Saturday, December 30, 2023

Weekend Cooking: Best of 2023

And so we come to the end of 2023! It's been a good cooking year in our house. We have tried lots of new recipes, made some delicious desserts, had some memorable meals and so much more!

As I mentioned last week I want to use this week's Weekend Cooking post to highlight the best cookbook for the year, and the best recipe. I am thinking that I might do this at the end of the next year and beyond. We'll see!

I do have quite a few cookbooks to choose from! Earlier this year I was determined to mainly read cookbooks from the library, but I did have a change of heart a bit later in the year because I decided that I would buy some because I love looking at them!  Here are the books I bought this year.

So what makes just one of these books stand out enough to become my best of 2023. In this case, it is a book that we have cooked out of time and time and time again! You join the authors Facebook appreciation group, and I have recommended it to anyone who will listen. I know at least 5 people who have bought this book after we talked about it! So what is this book!

Drum roll please......

I think you can probably tell that I love this cookbook which I reviewed back in June. And we have enjoyed most of the recipes that we have cooked out of it. Here's just some of the recipes that we have made out of this book so far.

One-Pot Baked Greek Chicken & Lemon Rice

Beef Biryani

Chicken Shawarma (many, many times)

Butter Chicken

Asian Glazed Salmon

Teriyaki Beef Bowls

3 Minute Double Smash Burgers (several times)

Chorizo Potato Stew-Soup

Pad See Ew

Smoky Pork Chops

French Sausage & Bean Casserole (one of the few recipes we didn't like)

Baked Ratatouille with Beans

Chilli Con Carne

Creamy Tuscan Chicken Pasta Bake (A definite favourite)

Chicken Fricasee (this is the cover recipe)

Juiciest, Easiest Roast Chicken Ever

Forever Chocolate Cake

Perfect Vanilla Cake

Garlic Roast Potatoes

That seems like a lot of recipes to have tried but there are still so many more that we have marked to try one day!! And plenty that we will eat over and over! And this doesn't even include the recipes that we made from the website.

 There are still many recipes that I have marked to try, but have not yet done so. We will though! 

Now, I could quite easily have chosen a Nagi recipe for my recipe of the year. After all, several of the recipes have become part of our regular meal rotations. Instead I am going to return to one of the earliest cookbooks I bought this year, The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall which I reviewed here. We have made several recipes from this book, but the one that we came back to time and time again.I originally shared this recipe in February but I am more than happy to share it again. We tend to use baby bocconcini rather than burrata because it is easier to get at the supermarket.

Maybe the next time we make it we can remember to take a picture.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Burrata

For the meatballs

400g/14oz pork mince
400g/14oz beef mince
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
3 tbsp full-fat milk
100g/3½oz dried breadcrumbs
75g/2½oz parmesan, finely grated
3 free-range eggs
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for greasing, frying and drizzling

For the tomato sauce

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
600g/1lb 5oz tomato passata
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the burrata and crostini

extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 ciabatta or sourdough loaf, cut into thin slices
1 garlic clove, peeled and left whole, to rub
150g/5½oz burrata

For the meatballs, put all the ingredients for the meatballs (except the oil) into a large bowl and combine to form a firm, evenly distributed mixture.

Cover your hands in olive oil, take a generous tablespoon of the mixture and roll it between your palms to form a meatball the size of a golf ball. Repeat until you have used all the mixture - you should have 16 meatballs. Place them on a tray, wash your hands and then place the tray in the fridge to firm up for 30 minutes.

Place a large, non-stick, ovenproof frying pan over a high heat and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When the oil is hot, begin browning the meatballs (in batches if necessary), ensuring that you don't cook them completely - a little colour on the outside is perfect. Once they are all browned off, remove them from the pan and leave them to one side while you make the tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in an ovenproof pan and set it back over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, thyme, and chilli. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the tomato passata. Cook gently for 15 minutes, or until the volume of the sauce has reduced by half.

Season the sauce with salt and freshly ground black pepper and take the pan off the heat.

Place the meatballs in the pan on top of the sauce, evenly spaced, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Leave to one side for 5 minutes to cool slightly (leave the oven on).

