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Monday, 12 October 2015

(Slow cooker) Spicy aubergine sauce

This started as me having a go at making Caponata, until I remembered that a vital ingredient was capers. The last time I bought capers, there was a jar in the house for literally years, so I thought it was best to make something else.

I used miso paste in place of some stock just because I had it, and it has been hanging around for a while - stock or a teaspoon of marmite with the same amount of liquid would work just as well.

I'm still getting tomatoes from the greenhouse, got lots of home grown garlic left and plenty of evil padron peppers to use up. Supposedly, some peppers are spicy and some aren't, however; maybe my greenhouse makes them all super spicy. I've had to prepare them using a knife and fork otherwise the chilli oil stays on the skin/under the nails for days. Not good! Bell peppers and a chilli or two for spice would be fine instead.

400g cherry tomatoes
2 aubergine cut into chunks
4 cloves of garlic, smashed with salt and cut finely
100g chopped red onion, frozen
6 padron peppers, finely sliced (or 2 bell and 2 chillies)
1tbsp miso paste (dissolved in 150ml boiling water)
Good handful fresh oregano leaves stripped from stalk

Prepare all the veg and throw in the slow cooker.

Give it all a good stir and put on the low setting for 4-6 hours.

I use a plug timer if I'm out all day, as my slow cooker is quite hot and it'd weld to the dish of left for too long!

Serves 6 (a little goes a long way, it's spicy!)

Spicy couscous salad
Stir some sauce into cold couscous and keep in the fridge

Spicy pasta salad
Stir into cold pasta for a yummy packed lunch.

You could also have it hot on pasta, or as a side dish with chicken or fish.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Spicy Goulash

Having eaten and drunk our way around two cities for a week, and enjoying hotel breakfasts a little too much, I thought it was high time to get back to Slimming World. Tonight's supper was served with water, I wonder how long that will last?

This wonderful store cupboard recipe was adapted from Jack Munroe's book, and you can find the recipe here.

1 x 400g tin kidney beans
1 x 400g tin chick peas
2 garlic cloves
Fry light
2 tsp spicy paprika
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
1 tsp marmite
1 stock cube
Cook from frozen Iceland SW meatballs (optional). Sound gross but they're good quality.

Drain and rinse the beans.
Chop the garlic finely (the only reason I didn't use onion too was that I didn't have any). Fry gently in fry light, adding the paprika. When it dries out as a splash of water. If you don't like it so spicy use sweet smoked paprika.

Add the tomatoes and half a tin of water. Add the marmite and the stock cube and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. If using, add the meatballs. Stir to break up the stock cube. Simmer for 15min.

Add the beans and simmer until reduced and a bit thicker.

Serves 3

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Vampire-repelling Tzatziki

I pinched Jamie Oliver's idea for this and added a ton of garlic - not to everyone's taste but I LOVED the Tzatziki we had in Kephalonia which had so much garlic in, it was spicy.

Do not make this for a first date. Hubby and I have just worked out we've been together for 18 years. That's longer than the young man I was chatting to at church earlier has been alive...

3 garlic cloves (easily could be less)
Half a cucumber
170g Tub of 0% total Greek yoghurt
1tsp dried mint
Salt to taste

Grate the cucumber into a pasta bowl, and sprinkle salt over the surface.
Smash the garlic and chop as finely as possible.
Mix the mint and yoghurt together with the garlic.
Squeeze the water out of the cucumber and add to the yoghurt mixture.
Allow the flavours to mingle and serve with crudites.

Syn free

Roasted Carrot Hummus (Slimming World)

400g carrots
Tin chickpeas
170g tub 0% fat total Greek yoghurt
1tsp Mexican spice mix (or hot paprika)
Fry light

Parboil the carrots for 5 min.
Place drained carrots in a tub and add the spice. Close the lid and give it a good shake.
Spread carrots on a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven for about half an hour.
Meanwhile drain and rinse the chickpeas, and boil for ten minutes to soften (I used the carrot water).
Place the carrots and chickpeas into a food processor and add the yoghurt. Mix until smooth.

