spinach, pea and tuna bake smelled like an old bin…

I've really enjoyed cooking the rain-proof barbecue food for the newsletters this month. As we're living in a garden-less flat at the moment, actual barbecues have been the stuff of dreams this summer. July's newsletters have all been dishes that can be cooked on a barbecue, but should the rain fall, they're equally tasty cooked under the grill. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to invite me to a barbecue, then I'm available. Seriously. And I'll bring food. Please.

All this cooking has, however, taken it's toll on my waistline. I've been saying to myself that I'm going to start exercising and eating more healthily for about 2 months now. I bought a pair of trainers 2 months ago, went running twice and then stopped after waking up two days later feeling like someone had broken me during the night. It's only when I stepped on the scales last Thursday that I decided enough was enough. For the last 8 days I've been eating healthily, cutting out the rubbish and running again. If I carry on listening to my Rocky soundtrack whilst cantering round the streets of Cheltenham, I might still make London 2012. I'm lucky that whilst I might put weight on easily, I can lose it easily enough. It's just much more fun putting weight on. Especially when Mrs AC sits next to me on the sofa in the evening munching biscuits, oblivious to the snarling, salivating creature next to her. Determined to break this cycle, I've decided that the theme for next month's newsletters will be low calorie meals. Back in January I came up with a series of recipes that were extremely healthy, but not necessarily low calorie. Take pasta for example - it's extremely healthy as it contains virtually no fat, however it's extremely high in calories. Next month, out of necessity as much as anything, I'll be cooking low calorie meals that are not just foliage on a plate.

This lunchtime was a great occasion for us as a family as it was Baby Chefs first foray into a swimming pool. Dressed in her new frilly swimsuit, it was with trepidation that we lowered her into the water. Mrs AC had had to point out to me that the phrase 'sink or swim' is only a metaphor. Baby Chef loved the swimming pool almost as much as she loved spoiling our meal times in the early days, as she was kicking and squeaking with delight. There were also no 'accidents' thankfully as I didn't want to be the parent responsible for closing the pool…

I'm excited about this evening as I'm leaving the flat for a rare evening out - a group of friends and I are off to the Cotswold Beer Festival. With ale delights on offer including the amusingly named 'Village Idiot' and 'Flower Power', it should be an interesting evening to say the least! If only Baby Chef would do her bit and realise that tomorrow morning Daddy will be hungover. I know though that I'll pay for it tomorrow morning when I wake up thinking that I had a half pint of 'Stinking Bishop' too many…

5 things I've learnt this week (and a bit)

If food smells like an 'old bin' then I shouldn't be surprised if it tastes like it came out of one.
Hanging around suburbia looking for a barbecue might lead to my arrest.
There's a positive correlation between the amount of biscuits Mrs AC eats and the amount of bad things I think…
Luckily Baby Chef was the only floater in the pool…
Being excited about a drink called 'Village Idiot' may say a lot about me…

That's all from me and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:50:42 on 29 July 2011  back to top

Attack of the seagulls, Wet hands and 5 things I've learnt

Forrest Gump said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get". This quote sums up the three weeks since my last blog, except for the fact that my box of chocolates came from Poundland. Slightly disappointing but still a box of chocolates…

I've been mainly concentrating on my new web design and I won't bore you with the minutia - all I'll say is that just like British Rail, 'I'm getting there'. The first highlight of note was Father's Day - my first as a Dad. I had a lovely day, received a new 'Dad' mug with Baby Chef's footprint on it, and spent the day with Baby Chef dressed in a top that declared "I love my Daddy". The day was all the more emotional as it was my first as a dad without my own dad. Thinking about him always make me realise how much parents do for their children as we were always put first. I have a lot to live up to! I had a lovely day though and Mrs AC even cooked for me in the evening and Baby Chef slept through.

The last week has been great as we returned to Sidmouth in Devon for 'The Holiday Part II'. Two months had passed since our first trip to the south coast and Baby Chef's first holiday and we were looking forward to some sunshine. Steak and seafood were on the menu - one night steak, one night seafood. Sensational! Mike (who's house we were staying in) had an endless supply of great steaks in the freezer. Opening the drawer did look like a scene from 'Dexter' but we were instructed to eat everything. The nicest steak we cooked was on the barbecue. For me, the problem with steak is that I like it really rare, but I also like the outside to be nice and blackened. The only way to achieve this is to get the pan as hot as you dare so that the outside gets seared whilst the inside stays pink. On the barbecue this was much easier to achieve - smoking hot flames licked the steak and it only took one minute on each side. It was one of the nicest steaks that I've ever had. Did I mention that I like steak…?

The town of Sidmouth is lovely and we had long walks along the promenade. The Sidmouth Seagulls, however, were not very friendly. Apart from sounding like a rubbish basketball team, the seagulls in Sidmouth are dangerous, as I discovered when I bought a little tub of cooked mussels with a toothpick to eat whilst walking down the street. Mrs AC had a fright as a huge seagull hovered about 1 foot above my head trying to get to the mussels. Like a scene from the Hitchcock film 'The Birds', I was flapping the seagull away whilst it hovered over us. Looking back, however, I do like being able to say that birds were clamouring to get to my muscles…

We really made the most of the fresh seafood that coastal towns offer. We had scallops for lunch that were fresh from the sea. Dusted in curry powder and lightly seared on the outside with a new potato salad, they were delicious. We also enjoyed lemon sole and some fresh turbot.

We had a drive to the town of Lyme Regis which was lovely in the sunshine. Reading this back, I realise it might not sound the most exciting trip away, but as new parents with new parameters it was great! We had lovely fish and chips on the seafront (probably frozen fish but eaten on the seafront it tasted great). I also did my good deed for the day week year when I helped an old man down the steps coming out of the public loo. Taking him by the hand, I just hoped that the wet hands were from washing…

All in all we had a great time - I even managed to catch up with one of my old school friends ,Wheelo, and his wife and new baby. Mrs AC had a beauty treatment from the same salon as last time we were down, although she wasn't too happy when I asked her if she was going to get a B,S & C…

There is one mystery that remains. I still don't understand where the noise of the horse was coming from. Every evening with the windows open, a horse would 'neigh' very loudly as if it was up against the window. Try as we might we just couldn't see any sign of a horse…

5 things I've learnt this week (and a bit)

Cheap chocolates are better than no chocolates
Fathers Day is a happy day again
The birds in Sidmouth like my muscles
Simple seafood + great steaks = a well fed AmateurChef
Thankfully the hand drier was broken…

That's all from me and I hope that you've had a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 19:09:40 on 03 July 2011  back to top

Simple steak, first words and 5 things I've learnt

This week I've achieved what I set out to, I've (sort of) dieted and learnt some Chinese philosophy….

Last weekend I thought I'd take my diet and exercise regime up a level and invested in some brand new running shoes. My body ached as though I was suffering from some new and, as yet, unheard of disease so I thought that giving my feet some help with the weight they were carrying would encourage them to play along and take me running. I decided it would be sensible to wear them in for a while before going out running so on Sunday we went for a nice walk through town. Merely 5 minutes in, I developed a blister the size of Wales on my heel. At least that's my Monday excuse to avoid going for a run ready…

The week got off to a great start as I'd already filmed this week's newsletter recipe. It meant that on Monday I was able to update my homepage with the recipe of the week and a nice photo of the newsletter recipe, rather than leaving it until Wednesday as normal. With this accomplished, I continued with the lengthy process of redesigning my website. On Monday evening I made a gorgeous steak with tagliatelle and a delicious rosemary butter. Not exactly diet food but it will be the first recipe for next month's newsletters - 4 recipes that each only use 4 ingredients! Sometimes it's nice to keep things simple and let the ingredients do the talking and I've come up with 4 new dishes that do just that.

Tuesday was solidly spent redesigning the site. Things are snowballing brilliantly now and I'm so excited about how it's looking. Tuesday was also the day that marked Baby Chef's first word… or so Mrs AC thinks. Now I'm sure that I'm not alone as a parent in hoping my child will be a genius, but for Baby Chef to have said her first word at 15 weeks of age is something special. When I excitedly, and more than a little sceptically, asked Mrs AC what word our 'little genius' had spoken, Mrs AC replied "Yi". Oh. Not so much a word as a sound, but sure enough Baby Chef was delivering on request and a definite "Yi" was heard again moments later. Unfortunately she also said "Ga" "Shhh" and "Brrrr". Mrs AC was still adamant that "Yi" was her first word and so the dictionary was opened (Google). Apparently "Yi" actually IS a word and derives from Chinese ethical philosophy meaning "faithful performance of one's specified duties to society". So our little 15 week old Baby Chef CAN speak and, not only that, she can speak Chinese and, not only that, she also has a knowledge of Chinese ethical philosophy… Incredible!! I asked Mrs AC what had happened just prior to this momentus occasion. She replied that she was doing the "bicycle thing" with Baby Chef's legs and that Baby Chef had then done a big poo. The mark of a genius.

Wednesday was newsletter day and it was sent out problem free with the recipe for my Warm Brie, Bacon & Grape Salad. Then it was back to the web design for me. On Wednesday evening, Mrs AC cooked her breaded fish… and, yes, it was nicer than mine. Don't get me started on this again...

I spent the whole of yesterday working on my web design whilst feeling like I was going to die. I'd managed to drag myself out for a run but 15 minutes was all I could manage before my body felt like it was breaking down limb by limb. Still, it was better than nothing. Or was it??? Yesterday evening I made a nice and healthy chicken stir fry with noodles which I might have to put on the website soon.

And this brings us up to today… This morning I motored on with the web design before filming the recipe for next week's newsletter - Steak with Tagliatelle and Rosemary Butter. I'm really pleased that, for two weeks running, I'm ahead of the game although eating steak twice in one week isn't great. I didn't get out for a run this morning but aim to go out this evening. Watch this space…

5 things I've learnt this week

A blister is a reasonable excuse to not run for 4 days
Simple food cooked well is delightful
Baby Chef is a bilingual ethical philosopher
Mrs AC is deluded
Planning to run on a Friday evening is, at best, naive

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 19:53:11 on 27 May 2011  back to top

Dieting, home movies and 5 things I've learnt.

This week I've sold a house, embarked on a regime of diet and exercise, embarrassed myself and got ahead of the game.

The week started with another trip to Manchester to clear out my other house that was completing the following day (a business project that isn't as flash as it sounds!). Although a trip up and down in one day was tiring, there wasn't actually much stuff in the house and it seemed a breeze compared with the debacle of two weeks ago. Still, I'm so pleased to get it sold. Bolognese for dinner from the freezer - perfect every time. I know I harp on about it, but it really is great having decent frozen food as it means that I don't have to reach for the takeaway menus… as quickly.

I spent most of Tuesday working on my new web design before filming the quiche recipe for this week's newsletter. I hate leaving the filming until the week that the recipe is due to go out as it doesn't allow for any problems. Luckily all went well and it was a really enjoyable light dinner accompanied by a nice salad. There's a lot of salad in the flat this week as I'm try to start losing my baby weight. I got things the wrong way round, being the supportive husband that I am. Instead of putting on 'supportive' weight whilst Mrs AC was pregnant, I've decided to stack the weight on every day since Baby Chef arrived. This hasn't been helped by the irony that Mrs AC got her figure back within three weeks…

Wednesday was inadvertently a web design day as my camcorder failed and I couldn't get the video to transfer from the camcorder to the laptop. Luckily the repair shop round the corner said they could have it fixed for the following day. I managed to embarrass myself nicely whilst in the repair shop waiting for the man to look at the camcorder. He spent 5 minutes just to examine the thing and we stood in silence. I have an inability to deal with long silences with strangers so I said "I really hope I can get the tape back, it's important to me". He looked at me with raised eyebrows as if this wasn't the first time a couple have come in with a broken camcorder and an 'important' tape. Realising the implication of the look, I blushed then blurted out "It's nothing dodgy, it's me cooking and my wife filming. I run a website". Realising that this hadn't helped, I added "A normal website, not a dodgy one". At this point my brain kicked in and stopped me from saying anything else other than "Thank you, um tomorrow, um great… Bye". On Wednesday evening I cooked Mrs AC's breaded fish & salad. Really tasty but it REALLY bugs me that no matter what I do, mine is never as good as hers. I think that she's secretly leaving an ingredient out of the recipe like my mum did for 5 years with my Granny's Apple Pie recipe (cornflour on the base of the pastry was the secret!). I mentioned this to Mrs AC and even tried to play a guilt trip about couples not keeping secrets, but she was adamant that she's just a better cook. Humph.

On Thursday morning the diet quite literally went up a gear as I went out for a run, jog, canter for the first time in 3 months… Ouch. On Thursday lunchtime I speedily and silently picked up the camcorder and spent the afternoon getting as much of the newsletter done as possible before Baby Chef time kicked in. It's so nice to have an end point to the day as we now bath a giggling and kicking Baby Chef at the same (ish) time every day. There's no limit to the amount of time I could spend on my website so previously my days and evenings blended in together until Mrs AC would ask if we were actually on a hunger strike. Baked potato and a nice salad for dinner.

Yesterday morning I woke up to find my body aching to the point that I thought I had flu. Alas not, it was just my slovenly figure rebelling against the previous day's exercise. Determined not to be beaten, I dragged myself out for another run with a little more success than the day before. Yesterday afternoon I filmed next week's newsletter recipe and am really pleased that I'm ahead again. Next week will be the last of four recipes this month all inspired by the start of summer - I think my Strawberry Tart, Mustardy Pasta Salad, Mediterranean Veg Quiche and next week's Brie, Bacon and Grape Salad have been a success and I'm particularly pleased. I'm still undecided as to which theme to choose for next month. Is it too early for barbecue marinades? If there's a particular type of cuisine that you'd like to see featured in the newsletters then please do let me know!

5 things I've learnt this week.

