Cajun stuffed butternut squash

Cajun stuffed butternut squash

In my humble opinion squash is such an undervalued vegetable, I personally adore it in all forms but my favourite way to eat it just has to be stuffed.

Mini Gourmand doesn’t like squash and Baby Gourmand is poorly at the moment so it was just myself eating so quantities in this recipe are to feed 2 without any sides (cooking 2 for 1 person means extra for lunch the next day).

To make my Cajun stuffed butternut squash you will need:

1 Butternut squash

100g Lamb mince (any mince will work but I think Lamb tastes better in this dish)

1/2 Courgette chopped

1 onion chopped

1 vine tomato chopped

1 Tablespoon of Cajun Spice mix (I use garlic powder, smoked paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, oregano and thyme)

Oil spray (I used coconut)

20g cheese


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.  Cut the squash in half and discard the seeds, pop on a baking tray and spray each half with oil.  Bake in the oven until the squash is soft (It took mine 40 minutes)

In a pan cook the mince and onion until the mince is cooked through.  Add the courgette and tomato and sprinkle in the spice mix.  Cook until there is no liquid left and everything is soft.

When the squash is soft spoon it out making sure you keep the shell intact.  Add the softened squash to the pan containing the mince and stir together well.

Separate the mixture between the two shells of the squash, top with cheese and bake until the cheese is melted.


Cajun stuffed butternut squash


Altoria Bar & Grill Leamington Spa

It probably comes as no surprise that birthday celebrations in the Gourmand household usually involve food of some sort, the most recent birthday celebration consisted of several meals out one of which took place at Altoria Bar & Grill in Leamington Spa.

Originally we had our hearts set on some American style grilled meat from the Bourbon Smokehouse (Altoria Bar & Grill’s previous name) but we were told they had changed hands the day before.  My dining partner Mama L is a bit like me, she likes decent food at a reasonable price so we were happy to stay and see what it had to offer and I’m pleased to say that Altoria Bar & Grill did not disappoint.

Altoria Leamington Spa

I don’t think we could have picked a better night to visit the restaurant, it was quiet which not only gave us a good opportunity to take some pictures but we got to gossip in peace.

The menu at Altoria Bar & Grill is simplistic, it’s broken down into sections like small dishes, salads, sliders, burgers, classics and sharers and there is nothing over £10 on the menu.  As much as I love gourmet food, there are nights when I just want something simple that wont break the bank and that’s what Altoria Bar & Grill offers.

The small dishes could be eaten as Tapas or starters and there is something for everyone ranging from chicken wings to breaded Goats cheese.  Prices are £3.50 unless you opt for a larger portion of chicken wings and at that price we couldn’t refuse a small dish as a starter.

Starters Altoria

Mama L went for the grilled tiger prawns in garlic and lemon which were served on a bed of spinach and I had the salt and pepper squid which was served with a garlic mayo.  I’d be really interested to try the mac & cheese as it’s one of my favourites but I have to admit I am quite particular about it and I like it to be cooked from fresh rather than out of a packet.

Burgers Altoria

Two 4oz beef burgers are served in a brioche bun with a homemade relish, salad and a choice of original or sweet potato fries.  You can add a range of toppings to your burger for £1 and both Mama L and myself went for the onion rings.

The cost of a burger really perplexes me as you can pay anything from £5 up to £15 in some local eateries.  The burgers at Altoria bar & grill were a purse friendly £5.95 and in my opinion were worth every penny, I couldn’t finish mine it was so filling.

Altoria Dessert

My only criticism came at dessert time.  I have a strawberry allergy and wasn’t expecting my brownie to come with the lovely juicy strawberry garnish.  Mama L helped me out by eating the offending strawberry along with some of the brownie it was touching.  Desserts are £3.95 and the brownie was incredibly rich, gooey and decadent – I would have this each and everytime.

Altoria Cocktails

Drinks are reasonably priced and the drinks menu is vast. At the time of our visit the cocktails were on 2 for 1 which is a huge bonus.


If you’re in the Leamington Spa area and fancy some good food at reasonable prices you can find Altoria Bar and Grill at 45 Warwick Street, Leamington, on the ground floor of Altoria.

