The Parlour, Bristol

The Parlour, Bristol

I am a sucker for a great foodie family story, especially if it's Italian and for sure if ice cream is involved!

On Thursday, I was kindly invited as a guest by Nick Licata and Socialight to attend the new dinner menu tasting at The Parlour on Cheltenham Road, Bristol.  I used to live close by 15 years ago and would've loved this independent neighbourhood restaurant ... last thing I knew this was a lighting shop!

The Parlour has been here for 2 years in its ice cream carnation but the family has been involved in selling and making ice cream since 1974, spanning 3 generations.  You may recognise the family name of Licata from the treasure trove Italian deli that is located on Picton Street, a fine Bristol institution. So rest assured the ingredients used in the dishes are truly authentic which Nick is very proud of, and rightly so!

With ice cream being a fairly seasonal product, Nick has been working on creating a dinner menu to compliment the ice cream aspect of The Parlour. He wanted to reflect rustic Italian food that is accessible for all and I think he has definitely achieved this. The menu has a selection of simple starters including scallops and king prawns; Equally a sharing antipasti board or some beautifully light homemade bread and huge, creamy green olives would keep you going till the mains arrive.

The beautiful walnut antipasti boards we tasted were meat or vegetable based and a great accompaniment with their house Merlot or Pinot Grigio.  The boards included fennel salami, Parma ham, aubergines, mozzarella to name a few and the most beautiful marinated, almost cured courgettes in oil and lemon.

I was pleased to see the other starter dish come out was the scallops!  I am a huge scallop fan, and these did not disappoint. Sweet scallops served with creamy celeriac puree, and those delicious lemony courgettes to offer a little palate cleanse.  Ours were served with an Italian 'chorizo' which was a little overpowering for me with all the delicate flavours but I'm pleased to see on the menu released it is usually served with pancetta. This for me would seem a lot more balanced and work better for the dish.

No Italian menu would be complete without a meatballs dish...a favourite for young and old. The Parlours combination of beef and pork mince, sage and garlic are served in a rich tomato sauce. With a note of warmth from black pepper, the meatballs were succulent and super tasty. Available as a starter in the sauce or with pasta as a main, I imagine this will be a crowd pleaser and a menu staple!

The main courses are divided between baked pasta, including traditional lasagne, aubergine lasagne or pasta bake of the day. The rest of the pasta menu covers pesto, carbonara, chicken, seafood and aforementioned meatballs!  So really there is something for everyone.  Vegetarians are catered for with tomato or aubergine based pasta, and vegans will be fine as long as they request their dishes without Parmesan or mozzarella.  The children's options are child-sized lasagne or tomato pasta which as 2 courses, they can choose a scoop of ice cream with toppings and sauces for £7. A great deal. The main courses range from £9.95 to £14.95 but on average expect to pay £11-£12.

Our main course dish was The Boar which is a meat ragu...with pork shoulder, wild boar and beef shin slow cooked in a tomato-based sauce. This is a meat lovers delight, the kind of dish my husband would be drawn to.  I really enjoyed the pork shoulder and wild boar but would have preferred the meat all pulled and within the sauce rather than in meaty hunks but that's just my inclination!

To finish I guess it would be crazy to go to an ice cream parlour without sampling the ice cream, so pudding is certainly going to be well catered for here! The Parlours ice creams are made with only 5 ingredients.  The strawberry ice cream is 25% fruit and each scoop of coffee ice cream is a shot of coffee! SO we are talking a totally natural product here, and Nick has created a great vegan ice cream base too. We were treated to the salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce and brownie sundae, which regular Parlour visitors will be familiar with.  If you're in need of an indulgent dessert then this is definitely going to check the box for you!

In a fiercely competitive city of restaurants, I think the parlour dinner menu can have its place.  The service from the staff who looked after us on Thursday was faultless and the two guys clearly have a genuine love for what they do, with character and heart. The Parlour is open at 7 pm from Wed-Sat and 12-6pm on Sunday.  I can definitely see this as a place to bring the family and as long as they keep these simple rustic dishes en pointe, the quality of service high and with a family focus...I think The Parlour is going to be a great solution for family dinner times!

