Thursday, 11 October 2012


I love risotto, but don't cook it as often as I'd like because it requires so much attention. Much like a toddler, you can't leave it alone for a moment, you have to stand there and STIR and STIR and STIR.  This is fine if you're Nigella Lawson and find this kind of domestic slavery appeallingly kitsch, but some of us have no au pair to watch the children and lives to be getting along with, and can't cope with needy rice at tea time.

I decided to investigate alternatives and found recipes for oven baked risottos, which sounded wonderful.  Then I thought... I've made rice pudding in the slow cooker before, so why not risotto?  It's the same principle in savoury format, surely?  So I found a recipe for an oven baked risotto and changed and tweaked and played with it... and present to you the ultimate in slatternly stodge, the slow cooked risotto.

I specify fresh or frozen veg.  I find ready chopped frozen onion a bit of a lifesaver in getting a quick start to dinners, you could also use frozen soffrito mix (onion, carrot and celery very finely chopped).  The frozen sliced peppers are great for cooking or pizzas, and using both makes this almost a storecupboard staple.  You can skip the goats cheese if you don't like it, just making it a tomato and pepper risotto (and a vegan option if you use a vegan spread instead of butter as your mantecatura). If you don't want to use wine, just up the hot water to 600ml and add it straight to the slow cooker after frying off the onion and rice.

Slow-cooked pepper and goats cheese risotto

250g arborio risotto rice
1 500g carton passata
1 vegetable stock cube
200ml white wine
450ml hot water
2-3 mixed peppers, sliced thinly, or a couple of handfuls frozen sliced peppers
1 small onion, finely chopped, or some frozen chopped onion
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
splash of olive oil.
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
 1tsp garlic powder
150g soft goats cheese
large knob butter

Heat your oil in a frying pan and saute the onion until soft.  Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes until it starts to turn translucent, tip in the wine, reduce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, add the peppers to the slow cooker.  Tip in the oniony rice and wine from the pan, add the carton of passata and dissolve the stock cube in the hot water before adding to the mix.  Stir in the garlic powder, thyme, pepper and vinegar, set the slow cooker to low and cook for 3.5 hours, or 1.5 hours on high.  Stir occasionally if you can.

After this time, add the goats cheese and butter to the slow cooker, stir until thoroughly combined, and cook for a further 20-30 minutes.  You can serve with crusty bread, garlic bread, salad, veg, or just on it's own. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hamming it up

Or, one gammon, many dinners.

You might think it's a bit odd to offer you directions on boiling a bit of ham.  Think on it more as suggestion for frugality.  I always always always make soup from the stock I boil my ham in, because it tastes so fab, and this is the soup I make most often.  Invest in some tip and zip freezer bags from Home Bargains and you can freeze quite a few lunches worth of tasty, warming, nutritious and naturally low fat soup.  Big win.

I usually cook a ham of around 1-1.5 kg in weight, and use 500g yellow split peas plus veg with the corresponding amount of stock, that seems to work fairly well.

To cook your ham:

1 smoked or unsmoked gammon joint
Enough water to cover

To make your soup

Approx 500g dried yellow split peas, more if you've cooked a huge joint in loads of water
a couple of sticks of celery, chopped
a few carrots, chopped
Any other veg you feel needs using up - sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, courgettes, parsnips, leeks etc, chopped.

I make this two ways.  To boil on the hob, just cover your gammon with water in a lidded pan, bring to the boil, then simmer for an hour.  Then tip the cooking water onto your veg and split peas in a big stock pot and simmer until it's all tender.  You might need to add more water if there's lots of veg but DO NOT add salt or stock cubes, it will be salty enough.  It's my habit to throw the leftover chunk of ham (after carving off whatever's being served for dinner) back into the pan to make it really tender and easy to shred.

I do, however, prefer to slow cook everything.  8 hours on low will do for the ham - if I'm slow cooking I tend to chuck the carrots, celery and any rooty veg in from the beginning.  Fish the ham out and add your split peas and any more tender veg like peppers, and cook on high for 2 hours.