Black Forest Cupcakes

Black Forest Cupcakes

Black Forest Gateau instantly reminds me of my grandfather, we often used to have it for dessert on a Saturday afternoon when I was younger after eating one of his mammoth dinners, I haven’t eaten it for years so when I was cleaning out one of my kitchen cupboards last week and came across a bottle of kirsch that we got for Christmas I had a huge urge to eat a black forest gateau.

I wondered if I could somehow transfer the black forest flavours of the gateau to cupcakes instead as they seem to go down much better in the Gourmand house than a huge cake and thus my black forest cupcakes were born.

My recipe made exactly 12 delicious cupcakes (made in muffin cases) and if like me you’re a fan of the retro black forest gateau you might like to give these a try.

70g unsalted butter

170g plain flour

250g caster sugar

50g cocoa powder

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

201ml whole milk

2 large eggs

12 tinned cherries

a good glug of Kirsch

300ml whipping cream

12 glace cherries

1 square of dark chocolate for grating

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a muffin tray with muffin cases, I pulled my 6 hole tray out first so made two batches.

Beat the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt together in a mixer until they form a crumb consistency. In a jug mix the eggs and milk.  With the mixer on slow gradually add half of the liquid into the crumb mixture and speed up the mixer to medium to ensure the mixture has no lumps. Turn the speed back down and add the remaining liquid until the mixture is smooth.

black forest cupcake mixture

using an ice cream scoop place a small scoop of the mixture into the muffin cases, pop in a cherry and half a teaspoon of kirsch, add another small scoop of the mixture to cover the cherry and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until springy to the touch.

When the cakes have cooled, remove from the oven and place the cakes on to a cooling rack.

Pierce the cakes with a skewer and carefully pour about a teaspoon of the kirsch over each cake.

black forest cupcakes

Once the cakes have cooled pipe the cream onto the cakes, top with a cherry and grate over some chocolate.

Black Forest cupcakes Black forest cupcakes


Bright Horizons Butternut Squash Risotto

My love of food and cooking has really rubbed off on my children, Mini Gourmand likes to cook at any given opportunity and has become a rather good baker, Baby Gourmand likes to chop vegetables and has recently participated in an 8 week cooking class where he has been learning about pastry and how to make different sweet and savoury dishes.

Letting your children experiment in the kitchen does have it’s benefits especially when you are so busy with work that you don’t have time to cook dinner!  Armed with a recipe book and a pile of ingredients I sent my children off to make Butternut Risotto.  I’d already looked at the recipe and to be honest it didn’t look right so with a bit of tweaking and the replacement of pudding rice for risotto rice, addition of some salt free stock, mushrooms and some Parmesan cheese they were ready to start.

To make this recipe you will need:
300g Butternut Squash
20ml Vegetable Oil
200g Chopped Onion
4 Chestnut mushrooms chopped (optional)
2 Cloves of Fresh Garlic
400g Risotto Rice
1 Litre of low salt stock (we used chicken)
400g Haricot Beans
100g Fresh Spinach
10g Fresh Parsley
Generous grating of Parmesan (Optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6.

butternut squash

2. Prepare the vegetables by – peeling, deseeding and dicing the butternut squash, Peeling and chopping the onion, peeling and crushing the garlic, chopping the mushrooms

3. Drain the beans (net weight should be 480g) and chop the fresh parsley.

4. In a large mixing bowl, coat the diced butternut squash in half the oil.

5. Place on a baking tray, making sure the pieces do not overlap. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until soft.

6. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a deep saucepan.

Saute vegetables

7. Add the onion and garlic and heat until it softens.

8. Add the rice and mix well for a few seconds to coat with oil, then pour in one-third of the stock and bring to a gentle simmer.

9. Cook until almost all the stock is absorbed.


10. Add a little more stock and the beans. Cook until almost all the water is absorbed.

11. Continue to add the stock a little at a time until it has all been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

12. Stir in the roasted butternut squash, spinach and half the chopped parsley. Stir regularly until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the grated Parmesan.

butternut squash risotto

13. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley before serving.