I look like I'm pregnant
I need to learn not to make jokes about home movies
Mrs AC keeps fishy secrets
Getting ahead is easy, staying ahead is difficult
I'm turning into a rabbit. And not in a good way…

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:10:01 on 21 May 2011  back to top

Web geek, exploding pickle and 5 things I've learnt

This week I've been a web geek, cried over spilt pickle and moved money.

On Monday I filmed my pasta salad for this weeks newsletter. Things like pasta salad might be readily available in supermarkets but they're so easy to make and can be used as a meal in their own right. The way that I look at it, just because we can buy things cheaply doesn't necessarily mean we should. Supermarket pasta salad, potato salad and coleslaw, for instance, are all so bland that I think the only reason they sell is because of their seemingly cheap price. I say 'seemingly' because you can make a much tastier version yourself with virtually no effort and only minimal extra expense. I'm not having a go at supermarkets as 90% of my ingredients come from them. It's just 'cheap' pre-packed foods wind me up. There… Rant over.

So, anyway, my (fresh, yummy, tasty) pasta salad was filmed and gratefully eaten by Mrs AC and I for a light dinner before I spent the next few days solidly redesigning the website. One of the big challenges is the size of my video files because if you have rubbish broadband then my pages can sometimes take an age to load. The solution I've come up with is that every recipe page will have a 30 second preview video of the dish. It will only be a tiny file size but will have a link to click on to see the full length recipe video. This way, people arriving at my website for the first time (hopefully) won't be put off by page download speeds and will have the option of proceeding to watch the full cook-along video. Monday & Tuesday weren't all rock and roll though (?) as I wanted to cook a quiche for next week's newsletter. My mediterranean vegetable quiche was the plan, although not without incident. Sometimes I can be a little clumsy. Sometimes I can be very clumsy. And sometimes I'm like I was on Tuesday evening… Firstly I dropped an egg. Egg yolk between toes, I tried to lift my foot into the sink to rinse it before realising that I'm not quite as flexible as I used to be. Fair enough everyone can make mistakes, I thought. Then I stubbed my shin on the dishwasher door. Then I dropped, from waist height, a jar of pickle. It landed a few inches from my foot and exploded sending pickle and glass everywhere. Thankfully I wasn't cut, but with the floor resembling a glassy deathtrap from a horror film, and my (same) foot covered with pickle, I was unable to make it to the sink. I was also home alone so had to hop on my non pickle-covered foot to the bathroom. There was glass everywhere. And pickle. I'm lucky that the bottom of my feet resembles elephant hide, however, I was worried that Mrs AC would stand on a piece of glass and drop Baby Chef. Ridiculous I know, but I am after all a worrying parent. It took ages to clear up and, for the record, my quiche was very nice and will be going out in next week's newsletter.

On Thursday I sent my newsletter out and was pleased to be able to crack on again with website design. Up to this point everything I'd been working on was offline and so (without getting all webby and boring) it was untested. I uploaded some test pages to the internet and it was a great boost to be able to see my new design actually up on my website. On Thursday evening I made my big vat of bolognese (and didn't spill anything in the process). One of Mrs AC's favourites and great one to portion up for the freezer.

Friday morning was spent doing boring money stuff. Pre-Baby Chef, we used to keep an accurate record of our spending etc however that went out of the window after Baby Chef tumbled into our lives. The morning was spent trying to piece together the last 3 months financially which was as difficult as it sounds. As we've just sold our house but haven't bought anywhere yet, our current account was looking unrealistically healthy. Once I'd moved the money from the house sale however, I was amazed at how much we've spent on Baby Chef related items - most of them have been essentials so I had better get used to it quick! On Friday afternoon my sister impulsively drove up from Surrey to spend the afternoon with Baby Chef. Gone are the days when family and friends visit to see Mrs AC and I! Baby Chef had a lovely time with her Aunty Lala and was in full cute mode.

5 things I've learnt this week:

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should
Web design isn't as rock and roll as you might think…
Pickley deathtraps should be avoided at all cost
Next week's quiche recipe really is nice
Baby Chef can rack up receipts like her mum

That's all from me this week and I hope that you're having a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 14:05:59 on 15 May 2011  back to top

Essential Fondue, Wedding Day memories and 5 things I've learnt.

Following the excitement of the Royal Wedding… last weekend was spent enjoying the nice weather. On Sunday we decided to have a barbecue so marinades were made, chicken was bought, sausages sizzled and… the clouds came over. Still, I enjoyed barbecuing but we ate indoors. Boo.

Monday was a cooking day for me, experimenting with a few ideas in the morning before filming last week's newsletter recipe - my Strawberry Tart. I'd made it before with either mint or basil as a little addition then a while ago I tried both herbs together and realised it was a winning combination. I absolutely love the inventive part of cooking and find stumbling across flavour combinations far more rewarding than tried and tested ideas. And so my Strawberry Tart (with basil and mint) was filmed ready for the newsletter which went out on Wednesday.

Thursday was spent sorting through the mountain of stuff that we'd packed up following our house sale. Many important questions were pondered - How many unused sets of chopsticks to keep out and how many to put in storage? Are 12 egg cups for the two of us too many? and why did we ever buy a fondue set in the first place? I also cooked for my Mum and Mike on Thursday. They'd been away so I wanted to surprise them with dinner in the oven ready on their return. I arrived at my mum's at 18:35 armed with the ingredients for my quick chicken casserole and 10 minutes later it was in the oven bubbling away.

Friday was a perfect day. It was our 5th wedding anniversary (and Baby Chef's 3 month birthday). Mrs AC was in charge of the day activities and I was in charge of the evening plans with neither knowing what the other had chosen. Mrs AC surprised me with a trip to Dumbleton Hall - a beautiful country hotel and the venue for our wedding reception 5 years earlier. It was strange going back as there was a wedding on that afternoon and looking into the main room, decorated for a wedding breakfast, brought back really happy memories. It was all the more special having Baby Chef with us and looking at where we'd come in 5 years of marriage. Back home, we dropped Baby Chef over to my mum's for the first night away from her since she was born. It was amusing as for days Mrs AC had been really nervous about leaving her and whether it was 'bad mum' of her. I'd been telling her to stop worrying and that all would be fine but, when the time came to actually leave, I was the one who was a mess. I was nervous and couldn't stop telling my mum 'things that she likes…' In the end Mrs AC had to virtually drag me out of the door. Of course I claimed that it was all an act to distract my wife from her concerns.
A drink in the flat and we headed into town for a lovely Thai meal followed by a few drinks and a walk home in the rain… and unbroken sleep!!  It was a brilliant way to celebrate our anniversary and I'm hoping that I get my contract renewed for the next 5 years! We nervously went to my mum's on Saturday morning, let ourselves in (as instructed, I might add) to find Baby Chef smiling away in Granny's arms. Mrs AC and Baby Chef were inseparable for the rest of the day though!

Yesterday was spent at Sudeley Castle's summer fair. We had a lovely time and won a photo session with Baby Chef which was a bonus. Baby Chef seemed to love the place. It was the first time she'd tolerated being in her baby sling and she managed to grab two women's hair, one lace curtain and make Mrs AC spill jam from a doughnut all over her… Mrs AC was actually disappointed as she's determined that Baby Chef will follow in Kate Middleton's shoes and marry a Prince, however at this castle there were none to be found. Just lots of old people in barbour jackets…

5 things I've learned this week.

Cooking is like playtime for me
Apparently a dozen decorative egg cups are all necessary
5 years of married bliss has flown by
I can't get complacent if I want 5 more though...
What Baby Chef sees, Baby Chef grabs

That's all from me and I hope that you have a great week.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 21:24:49 on 09 May 2011  back to top

Out of the kitchen, into the removal fire and 5 things I've learnt

Last week I was still feeling the benefit of our first family break away and trying not to think about this week's house move. It was also lovely to see the impact the break had had on Baby Chef - removed from the daily goings on at home, Mrs AC and I had given her our full attention and she giggled and squealed for the first time! As the week wore on I was getting on with redesigning my website. Easter Sunday afternoon was spent at my mum's where we enjoyed roast beef and all the trimmings while Baby Chef enjoyed playing with her fingers! On Sunday evening we filmed the recipe video for my quick and easy homemade naan bread for this week's newsletter and enjoyed the (chocolate) fruits of the Easter Bunny's delivery.

This week the 'fun' began… Monday saw myself, Mrs AC and Baby Chef drive up to Manchester for two days. The plan… On Monday Mrs AC and I would go through the house deciding what to throw out and I would then go to the tip. Tuesday, Mrs AC would visit friends and take Baby Chef into work whilst I packed. Well that was the plan…  It's only when you have to actually empty a house that you realise just how much junk you've kept over the years. From 10 year old half-full tins of paint that 'might come in handy' to old chairs that 'we can restore and they'll look great'. By Tuesday afternoon it felt as though we hadn't made a dent. We also had to leave early to get back to Cheltenham as Baby Chef had an appointment on Wednesday morning. The new plan… I would drive up REALLY early on Wednesday morning and finish the packing ready for the removal men. As the meerkat would say "Simples".

At 6pm on Tuesday evening Mrs AC received a text from the removal company saying that they couldn't do the job, that they were sorry and to try looking on the internet. Really??? We had to clear the house on Wednesday as new people were moving in on Thursday. Obviously 'words were exchanged' but the upshot was that we were on our own. Thank goodness for family. As ridiculous as it was inappropriate, my mum and Mike hired a huge Luton van and drove it up to help. After 12 hours of 'left a bit, right a bit, up a bit' like something from 'Only Fools & Horses', the house was finally empty.

Collapsing into bed at 10pm was like diving into an oasis. Thursday was spent recovering and sleeping. As much as I love cooking I was exhausted. I always make sure that there's a few of my dishes in the freezer and this was a perfect time to use them. My Beef Chilli took just 8 minutes to heat through - it's always great to be able to eat your own home cooked food and not have to resort to a takeaway.

Yesterday morning was spent finishing and sending out my newsletter before attending a Royal Wedding barbecue at friends of ours. (I told Mrs AC that I was a little disappointed she hadn't arranged VIP access to the abbey as she managed to get us VIP tickets to Tiger Tiger nightclub in Manchester before) It was a really nice afternoon with friends and good to have a few drinks. As I've mentioned before, give me barbecued meat and I'm half way to a great day already - add in Laura's amazing Lemon Trifle and I was once again a very happy man. Baby Chef was also introduced to other babies properly for the first time and as the only girl baby, she was in her element. She was quite taken with Stanley… but she also liked Eithan… and she had a twinkle in her eye for Sam. I think I'm going to have my hands full when she's older!
5 things that I've learnt this week

At 34 the Easter Bunny still delivers.
If you value your toes, don't wear flip-flops to the tip.
Cancellation by text message hurts.
Thank God for family.
Mrs AC's connections do not extend to royalty.

That's all for me and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:14:51 on 30 April 2011  back to top

Family holiday, Chewbacca and 5 things I've learnt.

This week I've cooked curries at the expense of sleep, gone on holiday to the bright lights of Devon and patted a donkey.

Tuesday was always going to be a busy day with two recipes due to be filmed and a newsletter to get ready for the following day. In order to ensure the cooking would not be interrupted we dropped a sleepy and well fed Baby Chef off to her grandparents for an hour. The temptation to sleep, drink, relax or do any of the grown up things we haven't been able to do properly for 9 weeks was overwhelming… but my Chicken Pasanda and my Lamb Jalfrezi were cooked and filmed with very pleasing results. As we were going on holiday the following morning (jetting off to the south coast of…Devon), I needed to edit the Pasanda recipe page and construct my newsletter ready to go before we left. It was a late finish but well worth it knowing that our first little family holiday was just round the corner.

Wednesday morning came and the task of getting out the door started. It literally took all morning to leave. Mrs AC packed her and Baby Chef's clothes and told me there was space in the case for mine too. Technically Mrs AC wasn't lying as there was room for AN item of my clothing. But what to choose?? Should I take 2 T-shirts or some underwear, or perhaps 1 jumper. In the end my clothes were put into a supermarket carrier bag and stuffed down the side of the car boot. It's not that we don't own a bigger suitcase, it's just that the small hand luggage size case was all that would fit in the car because of what I am now referring to as Baby Chef's 'living suite'. How can something so small have so many essentials? There's the car seat, the pram, the pram base, the bouncer, the play mat, the changing bag, the blankets, the steriliser, the monitor… oh and Baby Chef herself. Anyway with the car seat far too far forward we eventually left at 2pm thinking that this trip had better be worth it. The journey was actually great as Baby Chef slept the whole way allowing Mrs AC and I to actually talk like normal adults (about her of course).

Arriving in Newton Poppleford, we were greeted by my mum and Mike and I was handed a cold beer. The barbecue was lit, Baby Chef slept and we had a great night being fed red meat and red wine.

On Thursday my Mum and Mike were off to Barcelona and the beautiful house was ours. We had a drive and a leisurely walk through the seaside town of Sidmouth, stopping for ice-creams and cakes at every opportunity. At one point walking down a quaint little street, Mrs AC spotted a beauty salon and rushed in. All I heard was to wait there and something about her looking like Chewbacca… Mrs AC returned smiling a few minutes later with an appointment booked for the following day. Back at the ranch, we had a cold platter of roast chicken and ham, with a huge salad. Just being away and eating together before 9 o'clock at night was so so nice and relaxing.

Friday morning we went to the local Donkey Sanctuary. I'm not sure whose benefit it was for? Taking a 9 week old baby around fields full of donkeys. The donkeys were really cute though including a 5 day old foal. Seeing the size of it, Mrs AC commented that she has a lot of respect for female donkeys. Mrs AC also loved the fact that one of them shared my name and she commented on the resemblance. Anyway, another nice meal was had with fresh seafood bought in the village of Beer. Baby Chef was determined not to sleep so it was spent juggling a baby and a knife and fork.