For the burrata and crostini, drizzle a little oil over the ciabatta slices and sprinkle them with some sea salt. Place on a baking tray and bake in the hot oven for 4 minutes, or until crisp, then rub them all over with the garlic clove.

Meanwhile, finely chop the burrata, then use a spoon to drop dollops all over the baked meatballs.

Weekly meals

Saturday -  
Sunday -  Nasi Goreng
Monday - Nothing
Tuesday - Kebabs, mashed potato and broccoli
Wednesday - Mexican Chicken and Rice
Thursday - Zucchini risotto
Friday - Takeaway

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Bookish Books Reading Challenge 2024

 I am thinking that I want to do a couple of reading challenges in 2024 in addition to the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge which I am hosting.

I am playing it a bit safe with the Bookish Books Reading Challenge hosted at Bloggin' Bout Books because, well...who doesn't love books about books!

The levels are

Toe in the Door: 1-10 books read
Picking and Perusing: 11-20 books read
Lost in the Stacks: 21-30 books read
Living in the Library: 30+ books read

I am choosing Picking and Perusing!

I am contemplating at least one more challenge. Or maybe two. We'll see. Anyone have a challenge that they love participating in?

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf




Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week the theme is The Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf (Maybe share your holiday book haul?).

I don't really ask for books for Christmas, so my list today is a combination of the last books I added to my Kindle and the two books I did get! Let's start with those

Christmas: Feasts and Treats by Donna Hay - The Raspberry Swirl Pavlova I made for our family Christmas dinner comes from this book.

Baking Yesteryear: The Best Recipes from the 1900s to the 1980s by B Dylan Hollis - I love the videos that this author makes where he tries out some truly ...interesting... recipes from the past!

Make a Wish by Nicola Marsh - This is a very, very short story which serves as a prequel to a book called Did Not Finish. On the basis of this, Did Not Finish could be a lot of fun.

My So-Called Sex Life by Lauren Blakely - This was a freebie!

Inheritance by Nora Roberts - It's been an age since I read or listened to a Nora Roberts book, so I picked this one up on audio.

The Austrian Bride by Helen Parusel - This is a review book for January.

Foxden Acres by Madalyn Morgan - This was a freebie too. I picked it up because it sounds really interesting.

The Christmas Trip by Sandy Barker - This is a follow up to The Christmas Swap which I read a couple of weeks ago.

Lola & The Man by Elise Darcy - Bought this one for the cover, which is ironic seeing as my Kindle only has a black and white screen.

The Last Phone Booth in Manhattan by Beth Merlin and Danielle Modafferi  - This was my December First Reads choice

Speaking on 1-clicking, did you see that Stuff Your Kindle is on today! Thousands of freebie books. Not that I really need anymore as I can't get around to reading the ones I already have, but I will still be taking a look in case there is anything interesting.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Festive Treats!


And just like that it's Christmas!!

And that means the time for Festive Treats! is done for another year.  

It's funny, on Christmas Eve I sat down and watched a French movie, I think just because I was all treated out! I did, however, enjoy a lot of what I did this year!

Here's all my Festive Treats for this year!

Festive treats...

It's time to start thinking about what I am going to read and watch and eat in the lead up to Christmas. It is going to be a bit different this year as we go away part way through but we will see what we can add to the list.

1. In the Greek Midwinter by Mandy Baggot

2. The Christmas Love Letters by Sue Moorcroft

3. The Christmas Movie Review (Instagram account)

4.  The Christmas Club (movie)

5. Ex-Mas (movie)

6. Visited the city Christmas tree

7. Performance of Handel's Messiah by the Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

8. Mince Pies and Christmas Cake bites

9. The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson (audiobook)

10. Weekend Cooking: Three Christmas books

11. The Fabric of Christmas (movie)

12. Human Nature Christmas Spectacular (concert)

13. 12 Dates of Christmas (movie)

14. The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson (audiobook) - yes again

15. Gingerbread Souffle

16. Raspberry Swirl Pavlova Wreath

17. The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

19. Paul Kelly's Christmas Train by Paul Kelly (music)
20. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (audiobook) 
21. Your Christmas or Mine 2 (movie)
22. Hannah Waddington Home for Christmas (musical show)
23. The Chocolate Queen Christmas Special (cooking program)
24. Nigella's Amsterdam Christmas (cooking program)

Bring on Christmas 2024!!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Weekend Cooking: Wonka

My husband and I are going to go and see Wonka later today. We are going to a brand new cinema which has only been open for a few days in a suburb around 30 minutes away. While we are there wll go to a new branch of the coffee shop where we had our first ever date!