Either way, you'll then need to blitz the soup to a velvety smoothness then shred in any leftover ham in small pieces.

Serve your sliced ham with veg of your choosing - we like mash, peas and gravy or parsley sauce, or peas and cauliflower and broccoli cheese:

Enjoy your soup the following day:

(this one contained carrot, celery, sweet potato, leek and courgette).

Monday, 30 July 2012

Prawn star

I will begin with the disclaimer that I'm almost certain this is utterly lacking in authenticity.  When I call this dish a Caribbean curry, it's not to indicate that this is how they make curries in the Caribbean; more that it's a curry dreamed up by me, full of ingredients redolent of the Caribbean.  So don't go sending me hate mail about me bastardising your Gran's finest Jamaican recipes.

This curry is sweet and flavourful but not too hot, making it perfect to serve up to kids.  Add heat with more jerk seasoning or some dried red chillis.  You could also make it a fish curry by adding cubes of firm fleshed fish ten minutes into the simmering time - monkfish would work nicely I think.  Don't be too alarmed by it's anaemic pallor when you tip the liquids in - it will darken as it cooks.

You can whip this up almost entirely from storecupboard and frozen ingredients, if you substitute frozen sliced peppers for fresh you've pretty much got a storecupboard special, though I can't promise the texture will be as nice.  Frozen soffrito mix is finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, I use it for speed and to boost the veg content of the dish.  I get mine in Sainsburys (they just call it finely chopped vegetables) but you could substitute some plain frozen chopped onion or sliced/chopped fresh onion if you prefer.  Feel free to chuck in any other veg of your choosing, or some tinned pineapple chunks if you have a husband that wouldn't pick them out with a face on him...

Caribbean prawn curry, 4 generous servings (or 2 adults, 2 children and worky leftovers).

400g raw prawns, defrosted if frozen
2 handfuls frozen soffrito mix or frozen chopped onion or 1 small onion, chopped or sliced
3-4 peppers, varying colours, cut into large chunks
1 tin coconut milk
200ml pineapple juice
1 tin cream style sweetcorn
2 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp jamaican jerk seasoning
1-2 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and toss in the soffrito mix, sauteeing for a minute or two.  Add the chunked peppers, and let sizzle for another minute or so.  Stir in the spice powders, then pour in the pineapple juice, coconut milk and creamed sweetcorn.  Bring it to the boil then turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, it will thicken slightly.

Add the prawns to the pan and stir them into the sauce.  Whilst they turn from translucent grey to coral pink, mix your cornflour with a little cold water - start out with 1 tsp and see how you get on before adding more.  Tip the cornflour slurry into the curry (ha!) and turn the heat up, bringing the sauce back to the boil to let the cornflour do it's job. If it's not thick enough for your liking, repeat.  Stir well and serve over rice.

Enjoy, whether served in a colourful Caribbean style bowl or not.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Gruffalo crumble

I'm not sure my 2 year old fully believed me when I told him his dinner was Gruffalo crumble, but I do fancy he polished it off faster than usual!  Something a bit different from a beef pie, and probably not your usual summer fayre, but then again, we've not been having your usual summer weather!

You could add any veg you have lying around looking sad and lonely, or use a mix of frozen vegetables instead.

Beef Crumble

splash of olive oil
500g diced stewing beef
1 onion, sliced
5-6 carrots, chopped
3 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
1 courgette, cut into chunks
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
200ml boiling water
3 tbsp gravy granules
half a pot of Quark (I use Sainsburys own brand)
50g butter or spread
150g plain flour
1tsp dried mixed herbs
50g dried grated hard cheese (eg Parmesan, though I use the Sainsburys Basics dried hard cheese)

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the beef.  Saute until browned then scoop out, pop in a bowl and set aside.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, courgette and any other veg you want to use and saute for a few minutes until slightly softened.  Add the beef back to the pan, add the worcestershire sauce and cook for a minute or two.  Tip in the boiling water and simmer the ingredients for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the butter into cubes and put into a large bowl.  Add the flour and rub together until they resemble breadcrumbs.  If it seems a bit dry, add a tsp or two of olive oil.  Mix in the herbs and dried cheese.