Pasta Loco

Pasta Loco

I 'm sometimes reticent to go out for pasta as it is one of those fuss-free things to do at home, but Pasta Loco Bristol OMG: This was another level!

Far from the pasta my Nonna used to make this is pasta elevated. Rich, indulgent and full of flavour. We started with the salt cod fritters, which were light as a feather on a tasty pepperonata, with rich aioli and studded with capers, washed down with an Aperol spritz! Great start! Then backed up it up with beautiful caserecci pasta in a thick Norma (aubergine) sauce and goats cheese and linguine carbonara with pork 3 ways. The belly pork was stunning, moist, slow-cooked pork, and crispy skin and stunning salsiccia sausage with subtle fennel flavours. Delicious! The hype I've heard about Pasta Loco is duly justified, and with attentive, personal service, I look fwd to going back and encourage you book and visit! Let us know what you think! Lisa

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

If we didn't judge we wouldn't survive. Somehow, this was quite a revelation to me this week.  To judge is to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions...we indeed wouldn't survive if we didn't do this on a daily basis.

I suppose what I feel I am struggling with is the negative connotation with judgement, where I feel judged about something that I do. So after a couple of situations this week where I felt judged, the word kept popping into my head. So clearly there was something there for me to work on!

We all have ideas, opinions and standards that we live by that impact how we bring up our kids, treat ourselves or behave with others.  So if how we deal with a situation is different to someone else, why do we analyse what that person thinks about how we dealt with that situation.

If I were listening to a friend explaining the situation I'd normally be empathetic, supportive and objective, more so than I am with myself.  I think we can be our own harshest critics. But what I have realised is that whilst I feel like I am being judged for my actions, I am actually the one who is making the judgement on them and what they are thinking about me. We can't always work out what goes on in other peoples heads, and we won't always know. Last week the presenter's opinion in my interview about stay at home mums being an important role, and that it should be celebrated was quite a surprise, and as a good friend pointed out, not an opinion that we would have expected. My own judgement of never conventionally going back to work feeling like something to be apologised for, not celebrated, was clouding that viewpoint!

So this week, please don't judge this recipe because it doesn't look fancy or have restaurant style presentation!  It is simple, honest and delicious (and naturally as fuss-free as possible!) Please give it some time and love and it will be good to you too!

Remember to see more of the Fuss Free Foodie, follow my Fuss Free Foodie FB page, especially as I will be keeping you updated on my kitchen being knocked down and rebuilt!  Also, my week in pictures Instagram and all my videos in one place on YouTube. Have a great weekend....I'm off to the Foodies Festival

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Serves 4

Preheat the oven 180℃

  • 500g frozen spinach
  • 1 box of cannelloni (approx 18 tubes)
  • 2 pots of ricotta (250g each)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 75g grated Parmesan, plus 25-30g for the top
  • 3 cans of plum tomatoes
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 heaped tbsps tomato puree
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 15 rasps of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Black pepper and salt
  • Medium sized freezer bag, with 1 corner cut off (1.5cm)
  1. Leave the spinach out overnight to defrost.
  2. To make the sauce: Add 2 tbsp of oil into a large saucepan on a medium heat.  When warm, add the chopped garlic and fry gently, but do not let it go golden or burn.  If it is getting too hot take it off the heat.  Chop the plum tomatoes up in the can, and add to the pan along with the puree. Rinse the cans out with a little water, season with the sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer for 45 mins-1 hour and blitz smooth.
  3. To make the filling: Put the spinach into a tea towel, twist the sides together and squeeze out all the excess water.  Place the drained spinach into a large bowl. Add the ricotta, egg yolk, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix. Set aside in the fridge until you are ready to build!
  4. Build the cannelloni: Have an ovenproof dish approx. 30cm by 30cm. Cover the bottom of the dish with the tomato sauce, about 1cm deep.
  5. Put half of the cannelloni mixture into the freezer bag, twist the top round so that it's like a piping bag, and proceed to fill the cannelloni tubes with the mixture. I find filling half from one end, then filling half from the other to meet it in the middle.  Check for air pockets by pressing the mixture into the tube with your finger.
  6. Line up the tubes on top of the tomato sauce, leaving a small gap in between, until the dish is full. Cover the tubes with the rest of the tomato sauce, and sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan.
  7. Bake in the oven for 45-1hr minutes.
  8. Serve with a salad of your choice and enjoy!