This recipe was a huge hit with both Mini Gourmand & Baby Gourmand and Mr Gourmand even had enough left over for lunch the next day.  Knowing that your children are eating a nutritious meal is so important when they are out of the home, If you would like to find out more Bright Horizons recipes you can visit their website, the recipes appear in their nurseries up and down the country catering for children from the age of 3 months up to the age of 5 years.

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butternut squash risotto


Disclaimer: I was sent a cook book, apron and ingredients for the purpose of the review.

Chilli Actifry Style

Chilli (1)

When you think of Chilli, cooking it an actifry is probably not the first method of cooking that would come to mind, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out if I’m completely honest but it was delicious and actually tasted a little bit nicer than my usual stove top chilli.  I would assume that my version could be made in any sort of hot air fryer, you just have to be careful of timings, I gave my recipe to two friends to test because they both have an actifry, one friend found that hers took longer to cook and the other said she had to do her onions twice because they had burnt so use your own judgement ass you know your own machine better than I do.

To make this you will need:

500g minced beef
1 onion chopped
2  garlic cloves crushed
2 chilli peppers
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin mixed beans
1 tbsp of tomato puree
1 tsp Cumin & cinnamon
1/2 tsp paprika & Chilli powder


Brown the onion and garlic with 1 tablespoon oil or some frylight and cook for 3-5 minutes.

Add the mince and cook for  a further 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, puree, chilli and spices and cook for 3-4 minutes

Add the mixed beans and season.

Add 400ml water and cook for 20-30min until nice and thick.

Serve with rice and chopped coriander for taste.


It’s as simple as that!  If you decide to make Chilli in your actifry please let me know how you get on.




Moroccan Chicken Gourmand Style

This dish was created after a spice cupboard clear out, spices are fabulous but 9 times out of 10 after opening a jar it goes unused until expired and I realise I need it for a dish.  Don’t you wish that dried herbs and spices came in smaller jars?

I noticed that some of my herbs and spices were getting close to their best before date so figured I would throw them together and thus Moroccan Chicken Gourmand Style was born!

While I appreciate this was not cooked in the traditional Moroccan way and it was not served with any real Moroccan ingredients other than the spices, it tasted good and surely that’s all that counts!

This recipe will serve two people, just double the quantities if feeding more.


2 chicken breasts (make 3 slits so the spices can infuse into the meat)
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Ginger
1/4 tsp Tumeric
2 Cardamon pods crushed
grating of Nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh Parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 peppers (Any colour)

Place the spices in a bowl with the oil and rub all over the chicken breasts, squeeze the lemon juice over and leave in the fridge for 4 hours for the flavours to infuse into the chicken.

placed the chicken breasts on a bed of chopped peppers in a Pyrex dish or suitable baking dish and cook for 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

I served the Chicken and Peppers with a Lebanese style salad of chopped parsley, onion, tomato and cucumber and Sweet potato chips

The dish took 30 minutes including preparation time.

The Almanack Kenilworth

Kenilworth is the next town over from us, it’s not somewhere we visit often but it has some great restaurants  and I can now include The Almanck in my list of favourite eateries outside of Leamington Spa.

Almanack Kenilworth

If you’re a fan of gastro pubs that offer something for everyone and are also child friendly then The Almanack in Kenilworth is the sort of place for you.  We didn’t have children with us during our visit but some of the other diners did and they did not look out of place.

I love a restaurant where you can dress up or down and you won’t feel uncomfortable in occasion wear, straight from the office or in jeans.

Staff are incredibly friendly without being too overbearing and there is a fabulous open kitchen so you can see the chefs at work.  We had a great seat which was right in front of the kitchen so I could see all of the delicious dishes going past, in hindsight it might not have been the best choice of seating as it made my course choice all the harder as I wanted everything off the menu.

Almanack Bread

While we perused the menu (it took a long time) and sampled some of the red wine and real ale we enjoyed the warm mini loaf with roasted garlic butter (£3.00) which was incredibly delicious and I’d recommend ordering 2 if your dining partner wishes to share and orders something that you can’t eat.