Returning to your simmering pan, add the gravy granules and stir until a thick gravy forms around the beef and veg.  Add your Quark and stir well to combine.  If it seems too runny, add a few more granules, if too thick, add a splash of water and stir well.  Tip the mixture into a large ovenproof dish, top with the cheesy herby crumble mix, and bake at approx 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling.

I outlined my feelings on using low fat or fat free dairy products when cooking for small children in this blog post - as always, do what you think is best.  If you prefer not to use a low fat product like Quark you can substitute any full fat soft cheese product that will withstand cooking - creme fraiche, marscapone or even something like Philadelphia.  For very small children, the combination of gravy granules and Parmesanalike does pack a bit too much salt, so either reduce/remove the cheese or make the filling with a low salt stock cube (like Kallo) and thicken with cornflour or thickening granules.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cauli cheese for a famine.

Well, I had a chicken in the fridge earmarked for today and I was going to cook a roast.  I do make a nice roast, as you will know if you're a regular, maybe I'd even go so far as to say A Great Roast.  Anyway, I like to buy my veg fresh on the day, so I trundled down to my local Co-Op this afternoon to find bare shelves in the veg aisle and an apologetic sign stating that due to the weather there was a shortage on veg, and that we were all going to have to start eating waterlilies and shooting small forest creatures like Katniss in The Hunger Games.  Or something.  Well, how dispiriting.

Not being a fan of waterlily, I scampered off to the freezer aisle before The Capitol turned off the electricity and bagged a bag of value cauliflower florets.  I found some fresh leeks and a courgette, briefly debated selling them on Ebay, but then decided to make this with them instead.

Luxury Cauliflower Cheese For Trying Times

1 large bag frozen cauliflower florets, or 1 large fresh cauli cut up
1 courgette, sliced
3 leeks, sliced
Splash of olive oil
80g butter/spread
80g plain flour
700ml milk
80g dried grated hard cheese, eg Parmesan
80g grated cheddar
coarse-ground black pepper

Cook your cauli until just soft, drain and set aside.  Saute the leeks and courgette in a little oil until soft, add a little water to the pan if it seems dry.  Mix with the drained cauli in an ovenproof dish.

Use your butter, flour and milk to make a thick bechemel sauce, season with a little black pepper and whisk in the dried cheese.  Pour over your veggies, top with the grated cheese, and cook in a hot (200 ish) oven for 20 minutes until bubbling.

I served this with roast chicken and roasted baby pearl potatoes (who evidently got out of the ground before the floods hit) but you could eat as a standalone meal - maybe with some sliced ham mixed in for good measure?

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Currying Favour

Oh, I have had such a rollocking for the lack of updates lately (Miz Sally Roper, I'm talking to you) so I'm sneaking back in with a weeny twist on Mango Chicken Curry, just to ease back into the swing of it.  It's a creamy, fruity curry but it does have a little bit of a kick, and you can add chillies if you prefer a bit more heat.  My children will happily eat this* but they're used to spicy foods so for younger children or those less asbestos-tongued, just use less curry paste, or add some yoghurt, fromage frais or creme fraiche to the kids portions.  This is quick and easy, perfect weeknight fare.

I've called it Lassi chicken curry because the simmering sauce before I add it to the curry paste mix reminds me of sweet mango lassi.  Coconut milk seems to be getting really expensive these days but I've just discovered that Aldi sell it for 89p a tin - winner!

* Usually.  The small boychild was less enamoured this time round because he managed to rub it into his eye.  I'd avoid this, as a rule.  It didn't seem pleasant.

Lassi Chicken Curry

1 tin mango slices in juice or syrup, drained
1 tin coconut milk
1/2 jar Pataks Mild Curry paste
Approx 6 chicken thigh fillets, chopped up
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 bag of washed baby spinach
Olive oil or low fat cooking spray

In a small separate saucepan, whizz together the mango slices and coconut milk with a hand blender until smooth.  Pop onto a low heat and let it come to a simmer gently, stirring occasionally.

