Friday, 25 March 2016

Sunday 20th March: Braised steak, sake and shallots

Another Nigel Slater recipe (can be found here), and one I'd been meaning to cook for a long time. Sake is one of my favourite drinks but I'd never cooked with it before, so wanted to give it a go.

This was a tasty dish - I used diced braising steak, but I could see it working well using whole pieces. I didn't think the flavour of the sake came through too well, but it did lend the dish a certain sweetness, which went very nicely with the soy sauce, shallots and pak choi. It made for a slightly different kind of stew. I served it with some rice.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Monday 14th March: Laham bil Bamia

Monday was an annual leave day from work, so I decided to do some slow cooking in the evening. Laham bil Bamia (lamb and okra stew) is my favourite dish at my favourite Lebanese restaurant, Aqua, and I decided to have a go at making it at home.

I used this recipe, and pretty much followed it except that I wasn't paying attention and managed to put beef stock instead of lamb stock into it. D'oh! I also didn't realise that I didn't have any ground coriander until I had already started making it. I've not been doing too well on the old planning front lately. Anyway, despite all that, it turned out pretty well. It's a great way to serve okra, and with a couple of hours cooking you get meltingly tender lamb. It wasn't quite up to the restaurant's standards, but it was a good effort!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Garden update: Winter 2015/16

It's been a while since I did one of my garden updates, but I want to get back into writing about what's happening with my garden. It provides me with a lot of pleasure but also sometimes some food! I'm not getting any food from it at the moment, but I do have a few things growing in the raised beds.

During the autumn I planted some garlic bulbs in one of the raised beds, which are doing very well. 11/12 of the cloves I planted germinated and are growing. I've been worried by the recent frosts in case the mild weather throughout December and January meant that they hadn't been hardened to such cold conditions, but they still seem to be doing ok. I also planted some field beans to act as a green manure in the other raised bed.

I learnt a valuable lesson about composting, which is don't put coriander plants which have gone to seed in the compost!

In the rest of the garden we had a lot of pruning to do over the winter, as we have a lot of trees and shrubs in our small garden. Sadly, one of our shrubs died - I suspect it's been poorly for a long time (since before we moved in 3 years ago) because although it had flowered, it had never had any leaved on it. The one good thing that came out of this, though, is that I was able to clear some space and I actually have a bit of space to plant other things now.

Although I haven't actually tested my soil, I've started to strongly suspect we have slightly acidic soil, judging by the kinds of plants which thrive in the garden, and by some which just haven't taken and have died. I might confirm this with one of those soil tester kits in order to help guide my planting in future.

I had a day off from work today, so decided to take a wander down to our local shops. My local greengrocer's always has a selection of very reasonably placed garden plants out the front and I managed to pick up this erica darleyensis (a type of heather) for £1! A couple of fat bumblebees were going crazy for it as soon as I put it out in the garden today. I'm looking forward to seeing how well it grows in the newly-created space in my border.

Saturday 12th March: Chicken and veg stew

So, this didn't quite work. I tried to throw something together using a load of stuff in the fridge which needed using up, and I didn't plan it properly beforehand and I shouldn't have added white wine - it made the whole dish far too sweet (not quite sure what I was thinking). I won't post an actual recipe given that it wasn't that good, but roughly it was diced chicken breast, fresh tomatoes, chicken stock, white wine and a variety of different veg. I then served it with a celeriac mash (which was actually quite nice). I took a photo, but don't try this at home folks.

It was edible to be fair, but I wouldn't cook it again without making some fundamental changes!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Wednesday 9th March: Nigel Slater's Aubergine 'Cassoulet'

I had bought the ingredients especially for this recipe from Nigel Slater's beautiful book Kitchen Diaries III (the recipe can also be found online here). I'd been wanting to cook a few more recipes from this book, because it's wonderful and I'd also been fancying some aubergine, so this seemed like an appropriate recipe. Aubergines are one one of my favourite vegetables, but I hadn't eaten any for a while because I largely try to eat seasonally when it comes to veg.