Almanack Pork Scratchings

Mr Gourmands eyes lit up when he saw the pot of crackling and apple sauce (£2.75) on the menu, he would probably have also ordered the sausage roll with piccalilli (£2.75) too but I had to remind him that we were out for dinner and not just dining on snacks.

Almanack Croquettes

Deciding what starter to have is difficult when your usual go-to options are not on the menu, as you know if you’re a regular reader we are creatures of habit and if there is Chicken liver pate or prawn cocktail it’s a no brainer that we will order those.  It’s probably a good thing that the Almanack don’t sell either of those so we had to think outside the box when deciding what to eat.

Mr Gourmand rarely gets any pork based products at home and his crackling had given him a taste for something of the pork variety so it was obvious to me that he would go for the free-range ham & cheddar croquettes (£6.75) which were served with a tomato relish.

Mr Gourmand was suitably impressed with his choice, I on the other hand was not happy that I had to share a taste of my dish and got nothing back in return – you win some you lose some I guess.

Almanack Duck Salad

When it came to choosing my own starter I was faced with a conundrum, if I was going to have fish/seafood for my main course did I want to have it for my starter in the form of the Devon crab gratin (£8.75) or if I opted for the rack of lamb with minted peas (£21.50) for my main did I want a meaty starter? In the end I decided to try the free-range Duck and crunchy vegetable salad (£7.75) and boy was I glad I did.

The salad was delicious and everything worked so well together, there was crunch, sweetness, nutty flavours and super soft duck all mixed together – perfection.

Almanack Fishermans

Mr Gourmand really struggled to pick his main course but after a quick chat with our waitress decided to try the market fish mixed grill, which on this occasion consisted of huge prawns, fish, squid and mussels served with skinny fries and salad.  The dish was delicious and must have caught the eye of some other diners as we saw quite a few going to other tables after ours arrived.

Almanack scallops

Torn between two dishes I decided to order the Pan-fried monkfish and scallops (£18.50) which was served with bombay potatoes, Indian salad and mint yoghurt.

The scallops were huge, sweet and cooked to perfection, the bombay potatoes had just the right amount of spice and the nigella seeds on the salad really finished it off.

I’m always a little dubious when I eat Indian spiced food outside of an Indian restaurant but if I’m being completely honest I could have happily ordered this from my local Indian restaurant and I would have been very happy with the flavorings. (I tried to recreate this at home but the least said about that the better, stick to The Almanack).

Almanack tart

Mr Gourmand likes his sweet desserts and I can take or leave them, I don’t mind a bite or two but that’s usually all I can manage so we always share when it comes to dessert time.

The dessert menu at The Almanack was really good and there were more than a couple of things that I would have liked to order but we settled for warm treacle tart (£5.75) served with clotted cream.

Treacle tart is probably Mr Gourmand’s favourite dessert so I did have to be quick with my spoon.  The tart wasn’t heavy like some I’ve eaten before, it had a lightness to it, the pastry was thin and buttery and the filling didn’t taste like your teeth were about to drop out which sometimes can happen with this type of tart.

Almanack cheese

A cheese plate is always a winner with me and as they are usually quite large we went for the individual cheese plate (£7.75) where we could choose 3 of the 5 cheeses available which was served with apples, celery, chutney and crackers.

We picked the Camembert Gillot AOC which I’ve had before, it’s incredibly creamy and doesn’t give you that nasal ache from the strength (it can’t only be me who gets that?), the Double Barrel Poacher is another favourite of mine, it’s like a really, really strong cheddar and can give you a lip tingle (again surely it’s not just me who this happens to?) and finally we had the Tor which is a goats cheese and one that I’d never tried before, it was really light and fresh tasting and one that I would definitely try again.  I don’t usually eat chutney with my cheese as I like to savour the cheese flavour but this chutney was really yummy and nice to scoop up with the celery.

We don’t eat out in Kenilworth very often but this needs to change as gastro pubs like The Almanack really are worth driving to the next town for.