Add oil or spray to the pan and fry the mushrooms for a minute or two.  Add the chopped chicken and the curry paste, stir together, and let it sizzle away for a few minutes.  Pour in the coconut mango mix and stir well.  Bring to the boil then turn down the heat, and let it simmer for approx 20 minutes whilst you cook some basmati rice.  Use the pan you simmered the coconut mix in, and don't bother rinsing it, it will lend a subtle coconutty mangoey flavour to your rice.

After 20 minutes, throw the baby spinach into the curry, stir, cook for 2 minutes, then serve.  If you would like a thicker curry, use a little cornflour paste, or some thickening granules.  If you're feeling posh you can sprinkle with dessicated coconut before serving.  As you can see, I was not having a posh day.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hola, St David.

These burgers were the product of me seeing a recipe for 'chorizo burgers' in a magazine and thinking, pfff, I can do better.  So I had a go!  The result is an outre but tasty meld of Spanish and Welsh!

Regular readers will know of my love affair with smoked paprika, so it should come as no surprise that chorizo sausages, redolent of that rusty dusty manna, are also a firm favourite in our house.  I wanted to use leeks because I love them, and also in honour of St Davids Day tomorrow, where Welsh people everywhere celebrate our superiority at rugby and general existence.

Don't argue. You know it's true.

Leek and chorizo burgers - makes 6 large burgers.

500g leeks, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
250g chorizo sausage, chopped.
400g lean Welsh beef mince
1 egg
pinch black pepper
Olive or groundnut oil
Ciabatta rolls, to serve.

Preheat the oven to 200oC.  If you're cooking wedges or chips with these, it will probably be on anyway, so all the better.

Heat 1tbsp or so of the oil in a pan and add the sliced leeks.  Cook for 5 minnutes or so until softened but not obliterated.

Pop them in a food processor with the chopped chorizo and process until blended.  Add in the beef mince and pinch of pepper and process again until combined.  Drop in the egg and process until it's all combined, then scrape into a bowl.

Shape into burgers - the mix will be quite wet and a bit friable at this stage, but work with me.  Pat your burgers into even rounds.   Heat some more oil - an even covering of the bottom of your frying pan - and pop them in when it's sizzling, 2 at a time.  Cook for 2 minutes then gently flip and cook for 2 minutes more.  You're just browing the outside at this stage, so they aren't going to cook all the way through.  When both sides are brown, put the semi-cooked burgers onto a baking tray, or better still, a perforated chip/pizza baking sheet.  Repeat with the rest of the burgers, then pop them into your hot oven for 10-12 minutes until cooked all the way through.

Serve on your ciabatta buns with your choice of accompaniment - we had rustic baked wedges.  I also made a garlic and smoked paprika mayo with 4tbsp mayo, 1 heaped tsp of smoked paprika and 1/2 tsp garlic granules, and I don't mind telling you that it was VERY NICE.

If, like me, you are choc full of whimsy and have small people to feed, you can make mini burgers and cut your rolls into quarters to serve them.  It keeps the snarflings happy, but I draw the line at making happy faces out of their food, so Annabel Karmel - back in yer box.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Pterodactyl for dinner.

My family discovered the wonder that is teriyaki sauce on a self catering holiday in Florida, back when I was in my early teens.  We were all instantly hooked, and very quickly nicknamed it, as tight knit little clans do.  Or maybe they don't, and we're all just a bit weird.  It's nice that we have each other, in that case.  Anyway, Pterodactyl Sauce was born, and Pterodactyl Sauce it will always be, and every summer we will barbecue up some Pterodactyl goodness.  Maybe you have to know us.

From the legend of Pterodactyl, and now cooking for my own family, these tasty skewers were created.  I make my own teriyaki sauce, because it's better than bottled.  This is sweeter than regular teriyaki, to get the requisite stickyness and thick glossy gorgeousness.  Super versatile, they make a delicious midweek family tea, but also barbecue beautifully, and made in large quantities are perfect for gatherings.  The rice dish that I serve alongside can be served hot, or as a cold salad at a barbecue or party.