Unfortunately I didn't have as much time to cook this dish as I'd anticipated because the trains were messed up and I got home from work rather later than I'd planned to. And I was starving by the time I got home. So, I largely followed the recipe but took a few shortcuts to make it quicker. No doubt it would benefit from longer cooking time but it was still tasty and satisfied my aubergine craving and my hunger.

I adapted the recipe a bit to make about enough for 2 people and I chopped the aubergine up a bit smaller than the recipe suggests so that it would cook quicker. I also fried the onion etc at the same time as the aubergine. I used borlotti beans rather than haricot beans, as that's what I had in the cupboard (they worked rather well, I thought). I don't have a food processor, so I chopped some stale sourdough bread up with a knife for the topping (it was perhaps a little chunkier than I intended, but never mind...). And, finally, I baked it for about 15-20 minutes in the oven rather than 25-30.

In future I would prefer to cook it for longer, but I still very much enjoyed the end result. The combination of aubergine and fresh tomato is a winner, and even my meat-loving husband approved.

Please note my ancient Pyrex casserole dish, which has been handed down to me by my mother. Still going strong!

Tuesday 8th March: Venison burgers with sweet potatoes and mushrooms

Venison burgers are one of my favourite types of burger. These ones were shop bought (I've never had that much success making my own burgers...), but I fancied something a bit different as a side rather than chips or wedges, which is what I often serve burgers with.

I found this recipe for Sweet potatoes with mushrooms that I thought would work very nicely with the venison burgers. I cooked the sweet potatoes in the oven for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile I fried the burgers and mushrooms in the same pan, and added some dried mixed herbs to the mushrooms.

I served it all with a bit of salad, et voila.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Monday 7th March: Super quick and easy tofu stir fry

On Monday I made a quick stir fry, using up some ingredients that I had. Plus I cheated and bought one of those bags of stir fry veg from the supermarket (although I added a few things to it). But really you could use any combination of veg for this recipe. It's a very simple recipe, but this is the reality of stuff that I cook! Most of it isn't very grand or complicated.

Serves two

1 tsp oil
150g mushrooms, sliced
200g marinated tofu (I used Dragonfly), cut into cubes
300g mixed vegetable stir fry bag
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce

Heat the oil in a wok, over a medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add the tofu, mixed vegetables and garlic, and cook for a few minutes more. Add the five spice, and stir. Then add the soy sauce, stir well and cook for another couple of minutes, until everything is cooked through, but the vegetables still have some crunch

Serve with rice or noodles (I added my rice in at the end of cooking).

Some fresh ginger would work well with this recipe too - I just didn't have any in!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Monday 29th February: Spicy sausage and bean casserole

The last day of February and a leap year to boot called for something hearty to eat. The weather is still persistently cold, so I am fancying stews and casseroles a lot at the moment. This sausage and bean casserole was inspired by two different recipes from BBC Good Food, here and here. It has the advantage of being just about quick enough to cook after work unlike a lot of other stews and casseroles, and the spicy flavours give a nice warm, comforting kick.

Serves 3-4.

6 sausages, cut into chunks
1 onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 large leek, sliced
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 chicken stock cube
400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
handful of cavolo nero, shredded

Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Heat a large oven-proof casserole dish to medium-high on the hob. Add the sausages and cook until the outside is nice and brown. Add the vegetables and cook for another 5-10 minutes until everything is golden and starting to soften. Add the spices and cook for another minute or two. Add the tinned tomatoes, crumble in the chicken stock cube and stir. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Add the beans and cavolo nero, and give it another good stir. Place a lid on the casserole, put in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until the sausages are cooked through and the vegetables are soft.

Serve with chunks of bread.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Warwickshire restaurant kickstarter project!

I recently came across this kickstarter project for a new restaurant in Warwickshire. We could always do with some more restaurants in the local area and I'm happy to support a local business, so please find below a video and more info about the project.

There is only 7 days to go until the kickstarter finishes, so do check it out:

Pledges start from £10 and the money will only be taken if the kickstarter reaches its goal of £100,000. There are various rewards for backing the project. Personally, I like the sound of the handmade luxury truffles! If you want to know more about the project, you can check out the wesbite:, or follow Paul Foster on Twitter or Instagram.