Aubergine Parmigiana

Aubergine parmigana

I'm giving up meat for Lent. That's what my 13 year old self-said a few decades ago to my mum!! She flawlessly countered this by offering me the keys to the kitchen.

Being a parent now, and knowing all about phases, I'm sure my mum thought I'd be back to normal carnivore duties in 6 days let alone last 6 weeks meat free! But through growing pains, exams, crushes, Uni and a semester in France, this 'phase' lasted 7 years! A summer working in the USA and discovering Big Macs, was the only thing to pull me out of that one!

These days, I can appreciate both. I do enjoy free-range or local meat from my butcher where I can be assured that animal welfare is taken seriously; Equally, I do love vegetarian from all over the world. The choice for vegetarians is far more exciting than the nut roast and veggie burgers of yore. And to quote my husband you don't even miss the meat in this dish. Nuff said!

This recipe became a favourite last year when aubergines were on sale at our local veg shop 2 for £1, and it seemed too good to not make something awesome with them. After doing the recipe on and off for 6 months (or more!) I certainly refined it to be fuss-free.

The great thing about this recipe is not only it vegetarian, but also gluten-free. It's basically like an aubergine lasagna. Funnily enough in the last week talk of aubergine parmigiana cropped up in 3 separate conversations, so I kinda felt the universe was asking me to share!

As with some of my fuss-free recipes, the fuss can be taken away by preparation. Having this dish in mind and the ingredients ready in the fridge will mean you can crack on with the easy tomato sauce, or frying the aubergines, whilst you are hanging out in the kitchen doing something else. Then the whole business of making the parmigiana becomes more of an assembly job just like last weeks Lasagne.

I loved seeing how many of you were cooking lasagne last week in the Fuss Free Foodie Facebook group, so let me know what you think of this one too! If you want to see what I get up to for the rest of the week pop over to the Fuss Free Foodie page and give a little like there. See my fuss-free life in pictures on Instagram or what I'm tweeting on Twitter. Don't forget to keep seeing FFF in your feed, keep giving a little like, comment or share! Thanks for being here! Lisa x

Aubergine Parmigiana

Oven 180℃/350℉/Gas mark 4
Serves 4-6

For the sauce:
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
800ml passata
Few sprigs of thyme or 1-2 tsp of dried herbs
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the Parmigiana:
4 aubergines, sliced length way, 1/2cm thick
2 balls of mozzarella (125g each)
100g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Olive oil

  1. Place the oil in the pan on a low heat and gently fry the garlic for a few minutes, without colouring.
  2. Add the passata to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the herbs. Simmer on medium heat for about 45mins to 1 hour, until reduced to a thick sauce. Set aside.
  3. Frying the aubergines. I use two frying pans at the same time to get the job done quickly. If you feel like you are adding loads of oil, don't worry, as aubergines are like little sponges, and it's important to have the aubergines more soggy and unctuous, than spongy and dry! I fry them, get a bit of colour on each side, and then pop them under the grill to brown a little more and crack on with the next batch. See my sunny whether alternative below!
  4. Assembly. Get all your ingredients in place and as a guide, I did 4 layers with mozzarella on. Place 2 spoonfuls*1 of sauce on the bottom of the dish and spread it out. Layer 4-5 slices of aubergine on top to create your first layer.
  5. Put 2 more spoonfuls of sauce onto the aubergines and spread out. Break up around 60g (half of 1 ball) into chunks and place on the sauce, and then sprinkle around 10g of Parmesan on top.
  6. Repeat the process until you are left with a final layer of aubergines. It is better to have a complete covering of aubergines for the top layer, so if you feel like you are running for this, use fewer in one of the middle layers (like I did!).
  7. When you have your aubergines on top, pour on the rest of the tomato sauce to make a thick final layer and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese to complete.
  8. Cook in the oven for 1 hr. If you feel the top is browning too quickly, pop a piece of tin foil on top and take it off 10 minutes from the end. The parmigiana will benefit from resting for 15 minutes after it comes out of the oven....as will the roof of your mouth! Is great reheated the next day (or cold) in fact sometimes even nicer!
  9. Serve with a sourdough loaf.

Forget the Fuss...