Sweet Teriyaki Pork Skewers - makes 6-8 skewers

You will need about 8 skewers - I prefer flat metal ones, but you can use wooden, just be sure to soak them thoroughly, especially if you're barbecuing.

1 large mugful of pineapple juice
750g pork, ready cut stir fry strips or tenderloin cut into thin strips
1/2 cupful mirin (sweet rice wine - from Asian section of a large supermarket)
1/2 cupful dark soy sauce (you can use reduced salt version if cooking for little snarflings)
1/2 cupful loosely packed soft brown sugar
1 tbsp oil - groundnut or vegetable, NOT olive.

Cut up your pork, if you need to, or tip your packs of ready cut pork into a bowl.  Pour over the pineapple juice, cover with cling film, and pop in the fridge to marinate for at least 6 hours.

When ready to cook, put the mirin and soy sauce in a pan over a medium heat. When it's warm, tip in the sugar and oil.  Bring to the boil then reduce the heat right down and let it simmer, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes.  Turn the oven on to preheat, approximately 190oC/170o fan.

Meanwhile, take your skewers and thread your pork strips onto them.  Curl the strips into C or S shapes depending on length, doubling the strip over on itself to make a neat kebab.  You'll see what I mean from the pictures below.  Lay them onto a baking tray, if you have any scrappy bits that won't thread, just spread them on the tray.  Take your teriyaki sauce, which by now should be thicker and beautifully shiny, and brush/dab liberally all over the pork skewers, both sides.  Dab some on your scrappy bits too.  Those are your chef''s treat.  Keep a little sauce back.

Pop into your preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until they look cooked and are sizzly.  Take them out, baste with the reserved sauce, and return to the oven for 2 minutes.  Or, of course, cook on a barbecue, basting regularly until cooked through.

Prawn fried rice

1.5 cups dry rice of your choosing - I like Basmati or you could try a sticky rice like Thai Jasmine
1 courgette
1 sweet red pointed pepper or regular red bell pepper
1 medium free range egg, well beaten
150g small ready cooked prawns, drained if in brine or defrosted if frozen
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil

Pop your rice on to boil and cook it as per the pack instructions.

Meanwhile, cut your pepper and courgette into very small dice.  Heat 1tbsp of the oil in a wok or large frying pan, and add the pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the courgette.  Cook together for a few minutes more until al dente.  Take your beaten egg and slowly pour into the pan in a thin ribbon, stirring with the other hand all the while, then give a really good stir before throwing in your prawns.  Cook together for 1minute then push the mixture out to the sides and pour the remaining tbsp of oil into the resulting well.  Drain your cooked rice, add your rice to the pan and stir well.  Mix your mirin with the sugar and tip over the rice, stirring well to coat, then turn off the heat and serve immediately.

A note about rice - it's really not a great idea to leave warm rice sitting around growing gakky bacteria at a rapid rate.  SO, either make sure you time your rice to be ready to drain and add immediately to the dish OR cool it immediately by running under cold water and putting in the fridge until ready to use, then giving it a few extra minutes in the pan to reheat until PIPING HOT.  If you go with the second option, any leftover rice CANNOT be reheated, but you may chill it quickly and serve it cold.  If your plan is to serve it cold, I'd suggest cooking and immediately chilling the rice, storing in the fridge, then cooling and refrigerating the vegetable, egg and prawn mix then combining the two and adding the mirin dressing once fully cold.


The raw coated skewers, showing how they're threaded.

And the finished yummers.

Monday, 20 February 2012

My Big Fat Greek Pie.

Something yummy and veggie today, my take on spanakopita, a greek spinach and feta cheese filo pastry pie.  It's delicious warm, especially with minted baby new potatoes, but equally good cold.  It makes fantastic picnic fare and universally pleasing party food.  If you're cooking for actual vegetarians, do check that the feta cheese you choose is suitable for vegetarians. 

