Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Saturday 6th February: Root vegetable & quinoa stew

I've been buying a lot of root veg lately. It's in season and in my mind it suits the drizzly, cold weather. Sure, I'm looking forward to all the summer veggies, but there's something comforting about a big bowl of winter root vegetables.

Last week I'd bought a swede. I like the taste of swede, but I always get part way through chopping a swede and think, why did I buy a swede? They are a bugger to prepare.

The result of having a busy/tiring week meant that I ended the week with quite a lot of fresh veg still sitting expectantly in the salad drawer of the fridge. So, on Saturday evening I thought I'd better do something about it.

Winter veggies can be colourful too...

It was also my first time cooking a dish with quinoa, which is all the rage at the moment, I understand. I have to admit I cheated, though, and bought ready cooked quinoa. We all have to start somewhere.

Serves 2

1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced into chunks
1/2 a swede, peeled and cut into cubes (good luck)
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced in half and then cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato puree
700ml vegetable stock
250g cooked quinoa and puy lentils (this came as a packet from Waitrose - but you could also use just quinoa or just puy lentils)
salt and pepper to season

Heat the oil in a saucepan, and chuck in the veg. Cook gently, stirring until it has started to soften. Add the herbs and spices, and cook for a minute or two more, stirring. Add the tomato puree, stir, and cook for another minute. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the cooked quinoa and cook for another 5 minutes.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Thursday 4th February: Chicken, leeks, sweetcorn & tomatoes

February arrived with its usual gloom. I had a very tiring first week back at work after our week's holiday, so I didn't cook much, but managed to knock up this reasonable chicken dish on Thursday. It wasn't massively exciting to be honest (this blog is not just meant to be about the roaring successes!), but it helped me use up a few bits towards the end of the week.

Serves 2

1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes/strips
2 medium-sized leeks, sliced fairly thinly
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 195g tin of sweetcorn, drained and rinsed

Heat the oil, then add the onions and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the chicken and cook until brown all over. Add the leeks, garlic and herbs. Give a good stir, and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the Worcestershire sauce, then simmer for 15 minutes or until the leeks are nice and soft and the chicken is cooked through. Add the sweetcorn and cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve with rice.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Sunday 24th January: Spiced chilli chickpeas

A couple of weeks ago, we were on holiday (it seems like a million years ago now, though). We stayed in Hampshire near the New Forest, close to the Dorset and Wiltshire borders. We had fun exploring Bournemouth, Salisbury and the New Forest. We visited a brewery and a vineyard and brought back some beers and some lovely English wines. We also had a lot of lovely pub meals - our favourite being the Rose and Thistle in Rockbourne, Hampshire. It had a real log fire and the chocolate and pear tart was to die for.

A view of Bournemouth

Sunrise over Hampshire on a frosty day

However, we were staying in a self-catering property, so I also cooked on a couple of days. I ended up taking a few ingredients from home - stuff that would travel, so a few tins of things and some spices etc. The first Sunday there we had a lazy day in: I did some colouring in, and watched The Good Wife - it was a very relaxing day.

As we weren't inclined to wander outside that day, I thought I'd cook something for dinner. With a few basic ingredients, I put together this sort of spiced chilli chickpea dish.

Serves 2

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
pinch of chilli flakes
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to season

Heat the oil, and cooked the onion and carrots over a low-medium heat, until starting to soften. Add the garlic, herbs and spices, stir and cook for a further minute or so. Add the chopped tomatoes, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

I served ours with brown rice, but cous cous would work well too, I think.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday 17th January: Beef and puy lentil stew

I'm a bit behind with my blogging, but determined to catch up!

A couple of weeks ago the weather was still really cold, and thanks to a buy one get one free offer at Ocado, I had some stewing steak in the freezer, so I decided to make a beef stew. Here's roughly what I did.

Serves 3-4.

500g stewing steak, cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
2 large carrots, thickly sliced
1 large leek, thickly sliced
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tbsp tomato puree
600ml beef stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100g puy lentils
Salt and pepper to season

Heat a large pan/casserole to a medium-high heat, then brown the meat. Add the veg and cook for 5-10 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the dried herbs and the tomato puree. Cook for a minute or so more. Add the beef stock and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, add the Worcestershire sauce, cover and leave to cook for about 2 hours.

About 25 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the puy lentils. Remove the lid at this point if you want the sauce to thicken a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potato.

NB. I didn't use any oil, as there was enough fat from the beef to cook everything in.

This was a pretty simple dish, but it did the job. It was much more flavourful after reheating for lunch the next day!

Bake yourself proud for Sport Relief 2016

Apologies that things have been a bit silent on here for the last couple of weeks. It's partly because I was away on holiday last week, but more on that later.