Today we've been out to Exmouth, the town where I spent countless childhood holidays. Filled with nostalgia we drove there only to find that I didn't remember a thing. The sky was filled with rainclouds and still is as I write this, much to Mrs AC's displeasure. She's been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and says it's lying to us. We've both been very sleepy today, probably due to a now bright-eyed and smiling Baby Chef keeping us up last night. This evening we're toying between a barbecue on the deck or pizza and film.

5 things I've learnt this week.

When Baby Chef is away, the mice don't play.
1 suitcase, 2 women and 1 man. I lose every time.
Our first family holiday is something I will never forget.
Give me a barbecue and red meat and I'm a happy man.
There are some very good looking donkeys in Devon.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you're having a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 18:01:23 on 16 April 2011  back to top

Technical hell, 'special cuddle radar' and 5 things I've learnt

It's been just over two weeks since my last blog, in which time I've been to technical hell and back, learnt LOTS of boring facts about curries and been interrupted by both a baby and a hamster...

In my last blog I mentioned how things were settling down and that I was no longer struggling to keep up with being a new dad and working from home. After 6 weeks of struggling I was really looking forward to pushing ahead with my website plans for 2011… then came the technical problems. I was unable to make any changes to my website, send my newsletter or do my blog. For 10 days I called the 50p a minute technical help line, went through everything with a new advisor only to be cut off. I'd redial to reach a new advisor and have to explain everything all over again. Two months ago the odd 'colourful' word might have floated from my mouth under such circumstances, but with Baby Chef around I was trying to be good. Amazing though how 'twit' and 'darn' really don't cut it.

I won't bore you with the details (don't really understand them myself) but suffice to say that I was not a happy bunny. I had the last newsletter to send out for March, my blog to write and last week's newsletter to create - the first one for April with a recipe for my Chicken Korma. Anyway, the time was used well to crack on with redesigning the website for the forthcoming relaunch! It was just so frustrating to have got up to date only to have a spanner thrown in the works.

I also had plenty of time to work on this month's newsletter recipes which are all curries. Homemade curries are really easy to make and are so much better for you than a takeaway. You can also adapt them to your specific tastes . If, like me, you prefer a hottish curry but like the flavour of a korma then add another chilli, seeds and all, and you have the best of both worlds. Filming the Chicken Korma recipe was amusing though and required redoing due to a squeaky hamster. I should explain. It was a gift from one of Mrs AC's friends - a little toy hamster that when pressed will squeak. In the middle of filming (and far past the point of starting again) we heard a squeak from behind Mrs AC. At first I thought that Mrs AC just had an embarrassing reaction to one of the test curries but it became obvious that the squeaking would not stop. Seriously… we had to shut the thing away in a cupboard. The hamster finally stopped 4 hours later but the korma had to be re-filmed the following day.

Baby Chef is now sleeping better which means that Mrs AC and I are getting to eat together. The only problem is that Baby Chef doesn't go to sleep until after 20:30 so starting to cook something from scratch at that time (daren't temp fate and start earlier) means that we could be eating dinner after 21:00 which isn't ideal… especially when we're sleep deprived! I've decided that cooking fresh is so important to me that if I choose the meal carefully we can eat the moment Baby Chef's little head hits the pillow. Our little routine at the moment, therefore, is that Mrs AC feeds and tries to encourage a wide-eyed Baby Chef to nod off while I make use of my slow-cooking recipes and dishes that won't spoil if left for an hour or 2. We've had the likes of chicken casserole, beef chilli and the return of the homemade pizza! I know that a pizza is hardly slow-cooking but I get everything ready and then it's just a matter of giving it 12 minutes in the oven when Baby Chef decides to sleep.

Talking of Baby Chef, her 'dinner radar' seems to have changed. You may remember that I explained how every day for 6 weeks when Mrs AC and I tried to eat dinner she would wake up screaming at exactly the point of serving up. Well she doesn't do that anymore BUT the 'radar' hasn't gone away completely. Let's just say that I don't think she wants a younger brother or sister...

This week sees our first big trip as a family. We're going away for a few days to Devon. We're really looking forward to it but a little anxious as to how it will work with a baby, in particular how we're going to fit all her stuff in the car. How can someone so little have so much stuff?! It struck me that the things we get excited about now are far simpler than days gone by. Last year Las Vegas, this year Devon. A special note to any would-be burglars - Although we're away, I've hired a pack of angry dogs (nothing to do with the cast of Loose Women) to guard the flat…

5 things I've learnt this week

Technical lightning can strike at any time
Homemade curries make Mrs AC squeak
The 'off' button on a hamster cannot be trusted
Special cuddles may have to be quicker…
Sidmouth is the Vegas of Devon

That's all from me and I hope that you have a great week.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:37:08 on 11 April 2011  back to top

Potato grenades, 'Pram and Bass' and 5 things I've learnt

After 6 weeks as a new Dad, a new normal life is revealing itself… Baby Chef is starting to settle and I'm back to cooking and working properly on my website. I've cooked almost every day!

Monday was the first day that Mrs AC took Baby Chef out for the whole day and it meant I had time to write my blog for the first time in ages and plan the next few weeks for the website. Monday night I made a simple chicken salad with a nice barbecue marinade that I use for barbecue season. I thought about attempting to make my own indoor barbecue using a big wok, grill tray and lid next to the window (!) However Mrs AC pointed out the potential pitfalls were a smoke filled flat, and/or death. I grilled the chicken instead…

Tuesday I started the process of redesigning my website. It's something that I'd hoped to have done by now and is necessary to freshen things up and develop the site further. I've got some great ideas and am fully loaded with the necessary software to put the ideas into action! It was really good to start doing something like this as over the last 6 months there are a few things that have bugged me about my site but I've been using a pre-designed template so there was only so much that I could do. Buoyed by the success of the previous night i.e. Baby Chef not waking up and screaming at precisely dinner time, I made my Chicken pie. It's so nice to be able to cook again and I'm even getting the hang of my electric hob. Still don't like it though.

Wednesday was newsletter day and my Battenburg Baked Alaska recipe page was completed, as was my newsletter itself, with 5 quick and easy salad dressings perfect for Spring. Wednesday evening Baby Chef bit back with a vengeance. Having enjoyed her calmest and most enjoyable day so far with Mrs AC, as the clock turned 6pm, Baby Chef reminded us how loud she can talk! She started crying. And crying. And crying. Nothing was working so we finally took her out for a drive. She calmed instantly but we wanted to drive until she was asleep so we drove for hours around the outskirts of town, through the town centre and out and back to the countryside. All the time Mrs AC and I were trying to work out what we had done wrong. Our conversation turned to a 'debate' which turned into a more 'heated debate'. We then noticed that Baby Chef was fast asleep… I'm sure we weren't taught that arguing in front of your baby was a good way to get them to sleep… but it certainly broke the tension and we kissed and made up. We got back in at 9.30pm and I realised that the baked potatoes I had put in the oven at 6pm didn't need the full 3.5 hours they'd had. They now resembled hand grenades. Milk for Baby Chef, beans on toast for us.

Yesterday I continued with the web designing and have now got a great new home page look that I can carry through the entire website. Late afternoon Baby Chef started getting very grizzly again so Mrs AC put the radio on through the TV. No idea what channel it was but after 3 songs some drum and bass music came on and Baby Chef fell silent and then fast asleep. So much for the Mozart effect! Maybe I will download some drum and bass for my Ipod so she can listen to it in her pram - pram and bass!

Today I have been finalising next week's newsletter recipe - following the theme of retro 80's I am making my prawn cocktail. The best part is that the video will show you just how easy it is to make your own mayonnaise! Tonight Mrs AC and I are going out in the evening without Baby Chef for the very first time, with Granny Chef babysitting.

5 things I've learnt this week

Indoor Barbecueing might be the craze of the 2010'ies
'Normal' daily life has never felt so good
Baked potato grenades should be avoided at all cost
Pram and Bass music might replace Mozart for babies
The prospect of 2 hours out together is as exciting right now as a summer holiday.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:52:04 on 25 March 2011  back to top

Cold food, sleepy stealing and 5 things I've learnt.

It's been a while since my last blog due primarily to the demands of Baby Chef and her uncompromising stance on crying.

One thing that I didn't realise before Baby Chef came along was just how 'all encompassing' having a newborn baby would be. I had the naive idea that, as I work from home, I would still be able to juggle my website (this blog, my newsletter etc) whilst still taking paternity time. Baby Chef had other ideas however…

I have actually cooked a lot. I just haven't managed to eat much of before it's gone cold! I think that Baby Chef has some sort of inbuilt radar whereby she knows exactly when food is going to be served up and decides to wake up at that moment and 'join the conversation'. Like most people who enjoy cooking, the pleasure I get from the kitchen is split between the actual cooking side and the enjoyment (hopefully…) that other people get when they eat my food. As such, and because Mrs AC has been doing such an amazing job as a new mum, I've been insisting that Mrs AC has her food hot whilst I (try) to settle Baby Chef. We'll then swap and I get to wolf my dinner down, invariably cold though.

Baby Chef has had her share of problems over the last 5 weeks, with wind and reflux issues meaning that she is pretty much either asleep or crying. Nothing much in-between. Sleep has been a rare commodity for Mrs AC and I - gone are the days of lazy lie-ins. I've had countless baby fluids covering newly washed clothes yet I've had the best month of my life because I've got a beautiful, and for the most part, healthy little baby girl.

4 hours sleep a night makes for interesting decision making though… After a particularly broken night a few weeks ago, I went into my local supermarket early in the morning and used the top of her pram to put a few groceries on. I walked around the store enjoying the fact that Baby Chef was asleep, so much so that I walked straight out of the shop. It was only when I got outside that I realised I hadn't paid for anything. I walked back in queued to pay and thankfully no-one noticed. It's probably best that I don't name the shop due to their strict security procedures…

Another interesting decision was to attempt to make a salad dressing. I use a little empty mustard jar to put the ingredients in, put the lid on and shake it up. Baby Chef under one arm, some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar went into the jar. The lid was placed on top and I shook it. Can anyone guess what happened? That's right I didn't screw the lid on - salad dressing all over both Baby Chef and I. At least we smelt appetising... Mrs AC found the whole thing hilarious until she took Baby Chef to change her and realised that extra virgin olive oil doesn't just wipe off.

It has been challenging for me though as I have put so much effort into my website that I didn't want to take time off and ignore it. That said, I wouldn't have known that I couldn't look after both the site and my newborn baby until I tried. The last week however has been much better. Baby Chef is settling more and Mrs AC and I have managed to eat together, at the table, on more than one occasion. I even managed to make and film a really fun Battenburg Baked Alaska for this week's newsletter. This week has seen things back to normal for the website and the newsletter will be out tomorrow. The latest theme for my newsletters has been 1980's food and I've enjoyed at least thinking about getting on with cooking the recipes! I had a great reception for my Chicken Kiev recipe and I know that you'll love the Battenburg Baked Alaska. My little addition is a nice layer of battenburg cake at the base with lovely vanilla ice cream, all coated in lightly baked meringue.

5 things I've learnt this month

Pan fried fish 'gone cold' doesn't taste as nice as it sounds...
Babies' bottoms should be stamped with a warning sign
Remembering to pay for shopping is essential to avoid descending into a life of crime
Olive oil & balsamic vinegar could be the next 'must have' fad moisturiser
Mrs AC continues to amaze me as a new mum

That's all from me this time and I hope you have a great week.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:25:25 on 22 March 2011  back to top

Baby Chef, Baby Chef and 5 things I've learnt

The week that changed my life…! I couldn't blog this time last week as Baby Chef decided to make a slightly early appearance.

You may recall that 2 weeks ago, in my last blog, I was really getting stuck into cooking and loving my new kitchen. I filmed the recipe for this week's newsletter dish, my moreish Macaroni Cheese. It serves 6 but Mrs AC and I ate the lot that evening. Here's a tip - if you're cooking something that you really like in a large quantity, don't eat early! We did just that and 3 hours later we were hungry again with leftover macaroni cheese just sitting there looking at us - It didn't stand a chance. I woke up with indigestion courtesy of the greed fairies. Mrs AC grumped that she didn't care as she's woken up with indigestion every day for the last 2 months.

I went back up to Manchester on the Tuesday to sort a few things but being the worrying expectant father, I really wasn't relishing the prospect of being 2.5 hours away from Mrs AC and receiving a phone call to tell me that she'd gone into labour. I managed to get up there and back by lunchtime which made me feel better, even more so when I saw Mrs AC and saw that Baby Chef was indeed still inside. The rest of the week saw me cooking lots and really looking forward to writing about it in last week's blog. That is until the most incredible life changing experience happened… On Thursday afternoon (10th) Mrs AC casually informed me that her waters had broken. Labour started soon after and at 09:37 on February 11th, weighing in at 7lbs 5oz, Baby Chef was born (Isabella Charlotte May Young to give her her real name). Mrs AC and Baby Chef were kept in for a few nights due to some complications with the birth but both were already making me proud. Mrs AC for what she'd been through to give us such a beautiful little girl and to Baby Chef herself for being strong and healthy. I just couldn't wait to take them home. Sunday late afternoon we finally made the journey. Baby Chef screamed at the top of her lungs all the way through the maternity ward (saying goodbye to the nice midwives I think) then was as content as could be for the drive home.

Once inside the front door the question was - what now? Still in her car seat, we took Baby Chef on a tour of the flat showing her the new nursery. We took her out of the car and the crying began… 2 hours later we'd tried everything but she was still screaming at the top of her lungs. We decided that as she had been happy in the car, we'd try calming her by taking her out for a nice drive. This worked like a charm, although there were only so many times we could drive around the one-way system. We also realised it was 21:00 and we hadn't eaten. (Mrs AC and I that is as Baby Chef had her feed before we left!). We knew that we had to eat and we knew that if we went back and tried to cook with Baby Chef crying it would be impossible. So I'm afraid to say that our first meal as a family was a McDonald's drive-though. I know, I know… not the best first family meal, eating a burger in an out of town industrial park but at least Baby Chef was calm. Back home an hour later with a sleeping Baby Chef we thought we'd cracked this parenting lark. Until she started crying again… After another hour she finally settled in my arms. I instructed Mrs AC to get to bed as I would hold Baby Chef and wake Mrs AC to feed her. I held her all night asleep in my arms, watching the entire collection of The Inbetweeners, whilst pointing out to my baby girl all the reasons why teenage boys are bad. Looking back it was quite a blur but, like all parents before us, we got through it.