This makes two pies if made in quiche dishes - it freezes well unbaked, just cook from frozen adding 8-10 minutes to the cooking time.

Spinach, feta and red pepper pie

500g fresh spinach, washed
400 feta cheese, cubed
2 red peppers, cut into chunks
1 large pot Greek yoghurt
4 eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil
6 sheets filo pastry, chilled or frozen variety

Defrost your pastry if using frozen.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chunked red peppers. Cook for a few minutes then add the garlic and dried herbs.  Continue cooking for another few minutes until softened but still holding shape and a little crunch.

Meanwhile, pop the spinach in a bowl and microwave for 4 minutes until wilted.  Add the cooked peppers and cubed feta to the bowl.

In another bowl, mix the yoghurt, three of the eggs and the nutmeg, and beat until smooth.  Mix with the vegetables and cheese.

Take 2 ceramic quiche/pie dishes and line each with greasproof paper,tucking the excess over the sides.  The line each dish with three sheets of filo pastry.  With each sheet, cover the inside of the dish and leave a long 'tail' hanging over the edge, spacing your 'tails' evenly around the dish.  Pile filling into each dish then flip the 'tails' of pastry over the top to encase the filling.  Ruffle them up a bit, to get a gorgeous crunch!

Beat the fourth egg, and brush over the pastry.  Bake in a hot oven - 220, 200 fan - for 20 minutes until golden and crispy on top.

You could also make individual pastries by folding spoonfuls of filling into squares of layered filo and folding into triangles - seal with a little egg before brushing on more to glaze.  They will need less time in the oven than a big pie - 12-15mins.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Can I boi you a poi?

Firstly, please accept my apologies for the lack of photos to accompany this recipe.  I made it to feed a very hungry husband who had been out climbing Pen Y Fan in the snow and he ate it too fast for photo ops.

Pies are fabby warming winter food, and readymade pastry makes them quick and easy.  I don't have the patience to stand and fold and roll my own puff pastry whilst a hungry, wailing toddler attempts to scale my trouser leg, so I make no apologise for my addiction to Jus Rol.  Jus don't buy the new low fat puff one.  It's not 30% less fat, it's 90% less nice. 

The post title is inspired by a friend of mine who shall remain nameless, but knows who she is.  In our young, free, single, drunken days she was once famously chatted up in a 2am chip shop queue by an Australian backpacker who led with the classy "Noice tits luv.  Can I boi you a poi?".  It makes me chuckle every time I make a pie and I am happy to share the mirth.

So, a yummy, creamy, warming chicken pie then?  Of course.

Chicken, mushroom and bacon pie

400g chicken, breast or thigh fillet, chopped
1 small punnet mushrooms, chopped
6 thick rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
approx 2 dessertspoons softened butter or spread
approx 2 dessertspoons plain flour
1 pint chicken stock
1/4 pint milk
tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp chopped garlic (approx 4 cloves)
1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
Olive oil

In a large pan, heat a splash of oil and fry off the onions and chopped bacon.  Set aside in a dish.  Repeat and brown the chicken and mushrooms together, cookig for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Pop in the dish with the onions.

Return the pan to the heat, melt your butter and add your flour, cooking for a minute or two until the paste starts to turn golden and smells nutty.  Start adding the liquid a bit at a time - milk first, until it's all gone, then start with the stock.  Stir briskly between each addition as the sauce thickens and cooks - keep stirring and lumps will disappear, I promise.  When all the liquid is added, throw in the garlic, pepper and mustard seeds and simmer for about five minutes until thick.  Add in the contents of your bowl of chicken and whatnot, stir together then tip into an ovenproof dish and top with the pastry, cut to size.  Brush with a little milk or beaten egg to glaze and bake for 15-18 minutes in a hot (200, 180 fan) oven until gold and puffed and delicious.  Serve with vegetables of your pleasing.

You'll be pleased to know that the chat up line didn't work, incidentally.  I mean, would you?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Paprika chicken with paprika and veggies and paprika bulgar wheat. With paprika.