Happy kickstarting!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Wednesday 24th February: 15-minute chicken pasta

This 15-minute chicken pasta recipe is wonderful for creating something quick, healthy and tasty after work. Farfalle (bow-ties) is also my favourite kind of pasta, but I usually use whatever I have in the cupboards: in this instance, penne. I tend to use lemon juice rather than orange juice because I always have a stock of lemons in the fridge. And I don't always add the flaked almond, but it does add a nice crunch and flavour. To save time if you're in a hurry, buy ready toasted flaked almonds. I also often add some sliced mushrooms in with the chicken while I'm cooking it - chestnut mushrooms probably work best, but really any mushrooms will do.

Decided to take a photo with my proper camera for once...

Tuesday 23rd February: Spicy root & lentil casserole

Another busy week (there seems to be a bit of a theme developing lately...), but I was determined to do some cooking this week.

I had some slightly old parsnips and carrots in the fridge, and this spicy root and lentil casserole is a favourite of mine for using up carrots and parsnips. I like the way the parsnip and potato take on the flavours of the curry powder. I use Sharwood's medium curry powder, which is a really nice and fragrant blend of spices. It's a good way of using up root veg and a good way to get some of your five a day.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Sunday 21st February: Mustard pork fillet with roast vegetables

I'm a bit disappointed with how little I've cooked over the last week (I don't really count stir fry kits or ready made veggie burgers as proper cooking - certainly nothing to blog about, anyway), but I guess that's just how some weeks go. It was a tiring one.

I was determined to do at least some proper cooking at the weekend to make up for it. And I finally managed to use up that pork fillet that's been sitting in the freezer for ages. Let's be honest, a pork fillet isn't as exciting as a lovely bit of pork belly, but it's healthier, blah, blah, blah. I tried my best to jazz it up a bit.

I based it on this recipe from BBC Good Food, but I went more with a mustard-y theme, rather than a herb-y theme. I mixed 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard with a few squeezes of lemon juice, and coated the pork fillet in that rather than the herb mixture. I used carrots, parsnips and a large potato as the accompanying veg (sadly, I didn't have any apples - an apple would have been very nice with this). I also added a splash (about 100ml) of wine when I added the chicken stock.

Actually, it was pretty good. Definitely one of the tastiest bits of pork fillet I've ever cooked. I'll definitely be cooking it again. The sliced pork made a lovely sandwich the next day too.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Saturday 20th February: Foil fish parcels

Due to a online grocery shopping cock up, we didn't get our usual Saturday morning delivery, so I was a little short on ingredients on Saturday evening (I forgot to check an order out earlier in the week, lost the time slot, and didn't realise until Friday evening, when it was too late to book for Saturday morning... So, we had to go for Sunday morning instead).

No matter, though, as I had some haddock fillets in the freezer which I'd been able to defrost in the fridge overnight. (I usually try and avoid buying unsustainable fish, but the label on the packet assured me that these were MSC-certified...).

One of my favourite ways to cook white fish is to cook them in fish parcels, and this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does the job nicely. I did mine with plenty of sliced garlic, dried chilli flakes and soy sauce and served with carrots, peas and rice.

There also used to be a very similar recipe on the River Cottage website which included frying some sliced fennel and adding to the parcel, but they appear to have revamped their website and I can no longer locate it. But the fennel is also a nice addition to the fish parcel recipe.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Sunday 14th February: Pancakes & Haagen Dazs review

We don't 'do' Valentine's day. But we do tend to celebrate our 'House-iversary' on 14th February. It was the day we moved into our home 3 years ago.

It seems fitting that much of the day was spent clearing this corner of the garden. One of our shrubs keeled over recently and it needed clearing, and we also did a good amount of chopping back of other trees and shrubs in that corner, and have at last created some space. It was hard work, but I was pleased with a job well done.

Corner of the garden which used to be much bushier...

After the tiring garden work, I didn't much fancy spending ages in the kitchen. And as we had missed pancake day earlier in the week, I went for a pancake themed dinner for our House-iversary. For our main meal we had duck and pancakes courtesy of Gressingham. It's a very neat and tasty kit. I just added some cucumber and spring onions, and we had ourselves a scrumptious meal.