Hopefully by now you have all been getting stuck into The Great Sport Relief Bake Off (Wednesdays, 8pm, BBC1). I'm already rooting for Victoria Coren Mitchell for the next episode!

I was lucky enough to be sent a Limited Edition Orla Kiely Sport Relief apron to try out.* Here's a picture of me wearing the apron, ready to get my bake on:

Unfortunately you can't see the Sport Relief logo on the apron because I had to fold it over due to my lack of height! I love the design of the apron, though, and it is very good quality. It retails at £12.99 with £5.25 going to Sport Relief - you can buy it here, or from HomeSense, TK Maxx stores and TKmaxx.com. I'm looking forward to having some protection when I am cooking and baking now!

Go to http://www.sportrelief.com/ to find out about more ways that you can support or fundraise for Sport Relief, including more fun stuff to buy in the shop, and a place where you can donate.

If you want to hold a bake sale and are looking for ideas for what to bake, I often find inspiration from the BBC Good Food website and they have a whole section on cakes and baking!

Happy baking/eating everyone!

*Disclaimer: I was sent the apron for free in order to blog about it. I have also made a donation to Sport Relief (but was not required to).

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Saturday 16th January: Mincemeat cake and Roast chicken breasts with winter veg

Despite making an apple and mincemeat crumble the other week, I still have a fair bit of mincemeat to use up. Getting back into food blogging means reading other food blogs again more regularly as well, and fortunately for me, Phil from As Strong As Soup wrote about a mincemeat cake recipe from the blog C'est moi qui l'ai fait! I'm not great at baking, but I do dabble every now and again, and the simpler the recipe the better, so this looked right up my street. Yesterday I got my bake on, and this was the result.


The cake tin I used was slightly too big, so I think the cake ended up flatter and I ended up baking it for a little too long. However, it still turned out pretty yummy. The boozy, spicy flavours of my homemade mincemeat turned into a nice fruitcake. Also, as Phil points out in his blog post, you can also buy very cheap jars of mincemeat at this time of year, making this a very economical cake. I noticed today that you can pick some up here from Ocado for 25p!*

*At the time of writing.


For dinner we had another dish that I cook variations of a lot: roasted chicken breasts, with roasted vegetables and cous cous. I used winter vegetables because that's what I had in the fridge, but in the summer I tend to do a more Mediterranean style dish.

Serves 2

1 onion, chopped into quarters
150g mushrooms, chopped into quarters
2 carrots, sliced into large chunks
2 leeks, sliced into large chunks
1 tsp rapeseed oil
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
2 chicken breasts
100g wholewheat cous cous
chicken stock cube
120ml boiling water
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Arrange the vegetables in a roasting tin. Drizzle over the oil, sprinkle over the herbs and mix well. Add the chicken breasts to the middle of the tin and season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the vegtables are tender.

Meanwhile, place the cous cous in a bowl/dish/pan (I usually use a Pyrex jug), crumble in the stock cube and add the boiling water (adjust quantities depending on packet instructions or how wet/dry you like your cous cous). Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir well. Leave for 5 minutes, give another good stir with a fork to loosen and then serve alongside the chicken and vegetables.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Friday 15th January: Pizza-making at Pizza Express

It's turned a bit nippy, hasn't it? Part of me is very pleased that we now seem to be having a Proper Winter, but another part of me wants to hibernate because of the cold and dark.

Yesterday I found myself in the lovely city of Oxford on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny but frosty day.

A view of the Oxford canal
While in Oxford, I took part in a pizza-making activity at Pizza Express Oxford - Golden Cross. The Golden Cross is a historic grade-II listed building, with some original medieval wall paintings inside. Worth a visit for that, even if nothing else!

The pizza-making activity was good fun too, aided by a glass of prosecco and starters consisting of doughballs and an anti-pasta platter - yum! We were each given a piece of dough and shown how to stretch it into a pizza shape. I was a bit rubbish at this, as I found my hands were too small to get it to a good size. Then once it was in a tin and covered with tomato sauce (there was also a technique to getting the sauce to cover the pizza base, which I didn't quite master...), we were allowed to choose and add our own toppings. I chose mushrooms, olives, red peppers and a few jalapenos. I probably put a few too many mushrooms on my pizza and I certainly didn't really make it look very pretty (I'm not a neat cook at the best of times, so it probably wasn't a great idea to give me prosecco beforehand...). The pizzas were then whisked away and cooked and then came the best bit: eating our pizzas.

Mine tasted pretty nice. I probably could have balanced things a bit better on the pizza, but ultimately it was doughy, vegetably and cheesy. And it was fun to make too! If you're interested, there's more about Pizza Express's pizza-making parties here.