I love smoked paprika.  I rotate between a couple of perfumes, my day-to-day is 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden, but if it was socially acceptable I would roll in smoked paprika straight from the shower in the morning, basting myself with it's sultry sexy smoky perfumey loveliness.  It would turn my skin a shade of orange not even witnessed on TOWIE* but it would be worth it.

I can't do that, obviously, my husband would probably have me sectioned.  So I get my smoked paprika fix by cooking with it a lot instead.  This gorgeous traybake is a fine example of smoked paprika used judiciously to acheive heavenliness.

Smokey Chicken, Root Veg and Wheat traybake - for four.  Play with quantities for more/less.  You know the drill.

As much chicken on the bone - thigh, leg, drumstick - as you care to eat
Likewise as much root veg as you care to eat - I like sweet potato and butternut squash, you can add white potatoes if you wish
a fennel bulb
2 red peppers
A handful of dried bulghar wheat per person
1/2-1 teaspoon of clear honey per piece of chicken (drumsticks will need 1/2, bigger bits 1)
Smoked paprika
dried chilli flakes
dried mixed herbs
1 veg Oxo cube
Olive oil

Put your bulghar wheat, 1 tsp dried mixed herbs, a pinch of dried chilli and the Oxo cube into a bowl, cover with twice the volume of boiling water, stir and put aside to soak it's way to edibility. 

Peel, deseed and otherwise make your root veg and fennel bakeworthy.  Chop into chunks, toss in oil and about 1tsp of smoked paprika and spread onto baking trays.  Pop into an oven heated to 200/180 fan and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, deseed your peppers and chop into large pieces, setting aside.

Mix 2 tbsp olive oil with 1tsp smoked paprika, a pinch of chilli flakes, 1/2 tsp of dried mixed herbs, and stir.  Brush over the chicken to coat. 

When your root veg have had their 15 minutes, add the pepper and chicken  to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes.  Take the chicken out, drizzle with the honey and return to the oven, cooking for another 5-10 until the chicken is cooked through and the veg  is cooked through and starting to blacken and caramelise at the edges.  Stir the vegetables into the soaked bulghar wheat, adding a little more smoked paprika if you think there's not quite enough involved already.  Serve with the honeysweetandsmokeysavourycrispyskinned chicken.  Heaven.

Too much veg?  Reserve some and whizz with hot vegetable stock for soup.  Tomorrow's lunch.  Serve leftover wheat/veg mix cold with salad dressing.  Veggie?  Ditch the chicken (duh!) and cook the veg and wheat, tossing in cubed halloumi cheese just before you serve.

This would make fantastic crowd-food - up the quantities and serve a heaped bowl of the wheat mix alongside a tray of chicken hissing hot from the oven.  Offer up plenty of napkins and get stuck in.

* Jimmy Carr - "I like to shorten The Only Way Is Essex... by turning it off halfway through"

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Veg-packed lasagne

I'm wary of labelling this a 'hidden veg' dish because I don't really believe in tricking children into eating things.  However, I've got two children who will happily eat brussels sprouts and am aware not everyone is as lucky, so if this is a starting point in getting your kids to eat something plant-based, then crack on and call it what you will!

It's a great way of eking out mince to do that little bit more, it's a great source of veg and their associated goodies and benefits, but most importantly it's DELICIOUS.  Which is what counts, right?  If you have alternative veg lying around in your crisper starting to look sad, feel free to experiment.  Parsnip is especially nice and adds a lovely sweetness, and you could try very finely minced mushrooms.

You can substitute soya based mince or a drained can of cooked lentils and swap the beef stock cube for vegetable to make this a veggie friendly dish.

Don't be frightened by the ingredient list, it's not in the least bit taxing.

Veg Packed Lasagne - serves 2 adults, 2 snarflings, with enough for a tupperware lunch the next day.  Or can split into 4 portions and freeze two, for couples.