If you’re in Warwickshire or passing through and need a great place for food, The Almanack can be found at Abbey End North, Kenilworth, CV8 1QJ

*Meal was provided in return for an honest, impartial review

Plaited Milk Loaf

A milk loaf is one of those breads that is loved by every member of the Gourmand family, I love a fresh loaf of bread but I don’t always have the time to make it as Baby Gourmand is guaranteed to do something he shouldn’t while my back is turned in the kitchen.  I’ve recently taken to making this loaf rather than a typical loaf of bread as I can get Baby Gourmand to help me knead and plait it and he’s more than happy to wait while I do all of the boring bits like pour the ingredients into the bowl and stir the mixture if he knows he can participate.

Milk Loaf

To make this loaf you will need:

500g strong white bread flour
30g unsalted butter
25g caster sugar
320ml whole milk (warm)
7g sachet of instant yeast
1 tsp salt
Vegetable or coconut oil
1 egg and some extra milk for a egg wash before baking (If you have an allergy to egg just use milk)

I’m lazy and make my bread in a food mixer but you can quite easily make this by hand it just takes a little longer.

Place the butter and flour into the mixing bowl and mix until no large lumps remain. Add the salt to the left of the bowl, the sugar in the middle and the yeast to the right of the bowl. Add two thirds of the milk a little at a time, and mix on a low speed until a soft dough is formed.

Oil your work surface and knead the dough until it is soft, smooth, silky, and elastic. I tend to do it for a few minutes, let Baby Gourmand have a turn and then finish it myself. Place the dough into an oiled mixing bowl and cover loosely with cling film, leave it to rise for a couple of hours.

For some reason this dough is a champion riser, it’s almost magical going back into the kitchen to see how much the dough has grown and Baby Gourmand is always mesmerised by it. You are looking for the dough to have tripled in size.

Put the cling film covering the bowl to one side and knock back the dough as gently as possible and turn out on to an oiled work surface.  Divide the dough into three even portions, I usually let Baby Gourmand do this and as you can see by the photograph they are not even at all but he’s learning and I’m confident that one day his 3 sections will be perfect.

Squeeze your 3 pieces of dough together at one end and start folding the sides towards the centre to form your plait, again I let Baby Gourmand do this as his reward for being so

Place the plaited loaf on a lined baking tray, cover loosely again with the same oiled cling film as before, and set it aside to rise. Once the plait has at least doubled in size but not so large that it spills from the baking sheet brush gently all over with a little egg wash, and pop into an oven at 180 and bake it for 25 minutes until the crust is a dark brown colour and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.


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plaited milk loaf recipe



Yo! Sushi Leamington Spa

Sushi is a favourite of the Gourmands, even Baby Gourmand likes to get in on the action so when we were invited to try some of the new Tokyo menu items we jumped at the chance (literally).  To be perfectly honest you don’t have to love raw fish to enjoy Yo! Sushi which may surprise some people, there is so much more on offer and hopefully this post will make fish-o-phobes realise that there’s more to Yo! Sushi than sushi.

Yo Sushi Leamington Spa

The Leamington Spa branch is situated in Regents Court which is the perfect place to grab lunch or dinner and is one of my favourite places to eat as there is so much on offer.  The Leamington branch of Yo! Sushi isn’t huge so booking is probably a good idea if you have plans to visit.

Yo Sushi, Tokyo menu

The Hoisin duck rolls (£4.45) are filled to brim with duck and cucumber with a delicious spring onion, hoisin and orange sauce for dipping it’s new to the menu and both of my children would love these. (117 calories)

I must admit that I love some of the names on the new menu like the fish no chip roll (£4.45) which is basically Japanese seabass tempura, onion, cucumber and wasabi sauce filled rice, this was a particular favourite of mine because it’s incredibly simple but so tasty. (139 calories)

kimchi ika

Now the first two dishes were good but it wasn’t until I tasted the Kimchi Ika (£4.00) that the new menu really stood out for me.  I’ve tried to make Kimchi at home as it’s basically the same process as making sauerkraut but my version is pretty rubbish compared to this.  (71 calories)

Some of our other favourites included the Potato Salad (£2.00) which may seem like a bit of an odd dish but it does really need to be tasted to be appreciated (210 calories), the Dynamite Rolls (£4.00)  which are super hot but super delicious (168 calories), the Teriyaki salmon (£4.45 which is simple, sweet and tasty (222 calories) and the Chicken Chahan (£4.00) which is an incredibly tasty fried rice (411 calories)

The new menu is a great accompaniment to the range of dishes already produced by Yo! Sushi, the flavours are fresh and flavourful and there is something for everyone whether you’re a sushi lover or not.