Garnish with chives - I've got garlic chives growing.

Syn free!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Egg Pizza (well, frittata really)

Using manipulation to get your kids to eat stuff is fine, right? Hence my 'Would you like some egg pizza?' this morning.

You can pretty much put what you like in this, but don't overdo the filling or you'll end up with scrambled egg.

120g (ish) cooked trout, flaked
4 eggs, beaten
100g grated mozzarella
handful cherry tomatoes

Halve the tomatoes and add to the frying pan to soften. Add some water if it starts to dry up.

Add the beaten eggs, then the trout straightaway.

When the egg is set around the edges and bubbling, add the grated mozzarella.

Place under a grill until the cheese is golden brown and the eggs are set.

Serves 2
1HEXA or 6 syns

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Egg yolk cookies

I was in the middle of making these whilst attempting my Dad to start Slimming World. #irony

This is not a SW friendly recipe (unless you count the syns)!

I made a pavlova on the weekend and I'd saved the yolks as I can't stand waste. I'd left them in the fridge uncovered so they were drying out a little but they mixed in fine. I'd also been given a previously melted chocolate bar which I chopped up for the chocolate chips. The recipe would probably work with 2 medium whole eggs too but haven't tried that so don't quote me on it!

Normally I'd freeze around half the dough (in ready to bake balls) but I was baking cookies for an end of term party - the staff will definitely eat them! Maybe they should be called 'Thanks for everything cookies'!

I used my Kenwood but you could make this by hand with a bit of elbow grease.

If you want a darker more chocolatey cookie, increase the cocoa and reduce the flour accordingly (up to 260g flour/50g cocoa). You could always use dark chocolate chips, or even white chocolate and no cocoa.

250g butter
300g sugar
2tbsp treacle
1tsp vanilla essence
4 egg yolks
300g plain flour
10g cocoa
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp salt
190g chocolate chips

Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla essence and treacle together until light and fluffy.

Beat in the egg yolks.

Mix the remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl (not the chocolate).

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until it combines into a soft dough.

Add the chocolate and mix on a slow speed until the chocolate's evenly mixed.

Chill for about half an hour to make the dough easier to handle.

Use a dessert spoon to measure out the dough and shape into a ball - you should get around 48 dsp sized balls.

Bake in a hot oven - about 180°C - for 10-15mins until just starting to colour around the edges. (Leave them for too long and they won't be chewy.)

No idea how long they keep for - not likely to be any left by the end of the day though!

Monday, 20 July 2015


This recipe sounds a bit weird but I promise you, it works. The texture of the topping is good and the eggs stabilise the yoghurt so it won't curdle.

250g fat free natural yogurt
2 eggs
120g parmesan, grated
12 lasagne sheets
1 portion of lentil bolognese

Layer the lasagne sheets with your bolognese mixture.
Whisk the eggs into the yoghurt and pour over the top.
Evenly sprinkle the parmesan over the top.

Bake in a hot oven (180°C, fan 160°C) until golden all over. I took mine out before it was completely golden as I'm going to freeze it and cook from frozen on holiday.

Serves 4

1 x Healthy extra A and 1.5 syns per portion (use fry light in the lentil bolognese recipe for syn free option).

Lentil bolognese

We're going on holiday to sunny Yorkshire soon, and I was all set to order some posh  ready meals, until I reminded myself of the prices. Wow!

So, after 2 days of a massive Slimming World Fail, I thought I'd make a few homemade meals to freeze and reheat once we're there.

I love Jack Munroe's lentil bolognese recipe and this is my version.

I'd say mine serves about 4, depending on what you use it for (pasta/pizza topping, lasagna filling etc).

Slimming world followers - 1.5 syns per portion or syn free if you use fry light.