Monday, Valentine's Day, The Day of Love, was spent in a 2 hour shift pattern with either Mrs AC or I asleep whilst the other one looked after Baby Chef. We DID exchange cards that I'd bought from Tesco the day before. 1 from me to Mrs AC, 1 from me to Baby Chef (she'd definitely captured my heart already) and 1 from Mrs AC to me which I'd also bought, as funnily enough, they didn't sell Valentine's cards from the vending machine in the maternity ward. Monday night was a mirror of the night before - I stayed up and woke Mrs AC when it was time to feed.

Tuesday, however, things got better. For the first time Baby Chef slept in her carry cot. Only for 30 minutes to start with but we were still impressed. That evening I decided to cook as I wanted to do a nice meal for Mrs AC so I asked her what she would like. The request was something that didn't have to be cooked to incineration level now that she was no longer pregnant. I made my Sesame Tuna Salad and, with Baby Chef asleep again, the signs were great that we might be able to eat together. That was until I served up… I have been referring to Baby Chef for some time now on this blog although judging by her reaction to my cooking, maybe Baby Critic might be a better name for her. She made it clear in no uncertain terms by crying incessantly that she was unimpressed by my efforts and it wasn't even as it she was going to eat it. 2 hours later she settled again and that evening she slept in her carrycot for 3 hours at a time. Unfortunately, as I was used to holding her and therefore simply looking down to see if she was ok, I still had a sleepless night checking her every 2 minutes to see if she was still breathing.

Wednesday Baby was a very grizzly Baby. We'd done our ante-natal classes (war training as I was fast referring to it) but it still seemed like guess work like in some weird game show - "Welcome, your baby is crying. You have 7 options to choose from - Baby is too tired, too stimulated, too lonely, too hot, too cold, hungry or uncomfortable (polite way of saying dirty nappy). If you choose the correct answer your baby will soothe, but if you choose the wrong answer the crying will intensify."  Well we went through them all with no luck and then finally called in the cavalry (my mum) who told us there was mystery answer number 8 - that babies can just cry for no reason. So that was Wednesday, but despite the sleepless nights and endless crying I was already feeling overwhelmingly happy with my little family. If anyone out there knows of mystery answers 9 or 10 or any other must-have baby tips, I would REALLY love to hear from you!

Thursday everything seemed to change. Baby Chef was feeding properly and sleeping in her carry cot. So much so that we went out for our first walk around the local duck pond. It took 1 hour to get ready to go out for a 15 minute walk but it was well worth it and Baby Chef was fast asleep in her pram. Thursday night was the first night that Mrs AC and I both got some sleep. Baby Chef slept like a log, just waking for a feed every 3 hours.

Yesterday was great, really great. Feeling high after getting a good night's sleep (4 hours) we had our first trip into town. This was lovely as the nice ladies in Mothercare were cooing about how cute Baby Chef was. I literally couldn't have been prouder of my 1 week old little bundle of joy. Last night we managed to eat together again. My Beef Chill that I'd made for the newsletter a few weeks ago and frozen down in handy portions. It was wonderful to be able to sit down for a meal with my wife, with Baby Chef sleeping soundly next to us. And I managed to get 6.5 hours sleep last night!

5 things I've learnt this week

Being a Dad makes me very very happy...
But Mums know best
Freezing food in advance of Baby Chef's arrival was a very, very good idea
Just how proud I am of Mrs AC
Just how proud I am of Baby Chef

For this week - 5 things I need to learn as a Dad

How to manage to hit my thumb with a hammer every time
How to dance very badly (think I've already got that one already)
How to embarrass my daughter when she's older (videos on my phone of my little baby passing wind whilst sleeping should do it)
How to answer any question and make it sound like I know the answer
How to work out what 'Glee' is and why anyone would watch it

That's all from me this week and have a great rest of the weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 20:10:14 on 19 February 2011  back to top

Baby scare, 'big shop' & 5 things I've learnt

This week I've cooked lots, had a scare and got my 'big shop' done.

After the previous week I was looking forward to a nice weekend that didn't involve a motorway. Saturday was spent unpacking some more boxes and the flat finally looked habitable. Saturday night was homemade pizza night then our first trip to the pub. Mrs AC loved the fact she was out in a pub (not drinking alcohol she's asked me to stress!) whilst 8.5 months pregnant. It was really nice to get out though and relax.

Sunday was spent doing baby stuff - buying more bits, finding they didn't work and taking other bits back before I made a nice lasagne for the evening which went down a treat. The whole lot was polished off in record time, so much so that I was worried about the reaction if I told Mrs AC that there was none left…

Monday morning I spent planning a few things for my website. What with the move and the baby stuff I haven't been able to give it as much attention as I would like and it felt good to get some things planned. Monday afternoon I made our flat smell gorgeous as I made a nice crusty granary loaf of bread, then it was off to the supermarket to do a 'big shop'. It felt nice stocking the cupboards up again - helping to make us feel more settled.

Tuesday morning was haircut time, and as ever, I was amazed at the amount of grey hair that fell to the barbers floor. When this happens I console myself that some of the world's sexiest men are grey - George Clooney, Richard Gere and Philip Schofield (!) to name but a few. Next up for me was fitting the baby car seat… We'd decided to get one of those base things that stay in the car and the actual baby seat just clicks in and out. Or at least that's what is supposed to happen…
After hours of trying, the thing still wouldn't work. The fire service apparently do a fitting check so, feeling entirely emasculated, I took the car round to the them. The problem turned out to be with the car rather than anything to do with my fitting skills. This made me feel a bit better although I was literally back to square one and had wasted a whole afternoon.

Wednesday, as ever, was newsletter day and I spent the morning editing and getting the recipe page finished for my tasty Shepherd's Pie. I was almost ready to send it out when Mrs AC returned from a midwife appointment to inform me that we needed to go to hospital as there might be a problem. Big gulp… We packed EVERYTHING as we didn't know if we would be coming back together that night or if Mrs AC was going to be kept in until Baby Chef arrives. The entire Wednesday evening was spent at the hospital having various checks. It turned out that everything was fine and the evening was actually a blessing in disguise as we hadn't been able to see the hospital before. We were looked after by an amazingly lovely midwife called Cleo who reassured us and answered all our questions before showing us around the whole department. We came away relieved and more relaxed, having seen where Baby Chef would arrive. Back too late for proper dinner so it was beans on toast using nice thick slices of homemade granary bread… an underrated meal in my opinion.

Thursday morning I finally managed to send my newsletter out which was the first in a series this month of family favourites. If you haven't signed up for the newsletter you can do so on the left of the page - it's totally free and I promise you won't get any junk mail, just a weekly e-mail from me with a nice, new recipe. Thursday evening we filmed next week's newsletter recipe for a homely beef chilli. I decided to make it a mild version as there's an old wives tale that spicy food can induce labour. After a busy couple of weeks we wouldn't be adverse to Baby Chef hanging on till nearer his or her due date (Feb 14th)... It was the first recipe I've filmed in the new kitchen and I was really pleased with the result. It's also great as I made a large amount and have frozen the leftovers ready for when time is more 'challenging' over the next few weeks.

This morning I've managed to get the car seat sorted at last. Irritatingly I needed to buy a more expensive version but this one is now fitted and I'm feeling manly again. This evening Mrs AC & I are off out for a meal with the couples from our ante-natal classes. I'm really looking forward to seeing them again and it should be an amusing sight with 8 heavily pregnant women and partners all squeezed around a dinner table…

5 things I've learnt this week

'Big shop' costs more down south.
Add Lasagne to the list of 'must have' food for pregnant women.
A good midwife is an angel in uniform.
Hot chilli might make for an early baby.
There is only one downside to beans on toast…

That's all from me this week and I hope you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 15:38:49 on 04 February 2011  back to top

White-van-woman, electric cooking and 5 things I've learnt

This week has flown by in a blur of boxes and motorway services but I now have a lovely, new kitchen to play in!

The weekend was spent packing and loading up a huge van for the move. Saturday night was lovely though because as regular readers of this blog will know, these days Saturday nights mean homemade pizza time. I just love the whole process of making your own pizza from scratch. Kneading dough and then watching it rise, knowing that it will eventually become delicious pizza. It all just increases the anticipation. Then there's the actual building of the toppings which is great fun to do and sociable. I tend to do all the cooking so it's nice for me to be able to share the process with Mrs AC. Anyway, the pizza was delicious and we had a lovely Saturday evening. Nice and quiet in anticipation of the following day…

Sunday was just a little bit busy… In the morning we cooked and filmed my newsletter recipe which was the final in my healthy eating series - a nice grilled chicken with mango salsa. Then it was straight into action… I hired a huge transit van and proudly drove it to our street where thankfully there was a parking space. The problem was that I'm obviously no 'white-van-man' and to watch me reverse park this van would have been VERY amusing, complete with Mrs AC apparently attempting semaphore to assist. 15 minutes later I was still 3 feet from the kerb, so Mrs AC suggested that she have a go. With an attitude that a couple of sports presenters would be proud of, I tossed her the keys thinking there would be no way she'd be able to do it. She parked it perfectly the first time… sorry Mrs AC.

With the van packed we headed off to Cheltenham in convoy. Monday morning came and the van was duly unloaded and returned all the way to Manchester. A late return and missed dinner made me a little grumpy… sorry again Mrs AC.

Tuesday was the first morning in Cheltenham and for me that meant sorting out the kitchen. Mrs AC pointed out that maybe the nursery should be the priority given that Baby Chef could arrive anytime now! Baby stuff was bought and the nursery room cleared. This meant that I could concentrate on my kitchen which contains a nice modern electric hob complete with touch controls. I've never cooked on an electric hob before and I'll admit that for 15 minutes I just couldn't turn the thing on. "I can cook therefore I can turn on a hob" was my theory. In my defence, the new kitchen is a little like the Starship Enterprise with buttons and lights built in everywhere with no explanation. Mrs AC found the instructions and casually walked over and turned the hob on as if she herself had built it... A quick trip to the supermarket and I was cooking again - predictably a vat of my bolognese. I can't stress how much cooking relaxes me and this was this first time I felt myself unwinding in days.

Wednesday was newsletter day as usual so a busy morning, but it went out problem free which given how busy I'd been was a huge relief. Wednesday night I made a simple stir fry which was lovely.

Thursday morning saw me back up to Manchester stupidly early to miss the traffic - it was still dark when I got there! Chores done, bleary eyed I set off again for Cheltenham. Mrs AC was 'doing lunch' with new friends she has made through ante natal classes and it was lovely for me to see her settling in and feeling comfortable. All the loading boxes and trips up the motorway seem much more worth it if I know my wife is happy. Last night Mrs AC made dinner - a lovely fish dish, breaded and cooked in the oven with a nice salad. And a much needed early night.

I'm looking forward to a weekend where I don't have to drive the length of the country, can cook some food (pizza maybe…) and enjoy some time with Mrs AC. Oh and getting the surround sound speakers sorted for the TV… I know my priorities!

5 things I've learnt this week.

Mrs AC is secretly an expert 'white-van-woman'.
Being able to turn on your hob is an essential requirement for a cook.
There are 8 motorway service stations between Cheltenham and Manchester.
Making a vat of bolognese makes me feel at home.
I have a lot to thank my wife for.

That's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 13:09:49 on 28 January 2011  back to top

Fishy chips, freezer feeding and 5 things I've learnt.

This week I've found somewhere to live, had fishy chips and become the Gillian McKeith of cats.

After the disappointment of last week and the depressing realisation that my life could be that boring, this week could only be better… Saturday night saw the return of the homemade pizza. I know that I'm trying to eat healthily this month but Saturday was a treat. I was intrigued to see if Mrs AC's weird pregnancy toppings would make a return and they certainly did. Mascarpone, pickled onion and whole garlic cloves. No joke and an instant problem… Being a red blooded male I enjoy a kiss from my wife so the thought of her eating whole garlic cloves wasn't the most appealing. I did what any man would do and ate some garlic myself. The pizzas were fantastic (I had sausage and red onion) and we had a nice evening in.

Sunday I made granary bread and was feeling like a proper home cook again. Monday saw another drive down to Cheltenham, signing a rental on an apartment and another ante-natal class.  With the imminent arrival of Baby Chef we wanted to be closer to our parents in Cheltenham (where we both grew up) and so decided to rent a flat or house there when Mrs AC went on maternity leave. We duly signed on the dotted line and the relief was amazing. This had been dragging on a bit and we were worried that if Baby Chef came early we wouldn't be able to move. The final ante-natal class was great on Monday night - I got so much more than I expected from the course and feel like a proper modern man now. The other couples there were lovely too and I really think we've made some new great friends.