Then for pudding I made pancakes and we had them with lemon and sugar and Haagen Dazs ice cream. I was fortunate enough to be given some Haagen Dazs vouchers for review purposes, specifically to review their Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream. Now, I have to admit Strawberry Cheesecake flavour wouldn't normally be my go-to ice cream. Because everyone knows that chocolate is the best ice cream flavour. But this was pretty good - I liked the crunchy biscuit pieces in the ice cream and the strawberry sauce. And it went pretty well with the pancakes. It's still not my favourite Haagen Dazs flavour (that would of course be Belgian Chocolate), but it was good to try a different flavour for once.

Haagen Dazs Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream on a homemade pancake
I also feel I ought to mention my pancake recipe, even though recipe seems like a bit of an exaggeration. A chef friend of mine once told me how to make batter and I've followed this method ever since. First of all, you don't measure anything. For the pancakes I used two eggs, beaten with a whisk. I added the flour gradually, mixing with the whisk, until the texture was meringue-like (i.e. enough to form peaks). I then added milk and whisk that in until it was about the consistency of double cream. Works for pancakes, toad in the hole and Yorkshire puddings.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Saturday 13th February: Mushroom Chasseur

Mushrooms are one of my favourite things to eat. They are so versatile and I love the way they absorb the flavours of other ingredients. I usually have a stock of them in the fridge.

I also think they are just generally amazing. They are neither fruit, vegetable nor meat. And some of them are of course deadly poisonous. But luckily not the ones I was using for this recipe.

Anyway, this Mushroom Chasseur recipe by Jack Monroe is amazing, and perfect for a cold winter Saturday night in in front of the telly (we are currently watching binge-watching season 7 of Castle, which generally just gets sillier and sillier). I used large flat mushrooms in mine.

I have made this a few times and unusually for me, I tend to stick to the recipe with this one. It uses simple ingredients, but it's so flavourful. I usually remove the lid towards the end of cooking time (maybe for about 15 minutes) to let the sauce reduce a bit more, though. I can confirm that it is definitely worth letting it simmer for the full hour - I've tried to take a short-cut a couple of times before and cook it only for half an hour or 45 minutes, and it just doesn't taste as good. It really needs the full hour to let those flavours develop.

Served with lots of fluffy mashed potato this time, but it also goes will with rice or pasta.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Monday 8th February: Lighter Lancashire hotpot

Anticipating a busy week ahead, I actually cooked this on Sunday and then re-heated for Monday night's dinner. The recipe was from BBC Good Food, but I made a few of my own alterations.

I adjusted quantities and just made enough for two people (I had 350g lamb shoulder). I also added a chopped leek (I still had leeks to use up) and I used lamb stock instead of chicken stock. It may not be a true Lancashire hotpot, but it was delicious. Even if I did give myself a blister from gripping the knife handle too tightly while chopping the rest of the damn swede...

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 I'm looking forward to having some protection when I am cooking and baking now!

Go to 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.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Tuesday 12th January: Leftover chicken gumbo

My cold continued apace this week (it's starting to get better now, thankfully), which meant that some of my plans had to be, erm, revised. This was mainly because I didn't manage to get out of bed early enough to make sandwiches from the leftover chicken, so I ended up using it in a dinner instead.

I had bought some okra with the intention of making an entirely different dish than this. Okra is now perhaps one of my favourite vegetables after trying it in a lamb stew in a local Lebanese restaurant. I decided to make this Chicken gumbo, which I have made before using chicken breasts, but thought it could work well with the leftovers too.

I didn't have any green pepper or celery, but I sliced a couple of small carrots instead. I substituted the dried thyme and sage for dried mixed herbs. I also didn't bother with the flour, and just added the cooked chicken in along with okra towards the end. I served it with brown rice.