Lentil bolognese
1 onion
3 - 4 garlic cloves
2 carrots
3 mushroom stalks from flat mushrooms
3 beetroot tops
1tbsp oil
1tbsp chopped rosemary
1 veg stock cube
1 tsp marmite
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin water
150g red lentils

Grate all vegetables in a food processor.
Heat the oil and add the vegetables.
Stir until they are softened - don't over cook.
Add the tomatoes and tin of water.
Add the lentils and stir well.
Add the herbs, stock cube and marmite.
Stir regularly.
Cook on a low heat until lentils are soft.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Chicken and aubergine jalfrezi

I love a good curry. I'd made a version of Jamie Oliver's jalfrezi paste, subbing some spices I didn't have, and had a nice piece of cooked chicken leftover from the Simple Chicken Bake so I made this simple supper. Not very authentic, but delicious!

250g cooked chicken
1 aubergine, diced
2tbsp jalfrezi paste
1 tin tomato
200ml water

Gently heat the curry paste and loosen with a splash of water or oil.
Stir the aubergine through the sauce and cook until softened.
Add the tin of tomatoes and increase the heat if you need to so the mixture is bubbling nicely.
Once the sauce has reduced, add the cooked chicken and stir.
Add the water and stir. Leave to gently bubble away for a few minutes whilst you get any accompaniments ready!

We ate this between the two of us but I only served it with bread. If you served it alongside more substantial side dishes it would go further.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Poached eggs and ham

I thought it was about time to stop being so stubborn (so unusual for me I know), and start thinking about Slimming World again as it's always worked for me in the past and I woke up feeling fat this morning. I quite liked their new plan as it has an emphasis on lean protein and vegetables which sounds pretty balanced. I'm going to try not to get used to huge portions though as that's half my problem!

I am useless at poaching eggs, and have never quite mastered the baked-eggs-in-ham thing: the ham ends up very crispy! So, I got 2 mini pudding basins out of the cupboard and lined each with a slice of ham and cracked an egg into each one. I sprinkled some chilli flakes onto the top of each egg to child proof it, mainly (he LOVES eggs and 'am), and put them into a saucepan with about an inch or so of boiling water in. The basins sat flat on the bottom of the pan and I put the lid on the saucepan. I left to simmer until the eggs were set.

Do not add salt, as the salt from the ham will make it salty enough. Whilst the eggs are cooking make a salad (or pick the lettuce from the window box on the front step), or wilt some spinach to serve.

If I can hide the ham from Wonder Boy I'll definitely make it again it was delicious and the texture just right. I might cook it for a little less (get less distracted so I keep an eye on it) next time as I like the yolk runnier, but it was still YUM!


**This is not official Slimming World advice**

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Custard Danish (and other pastries)

After making Glorious Custard the other day, having used it for two Rhubarb and Custard cakes and also successfully hiding it from my husband (he loves custard), I had a little bit of custard left over. It still tasted good, but it had been hanging around in the fridge for several days and it really needed using up.

I absolutely love Custard Danishes, so I thought I'd have a go at the BBC Good Food recipe, which I've only very slightly amended.

After following the instructions to make the Custard Danishes, I didn't quite have enough custard to make 18 so I thought I'd make use of the leftover chocolate and try using the pastry to make a version of Pain au Chocolat (yes, there is such a thing as leftover chocolate, I'd hidden an Easter Egg very well it seems!)

I guess this blog counts as a way to use up leftovers? I did end up using leftover chocolate too! I always try to cook with what I have in (unless it's a special occasion), or use ingredients that have multiple uses rather than buying something special then using it once and throwing it out.

I've sightly adapted the method to this recipe but kept the pastry ingredients the same. I didn't weigh the leftover custard before I started out, I just used it until there was none left, and I couldn't face spending over a quid for a tin of apricot halves so I went for the 40p a tin peach slices.

250g plain flour plus extra for kneading/dusting
250g strong white flour
7g fast action yeast
50g sugar
150ml milk
1 beaten egg plus extra to glaze (or try milk)
250g butter not fridge cold but not soft, cut into 8 even slices.