Back up on Tuesday and starting to think about packing… Gulp! Mrs AC went out for dinner leaving me to cook for 1. I decided that I'd see what I had in the freezer as it all has to get used and found a nice piece of salmon. I cooked it in the oven wrapped in a foil bag with some butter, herbs and white wine. I also found chips lurking in the bottom of the freezer and thought they'd make a change as we never have them. As I put them on the oven tray I detected a smell of fish. Naturally I thought that it must be coming from the salmon in the oven. Frozen peas were the finishing touch to a not-so-gourmet but nice enough meal. The chips tasted a bit fishy but, again, I thought that it was just my nose and taste buds getting confused by the salmon on the same plate…

…Wednesday morning I was ill. The thought of those chips was not a pleasant one and the morning was spent in bed. I had my newsletter to send out on Wednesday and as I was feeling a bit better by the afternoon I got up and on with it. I really like this week's newsletter recipe - Chilli Chicken stir fry. Nice and healthy but packed with flavour. It's the third recipe in my healthy eating month and I'm pleased to be feeling a bit healthier after the indulgence of Christmas! Wednesday night I nursed some lentil & bacon soup (from the freezer of course) and was feeling better. I'm still not sure what was going on with those chips as they weren't that old…

Yesterday was spent packing, putting stickers on things and tidying up the garden. The garden was NOT a nice experience to put it mildly… Last year, in our infinite wisdom, we decided to cover our front flower beds with decorative stones. It all looked lovely in the summer. Less so now that it's covered with leaves. Unable to use a rake because of the hundreds of stones, I had to pick up the leaves by hand. The leaves were not alone however. Let's just say that they had been frequently visited by cats… The whole experience was not nice to say the least and left me feeling that criminals serve lighter community sentences than the task I had endured. Oh and a pair of good trainers were left unsalvageable. Several showers later and Thursday night's meal was my trusty Bolognese (you've guessed it - from the freezer).

Today has been spent packing and defrosting. As I type this I'm defrosting 2 chicken wings and 2 chicken thighs - am going to try and make a hot sauce for them!  Following 'Chip-gate' Mrs AC has decided to have pasta instead. Tomorrow we have pork loins and ice cream to eat, and if Mrs AC has her way, they'll probably be on the same plate.

5 things I've learnt this week

Sociably eating garlic does not guarantee kisses. It does mean you will smell.
After hours of ante natal classes I have the knowledge… just hope Baby Chef has been listening too.
If your chips smell of fish, don't be surprised if you're sick.
I can still smell the cat's offerings.
Freezer feeding is fun!

That's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 19:00:20 on 21 January 2011  back to top

Baby shares, busy week & 5 things I've learnt
This week I've been baby planning, website planning and cooking a little.

I'm sure that everyone has a week like this where you look back and wonder where it's gone. At least I hope that's the case…?! This week's blog is therefore short and sweet and, like any good sleeping aid, I should stress that you shouldn't read this whilst operating heavy machinery...

Last weekend was great as we had an all day ante-natal class which was fun and really useful. The classes are so informative and a great way to meet people in a similar position to Mrs AC and I. We all had to bring an item for lunch -  my contribution was my Chocolate Ganache Tart which went down very well, but was a safe bet really in a room full of pregnant women! A late return home left no time for cooking so it was the trusty spaghetti bolognese that works so well from frozen. It's one of my favourite meals and by making a big batch of it and then freezing it flat in little food bags, you have you own ready meal. Just pop some pasta on the hob and microwave the bolognese.

Sunday was spent filming and editing the website for this week's newsletter healthy recipe - Spicy Lentil Stew. It's much nicer than it sounds! Lentils are fantastic, underused and so so healthy. I feel like I should work for the Lentil Marketing Board. If it actually existed...

The rest of the week has flown by in a blur of paint, receipts and spreadsheets, as the baby planning and purchasing has kicked up a gear. Mrs AC went out for the day and came back with bags from pretty much every shop that has a baby department. Two things struck me -  If only I could get shares in Boots and Mothercare and how my life has changed - I now know all the merits of owning a self-sealing nappy bin…

I had time to cook and film a Shepherds Pie (lamb not beef mince) for a future newsletter which was a real bonus. I'm trying to get some recipes filmed and ready in advance so that when Baby Chef arrives, I can still send out my weekly newsletter. This week's went out on Wednesday problem free which always helps.

Thursday was spent driving down to Cheltenham to visit my Mum who had her hip replaced on Tuesday. In true Mum-style she was more concerned about what we had had for dinner and our general well-being and seemed to be in great sprits. Thursday night and all day Friday were ante-natal classes - I'll be a complete baby expert at the end of all this! We drove back up last night and it's a tired me this morning. I'm really looking forward to a weekend where I can get stuck into some proper cooking and get my kitchen smelling delicious again.

I promise to make next week more exciting…

5 things I've learnt this week

Learning about babies could be a full time job.
Lentils are my new favourite superfood.
Babies don't come cheap.
A week of not cooking much = grumpy chef.
Shepherds really shouldn't eat lamb.
Thankfully that's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:27:16 on 15 January 2011  back to top

Healthy January, Ghosts and 5 things I've learnt
New Years Eve was a great night and a lovely way to see in the New Year. Mrs AC and I went to see good friends and Simon put on an amazing spread of tapas. All home made and wonderfully delicious. It was Mrs AC's first ever sober Near Year's Eve (as an adult I should add!) and I learnt something… Apparently muting the TV and doing your own commentary to the pictures isn't actually that funny unless you've consumed a bottle of wine. Oops. My New Year diet starts tomorrow...

New Years Day was spent relaxing and pondering the year ahead. Never before have I had so much focus going into a new year - growing the website and the looming arrival of Baby Chef being the main and ongoing focuses. We had a lovely day though and made fajitas, complete with homemade guacamole and salsa. So easy and so worth it. Diet starts tomorrow.

Sunday we went to the gym. Along with everyone else who is a member of our gym. Don't like being a cliche but at least the diet has started!

At the beginning of the week I finalised the recipes for my January newsletters. Like a lot of people I have over indulged this Christmas so the need to shed some weight in January is high on my immediate agenda. I want to make this a healthy month and have focused my newsletter recipes accordingly. My healthy sweet and sour chicken recipe was filmed and I was so pleased with the result. Healthy food is, sadly, so often boring, when it really doesn't have to be this way. I thought that a healthy version of a takeaway classic would prove my point perfectly. Diet still intact!

The new recipe page was edited on Tuesday before our first NCT ante-natal class. We were a bit apprehensive as to what to expect but it was great, and a really nice way to meet people in a similar situation. Day 3 of diet and so far so good…

My newsletter went out on Wednesday with the sweet and sour chicken recipe. A problem free technical start to the year is always good. Wednesday night I cooked the final version of my lentil stew. It might not sound that appetising but it tasted great and is stupidly healthy. Diet still intact!

Wednesday night we had a tour of the hospital that we're booked into for the baby's birth. Mrs AC was feeling a bit nervous as visiting the hospital brought all her concerns about childbirth to the front of her mind. This wasn't helped on our arrival as we had to hold the door open for a pregnant woman who had just arrived and was obviously in advanced stages on labour. As I held the door open for her to be wheeled in, I looked across at Mrs AC who looked like a ghost. As we were our compulsory 5 minutes late, a nice nurse had to help us find the tour group. The nurse made us wait outside a room whilst she went to ask. The room was obviously a delivery room and the noises coming out were quite unlike anything I've ever heard before… from a human. By now Mrs AC was not looking good - as white as a sheet. Thankfully the nurse returned and took us to the group and the tour went on without any further incident.

Yesterday was Mrs AC's birthday (21st she has instructed me to say). A lazy morning was followed by the cinema and me cooking. I made stuffed mushroom to start, followed by pappardelle with squash and mascarpone and chocolate fondants.  We were going out for a meal, but Mrs AC decided that she would prefer a night in and gave me her order… what a pregnant wants a pregnant women gets, especially on her birthday!  Diet wagon temporarily derailed, back on track tomorrow.

5 things I've learnt this week

I'm not as funny as I think I am. Unless you've had a bottle of wine.
Diets are really easy to start.
Diets are really difficult to keep.
Mrs AC can do a great impression of a ghost.
The date on Mrs AC's birth certificate must be wrong…

That's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef


Posted @ 12:51:52 on 07 January 2011  back to top

Christmas, turkey dreams and 5 things I've learnt
Christmas Day has come and gone. With Mrs AC being ill last week I was thankful to have any company on Christmas Day - She pulled herself through and we had a great day. Santa was good to me, the turkey was lovely, the accompaniments plentiful and the obligatory board games were played. I'm sure Mrs AC was cheating at Trivial Pursuit though as she beat me far too convincingly. Celebrating with just the two of us was actually really lovely as it will be our last Christmas before parenthood arrives. Boxing Day, or Day 2 of the turkey marathon, was spent doing pretty much the same thing. Eating turkey (cold this time), playing games and watching films. I always love Christmas but it's a time when you have to be happy and I can't help feeling sorry for those people who experience sadness at this time of year.

Monday we travelled down to Cheltenham (where we're both from) laden with homemade chocolate treats. My mum was hosting Christmas Day there three days late due to Mrs AC's illness. The in-laws, my sister and her wife, plus a friend of theirs made for a very busy house. Elbows tucked in, 9 of us squeezed around the table, everyone at different heights due to the obligatory old chairs from the loft. Roast turkey was delicious, company was great and I didn't have to cook a thing! Presents were exchanged and Day 3 of the turkey marathon ended playing the game where you put a Post-it note on your forehead with a famous person's name on and you have to guess who you are. Such simple things seem so funny after a few glasses of wine…

Tuesday we went round to my in-laws for turkey marathon Day 4. It was a lovely day with the obligatory roast turkey dinner and board games, followed by watching the film Happy Feet. Perfect Christmas viewing - me, Mrs AC and her parents watching a cartoon about penguins… One of the best bits about Christmas for me is the TV and that break from normality. Turn on the news at this time and you won't hear serious stories about protests or politicians complaining. You'll probably see a story about Barry and Jean, the couple who celebrate Christmas every day of the year.

Back home on Wednesday with the obligatory turkey sandwiches for the journey and more for the fridge. Mrs AC made some of my party food that evening which worried me a little, not because of her cooking ability but because she was actually cooking-along to my videos. It all turned out perfectly though and was obviously accompanied by cold turkey. Thoughts started turning to my website and what I want to achieve in 2011. I'm so proud of my site and how far it's come since going live on Sep 27th. I've got some great ideas for 2011 - they may not happen as soon as I would like though as my attentions will probably be elsewhere for a while from February, what with the imminent arrival of Baby Chef.

Yesterday something strange happened… I didn't eat turkey. At all. Maybe it was a coincidence but I couldn't get to sleep last night and when I finally did, I honestly dreamt of turkey…In my dream turkey was actually illegal and had a 'street value'. Someone can please tell me what that means, but it can't be good! Am I having withdrawal symptoms for turkey…?

It's New Year's Eve today and we're off to friends this evening which will be great. It's been a really good end to the year and I can't wait for everything that 2011 brings. Oh and I found a whole pile of Trivial Pursuit cards down the side of the sofa where Mrs AC sat on Christmas Day. Very suspicious.

5 things I've learnt this week

Christmas with the family is always lively but perfect.
It's amazing how funny cartoon penguins are after a few glasses of wine.
The World Health Organisation would not recommend a 5 day turkey marathon.
Dreaming about turkey is slightly worrying. Getting withdrawal symptoms is very worrying...
2011 is set to be a special one.

That's all from me this week and have a very Happy New Year.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:04:33 on 31 December 2010  back to top

Shaun of the Dead, last minute Christmas and 5 things I've learnt
I've cooked stuffing and baked muffins (almost rhymes), nursed a patient and prepared for Christmas.

Saturday was spent relaxing as Mrs AC had been away for a few days and it was lovely to have her back. Sunday I had planned to make little spiced apple pies, however in an attempt to show that we all make mistakes, I put salt not sugar into the pastry. All in all one of the most unsuccessful cooking attempts since my Mum's nut roast in the 1980's.

Monday I turned my attention to the pork, chorizo & port stuffing recipe for the newsletter. By this time Mrs AC (my cameraman) had developed a cold so was filming in her dressing gown with little bits of tissue up her nose. At one point I thought we were going to have an extra ingredient in the mix as she shaped to sneeze, but like the trooper she is, she held it together and the recipe video was completed problem free. My attentions for the rest of that day involved googling "What medication can I take for a cold whilst pregnant?".  Google returned an impressive 24,600,000 results in an even more impressive 0.02 seconds. As I sat in front of the laptop I was thinking how great I would look when I told my patient the good news and all the solutions available to her. 3 hours later it seems that the majority of the 24,600,000 results were telling me that there is nothing that you can take for a cold whilst pregnant. The other pages gave the following tips: Drink tea, have a bath, rest & sleep. Excellent. I really expected one to say 'remember to keep breathing'.

My newsletter was going out a day earlier than usual this week so I made good use of the time whilst Mrs AC was asleep and made a good start at editing the web page. Tuesday mid-morning Mrs AC surfaced looking like Shaun of The Dead. At this point we were due to go back to the parents for Christmas Day, which wasn't looking hopeful. Mrs AC went back to bed with hot water, honey & lemon - the only tip that Google could agree on! I finished my newsletter and spent the rest of the day cooking little sweet treats. I baked chocolate muffins, made chewy marzipan biscuits and shortbread. Christmas time is great for this kind of thing - you can either indulge yourself or give them as treats to others. I was thinking that either way it was a good thing - if we made it down to Cheltenham we would arrive bearing gifts. If we had to stay at home then we would be fully loaded with treats to compensate.

Wednesday was Christmas shopping day. I'd done bits and pieces but hadn't had the time to properly shop so off I popped to the Trafford Centre. Shopping a success, it was time to get back to check on the patient. Mrs AC was still in bed, fully awake in the dark. More and more like a zombie. That evening Lentil & bacon soup was made and eaten in an attempt to fight the cold. Maybe I should add that as another useless tip for Google…?  

Yesterday morning and no change, so we made the decision not to go back to Cheltenham and have Christmas here. The relief was obvious for Mrs AC, but for me it meant a trip to the supermarket to do a 'big shop'. All the favourites bought, including a frozen turkey (it was that or turkey twizzlers) then back off for more Christmas shopping. More soup and an early night last night.

Today I've finished my shopping including an embarrassing incident in a department store. As we're staying up here for Christmas, I thought it would be nice to buy a new board game. I was in the children's section of John Lewis, but the games were all just for children. I turned to the sales assistant and asked "Do you have any adult games?". An awkward moment's silence later I stuttered "I meant like Trivia Pursuits"…

As I write this, Mrs AC is now feeling a bit better, Christmas Day is all planned and the outlook is once again rosy.