If you have the weather, the quickest way to do them all in one go is to BBQ them! Don't be shy and rub them with oil first.

If your bread isn't fresh, I make breadcrumbs and make a final layer out of the crumbs instead (without sauce on top) and sprinkle with Parmesan
*1 I use a serving spoon which is probably the equivalent of 2 tbsp.

De La-sagne

Lasagne

I guess I am not in your typical demographic to be going to a hip-hop gig! On Saturday Morning at the park, when I mentioned to a dad I was at De La Soul the previous evening, I could read the subtext running behind his eyes...! Funny thing about the friends you meet when you become a mum...they have no clue of your past!

I played De La Souls, 3 FT high and rising album on repeat in my teens; It's hard not to love the beat, riffs, mixes, rapping and scratching. It's really 'out there' and full of silly humour and until this day still 'get' the hip-hop vibe. As my friend at the gig pointed out, quite a lot of the time hip-hop can be based upon struggle and oppression; Maybe my connection with this genre of music is more than just an appreciation but is set in my DNA.

My Italian grandparents
Vittoria and Luigi, my grandparents came over from Italy to the UK back in the 50's. Times were tough back then after the war, and work was scarce. My grandmother's father worked, her mum stayed at home and the few stories of my great grandfather's background were, let us say, from more of the 'underworld' side of Italian culture and maybe that's the reason I enjoyed reading Mario Puzo books!!

They sought a better future for themselves and their future family with a strong desire to work hard and succeed. But to leave your motherland over 60 years ago and settle in a country where you didn't speak the language or know the culture couldn't have been easy. So maybe this struggle to succeed is locked into my cells and why hip-hop resonates with me. So writing this week's blog fitted well with my weekends escapades...Da La-sagne!!

It's not the most fuss free of recipes though right? After all these years I have finally found a way to make it feel fuss free. It's a bit of a 2 pronged attack, but you do get a meal at the end of attack 1! First of all its about making a great tomato sauce with 5-6 different veg, (as always use what you have and swap stuff in and out) passata and a combo of pork and beef mince to effectively make a spag bol. Phase 2 is just building the lasagne....easy!

But instead of making the traditional bechamel/white sauce, which I know would put some people off, I use crème fraîche, which really makes it easier. Having the lasagne all built and ready to go in the oven on these, still, chilly evenings for me is a joy. We still have half left for tonight.....a glass of red wine with it this time I think.

Let me know what you think about my fuss free lasagne and hip-hop music in the Fuss Free Foodie Facebook group or take a look behind the scenes and read food reviews on the Fuss Free Foodie page. See my fuss free life in pictures on Instagram or what I'm tweeting on Twitter. Don't forget to keep seeing FFF in your feed, keep giving a little like, comment or share! Lisa x

Fuss Free Lasagne
Serves up to 6
Approx. 24Cm sq Pyrex dish

For the spag bol:
500g pork mince
500g beef mince
1 onion, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
1-2 celery stick, diced
125g mushrooms, diced
1 courgette, diced
Half butternut squash, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1L passata (x2 500g boxes from Aldi)
1 glass of red wine
Salt and pepper
2-3 tbsps olive oil
3 branches of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried herbs

For the lasagne:
250g dried lasagne sheets (at least half a box needed)
600ml crème fraîche, decanted into a bowl and stirred, so it has a thinner consistency if too thick add a dribble of milk
150g Parmesan, grated finely