It kind of surprised me but from the first moment I saw the trailer for this movie I knew I wanted to see it.It is the movie  remake that I didn't even know that I wanted to see. In fact, until I saw the trailer I had no idea that it was even being made!

I am not really sure what it is about this clip that made me want to see it so badly.I remember watching the Gene Wilder version and liking it well enough. I didn't particularly love the Johnny Depp version. I will be back later with my thoughts on the Timothy Chalamet version.

But first here's the trailer:

And we're back! And what's my take on the was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I am not sure I was expecting it to be as much of a musical as it was! 

This is in effect a prequel to the first Wonka movie, and tells the story of how Willie Wonka came to own the chocolate factory. There are no golden tickets here, but there are plenty of nods back to the original movie including the Oompa Loompa song. Here there is really only one Oompa Loompa, played in a really fun way by Hugh Grant. 

In some ways this is a very black and white movie when it comes to the good guys and the bad guys. The existing chocolate owners are definitely on the bad side, and Wonka and his friends are definitely the good guys. There are lot of familiar faces on both sides, including Olivia Colman as Mrs Scrubit and Jim Carter from Downton Abbey as Abacus, the former accountant.

Another famous face was Rowan Atkinson as Father Julius. I was a little surprised to hear the kids in the theatre recognise him as Mr Bean, even after all these years.

All in all, this was a fun story telling us how Willy Wonka came to be the character that we know and love from the later movies! I will say we had some M&Ms during the movie. By the time that the movie finished, I was all chocolated out because there is lots and lots and lots of chocolate in the movie!

Going to watch this movie was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, especially as a respite from Christmas preparations!

I just wanted to thank everyone for your participation in Weekend Cooking over the last year.

Next week, I am planning to announce my cookbook of the year and recipe of the year! If you would like to join and share you favourite cookbook and recipes of the year please feel free to do so.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, whatever it is that you celebrate. For me, that means  Merry Christmas!

Weekly meals

Saturday -  
Sunday -  Christmas Dinner with the family
Monday - Pressure Cookie Spaghetti Bolognaise
Tuesday - Pork chops with mash
Wednesday - Asian glaze Salmon
Thursday - Mac and cheese
Friday - Takeaway

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page

Thursday, December 21, 2023

2023 Christmas Ornaments

Now that my husband and I have been travelling together for a while, we have now got some pretty well established routines.

Firstly, we like to buy a fridge magnet, and then we buy Christmas ornaments, and then a new thing which we started over the last year is buying Pandora charms to add to my bracelet.

We just put up our Christmas tree for this year. We haven't over decorated it because are not wanting to provide too much temptation to the dogs, but we did put all the new ornaments on. Here are the ones we acquired in our travels this year

This one comes from Amsterdam. We did buy a glass one from Valkenburg which was a town we visited in the Netherlands where they hold Christmas markets inside a network of caves near the town but the ornament did not survive the trip home. I posted about the markets in the Netherlands last year. Re-reading the post make me wish we were going back this year, but we are not!

We got this one when we visited Bayeux

These ornaments look quite small in the picture but they are actually a set of three with the big one being about 12cm diameter. We got these at Chambord which is a chateau in the Loire Valley

We got both of these from Chenonceau which is another magnificent chateau in the Loire Valley. We had already bought the white and gold one when I saw the silver one as we were just leaving the gift shop so I had to have it!

No prizes for guessing where this one was from!!

This one comes from Naples, which was a surprisingly Christmassy city! There was a whole lane in the old town dedicated to Christmas!

Fast forward to October and we were on another trip. This ornament looks more like our Christmases but this ornament is actually from Hawaii

And here is our final new ornament for this year from Vancouver.