Have you tried any of the new dishes yet? Which ones appeal to you?

Dining Al Fresco in Colder Weather

We all love to dine Al Fresco – However, living in the UK we always face the threat of a rainy day, anytime of year so it’s best to be prepared. There’s something inviting about going against the odds, especially when it comes to food and dining. Especially when you’ve already been cooped up inside for months, itching to get back outside and mix up your dining experience, away from the same old dining table experience.

So, why not take your delicious dinners to a setting close to home? Say, the garden? or in our case our balcony which is perfectly positioned between the lounge and kitchen so food can be passed through the kitchen window. Forget the temperatures and the looks of disdain from the family. It’s time to mix things up with Al Fresco dining, even during colder weather and extend that outdoor season, we all know and love.  We’re lucky that our balcony is protected from the elements by a roof but what do you do if you don’t have this luxury?

Dining al fresco in colder weather

Here’s some tips to getting it right…

Making your garden another room

The way to pull off dining outside, is to create the illusion that you’re not really outside – you’re just in another room of your house. Whilst giving a plan ‘B’ to jump back inside if the heavens do open!

Having the ability to open up your kitchen into your garden is an excellent tool for this, as it shows the two spaces as one large area and becomes a little more inviting come dinner time. This can be done with folding doors that give a direct and open route to your garden, joining the two spaces together.

Keeping everything on the same level

Depending on the structure of your home, having the option of walking out of your kitchen into your garden (without taking any steps up or down) helps aid the feeling of your outdoor space being another room of the house. If this is a viable option, then the use of decking can spruce up your garden and provide the perfect platform for a fancy dinner or something a little different for the children to enjoy.

It will also add value to your home should you be thinking of moving on, as the garden is usually the most neglected part of the home. And, unless your potential buyer likes a project, they will be slightly put off by a garden that is neglected and void of a use.

food on a plate

Winter warming recipes

The promise of good food will get most people to venture outside, even in colder climes but the food will need to be very comforting to make them stick it out for the long haul. BBC Good Food have compiles a list of top 20 winter recipes that are sure to entice your loved ones towards alfresco dining, here’s five to whet the appetite…

Other comforting winter recipes come from celebrity chef – and comfort food ambassador – Jamie Oliver. Sure to keep your family well-fed and nice and warm:-

Focus on keeping everything toasty

As well as scrumptious food, you’ll also need to set the scene for a dinner outside that won’t have you rushing back into the warmth. This is where you need to overdo it on the blankets, shawls and cushions to really hammer home the cosy vibes for your outdoor setting. Choosing warming colours such as burnt orange, red and browns will help to create the vision of heat.

When it comes to actual heat, you’ll need to make a decision on your outdoor heating that works with the space you have. A great item, that is prevalent in a glamping setting, is a chimenea. These can be bought for as little as £50 and take up very little space while offering the warmth you’re searching for and the added bonus of real flames.

Table top candles will also do the trick, along with a selection of warming drinks to warm the insides as well as the outside. Here’s a couple of drink recipes from The Guardian that are sure to warm the cockles…

  • Pure drinking chocolate
  • Mulled quince cider
  • Spiced hibiscus tea

vegan Barbeque alfresco dining

A cheeky…BBQ?

Again, we are back to food but it’s the focal point of getting the family on board with outside dining!

A BBQ off season is still a great idea, offering up the chance to use the BBQ outside of the usual strict June/July time slot each year and giving you the chance to show off your culinary skills to feed the brood. It’s also a great excuse for a no tech afternoon/night at home. Before your tasty grub is served, all mobiles and tablets need to be placed in the kitchen out of sight so that actual quality family time can be enjoyed without Facebook updates, Instagram browsing and loud phone calls with friends.

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