  1. In a large casserole dish, add a tbsp of oil and fry the pork on a medium heat until all the meat has changed colour and any juice has started to evaporate.
  2. Take out of the pan and put to one side, then do the same with the beef mince. Keep all the meat to one side whilst you make the tomato sauce.
  3. Put 2 more tbsps of oil in the pan and add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and fry on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until it has softened and reduced in size. Add the garlic and fry for 2 more minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms and fry on a higher heat to extract the water. Once this has all evaporated, add the courgette and squash and continue to soften for another 10 minutes.
  5. When everything is softened and reduced down add the wine. Reduce the liquid by half and then add the passata. Season with salt and pepper, add some herbs and simmer for 15-10 mins. Blend smooth.
  6. Add the meat to the sauce and simmer for at least another 15 mins or longer on a lower heat. You are aiming for a fairly sloppy sauce. Once it cools the meat will soak up more of the juice and be firmer. You can use some of this for a spaghetti bolognese and then when cooled store the rest in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to make your lasagne.
  7. (See tutorial!) When you are ready to build your lasagne, have all your ingredients to hand. Your first layer is the meat sauce. Spread about 3-4 serving spoon fulls on the bottom, and cover the base completely. Drizzle 2 spoonfuls of crème fraîche on top too. Cover with a layer of lasagne sheets all over the top of the sauce.
  8. Spoon another layer of around 3-4 spoonfuls of meat sauce on top of the lasagne sheets. It should be about 1cm thick roughly. Drizzle on 2-3 spoonfuls of crème fraîche and a good handful of Parmesan. Repeat this process until you get a layer of lasagne at the top. Put the last of the crème fraîche on this final layer and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
  9. As you are building the lasagne be conscious that you are probably going to have 4-6 layers and try and manage the amounts according to the size of your dish. But sometime one layer may be thinner or thicker than another, and this doesn't show in the final dish!
  10. Set aside until ready to cook in the oven for 45 minutes at 180℃/350℉/Gas Mark 4. If the top is browning too quickly just throw a piece of tin foil over the top and take it off a few minutes from the end to crisp the top up.
  11. I like to serve with a salad...but if it was up to my husband he'd serve it with chips or garlic bread!

Faster Pasta: Seafood

Seafood pasta

Ever been shopping and yet you still don't know what you are going to cook for dinner?! Me too. Life can get in the way of a good meal especially if the focus is on getting the shopping done, but not having had the time to think the weeks meals through.

Remember the days when you said, sod it, let's just go out for dinner?! (Maybe you still do. Enjoy that!) Flexibility with family life can mean you are a bit more tied to eating at home or have to pay someone to be able to go out and pay for dinner! Or maybe you are still at the stage where more thought goes into what the kids are going to eat, and you grab what you can or get a takeaway. We have all been there.

Most people I talk to about food, love to eat but to find the time to think about it in any great depth is a sticking point; Or knowing where to find the ingredients or find new recipes that work, a bridge too far! So we end up getting on a 1 or 2 week rotation of meals that become a bit samey or variations on a theme. For those people, and this was me until both my boys were in school, this is why I started the Fuss Free Foodie.

Life is busy, it's the way we find ourselves living our lives these days. Life hacks are where it's at, and the Fuss Free Foodie is here to make eating amazing food accessible without the fuss! This is how I spend my time, and I love to share what I find, cook and eat. This is not an overhaul or need to make massive changes, but an opportunity to try and integrate a new recipe a week, or fortnight and rediscover that passion for food: the fuss-free way!

Life here in the Cadd household has changed a bit in the last 6 months, as our 7 year old has started Beavers. Fantastic. He loves it! But on a Friday night?! It was almost a deal breaker!! Traditionally, Friday nights were always about going to the pub after work and welcoming in the weekend. In fact, my husband and I used to work together so this was where we first started hanging out. 15 years later, and the scenario has changed slightly, but Friday is about catching up in front of the log burner with a glass of red wine, having eaten a lovely meal. So how does this happen when the evening goes off-piste with an activity?!

Pasta. Not just because I'm half Italian, but because it's fast. A bit of prep before and the rest can be pulled together whilst the pasta cooks. A lot can happen in 10 minutes!! We don't nearly eat enough fish, but seafood we love. Mussels (did you see the recipe for La Mouclade?) are such a fast food, but sometimes it's nice to have a change. Seafood risotto is lovely but SO labour intensive, as is Paella. But pasta checks a lot of boxes for us. Driven by what I can get fresh from my Fishmonger (Smiths Fish, Westbury Park) I will be flexible as to what I use, but a combination of prawns, mussels, squid and maybe some cockles work beautifully. Clams are lovely but very expensive and you get a lot more meat with mussels.

It's our reoccurring joke at the fishmongers that fish/seafood is the original fast food...and you know what....it's right. It's healthy and fast and we enjoyed this dish so much last Friday, we are having it again today! I hope you will give it a try. Let me know how you get on in the Fuss Free Foodie Facebook group and if you seek help in any particular culinary areas, I will do my best to help! Lisa.