Here is the tree (without the makeshift fence to keep out the doggos). We didn't really need the fire on because it was quite warm on the day we put up the tree but it does look nice

And here are the doggos in question looking very innocent

I am sharing this post with the Virtual Advent tour hosted at Sprite Writes

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Last Ten Christmas Books I Have Read



Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week the them

e is Books I Hope Santa Brings/Bookish Wishes. I don't usually get anything other than cookbooks for Christmas so instead I am sharing the last ten Christmassy books I have read. 

The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker
- Last year I shared ten Christmas books on my Kindle that I hadn't yet read. This is the only one that I have since read, and that was just over the last few days!! And yes, I have added more!

Christmas Feasts and Treats by Donna Hay - I was given this cookbook a couple of days ago and I have flicked through and picked out a few things to try

The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson - I listened to this on audio and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, my husband and I then listened to it together in the car the week after!!

The Christmas Love Letters by Sue Moorcroft - I enjoyed this book about family secrets being revealed at Christmas (my review)

In the Greek Midwinter by Mandy Baggot - I've never thought of Athens as a Christmas destination, but this book could have influenced me to think otherwise (my review)

Celebrations in Bellbird Bay by Maggie Christensen - This is the latest entry in the Bellbird Bay series (my review)

Finding Love at the Christmas Markets by Jo Thomas - If there is one author who I might choose to fit another Christmas read in by it would be Jo Thomas!

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett - Listening to this audio has become a Christmas tradition for me. I am currently listening to this one after listening to it for the last two years.

The Great Christmas Cook Off by Helen Buckley - This was a lot of fun to read! Think Celebrity Bake Off at Christmas time (my review

Midnight in the Snow by Karen Swan - I really need to get back to reading Karen Swan

Do you like reading Christmas themed books?

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Weekend Cooking: The Vintage Village Bake Off by Judy Leigh

The three Rankin siblings are all at a bit of a crossroads in their lives. Hattie has recently been divorced from her husband of nearly 50 years. He was a very objectionable man who right from the beginning has demeaned Hattie and reduced her self confidence to nothing. Now that she is free from him, she is beginning to realise how badly he had been treating her and is relieved that he ran off with Linda from the bowling club. 

When her sister Bunty turns up completely out of the blue with a new lover in toe, Hattie's life is turned upside down. Bunty has always been a bit of a whirlwind, but Hattie is surprised to find out that she has left her husband. It soon becomes very clear that three is a crowd and something has to give so Hattie decides to go and visit their brother in Devon.

Robert is a retired head teacher who enjoys growing his own produce and then cooking up a storm. Recently, he has come to the attention of a number of women in town who find the idea of a man who can cook VERY appealing, although he is a bit oblivious to the fact that he has suddenly become so attractive to the opposite sex. It's definitely not something he is used to. 

Soon Hattie is beginning to fit in the community, and her confidence is growing. Bunty is re-evaluating some of her choices and Robert's baking skills come to the attention of a local journalist. Before he knows it he is involved in a bake off against a skilled baker from Cornwall. After all, this is a chance to answer the age old question of whether you put jam and then cream on a scone (as they do in Devon) or the other way around (Cornwall). For me, it is a no brainer. It is always jam first! Every time!!

I have read a number of Judy Leigh books now, and this is my favourite! I loved the way we saw the characters growing (especially Robert and Hattie), and the sense of community coming together that we saw throughout the book. If I was going to use one word to describe the book it would be fun. And you can tell that the author has had a bit of fun with this book too. For example, all the animals that Robert has all have cute names. Two of the goats are called The Great Goatsby and Vincent Van Goat, and the cat is Isaac Mewton!

Which brings me to a recipe to share. Given that there is a scone bake off, it might have been more obvious to share a scone recipe. There were some truly delicious non-traditional scone flavours in the book which might come in handy for International Scone week later in the year. For example there is a ginger scone that Robert makes. Instead I am going to bring you something different.

Tomorrow night we are having Christmas family dinner with the kids (most of them anyway). Our menu is prawns for starters, then pork roast with caramelised apple (based on this recipe) and a roast chicken (based on this recipe) with various side dishes, and then for dessert I am going to attempt to make the following recipe.