  1. Pulse together the dry ingredients plus 2 tsp salt in a processor, then pulse in the milk and egg until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough. I had to add a generous dash of milk at this point to get the right consistency. Knead for 1 min, using a little flour, until just smooth and no longer sticky. Put into an oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hr until doubled in size.
  2. Flour your surface, then pat the dough out to a rectangle, 1cm thick. Lay the butter slices out over the middle of the dough, in a rectangle. Fold the pastry over the top, bottom and then sides until the butter is completely hidden. Press the edges down. Read this step properly and you'll have less problems with butter oozing out of the sides later on (like I did!).
  3. Roll the dough out to a 50 x 30cm rectangle, first tapping out the dough with the rolling pin in gentle ridges, so that you can tell the butter is being squashed out evenly inside the pastry, before rolling properly. Turn dough 90 degrees, then fold the right third over and the left third over that. Do this three times, chilling for 15 mins after each roll. The chilling is essential
  4. Cut the dough in half, into 2 squares. Roll one piece of dough to 35 x 35cm. Cut each half into 9 squares.
For the custard danishes, put 1tsp custard towards each corner, sit a peach slice on each dollop of custard, then pull 2 corners over and pinch to seal.

For pain au chocolat:
When you run out of pastry squares (I made 10 custard danishes), find the leftover chocolate you hid from your child at Easter your child hasn't eaten because they prefer carrot sticks. 

Melt the chocolate and cool until semi solid.

Cut 2 strips of chocolate to roughly the width of the pastry square.

Place chocolate near the edge of each side of the square. Roll pastry edges over the chocolate so the pastry meets in the middle. Turn over so the top is smooth. Chill for at least 15min. (I made 4.)

Cut each pain au chocolat in half and place on a baking sheet with space between them.

Freeze or refrigerate leftover pastry squares.

For all pastries, leave to prove for at least 30min before baking or you will end up with a chewy pastry (I tried). Brush with beaten egg (and pinch the corners together again in the custard danishes) before baking at 180°C/160°C fan. Bake for 15min until golden and risen.

This blog is part of #thepastrychallenge (see Jen's food and United Cakedom (June host) for current and past entries), and is also part of The Breakfast Club challenge.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Simple Chicken Bake

We have a fabulous farmers' market about a 5 minute walk away from our house twice a month, where amongst other goodies I buy free range chickens. I keep thinking I'll buy the chicken breasts as they're more convenient but I can't quite bring myself to part with the cash as the price of the whole birds are so good if you buy a few (3 for £12).

Come Monday, I had three whole chickens in the fridge, and was wanting something very easy for dinner - I had a child who absolutely HAD to go to the park and I knew we needed to eat by 6pm if I had a hope of going to choir on time.

One bird was frozen, and I took the legs, wings and skin off the other two (freezing the wings for another time). After taking the legs off, I separated them into drumsticks and thighs. I layered the chicken drumsticks and thighs, tomatoes, herbs, potatoes, carrots, then aubergine in my cheap-as-chips bought-from-a-carboot-sale slow cooker pot. (Use a large roasting tin and lots of foil to cover it fully if you don't have a pot roasting dish.) I just about managed to squeeze in the rest of the bird (including the big chicken breasts) on top, knowing that the juices from the birds would make the sauce extra tasty - a bit like adding natural chicken stock. The lid stopped the meat from drying out and the breasts effectively steamed, being very juicy and not dry at all. 

This is an economical way to cook chicken, as you can use the lovely cooked chicken breast on any number of other recipes. I reckon I will get at least 8 meals out of these chickens, plus a couple of chicken for sandwiches.

Check out Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All for other budget recipes as part of the Credit Crunch Munch challenge, and this month's host for the challenge: Jen's Food.