Seafood Pasta
Serves 2

Up to 500g of prepared raw seafood (I used 2 handfuls of Mussels, 6 large prawns, heads off, peeled and deveined, 3 small calamari, cut into rings, check the tentacles for a small bone and chop out, a handful of prepared cockles if available)

200g spaghetti or linguine
50ml white wine
250g cherry tomatoes (vine and flavoursome as possible)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large tbsp of chopped parsley
Olive oil
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper

  1. Prepare the mussels (*1) and place in a hot pan and throw in the wine and put the lid on. Cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, shaking regularly until the mussels are open. Discard any unopened mussels. Place a colander over a bowl, tip the mussels into the colander and keep the cooking juices in the bowl. Place a lid on top to keep the mussels warm.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and juice and then chop roughly. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and add the spaghetti. Bring to a simmer and cook according to the instructions, keeping the pasta al dente.
    Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan, and turn the heat up high. Fry the calamari, quickly for 2 minutes to try and get some colour on it. If the pan is on high, this is long enough! Take it out and place it with the mussels.
  3. Turn down the heat and add 1-2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the frying pan, and add the garlic into the pan and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes gently without browning. Add the chilli, if using, and tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Add all but the last 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquor from the mussels to the frying pan, bring to the boil and then reduce until it has a sauce-like consistency (about 5 mins). Add a splash of water if it starts to dry out. Season with pepper, it should have enough salt from the mussels but check.
  4. Place the prawns in the sauce to cook. Once one side is pink, turn them over to cook on the other side. If the pasta is not quite ready, take them out to hang with the other seafood, try not to overcook them.
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and retain a tablespoon or 2 of the cooking water in the bottom of the pan. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into the pasta and coat it with oil. Set the pan aside until the sauce is ready.
  6. Before you serve up, place the seafood (mussels in or out of the shells, however, you prefer) back into the sauce, if using cockles add them at this point (they just need warming as they are cooked already). Stir around, and then toss the pasta into the sauce, (make sure pan big enough) stir, sprinkle in parsley, check the seasoning and serve. Enjoy!

*1 To prepare the mussels, rinse them in plenty of cold water. Discard any that are open, which do not close when you tap the side where the 'hinge' is or if gently squeezed. Remove the fibrous 'beards' that are on the side of the mussel between the tightly closed shell. Scrape/knock off any barnacles from the outside of the shell and rinse the mussels again to remove any bits of shell. Store in the bottom of the fridge with a piece of damp kitchen roll over the top until ready to cook. When eating the mussels if any remain closed, discard them.

Mighty Minestrone

Minestrone soup

When a friend asks you for a recipe whilst she has been solo parenting for 5 days with 3 boys under 6 and is waving the white flag as the lurgy kicks in.....the least I can do is oblige! (Especially when her hub is on a jolly skiing!)

And it was a timely request because I am grateful to the mighty minestrone as via this picture it has been the cornerstone of starting the fuss-free foodie. The picture was the cover photo for the FB group in the beginning and has been an unsung hero as it has been not written or posted about until now! So it seemed fitting in the week where I was planning to change with new branding that it should be celebrated! So thank you, Nay, you were right on the money!

So.....Minestrone....an Italian classic...basically Italian vegetable soup! However, I feel its so much more than your standard vegetable soup as it has so much going for it; a meal in a bowl! Veg naturally, pasta, potatoes, legumes, greens and notes of Parmesan. For those of you that know me, my cooking defaults naturally to Italian, as it's what I grew up with, so it's a bowl full of nostalgia and definitely comes under that 'comfort food' banner!

Check out 'ABOUT' the fuss-free foodie if you want to find out more about my cooking journey so far, and remember to join us in the fuss-free foodie FB group. Please feel free to share links that you like and post what you are cooking! Lisa x

Minestrone Soup (serves 4)

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed/finely chopped
1 courgette, diced
2 small pots, diced
2 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1L veg stock (I use Kallo)
2 bay leaves
1 can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
A handful of shredded cavolo nero
2 handfuls small pasta or broken up spaghetti
Parmesan rinds or vegetarian alternative
Extra virgin or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
Optional tsp of green pesto

  1. Add a lug of oil into a large pan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and soften for 5-6 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and soften for 2 more minutes.
  2. Add the tomato puree to the pan, stir and cook out for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and stock. Bring to the boil then add the courgette, borlotti beans, pasta, Parmesan rinds (or alternative if using), bay leaves and seasoning.
  3. Simmer for 10-15 mins until the potatoes and pasta are cooked. A couple of minutes from the end, add the cavolo nero and add a drop more water if you need to make it more 'soupy'.
  4. Pull out the rinds and bay leaves. Serve with grated Parmesan and teaspoon of pesto on top of each bowl, if using.