5 things I've learnt this week.

Sugar & salt are not interchangeable
There is nothing a pregnant woman can take for a cold
A Christmas with Shaun of The Dead will be special whatever the location
Frozen turkey is better than no turkey
Be VERY careful when asking for adult games

That's all from me this week. Have a very Merry Christmas wherever you are.

Happy Christmas cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:54:01 on 24 December 2010  back to top

Babybeats, breakdancing and 5 things I've learnt
I've had a mixed 7 days since my last blog entry. I've had a curry, heard a heartbeat and missed a few of my own due to internet problems...

Friday saw Mrs AC leave work to go on maternity leave so I joined her and her colleagues for a few drinks and a curry. It was a great night even if my voice volume control seemed to be broken at dinner - sorry to the other diners! As a result though, I am now available for after dinner speaking! Slurred topics I seem to be an expert on are this year's X-Factor & The Apprentice, fatherhood and premiership footballers. Funnily enough I've had no bookings so far…

The weekend was spent recovering, Christmas shopping and having a roast chicken cooked for me. Stuffed with lemons, accompanied by mustardy roast potatoes It was delicious - although Mrs AC is now wanting more 'creative input' on the site.

Monday was an amazing day for me as it was the first time I heard our baby's heartbeat. Mrs AC had heard it before but my experience thus far had been limited to feeling kicks. It was an utterly overwhelming moment although now I have no idea how I'll hold it together when the baby actually arrives! I'm worried that it might be a close call as to who cries the most, me or the baby. I was smiling from ear to ear for the rest of the day. As treat for being such a good 'carrier' I made Mrs AC her favourite meal - spaghetti carbonara.

Tuesday we filmed the newsletter recipe, a delicious Christmassy poached pear dessert, ready to go out in the newsletter on Wednesday. So far no problem...

Wednesday morning I transferred the video from camcorder to computer, so far no problem. Until… I noticed the internet wasn't working. Fair enough, from time to time everyone has internet problems but neither of the two traditional ways of fixing technology worked - banging the side of the router and turning it on and off at the wall! A quick check on my phone revealed that it was just me and 'the worldwide internet' hadn't stopped working. Maybe I was a Wikileaks target? I mean I'm getting more users week-on-week but I don't think I'm quite in the same category as Amazon or Google. Following a less than helpful call to my service provider I created an 'A-Team' style device with coat hangers - with hindsight this tactic was never going to be successful, unless the internet signal had become tired and decided to stop working 1 yard short of the router... Anyway after 5 hours, a whole lot of mess (why did I even have the pliers out?), lots of 'colourful' language and still no internet, I accepted defeat. All of which meant that I couldn't send my newsletter which was very disappointing.

Thursday morning, I trudged downstairs with my failure as a man to be able to fix things weighing heavily on my shoulders. Morning coffee poured, I was making my way into the lounge when I noticed the landline phone wasn't on the little holder. It dawned on me that I must've knocked it off on Tuesday night whilst disproving Mrs AC's theory that I was too old to breakdance… I remembered that I had bumped mid backspin into the cabinet that the phone sits on. A quick check behind the cabinet and I found the phone…along with a cable for the router…unplugged. I picked up the phone, plugged the cable back in, turned on the router and surprise surprise my internet was back up. Oops. When Mrs AC came down and saw me happily typing away, I casually explained that I unscrewed the back of the router and reattached some wires which 'hadn't looked right'. The guilt has been plaguing me since Thursday morning and when Mrs AC reads this she will know the truth. Sorry?

The pear recipe page was duly finished as was the newsletter - with no further problems! Mrs AC got the train to London for her work Christmas party and I was left to my own devices. Whenever I get time alone, I always seem to cook. Maybe it's my comfort blanket but whenever Mrs AC is away, I'll try and come up with a new recipe and generally experiment in the kitchen. The problem is that I hate tidying up so, as is often the case, I'm writing this with the aim that I'll have time to tidy before she gets back later. I did manage to make a really nice stuffing that I might use for next week's newsletter and some nice little spiced apple pies which I hope to film and add to the Christmas section early next week.

5 things I've learnt this week

The after dinner speaking circuit has nothing to fear
Hearing my baby's heartbeat makes my smile like a cheshire cat
I don't think I'm a target for Wikileaks
My breakdancing has a lot to answer for
Cooking is my comfort blanket.

That's all from me this week and I hope that you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 18:43:17 on 17 December 2010  back to top

Cooking with a smile, baby names and 5 things I've learnt
This week I've had a moment of enlightenment, made some baby plans and butchered my finger.

Sometimes when you're busy you can forget why you do things. Having had a really busy week I was looking forward to having some time when I didn't "have to" cook or edit a web page. It's only when you stop though that you get a true picture, and sure enough, on Saturday morning I was in the kitchen tinkering and cooking. I realised that I'm lucky to be doing something that I absolutely love and that if I wasn't running TheAmateurChef website, I would still be cooking anyway. It's nice when you have a moment like that and it put me in a really good mood all week. Mrs Amateur Chef however says that I'm like Jekyll & Hyde - I can be in a really bitey mood and then as soon as we go to cook I'm suddenly chirpier. I tell her that all geniuses are like that…

My mood was further enhanced on Monday when online magazine published a lovely article about me. It's a great website and to see myself on their homepage made me really proud. Here's a link to the article!

Monday also saw me cook my Chicken Tikka Masala for the newsletter. I did this in response to a forum user who asked if I had any curry recipes and I thought it would be great for the newsletter. This recipe is a particular favourite of mine and I was really pleased with the result.

On Tuesday Mrs AC and I sat down to finalise some baby plans. We've bought most of the stuff and have been given loads (thanks Sophie!) but hadn't decided on names. Baby Chef is due on Valentines Day, so predictably our time was spent coming up with any words vaguely connected to Valentines Day for a laugh... Valentino(a), Cupid, Casanova & Don Juan were among the favourites. Recalling some of the pictures from the ante-natal classes, I suggested 'Massacre' might be appropriate. Although maybe not the head start in life you want to give your child... Whilst we had a great laugh we didn't actually come up with any real names, so any suggestions welcome?!

On Wednesday I had to edit the page for my newsletter recipe and send the newsletter out. It goes out every Wednesday and it's always a little worrying when I need to create the new page on the site and send the newsletter out in the same day. Maybe as a result of my good mood this week my computer decided to play it's part and everything went without hiccup. It seemed that nothing could dent my mood this week, even cutting my finger badly for the first time in years didn't bring me down.

The last couple of days have been great as I've had time to put together some plans for things I want to do with the site in the New Year. Looking forward is important to me as I want to keep developing the site and introducing new things. It was only two and half months ago that I was sitting here pressing the button to make the site live and wondering what would happen!

This brings me up to today... typing this with a plaster on my finger and a smile on my face. It's Mrs AC's last day at work today before she goes off on maternity leave so we're out tonight with her work friends. Maybe a sore head will dent my mood tomorrow but I'm sure it won't stop me wanting to cook...

5 things I've learnt this week

I'm lucky to do something I love.
Calling our baby "Romance" might be cruel.
Unlike my finger, my good mood is unbreakable.
Looking forward is much better - helps you see lampposts as well.
Grinning idiot or real contentment - A hangover will decide.

That's all from me for this week and I hope you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:16:28 on 10 December 2010  back to top

Home brew cider, rosy cheeks and 5 things l've learnt
The past seven days seem to have flown by. All of my focus this week has been on getting my new Christmas section live. I've also sampled a home brew of unknown proof, been interviewed and been injured.

Saturday was time to put my Christmas recipes to the test and film them. Shortbread and Chewy Marzipan biscuits were ticked off the list followed by a visit to some friends who were having a Christmas get together. After eating the test subjects for a week, Mrs AmateurChef and I decided to take the shortbread and biscuits to our friends, expertly gift wrapped by Mrs AC. Karma was in full force - our treats were gladly received and in return we received a great spread of Christmas food. Mrs AC had offered to drive home leaving me free to sample a half glass or two or Alex's (the host) home brewed cider which was delicious. Half an hour and only two small glasses later the 'home brew' element of the cider kicked in and I was as rosy cheeked and merry as a well-fed robin on Christmas Day!

With more cooking and filming planned for that evening however, I decided that two glasses would be my limit. As amusing as it might have been to see me swaying and slurring over the cooker, it might not have given the correct impression! Mrs AC duly drove home and with the effects of the cider still coursing through my veins I felt great, confident, handsome and manly. That was until Mrs AC turned to me whilst stopped at traffic lights and pinched my "cutey little rosy cheeks". Yes. The same way a grandparent might do to a child...

Anyway with the effects of the cider having quickly worn off it was time to make and video the puff pastry recipes. Ham & cheese turnovers, Herbie sausage rolls and Cheese twirls were cooked, filmed and gratefully eaten. Two weeks in a row now Mrs AC and I have had our own Christmas spread. We really must get out more…but they tasted great!

Sunday was spent making handmade chocolate truffles and filo parcels. Making chocolates is so much fun and is really easy to do. The hardest part was deciding which liquer to add. Due to her current 'condition' Mrs AC was particularly keen to get some Cointreau in, as these chocolates represented her only hope of tasting her favourite drink over Christmas.  The filo parcels were great and the chocolates turned out perfectly.

With all the recipes now filmed, the lengthy process began of getting them from camcorder to website. A nice interview on Monday morning with Manchester website was followed by a last minute call to TwoRuffians for a new 'Christmassy' page header for my site. By Tuesday morning my inbox pinged with the result.

I should explain is my brother's creation. All the little images around my site are his handiwork - have a look at his site if you want some amazing clothes, home wares and lots of other quirky stuff. Blatant nepotistic plug over and back to me…!

By Tuesday evening I was going mad hearing the sound of my own voice repeatedly saying "Ok now we're going to cook/make/bake…". A break was needed so we decided on a meal out to Stock in Manchester. It's an incredible looking restaurant serving modern Italian food, complete with good looking Italian staff. If I were to ask Mrs AC what she ate I bet couldn't remember. Ask her to name the waiters that served us though… It was a great meal and nice to do something impulsive for a change.

December 1st was always going to mark the launch of my Christmas section so on Wednesday morning, after a few tweaks here and there, it was live! I'm not sure what I was expecting but with all the love and attention that I'd put into the recipes, I actually felt felt a bit flat on Wednesday afternoon. With hindsight nothing less than the world cup bid team calling to say "We've seen your Christmas section, it's so incredible we need you to join the England bid" would've been good enough. Actually I probably shouldn't mention the world cup bid… I still had my newsletter to do on Wednesday so that brought my focus right back. No exclusive recipe this week as I decided instead to give exclusive tips for all my Christmas recipes instead - to make things even easier! Sign up for your free newsletter if you haven't already! I've already received some great feedback about my Christmas recipes. My Mum was first as ever, although no call from 'The Bid Team' (Bid Team sounds like a weird cross between the Golden Girls and the A-Team).

Yesterday I decided to make an effort with my appearance (looking shabby in the last few weeks) and go to the gym for the first time in a month. I felt good about myself until I realised that I'd forgotten that I had 5-a-side football 7 hours later. The result - today I'm walking like John Wayne, something which isn't helped by the icy conditions outside. I'm sure an old lady was almost about to offer to help me across the road this morning. Although maybe she just wanted a squeeze of my "rosy cheeks"…

This brings me to today and typing this with cold hands is only marginally more difficult than yping with mittens on. I really hope that you like the Christmas recipes though and I'll be adding more to the section soon - I've got mince pies in the oven right now. Have to wait and see how they turn out!

5 things I've learnt this week.

Home brewed cider should be 'prescription only'.
Rosy cheeks are not the 'babe magnet' I thought.
I'm very lucky to have a talented and helpful big brother.
When 'The Bid Team' fail to call, I can always rely on my Mum.
John Wayne-on-ice would never take off as a concept.

That's all from me this week and I hope you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 16:44:43 on 03 December 2010  back to top

Vegetarian Living, the mysterious Lasagne and 5 things I've learnt'
I've been a busy boy this week. I've launched my new Vegetarian section, finalised the recipe list for my upcoming Christmas section and been featured in a national magazine!

Last weekend was really nice as I had the time on Saturday to experiment in the kitchen. As someone who loves cooking this was like a day off and my time was spent coming up with, and testing ideas for my Christmas section. It was also a great excuse to have a mini-Christmas party, if the two of us eating without alcohol whilst watching X-Factor can be considered a party. I know it's only November but I was trying to convince myself that due to time-zones it must be December somewhere in the world…?? Geography was never my strong point! Mrs AC was especially pleased with the chocolate truffles I kept handing her although I think her line "not sure, can I have another to check?" was simply a ruse to get more chocs!

Sunday my attention turned to vegetarian food - my creamy mushroom risotto and vegetarian lasagne were filmed and ticked off the to-do list. Mrs AC literally couldn't get enough of the risotto (3 helpings!) and it certainly seemed to perk her up. I didn't want  to put a veggie section up straight away when I launched the site as I wanted to give the recipes a little extra thought and attention. Over the last month or so I've been honing my recipes which I hope you'll like now that they are live for the world to see! I'm confident the dishes won't just appeal to vegetarians - there's some gorgeous ingredients in there.

Monday was meltdown day for me which thankfully no-one witnessed. I'm talking proper teenage diva strop. Too much to do with not enough time and every technical difficulty you could think of - the 'wheel of death' on my laptop became my mortal enemy. Verbally insulting an inanimate laptop isn't as satisfying as you might think… Meanwhile back in the real world, and as is the case in most strop situations, everything was fine and I got on with the task in hand. By Wednesday morning the Vegetarian section was live on the site and by mid afternoon I'd sent out my newsletter.

Yesterday saw the January edition of Vegetarian Living magazine hit the shelves and I trotted out to get my copy. There I was on page 9, a great little article about me and my website complete with fetching photos… A big thank-you to Vegetarian Living - available in all good newsagents and supermarkets now!