500g lean beef mince
1 onion, finely sliced
splash olive oil
1 courgette. grated
1 large carrot, grated
1 red pepper, finely sliced
1 beef stock cube
1 tsp each smoked paprika and italian seasoning/mixed dried herbs
2 cloves garlic, a bit of ready jarred garlic or a tsp of garlic granules
pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small can tomato puree
1 can/carton chopped tomatoes
1 carton passata.
approx 8-10 lasagne sheets, white or verdi
150g cheddar, grated

You will also need to make some white/bechamel sauce, which you can find directions for here.

Heat the oil in a large pan and chuck in the onion,   Cook for 3-4 minutes until it starts to brown and look a bit translucent.  Add the beef to the pan, stirring to break up clumps.  Cook until the beef is evenly brown in colour then add the courgette, carrot and pepper to the pan.  Cook for a few minutes until everything is softening nicely.

Crumble in the beef cube, add the seasonings and balsamic vinegar and stir thoroughly.  Tip in the puree, tomatoes and passata, stir well to combine, reduce the heat so that it just blips gently and happily, and let it cook with the occasional stir-poke for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whip up your sauce, and when it's reached the requisite creamy loveliness, add a pinch of crushed black pepper.  To make your sauce you could opt for an olive oil based spread suitable for cooking, and semi or 1% fat milk, if you wished.*

Layer your pans of yum into an ovenproof dish - beef mix, lasagne sheets, white sauce, beef mix, lasagne sheets, white sauce is how I roll.  Top the final layer of white sauce with the grated cheese.  Pop into a 200 degree-ish oven for 20 minutes until it's golden, bubbling and looking delicious.  Portion, serve and eat.  Without guilt!

* a note on cooking with lower fat dairy products with small children - in the interests of balance I make this dish with semi skimmed milk and it works fantastically well.  I've also made it with 1% fat milk on occasion and not noticed any difference.  It's up to you whether you choose to only use full fat products when cooking for small children, and I'd suggest you ask your Health Visitor for guidance (if s/he is any cop).  Personally, my smallest small person is nearly 2, has a good appetite and consumes a good selection of full fat dairy foods, and I have no compunctions about using semi skimmed in the occasional dish.  How you work it is up to you.  Just don't use skimmed, it doesn't cut it!


Hola blogfans.  Happy new year!

Have you made any resolutions?  Do they involve expensive gym subscriptions, muchos salad, and the necessary purchase of a grapfruit fork?

So much is made of the importance of being 'healthy', particularly with regards to food, that I think we've lost sight of what it means.  We see food as being 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'.  Fat, sugar - those are bad.  Things that are fat free, vegetables, salad - those are good.  But if we lived on nothing but 'healthy' foods, would that in turn make us really really healthy?

I have spent years struggling with my weight and with an unhealthy, destructive relationship with food.  I have spent a long time mulling over what constitutes healthy.  I'm sharing my philosophy in the hope that some of you can embrace it.

Everything is healthy.  EVERYTHING.  In roughly the correct proportions. There are no bad foods.

Good huh? I shall expound.  Healthy is an attitude.  Healthy is a hearty appetite and the ability to take real pleasure in what you eat, eat enough of it to satisfy you, no more, no less.  Healthy is knowing that our bodies need a certain number of calories, a certain amount of fat, to stay alive and vital.  Healthy is prioritising REAL food, taking pleasure in cooking something delicious from raw ingredients and knowing exactly what you're putting in your mouth.  Healthy is knowing there is a time and a place for a meal made from a jar of sauce, and it's ensuring those time and places are few and sparse.  Healthy is not eating things you don't like, making yourself miserable and hungry, or pumping yourself full of 'fat-free' processed stuff that's packed with sugar and other additives to make it taste remotely like it was supposed to before they took all the fat out.

So resolve to be healthy with me this year.  Embrace food, don't shun it.  Learn to make it sing, learn to love proper, homecooked food that tastes like food is supposed to taste.  Find a balance that allows you to eat what you enjoy without demonising or canonising anything.  Stop when you're full.  Learn to cook a new meal every once in a while, push your taste boundaries, enjoy every single meal, every mouthful.  Be friends with your food again.  Have trifle after dinner on a Wednesday just because you fancy it.

Join me.