Forget the fuss...

  1. Don't have borlotti beans? Use pinto or cannellini beans
  2. No Parmesan rinds? Don't let it stop you, just save them in a bag in the fridge for next time....they keep for ages!
  3. No cavolo nero? Use kale as an alternative or spinach
  4. Feel free to add and interchange vegetables that you have or that need using up.

Bahamian beauty: Creamy Chicken Tagliatelle with Tenderstem

Creamy chicken tagliatelle with tenderstem

A clear 15 years before Nashville was a hit TV show I used to go there for the craziest of summer jobs. It was the hardest yet rewarding job and I am amazed that British students would sign up for a job to work 80 hrs a week, commission only, selling educational books door to door in America but we did it in our hundreds!! Each summer about 300 students flew out to Nashville (and about 3000 US students) to do this job during the 12 week holiday and I did this for 5 summers!!

Now, what the fuss free has that got to do with today's blog I hear you ask!?! Well, despite the hard work, building character and paying for those hedonistic uni days, there was always a chance to have some down time in Nashville and then go on some travels.

A short 2 hrs or so from Nashville is the Bahamas.....it seemed rude not to pay a visit being so close! Under British rule, until 1973 (hence the red post boxes!) the Bahamas is now an independent Island....a beautiful one at that! Now, this trip was only for a few days, and apart from the amazing beaches, the meal that inspired this recipe is my other lasting memory!

I mean, it's nothing fancy and not native to the Bahamas for sure.....it just checks a lot of boxes! Creamy cheese sauce, spiked with intense sun-dried tomatoes, succulent chicken and of course pasta...well, tagliatelle. A perfect comfort food on an evening. I have recreated it on and off over the years, and it doesn't fail to please....so I thought I'd share it with you! Again, it's one where you could do a little prep ahead of time, and then for the time it takes to cook the pasta, it will then be ready.

Let me know what you think of this recipe in the Fuss Free Foodie FB group. Don't forget to give a little like, share or comment to keep me in your feed. If you are on Instagram or Twitter....find me on there too! Thanks for reading and enjoy! Lisa

Creamy chicken tagliatelle with Tenderstem

Serves 2

35g plain flour
35g butter
350ml milk warmed but not mandatory just helps blend better
100-125g cheese, grated (Cheddar, Gouda or Gruyere)
1 tsp English mustard (optional but brings out cheese flavour and colour)
200g tagliatelle
1 chicken breast, diced 2cm sq (approx 170g)
200g Tenderstem broccoli, 3-4cm pieces
5-6 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
Salt and pepper
Chilli flakes (optional)

  1. Make the cheese sauce (can be done ahead of time or whilst the pasta is cooking). Melt the butter in a medium pan. Add the flour and stir together for a few minutes to cook out the flour.
  2. With whisk at the ready, add all the milk and whisk like crazy for a minute until all smooth. Stir with a spoon, and cook for a few minutes. Add the mustard if using, and cheese. When the cheese has melted season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Prepare the Tenderstem in a basket ready for steaming over the pasta as it cooks. Add the pasta to a pan of boiling water, and cook according to the packet instructions. Pop the basket over the pasta pan to steam broccoli for 7-9 mins, depending on the thickness of the stalks (just nibble a bit to see when done!)
  4. Whilst this is cooking, get a frying pan with a little oil in it ready to fry the chicken. Season and fry for 7-8 mins, so that it is still tender and juicy, but not pink in the middle.
  5. When the pasta is cooked drain it and retain 2 tbsps of cooking water in the pan. Add 2-3 ladles of the cheese sauce over the pasta and coat the pasta with the sauce.
  6. Then add the Tenderstem, the cooked chicken and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir and serve. Sprinkle with chilli flakes if desired.