There's also something that's been troubling me this week. My Lasagne page has been getting double the amount of hits than all the other pages put together. Now don't get me wrong I'm very proud of the recipe and think it's a great Lasagne but the confusion is this… People seem to be either Google-ing "The Amateur Chef Lasagne" or visiting the page directly. I'm certainly not complaining but I don't know how this is possible! For someone to go directly to my Lasagne page they would have to type in the full address ( which isn't exactly memorable. Therein lies the mystery. How are people finding that page directly and why are people Google-ing my specific Lasagne?! If anyone has any ideas then I would love to hear them as so far, my efforts have yielded fewer results than Gillian McKeith's bushtucker trials.

5 things I've learnt this week

It's never too early to have a Christmas party.
Creamy mushroom risotto is the antidote to pregnancy blues.
Me + diva strop = banishing myself to the naughty step.
Seeing myself in a national magazine makes me puff out my chest with pride.
The nation evidently REALLY likes homemade Lasagne.

That's all from me this week and I hope you have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 14:47:31 on 26 November 2010  back to top

Boxing, burning fingers and 5 things I've learnt

I've had a good week this week, watched the boxing, burnt some food and had a great meal out.

My Saturday night routine has completely changed. Saturday's use to mean glad rags, bars and clubs, whilst attempting to look cool and sultry (I'm thinking Sawyer from Lost). The reality though was more me and a mate shouting to each other on our own in a sweaty nightclub before leaving for a kebab and hangover. Nowadays I look forward to Saturday nights for homemade pizza, Saturday night TV and a clear head on Sunday morning. The start of growing old gracefully. At 34.

Saturday is a perfect day to make pizza as you can make the dough in the afternoon, leave it to rise and then have fun with the toppings later. This Saturday Mrs AmateurChef was working, leaving me to watch sport, more sport and make the pizza. Saturday night was the Heavyweight boxing fight Haye v Harrison and I had promised Mrs AC pizza and treats as a bribe to watch it.  Mid afternoon Mrs AC called and informed me that she was interviewing David Haye soon. Knowing that Haye was a charmer, I was thinking that he better not try anything on as I didn't fancy my chances at defending my wife's honour! Apparently he was lovely though, really nice and Mrs AC couldn't believe how fit he was… ( forcing me to type this with my tummy sucked in). After her meeting him, prefight TV negotiations were cancelled as Mrs AC was now VERY interested. Pizza was lovely although pickled onion replaced boiled egg as weird topping of the week. Apparently boiled egg was so last week. 7 days is a long time for a pregnant woman…

On Monday I finished tinkering with my Poached salmon tagliatelle recipe for the newsletter, ready for filming Tuesday. I had wanted to use grain mustard but it just tasted too vinegary so dijon mustard got the nod instead- perfect. Got the dish filmed and edited the recipe page on Tuesday and was really happy with it. I personally think it's the best one I've done for the newsletter.

After getting the recipe ticked off, it was off to ante-natal class and then out to dinner. Mrs AC not feeling well but I thought it might cheer her up. Went to Choice in Manchester and it was really good. Following our ante-natal class on breastfeeding our conversation was somewhat strange though, as made evident when the waitress came over at the time I said the sentence "bleeding nipples must really hurt"… Lovely meal but Mrs AC feeling too under the weather.

The rest of the week has flown by. I sent my newsletter and then got on with making some Christmas finger food. Not sure if me swearing at burning my fingers whilst taking burnt vol-au-vents from the oven will make the website though. Mrs AC loves the fact that I'm experimenting although if she had her way I could launch a new site called 'Food items that you never thought go together until you're pregnant'. A little niche maybe? Not very successful all in all but I've learn't that as long as you know where you've gone wrong and don't make the same mistake twice, things should be ok! I can put this theory to the test this weekend when I try again!

5 things I've learnt this week

Pizza and a night in with a loved one is wonderful.
I am inferior to a 15 stone ripped Heavyweight champ.
Lactation is not a good dinner conversation topic.
Burnt fingers + burnt vol-au-vents = angry chef.
Mistakes are an acceptable part of any learning process. Unless you're a surgeon.

That's all from me this week and have a great weekend.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:14:43 on 19 November 2010  back to top

Mum's food, tasting paint and things I've learnt.
I've had a nice week this week, the highlight of which was a flying visit home to the parents.

Nursing a teeny sore head on Saturday meant only one thing… delicious homemade pizzas and Saturday night TV… just what the doctor ordered. Ironically it was Mrs Amateur Chef's friend who actually is a doctor, and her husband, who gave me the sore head! We had a great night at theirs on Friday.

Sunday was spent planning, cooking and filming the Mushroom Parcel dish to go on this week's newsletter which thankfully turned out nice and was gobbled up before a long overdue trip to to the parents. Mrs AC and I  grew up in the same town so it means we get to see both parents in one trip! We stayed at my in-laws this time and arrived to lots of cooing about Mrs AC's ever increasing bump!

Monday morning arrived and my mother-in-law offered me a cooked breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs. Trying to say no to mums is a hard thing to do, although I'm not sure how hard really I tried. My mind was saying "Just say no and ask for cereal", but the little voice in my head screamed "BACON, SAUSAGES - YES".

Lunch with the in-laws and then round to see my Mum. More cooing, a lovely dinner and we were sent away with very full tummies for our journey home. There's something about the way that parents can look after you that's so special and I hope that Mrs AC and I can emulate this when Baby Chef arrives.

After the previous day of lovely food (which really was enough for a week), healthy soups have been the order. Pumpkin soup on Tuesday and Lentil soup on Wednesday but I still feel like a week of going to the gym is needed to work off the visit home. Wednesday is newsletter day and I managed to get that out without my usual technical difficulties - thank you computer gods.

The last couple of days have been spent coming up with ideas for a Christmas section and repainting my kitchen. Although all I wanted to do is make Chocolate Truffles and Angel-shaped shortbread, the painting was something I couldn't put off any longer. I hate painting. You can't take shortcuts and the paint always gets everywhere - in your hair, under your nails and a bonus for me today, in my mouth. Then there's buying the paint and the testers. Asking for 'Autumn blossom' or 'Sunbeam yellow' is almost as embarrassing as ordering sexually named cocktails in a bar…

Anyway the kitchen is now repainted boringly similar to as it was. I think we've gone from caramel to buttermilk. Or beige as I call them both… Rest assured that even though I have spent the entire day clearing and painting, you wont be able to tell the difference….

5 things I learnt this week

Boiled egg is an acceptable pizza topping for a pregnant woman.
Resistance is futile, Mums will feed you.
Buttermilk paint tastes nothing like buttermilk.
Two days eating soup doesn't undo one day being fed by parents.
Christmas is coming and the chef is getting fat.

That's all from me for another week. Have a great weekend and wrap up warm.

Happy Cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 19:30:20 on 12 November 2010  back to top

Cooking for friends, haunting pictures & things I've learnt
I've had a great but tiring week since my last blog. Had two of my best friends up on Saturday for the night and cooked lunch for them. I was a bit nervous as blokes generally don't say nice things to each other but they seemed to like the offerings and gave nice compliments..  A rare night out with my friends meant a rare but sore head on Sunday. Mrs Amateur Chef surprised me on Sunday though by cooking my Lasagne and generally looking after me. Suspicious behaviour I think, especially as she wasn't that pleased to be woken up at 1am by three loud men stomping around downstairs…

Lots of visitors this week. No sooner had my friends gone than one of Mrs AC's friends was up to stay on Tuesday. Tuesday night though was our first ante-natal class and as is the norm with us, we were in a mad rush to get out the door on time.  I had just enough time to pop the Chicken casserole in the oven, say hello and goodbye to our guest and out the door. I returned from the ante-natal class looking like a rabbit caught in headlights. Some VERY scary pictures! The chicken casserole was ready though so we had a lovely evening together. All I had done was reduce the oven temp to 160c and it was perfect to leave in the oven for 2 hours rather than 1 - worth remembering if you're off to a fireworks display this weekend. Pop it in the oven before you go, ready when you come back! Perfect to warm you up.

In between our visitors I cooked a nice Strawberry Pancake dessert for people who've joined my newsletter and finished my Soups section which is on the website now. Cooking so much soup and freezing it made me feel like I was planning for some apocalyptic event!

Last night saw the start of my vegetarian section with my first creation. Mrs AC was out so I could get creative in the kitchen. A large flat mushroom, stuffed and wrapped in lovely puff pastry. It looked fantastic but I REALLY overdid the garlic.

As I'm writing this, poor Mrs AC is at the dentist having root canal work so I'll have to think of something to cheer her up. Maybe that's what she was angling for in advance last Sunday when she cooked…

5 things I've learnt this week

Eating soup warms the tummy, cooking soup warms the heart.
Simple pleasures in life are the best - good food with great friends.
Blokes can compliment each other as long as it's immediately followed by an insult.
Pictures from 1st ante-natal class will haunt me for ever.
Too much garlic apparently makes me un-kissable.

That's all from me this week, I'm looking forward to a quieter weekend and some good home cooked food.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:23:16 on 05 November 2010  back to top

Wear it pink, live on the radio & things I've learnt
Things have been going really well over the last week or so. It just goes to show how much a little rest & recuperation works following my night away with Mrs AmateurChef last week.

This week I've baked cupcakes, sold cupcakes, given away cupcakes and eaten cupcakes. I donned my wife's pink apron and put my recipe & video on the site for  'Wear it Pink day' - a day to help raise awareness (and money!) for Breast Cancer Campaign. This was my little way of helping raise awareness and I know from feedback that people have enjoyed baking and selling the cakes as part of their fundraising day which is great news. It's not too late to bake them or simply donate via the 'wear it pink' website.

This week has also been really exciting for me as I made my first ever 'appearance' on the radio yesterday after the BBC invited me to talk about TheAmateurChef. I was quite nervous beforehand even though my brother told me that I would be fine as I have a great face for radio…

I wanted to mention 'Wear it Pink' day so I decided it would be a good idea to take cupcakes with me (also rule 1 of making friends - give gifts of cake). The cakes were baked and iced in plenty of time until I realised that I hadn't given any thought to what I would carry them in. As much as I was confident my treats would go down well, I don't think a supermarket plastic bag full of them would have given the right impression! Several frantic phone calls later and luckily a local bakers came to the rescue and sold me a couple of nice cake boxes. I arrived on time (which is unusual for me) and everybody I met was really nice. The cupcakes did the trick I think! I was taken into the studio, met the presenter and sat in front of a big microphone.

After a brief chat with Becky Want the presenter, we were on air! Becky was great and made me feel immediately relaxed. I really enjoyed being able to chat about what I do live on the radio! A brief pause for the news and a Communards song and we were chatting again, this time about the charity day. Soon enough another song was on and my time was up. I was really pleased with how it went and enjoyed the whole experience.

5 things I've learnt this week

We can all find a way to fundraise, even if it's only in a small way.
Charging my pregnant wife for cupcakes is a VERY efficient way of raising money.
Despite my protests, appearing on the radio once does not make me a celebrity.
A pink apron is not a good look for me.
Getting asked on air if I have anything on under the apron makes me blush!

That's all from me this week. Have a nice weekend and Happy Cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:13:39 on 29 October 2010  back to top

Sleepless nights, Alsatian shaped tea cosies & things I've learnt
I've had an interesting week. On one hand I've had enquiries from national press which is amazing, on the other hand my sleep has been non-existent due to technical issues with my website.

Technical issues are so annoying. We all have them to some extent, whether it's trying to find the menu button on your new mobile phone or programming the video. I had a problem where some people couldn't see my cook-along videos. At one point I thought I was going to have to completely re format each video. I stressed and was eating anything within arms reach! Thankfully, and not for the first time, Mrs Amateur Chef stepped in and one of her friends helped and showed me what I needed to do. Hopefully now everyone should be able to view them!

With the problem fixed and my newsletter sent, Mrs Amateur Chef decided that a night away was needed. So to the Lake District we went. Driving up the M6 I did think that my bloodshot eyes and grumpiness might not have been the perfect holiday companion, but a few hours later we were settled in to the gorgeous Langdale Chase Hotel and starting to relax. And I hadn't annoyed my wife too much. Normally a stay away would inevitably involve plenty of visits to the local pubs and bars. Seeing as my wife's pregnant however, this wasn't an option so the pub crawl turned into a tea-shop crawl! Maybe not as exciting as a pub, however tea shops = cream cakes. Cream cakes are definitely underrated by the under 65's and don't give you a hangover!

No visit to the Lake District would be complete without a visit to Lakeland. I never knew there were so many gadgets for the kitchen to help me do things that I didn't even know needed doing to begin with. From an egg slicer to a tea maker, there's a gadget for everything. I convinced myself that I wouldn't succumb to marketing and not buy anything I didn't need. It almost worked….

5 things I've learnt this week:

3am working on a laptop in the dark makes for a suspicious wife.
There are a surprising number of ways to slice and egg. None of which require a normal knife.
Cream cakes are one of life's true pleasures.
Overeating doesn't reduce stress, it increases waistlines.
If supermarket ham looks like a dog's tongue, then don't be surprised if it tastes like a dog's tongue.

That's about all from me for now. Got my soup section to finish over the weekend and need to start thinking of where I'm going to put a tea cosy shaped like an Alsatian.

Happy Cooking

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 17:34:38 on 21 October 2010  back to top

Another week, cooking for pregancy & things I've learnt
Another week on and it seems that more and more people are visiting my site which is fantastic.  I've had feedback from people that have cooked-along with laptop, Iphone & Ipad so far. I don't think there's any other way of using it is there? (short of taking your desktop into the kitchen which I don't advise!)

I've had a really good week filming the new "Techniques" section on my website which I hope you like. Is it possible to come up with a dish that encompasses all of the techniques? How about "Chicken (portioned then tied back up) with homemade pasta & cheese sauce…en croute…Ok maybe not, but I hope that you find the techniques useful anyway.