I found this very tasty - perhaps not an authentic gumbo as some have pointed out in the comments on the website, but it still makes a good meal. The chicken was very flavourful and I love the combination of spices in this dish. It was a very warm, comforting bowl of chicken and vegetables, suitable for the cold weather and indeed someone suffering with a cold.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Sunday 10th January: Spanish Chicken Pot Roast

On Sunday afternoon, I started feeling like I was developing the start of a cold, which was decidedly unfair given that I had the flu about a month ago. I had bought quite a big chicken (not on purpose - one of the downsides to online shopping is not being able to choose the exact size of meat products) and fancied doing a pot roast but wanted to try something a little different with it. I found this recipe for a Spanish chicken pot roast, which I thought sounded good. Fortunately, the recipe was pretty light on physical work: chop up a few veggies, add some wine, vinegar and spices, and whack it all in the oven, and sit down and relax.

The only problem I had is that my casserole dish is not the largest and the chicken was quite big... so with the veggies in the bottom, I wasn't actually able to put the lid on the casserole. I was worried that this would mean some of the vegetables would burn, particularly as the chicken needed cooking for 2 hours 10 minutes. But in fact, apart from a few particularly singed edges, it was all fine, and there was even still some juice in the bottom. I loved the flavours of this pot roast and it really did add something a little extra to a roast chicken. I had never cooked with sherry vinegar before, but I loved the depth of flavour it added. I served it with some boiled new potatoes and kale on the side.

And, of course, there was lots of left over chicken...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Saturday 9th January: Stuffat tal-Laham and Apple & Mincemeat Crumble

Yesterday my in-laws came over for dinner. I quite often like to cook Maltese dishes for visitors, and I decided to do Stuffat tal-Laham (or meat stew) for the main, as it's a rather good dish to eat during colder weather, and the mixed spice and red wine give it a little something extra special, I think. I think I might have blogged about this dish before, but my recipe has evolved somewhat over the years, so here's roughly where it stands now.

Serves 4

knob of butter
500g stewing beef/steak
2 onions, sliced
3 large potatoes, cut into chunks
3 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 sticks of celery, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp mixed spice
500ml beef stock
250ml red wine
handful or two frozen peas

Melt the butter, add the beef, and cook over a medium-high heat until the meat is nice and brown. Add all the vegetables, give it a good stir and let the veg cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato puree and mixed spice, stir and cook for another few minutes. Add the stock and wine, bring briefly to the boil, then turn the heat down and cover and simmer for about an hour. Remove the lid and simmer gently for another 45 minutes to an hour until the beef is tender and the sauce has reduced to a nice, think consistency (feel free to add more water or cover again if it starts to dry out too much though). Add the peas for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Serve with sourdough bread.


We don't often have desserts at home, but as we had guests coming over, I thought it would be nice. I have a load of leftover homemade mincemeat from Christmas (this is my go-to mincemeat recipe), so wanted to use that somehow. I decided an apple and mincemeat crumble might be a good idea, and I based it on this recipe from Frugal Feeding. I used a lot more mincemeat than it said (I had a lot to use up and still do...) - about 8 tablespoons, rather than 3. I used slightly less sugar in the filling because my mincemeat is really quite sweet - I used about 40g of demerara and I left out the cinnamon and ginger in the crumble topping. The result was very good - perhaps a little too good, as the four of us managed to polish off the whole lot, along with some vanilla ice-cream. There goes the healthy-eating plan...

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Thursday 7th January: Maltese pasta sauce

Tonight's dinner is a recipe that has been passed down through my family. It's a simple recipe and I've made it so many times I don't even have to think about it. Which is nice when it's getting towards the end of the week...

Serves 2

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
150g mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
250g lean minced beef
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp capers (optional)
8 -10 green pitted olives, sliced (optional)
5 sundried tomatoes (optional)

Heat the olive oil over a low-medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened (5-10 minutes). Turn the heat up, add the minced beef and the dried herbs and cook until the meat is brown all over (5 minutes). Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, and capers/olives/sundried tomatoes if using (I just used capers today as that's all I had in the fridge). Turn the heat down to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve with the pasta of your choice (wholewheat penne for us today).

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Wednesday 6th January: Pistou soup

Good old BBC Good Food. I've been doing that New Year thing where I bought loads of veg, without exactly 100% planning what I was going to do with it all. This recipe for Pistou soup, helped me use up an awful lot of that veg.