4 chicken drumsticks, skin removed
4 chicken thighs, skin removed
[2 x chicken carcasses with breasts attached - optional]
1 tin chopped tomatoes (although 400g fresh tomatoes would probably work better)
4tsp tomato puree
1 tin value new potatoes (or about 250g cooked new potatoes)
4 fat garlic cloves, sliced
2 tsp mixed herbs
4 carrots, sliced lengthways
1 aubergine, sliced into rounds

  1. Prepare all the vegetables and set to one side - I use a pasta bowl.
  2. Prepare the chicken*. 
  3. Place chicken drumsticks and thighs in the base of the dish.
  4. Drain and thoroughly rinse the tinned potatoes.
  5. Cover with tomatoes and potatoes, then add the herbs.
  6. Add the carrots in a layer and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the slices of aubergine and season.
  8. Add the 2 chicken carcasses and sprinkle with a few extra herbs. 
  9. Cook in a hot oven (180°C) for an hour and a half.
  10. Place the carcasses & breasts to one side to cool and refridgerate.
  11. Serve up your chicken bake, keeping any leftover sauce and veggies to whiz up into a pasta sauce.

Serves 4 (or 3 if you live in our house - Wonder Boy ate more chicken than us!)

*If jointing a whole bird, take the wings off first, then pull the legs away from the bird so you can cut through the joint at the top of the leg bone. Then, you can remove the skin and bend the leg against the joint so you can then separate the drumstick and thigh. 

**Leftover idea**
Keep the cooked chicken for a chicken curry and to add to pasta sauce.


Sunday, 7 June 2015

(not very) Venetian Rolled Pizza

This is my second recipe for bread challenge hosted alternately by Jen's Food and Utterly Scrummy Food for Families - this month by Jen.

I got all excited about our forthcoming escape - I mean holiday - to Venice and found a rather interesting take on pizza here.
This is my version.

Half quantity of aubergine focaccia dough.
100g feta
1 aubergine
4 tomatoes
2 chicken thighs and several dollops of harissa paste

Roll out the half of the aubergine focaccia dough into a circle. Make it about 1.5cm thick - not too thin.
Spread over the roasted vegetables (I had some chicken cooked in harissa paste too which added lovely spice) and feta.
Attempt to roll it up without splitting the dough, but try to do this right on the baking sheet you're going to cook it on as it will be very difficult to move.
Once it's rolled up, tuck the ends in so you have no filling showing.
Cook in a hot oven at 180°C for 20-30minutes, checking after 20 to make sure it's not over cooking.

Aubergine focaccia

I had a courgette bread recipe I wanted to try out, but the courgettes were so ridiculously expensive I decided to adapt the recipe and use aubergines! Having changed the original courgette recipe so much that I made it my own, I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a go at joining the bread challenge hosted alternately by Jen's Food and Utterly Scrummy Food for Families - this month by Jen.

Focaccia dough
Add the following ingredients to your breadmaker in the order that works for your machine - my Panasonic says add the yeast first, then flours, dry ingredients and finally the water. Set it to the quickest dough setting - mine is pizza.

You don't need to use a breadmaker of course, I just find it very convenient!

350g wholemeal strong flour
250g plain flour
1tsp salt
1.5tsp easy-blend (active) dried yeast
1 aubergine, grated
1tbsp vegetable oil
160ml water
*1tbsp sumac
*1tsp paprika
*100g feta, crumbled

When the dough has finished, turn out into a large oiled bowl and leave to prove (rise) for about an hour.

Split the dough in half, and put one half back in the bowl and cover ready to use in the rolled pizza recipe.

*Next time, I will sprinkle the spices and feta on top of the dough after mixing as I didn't find the flavours really stood out when they were mixed in with the dough.

Individual Focaccia Breads

Knead the dough on a well floured surface until smooth.
Split the dough into 4 pieces and roll out into an oblong.
Slice a tomato and place on the top of the raw dough.
Drizzle with chilli oil.

Cook in a hot oven - about 180*C - for 15 minutes until golden brown.
This will freeze well.

Tiger cake!

Now this isn't exactly an economical family meal idea but nevermind! I volunteer for Free Cakes for Kids, Reading. Volunteering for them really suits me as I can do it as and when it fits in with my week - you can bake one cake a week, month or year whatever works for you.

Free Cakes for Kids Reading connects families who find it difficult to provide a birthday cakes for their child with local bakers who enjoy making and decorating cakes. The reason a family might want a cake from us could be because of financial or health issues, or due to other difficult circumstances.