As I'm the principle cook in our house, it's generally up to me to decide what to cook for my wife on any given evening. This is normally a pleasant process and being the kind, considerate...good-looking…never moody…husband that I think I am, I try to think about what my wife would like. As I said, 'normally' this is a pleasant process. My wife is 5 months pregnant however. Twice this week she arrived home to my smiley face and the 'Ta-Da!' reveal of what I thought would be a crowd pleasing meal. My Fish Pie was greeted with "do we have any mayonnaise?" whilst my tomato based Fish Casseulet got smothered in grated cheese. She did however seem to enjoy them both which I guess is the main thing!

This week I've also been cooking and filming some really healthy soup recipes which I hope to add to the website next week. I've got some great ones to add including a lentil soup from my Mum, the recipe for which is older than me.

I've also had my first mention on an exterior website which is great! - Anne Diamond's online buddies!

5 things I've learnt this week -

Leaving the gas hob on for 30mins whilst watching TV = a very smelly house.
Mayonnaise and cheese apparently go with everything.
My relationship with my e-mail is like my old teenage relationships. One false move and she shuts down.
Extra mature cheddar that doesn't hit the mark makes me disproportionately annoyed.
Burning your hand once on the oven is normal, twice is stupidity.

That's all from me, keep the feedback coming and Happy Cooking,

The Amateur Chef



Posted @ 11:40:34 on 14 October 2010  back to top

1 week on - Big thanks, coming soon & things I've learnt
Firstly I want to say a big thanks to all of you that have given me great feedback over the last week. It's been a nervous time for me with so much time and effort invested, worrying that no-one would like my site! Thankfully that doesn't seem to be the case and the response that I've had over the last week has definitely exceeded expectations. I've had responses from people from USA - Sweden!

Now that the site's up and running it's given me time to plan the next features to be added.  As I mentioned in my newsletter (which I hope you've all signed up for on the box on the left!), next week I'll be featuring a 'user's recipe of the week', so get your chefs' hats on and e-mail me your recipes. Each week I'll pick one, film a cook-along video and feature it on the site. I've already had loads of responses, but keep sending them in as some of them are great.

I'll also be adding a 'Techniques' section, showing you how to make and roll your own pasta, make a basic white sauce, portion a chicken plus a few more simple but effective tips!

As the weather's finally getting colder, apart from me having to put my shorts away till March, it also means that hearty soups will become more evident in my weekly meals. I'll be adding a section on soups soon, including a great one to use up all the pumpkin you'll have spare at Halloween.

5 things I've learnt this week...

- Austrian smoked processed cheese is not a substitute for real company
- New 'Lime & Sweet Chilli shower gel' makes me smell like curry
- 6 slices of toast and butter is not an appropriate bedtime snack
- Excerise is one of life's necessary evils (especially if you eat 6 slices of toast before bed)
- The smell of homemade bread is the world's best air freshener

That's all for me now but you can always catch my daily thoughts (however random) at TheAmateurChef Facebook Page and also on Twitter @TheAmateurChef.

Happy cooking,

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 11:00:26 on 07 October 2010  back to top

Love food? Like the Ryder Cup? Here's my Food Ryder Cup...!
Love food? Like the Ryder Cup? Here's my Food Ryder Cup...!

This is a little bit of fun to celebrate the start of the Ryder Cup, which I will be watching ALL weekend! I've allocated a dish to each player, based on their nationality, and then created a Sunday Singles style match up.

It's only a bit of fun, and yes I am aware that there are definite national stereotypes here, but it amused me to do and I hope you find it amusing too!

The line ups

Team Europe

Lee Westwood England (Toad-in-The-Hole)
Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland (Irish Stew)
Martin Kaymer Germany (Sauerbraten) 
Graeme McDowell Northern Ireland (Colcannon) 
Ross Fisher England (Lancashire Hotpot) 
Edoardo Molinari Italy (Italian Pizza) 
Francesco Molinari - Italy (Spaghetti Bolognese) 
Padraig Harrington Ireland (Beef & Guinness Pie) 
Ian Poulter England (Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding)
Peter Hanson Sweden (Smorgasboard) 
Miguel Angel Jimenez Spain (Paella) 
Luke Donald England (Cornish Pasty) 

Team USA

Stewart Cink United States (Baby Back Ribs)
Hunter Mahan United States (Hot Dog)
Bubba Watson United States (Chicken Parm)
Jim Furyk United States (New England Clam Chowder)
Steve Stricker (Mac & Cheese)
Phil Mickleson United States (New York Pizza)
Dustin Johnson United States (Cajun Gumbo)
Tiger Woods United States (Cherry Pie)
Jeff Overton United States (Waldorf Salad)
Matt Kuchar United States (Grits)
Ricky Fowler United States (Flat Iron Steak)
Zach Johnson United States (Philly Cheese Steak)


Match 1

Lee Westwood England (Toad-in-The-Hole) v Stewart Cink United States (Baby Back Ribs)

Following a strong start from the baby back ribs, the mess caused by the eating of the ribs allowed the Toad-in-the-Hole back in game. Toad turned into birdie creating a tense finish, with Toad hopping in the hole at the last for a win. 1 point to Europe

Europe 1 - United States - 0

Match 2

Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland (Irish Stew) v Hunter Mahan United States (Hot Dog)

Laughing in the face of the cold weather,  the Irish Stew took a commanding front nine lead. The need to sleep off the heavy stew however allowed the Hot Dog back into the game. By hole 15 the Irish stew was all but gone, leaving the sheer convenience and foot-long length of the Hot Dog to triumph by an easy margin. 1 point to United States

Europe 1 - United States 1

Match 3

Martin Kaymer Germany (Sauerbraten) v Bubba Watson United States (Chicken Parm)

The relatively unknown (by me) Sauerbraten against the Chicken Parm of questionable origin meant that this was always going to be a close match. The front nine proved this with neither dish establishing a healthy lead. The closing stages of the match saw the sheer weight of cheese on the chicken parm prove too much for the Sauerbraten and the Chicken Parm held on to win. 1 point to United States.

Europe 1 - United States 2

Match 4

Graeme McDowell Northern Ireland (Colcannon) v Jim Furyk United States (New England Clam Chowder)

This matched proved to be a one sided affair. The limited ingredients of the Colcannon were no match for the smooth creamy clam chowder. The Colcannon put up a brave fight despite always being behind in the match, with the Chowder running out victorious. 1 point to United States.

Europe 1 - United States 3

Match 5

Ross Fisher England (Lancashire Hotpot) v Steve Stricker (Mac & Cheese)

The Hotpot started well due to the confusion surrounding its ingredients, gaining a good lead. The back nine saw the moreishness (yes I made that word up) of the Mac & Cheese chip away at the Hotpot's now diminishing lead. The final hole saw a win for the Mac & Cheese due to the Hotpot's inability to compete with the hot stringy melted cheese. 1 point to United States.

Europe 1 - United States 4

Match 6

Edoardo Molinari Italy (Italian Pizza) v Phil Mickleson United States (New York Pizza)

Who would've thought it - the two pizzas head to head.  The early holes were dominated by the fully loaded extra toppings of the New York Pizza, as it seemed the Italian Pizza couldn't cope with the 'bigger is better' New York slice. The Italian however wouldn't give up and the lightness of the thin crust gave it more mobility going into the final stages of what was proving to be a close match. Dropped toppings by the New York Pizza on the penultimate hole proved disastrous as the Italian Pizza, buoyed by the heat of Italian sausage topping, closed out the match to win. 1 point to Europe.

Europe 2 - United States 4

Match 7

Francesco Molinari - Italy (Spaghetti Bolognese) v Dustin Johnson United States (Cajun Gumbo)

A close match throughout, the Gumbo took the early holes due to the punch provided from the chilli, only to be pegged back by the bolognese coated spaghetti. Both dishes were calling on every one of their multiple ingredients, but with both dishes containing 'Mama's secret ingredient', neither dish could find the breakthrough to win. Half point to each team.

Europe 2.5 - United States 4.5

Match 8

Padraig Harrington Ireland (Beef & Guinness Pie) v Tiger Woods United States (Cherry Pie)

This match failed to live up to the billing of 'clash of the titans', with the Cherry Pie, although nice and sweet, failing to come to terms with the irony rich Guinness. The Beef & Guinness Pie never behind, closed out the match on the 15th for an easy victory. 1 point to Europe.

Europe 3.5 - United States 4.5

Match 9

Ian Poulter England (Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding) v Jeff Overton United States (Waldorf Salad)

Many predicted this to be a one-sided affair, with the Roast dinner having too much for the lighter, appropriately green-coloured Waldorf Salad. The match swung both ways throughout the 18 holes, but a mistake by the chef (overcooked beef) allowed the salad to take full advantage with its lightness yet full flavour offering. The Waldorf Salad completed the upset on the 17th hole, causing scenes of wild celebration back home in the salad bar. 1 point to United States.

Europe 3.5 - United States 5.5

Match 10

Peter Hanson Sweden (Smorgasboard) v Matt Kuchar United States (Grits)

With United States only now needing half a point to retain the cup, the pressure was on Europe. And boy did they respond. The battle of the relatively unknown Swedish dish against the American favourite proved to be the match of the day. Both dishes were superb, with the Grits consistent and never faltering. In the end the variety of the Smorgasbord, with its extra elements, won through much to the delight of the home crowd. 1 point to Europe.

Europe 4.5 - United States 5.5

Match 11

Miguel Angel Jimenez Spain (Paella) v Ricky Fowler United States (Flat Iron Steak)

From the early stages of this match, the Paella looked like it would run away for an easy victory, winning all 5 of the first 5 holes. A dodgy prawn however changed everything. With the Paella struggling at every step, the Flat Iron Steak took full advantage, reducing the lead to 1 hole by the turn. The back nine was a more stable affair, but with Paella still suffering from the earlier "Prawngate", the Flat Iron Steak edged ahead and held on to win the vital point for the United States. 1 point and the match to United States.

Europe 4.5 - United States 6.5

Match 12

Luke Donald England (Cornish Pasty) v Zach Johnson United States (Philly Cheese Steak)

With the overall result now decided, this match was played out in a sporting fashion. The Pasty and the Cheese Steak, both with solid ingredients, swapped holes throughout the front nine. The back nine saw more of the same with the crust of the pasty and little bits of carrot proving popular with the crowd. The Cheese steak, always a winner with the fans, edged ahead only to be pegged back at the 18th for a half. Half point to each team.

Final Score

Europe 5 - United States 7

Disaster! A win for The United States.

I hope that you found this amusing and let me know your thoughts. Anyone that wants to take on the Friday/Saturday matches, be my guest.

Here's hoping for a different result come Sunday evening,

Posted @ 08:31:38 on 01 October 2010  back to top

My website is live!
Finally my website has gone live! 6 months of my life has gone into this and it feels so good to finally get it published. It makes the days of sitting in front of my laptop listening to myself repeatedly say "Now we're gong to cook..." all seem worth it.

I have to remember though that this is just the beginning for TheAmateurChef, and the site will evolve and grow over the coming months. I've got loads more ideas and recipes to share with you, but one step at a time. For now, I'm just pleased that the site is live and the initial feedback that I'm getting is great.

I really would like to hear from you with any thoughts or suggestions, and send me a photo when you cook a dish!

I'm pleased to see that my mailing list is growing by the day. Join the list from my homepage and when 1000 people join, 1 person will win £100 in gift vouchers. Also remember TheAmateurChef Facebook Page. Add a 'Like' to this page and when I reach 1000 'Likes', 1 person will get a recipe that's personalised for them, based on their foodie preferences. This recipe will then be named after them and featured on my website.

Keep checking back for updates and Happy Cooking,


Posted @ 14:39:41 on 28 September 2010  back to top

My First Blog! - Why TheAmateurChef
I'm getting ready to launch my brand new website -

5 years ago, as the realisation that I was never going to become a professional sportsman began to sink in, cooking became my passion. Cooking for me used to be about nuking some chicken, boiling some pasta, then stirring in a jar of sauce, before adding a ton of cheese.

Over the last 5 years as my interest has grown, cooking has become more and more part of, and finally taken over my daily life! As my cooking ability grew, I started to create my own recipes. My poor wife (then girlfriend) would be presented with some terrible concoction served with a beaming grin and and a kitchen that resembled a chimps tea party. The fact that she went on to become my wife says that either my cooking improved or she just felt sorry for me! Over the years, I've pored through books, websites and tv shows picking up tips, as there's nothing better than finding a recipe that gets your taste buds going.

The problem I found was that a top chef's idea of a simple dish is a world away from what ordinary untrained people like us think is simple. A recipe that says it will take 30 minutes could end up taking me, and friends i asked, hours. Yes the results looked good but my kitchen and stress levels were less impressive! What I needed was realistic recipe timings, better explanations of techniques and preferably someone showing me what to do and when. That's when I decided to create - a new concept in cookery websites.

Each of my own recipes has an accompanying cook-along video so you'll get simple step by step instruction as to how to cook the dish. There's no "here's one I did earlier", or creative editing to make things look better. All the photos on my website are from the dishes in the videos, and the idea is simple - if you like the look of the dish, then you can cook it and it'll turn out looking and tasting fantastic. I've no professional training, just a passion for food, so if I can cook it then you can too!

Whether you're just starting in the kitchen or a competent cook looking for inspiration for your next dinner party dish, I really think that there's a recipe for everyone. You'll also know exactly how long it'll take!

Over the weeks, I'll be adding new recipes and developing the site with new features, but for now, I better get back to adding the finishing touches, checking my spellin...and getting it live. I'll also be updating my blog with regular, more considered, thoughts. You can also follow me on Facebook & Twitter as i announce to the world my every food thought!

I'll post again soon and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Amateur Chef

Posted @ 12:16:54 on 14 September 2010  back to top

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