In the book Robert makes a pavlova to take to the gardening club meeting so I am not going completely rogue. He is happy to hand whisk his eggs. I, however, am more than happy to let my mixer do all the hard  work

Raspberry Swirl Pavlova Wreath (Donna Hay)


225ml egg whites (about  6 eggs)
1½ cups (330g) easter sugar (Superfine) 
1½ tspn white vinegar
2 tspn cornflour (cornstarch)
1½ cups (375ml) single (pouring) cream
250g raspberries
2 tbspn shelled pistachios, finely chopped 
1 tbspn freeze-dried raspberries, finely crushed (optional) 

Raspberry swirl

½ cup (65g) frozen raspberries
2 tbspn caster (superfine) sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract

To make the raspberry swirl, place the raspberries, sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3–4 minutes or until slightly reduced. Strain into a heatproof bowl, discarding the seeds, and refrigerate until cool.

Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Draw a 22cm circle on a sheet of non-stick baking paper and place it on a baking tray. Place the egg white in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking for 30 seconds before adding more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk for a further 6 minutes or until stiff and glossy. Place the vinegar and cornflour in a small bowl and mix to combine. Add to the meringue and whisk for 2 minutes or until glossy and combined.

Place 12 heaped spoonfuls of the meringue mixture on the tray around the inside of the circle to create a ring. Drizzle the raspberry mixture over the meringue and use a teaspoon to create a swirled effect. Reduce the oven temperature to 120°C (250°F) and bake for 1 hour or until crisp to the touch. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlova to cool completely in the oven with the door closed.

Place the cream in a clean bowl of the electric mixer and whisk until soft peaks form.

Place the pavlova wreath on a cake stand or plate. Top with the cream and sprinkle with the raspberries, chopped pistachios and freeze-dried raspberries to serve. Serves 6–8

We will be skipping the pistachios due to the nut allergy in the house, or maybe I should put some on the side. We'll see.  I am crossing everything that my version looks somewhat like Donna Hay's version.

Here's a video showing what it should look like.

I am sharing this review with Foodies Read at Based on a True Story

Weekly meals

Saturday -  Out for dinner
Sunday -  Roast beef and gravy rolls
Monday - Beef and Broccoli Noodles
Tuesday - Chicken Shwarma
Wednesday - Butter Chicken
Thursday - Out for dinner
Friday - Takeaway

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Christmas quotes: On traditions

Every year, I share some Christmas related quotes from books I have read during the year, or at some point anyway. This is actually one from a couple of years ago, that I never quite getting around to posting!

This quote is from The Christmas Party by Karen Swan and I am reminded that it has been far too long since I read one of her books!

It was her favourite day of the year. Not Christmas Day itself, with the presents and the turkey and the television specials, but this one, when anticipation beat revelation. Just the spectacle of it made Pip's  skin prickle: two hundred faces lit up by flickering tea lights held in home-decorated jam jars, carols sung with white breath that hung in the night air, the church choir warm in heavy cassocks, children running between adults' legs, everyone clustered around the Christmas tree like some ancient village elder, the welcoming lights of the Hare shining in the background....None of the villagers ever missed this and Pip knew she wasn't alone in treasuring this annual tradition.

Ottie came back with their glasses of mulled wine, seemingly on a mission to get them all drunk - this was their third in twenty minutes. Pip hated the stuff but was drinking it nevertheless; it was the only fitting drink for tonight.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Summer 2023-2024 to read list


Welcome to this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week the them

e is Books on My Winter 2023/24 to-Read List but it is summer here so this is my summer to read list.

The Vintage Village Bakeoff by Judy Leigh - This is for a review. Apparently it was supposed to be last week but I wrote next week's date down instead.

The Other Bridget by Rachael Johns - I am a big fan of Rachael Johns so of course this is on my list!

The Chocolate Factory by Mary-Lou Stephens - I enjoyed this author's debut novel The Last of the Apple Blossom so I am looking forward to this one!

The Secrets of Crestwell Hall by Alexandra Walsh - Another review copy!

The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang - I am always up for a new Kate Quinn novel.

The Secret Ingredient by Sue Heath - This will be a future Weekend Cooking post.

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells - the fourth Murderbot book! I have already started this one.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett - My now traditional re-listen to this book!

Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros - I am pretty sure this won't be the only time this book appears on TTT posts.

Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazzu Kawaguchi - I will be listening to this for the Japanese Literature Challenge

Do you have any of these books on your TBR list?