As ever, I adapted this according to what I had in the fridge. I left out the turnip and the celeriac. I also didn't make the pesto, but instead added a couple of roughly sliced cloves of garlic at the beginning of cooking, and some chopped fresh basil at the end. I also used flageolet beans instead of haricot beans and I added the whole 400g tin. I crumbled a vegetable stock cube into the water to add a bit of extra flavour. It smelt and tasted pretty good, although I didn't make it a day ahead as was suggested. However, I do have plenty of leftovers for lunches, so I will be giving the re-heating a try, and am sorted for lunch to take to work for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Monday 4th January: Sweet & sour tofu stir fry

Back to work yesterday. Getting out of bed in the morning was hard.

A quick dinner following a tiring day at work and with the added bonus of being light and healthy following the excesses of Christmas. I make variations of this quite often, after I got fed up with packet stir fry sauces. I use different kinds of vegetables each time and sometimes serve it with rice or with noodles, depending on what's available. But this is (roughly) what I did last night.

Serves two.

200g chestnut mushrooms, chopped into quarters
200g pack of marinated tofu (I used Dragonfly), cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
100g baby sweetcorn
100g sugarsnap peas
50g fine green beans
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp honey
lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Dark soy sauce to taste

I like to cook the mushrooms in  stir fry for the longest, because I prefer mushrooms a bit soft. So I usually add them to the pan first, then after a couple of minutes add the tofu. After a few minutes more, add the rest of the vegetables and the garlic. Cook for about 1 minute more, then add the honey, lemon juice and soy sauce. Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes more or until all the vegetables are cooked but still firm and crunchy, stirring constantly. Stir in cooked rice or noodles at the end.

(NB - I quite often also add a pinch of dried chilli flakes in with the veg, which adds a nice bit of warmth.)

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Sunday 3rd January: Guinea fowl with mustard & lemon roots

Today we took the decorations down, wrangled the fake Christmas tree back into its box and tried to come to terms with the fact that we have to go back to work tomorrow after a delicious two-week break.

I'm making an effort to eat less processed meat, so I decided to make use of the season's produce and roast a guinea fowl along with some seasonal veggies - the idea being that leftovers could be used for packed lunches during the week. I used this recipe from BBC Good Food as a template, but I added parsnips, left off the bacon and used less oil (about half a tbsp). Grain mustard is a staple in our cupboard/fridge now after discovering that we really like it in sandwiches, as well as it being a very versatile ingredient in cooking.

I would normally parboil roast potatoes, but out of sheer laziness I followed the recipe and just added them raw to the tray with the rest of the vegetables, which made it a very easy-to-prepare roast with little washing up.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Friday 1st January: Golden Veggie Shepherd's Pie

Yesterday I tried to start as we mean to go on. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions but after the excesses of Christmas, it's always good to try and get back on track with eating slightly more healthily again!

We went for a slightly hungover walk in the gardens of a National Trust property and spotted our first snowdrops of the year (due to the mild weather I have heard reports of snowdrop sightings last month...).

For dinner I made this Golden Veggie Shepherd's Pie from BBC Good Food. I was surprised by how tasty it was. I scaled it down quite massively to make about enough for 3 people. I used baby Chantenay carrots, which worked really well in this dish, and I used a packet of ready-cooked puy lentils, which made the cooking time a lot shorter. I left out the wine because otherwise it would mean opening a bottle and then drinking would happen. I felt it could have done with the flavour boost that the wine would have provided. But I also noticed in the comments section, after I cooked it, that other people had added Worcestershire sauce, which I think seems like a fabulous idea (although obviously makes it non-vegetarian) and I will have to try it next time. The BBC Good Food website is one of the few websites where it really is worth reading the comments.

New year, new goals

I haven't posted in here much over the last couple of years. I think it's been a combination of having less free time and really just having run out of steam with the blog.

I still cook all the time, and I make up a lot of my own recipes, but have got out of the habit of writing them down.

I plan to start using this blog as a record of what I cook each day. A bit like a crap version of Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries series. I'm doing this mostly for myself really - to record what worked and what didn't. Perhaps it will be of interest to other people too, though.

General cooking aims for this year are to cook more vegetables and less meat (same as every year, really!), and to cook a bit more from scratch, as I'd got out of the habit a little due to having a longer commute to and from work now.

Happy new year, all!