Forget the fuss...
1. If the chicken breast is fat at one end and thin at the other, I take a rolling pin to it to make it more even!
2. No steamer? Pop in the pan with the pasta for the last 5 minutes of cooking time
3. No Tenderstem? Purple sprouting would work or even wilt in some spinach instead. Pour boiling water over spinach in a colander, and then throw it in after you have coated the pasta in cheese sauce.

Faster Pasta: Kalettes Carbonara…

Kalettes carbonara

Hosting for my in-laws at Christmas this year means there is a lot of thought going into a meal that will happen in 2 weeks time and I am frequently finding I have no idea what's going to be on the table for dinner that night!

As the commitment levels increase through December, with all the shopping, shipping, writing and wrapping, dinner is beginning to be a bit of an afterthought, and for those who know me (or soon you will!). I love to eat a delicious dinner each day. So I'm all over cooking meals that are fuss free, fast AND fabulous, especially when it's Friday and time to cash in some red wine tokens!!!

The other day, as I was dutifully checking things off my list and perusing the middle aisle in Aldi, (which can take a while at the moment!) my subconscious mind was saying, 'but what's for dinner? What's for dinner?!'. I wondered if I could forage all the ingredients for a fuss free dinner from Aldi, rather than making an extra journey to the veg shop and butchers, as I usually would.

All ingredients foraged from Aldi

YES, was the answer! As pasta is fast, I decided to recreate a seasonal version of a Courgette Carbonara recipe we love, but to use Kalettes instead. But what are KALETTES, I hear you cry?!

A relatively new ingredient they are a cross between brussels and kale. These pretty green, almost flower like buds, sometimes called brukale, or petit posy, are bang in season and grown in Lincolnshire, so easy on the air miles. I've have noticed them in Lidl and Waitrose too.

This is a true fuss free meal and can go from fridge to fork in 20 mins; but if you want to make it fast and fuss free, then you could cook the bacon and prep the sauce ahead of time (steps 1 and 2). Then all you have to do when you get in is boil the pasta with the Kalettes steaming on top and dinner could be on the table in 10 mins!

Give it a try.....its a warm comforting hug on a December evening!

Kalette Carbonara

Fuss Free Food in under 20 mins

Serves 2 adults, double up for family size
1 bag of Kalettes
200g Tagliatelle pasta
125g (or about 6-7 rashers) Streaky smoked bacon
80g Creme Fraiche 40g Grated Parmesan
3 Egg yolks
Sprinkling of chilli flakes (optional)

1. Chop the bacon into small chunks and fry until crisp and golden. Set aside on kitchen towel to drain.

2. Prepare the sauce by separating the eggs into 2 bowls (keeping the whites for another time), then add the creme fraiche and parmesan to the egg yolks. Season with a twist of salt and couple of twists of black pepper. Set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to the instructions (al dente) in boiling salted water.

4. Trim any tough bits off the stalks of the kalettes, but generally leave them whole; a few random leaves are fine. Steam over the pasta for 5 minutes, (using a bamboo or metal steamer) they are cooked when they are tender, not hard, be sure not to overcook as they will cook on after you take them off. Set aside.

5. Drain the pasta once cooked, but be sure to leave 2 tbsp of pasta cooking water in the bottom of the pan. This is going to help you make a silky sauce.

6. Put the drained pasta back into the pan. The next steps happens OFF the heat. The residual heat will cook the eggs and warm the bacon through.

7. Add the sauce to the pasta in the pan. Stir. Add the bacon and then kalettes. Stir gently. Then serve. Optional extras, extra sprinkling of parmesan/chilli.

FORGET THE FUSS....don't let these things stop you having a go!!

  1. No tagliatelle? Use penne (better to try it with what you have rather than not try it at all!)
  2. No Creme fraiche? Use Greek yoghurt, normal yoghurt or cream
  3. No or not enough bacon? Slightly less (or more!) is not a deal breaker. Use what you have or use an extra slice if it means not leaving it to waste in the fridge. Pancetta is a great alternative too
  4. No steamer? When I'm on hols I stick a sieve on top of the saucepan and stick a lid on the top. Does the trick! I noticed metal steamers in Tiger today for £3!
  5. Forget to keep a bit of cooking liquor? Just add it from a boiled kettle