There is a national Free Cakes for Kids charity so find one near you!

This time a request was made to bake a cake with a jungle theme for an event that Home-start Reading are participating in this week: National Bookstart Week.

Somehow, I came up with the idea for a Tiger Cake. I found an achievable idea for the decoration here, and made one weeny addition to the Jenny White's zebra cake recipe: orange food colouring!

So I've made a tiger cake which is decorated as a tiger. I hope it tastes good and keeps its looks for tomorrow! I decorated it very quickly as I wasn't sure when Wonder Boy would be back from his playdate. It isn't perfect looking but hopefully it'll be viewed from its best side tomorrow! I think it's for a 'guess the name of the cake' game!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Rhubarb and custard roulade

Mmm I love a meringue dessert, and I love making food that can freeze well. This roulade will most probably be our contribution to the first bbq of the year when we invite ourselves over to my Dad and step mum's place to make use of their garden.

I also like a meringue roulade as it can be cut easily whilst frozen - ideal if you're feeding a small number of people as you don't have to eat it all at once.

I used the roulade recipe from the BBC Good Food site. I'm not sure what the purposes of the lemon juice and pinch of salt are, but included them anyway and have ended up with a lovely marshmallowy meringue with a crispy crust. 

Use an electric hand whisk or food mixer for this.


4 egg whites
200g sugar
1tsp lemon juice (bottled stuff)
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Whilst whisking, add lemon juice and pinch of salt.

Once the egg whites are stiff, add the sugar a spoonful at a time whilst whisking.

Ensure all sugar is mixed in. The meringue mixture should look glossy.

Spread the meringue onto a rectangular baking sheet.
**You must make sure you have lined the baking sheet with greaseproof paper and greased it, or use the reusable liners from Lakeland.**

Bake for 15 min until golden brown. Cool completely.

I thought about making the filling pure custard but thought it could split in the freezer. Whipped cream would make it more stable frozen and besides, cream is yummy with meringue. You could probably use less cream as it made a little too much for the roulade. It will be eaten soon enough though!

300ml double cream
About half quantity of glorious custard, or just add ready made. I'd estimate about 300ml custard.

Whip 300ml double cream.
Add custard to taste. I added a spoonful at a time, whisking between each addition as the custard is like jelly when cool.

Assembly instructions
Lay a large sheet of foil over the top of the meringue, making sure it's larger than the meringue.

Carefully turn it over and peel off the greaseproof paper. This means you'll get the attractive golden brown crust on the outside of the roulade.

Spread the custard mixture over the meringue going almost to the edges but not quite.

Refrigerate any leftovers of the creamy custard. (Yes it will keep for a few days or even freeze. No you do not need to eat the leftovers right now before they go off.)

Evenly add small slices of roasted rhubarb to the top of the creamy custard. I didn't weigh it, just add how much you want to! Just be aware if you over fill it, it will be (even) more difficult to roll.

Put your concentrating face on, sticking your tongue out if necessary.

Tightly roll the meringue from the long side of the rectangle until you get a loose looking tube of foil.

Wrap in another layer of foil which and secure the ends tightly. Place in the freezer and wait for an invitation to a bbq or summer party.

Unwrap and put on a serving plate whilst still fully frozen or it will fall apart and you'll end up with Eton Mess!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Rhubarb and almond muffins

Having made roasted rhubarb yesterday and custard this morning, I had 8 egg whites and an idea to use some of the rhubarb.

Raspberries other tart fruits like currants would work well in place of the roasted rhubarb.

These taste delicious but are not quite picture perfect: however I'm not about to start remaking them, I'll just remember what to change for next time!

I used my bun tin rather than muffin tin, and next time I'd definitely use the muffin tin as there was a lot of mixture and the muffin tin would give a better shape. I also used my Kenwood, but you could equally make it by hand.

140g butter
Some roasted rhubarb (add to taste, about 150g cut into chunks)
200g sugar
4 egg whites
50g plain flour
100g ground almonds

Makes 12 muffins

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° for fan).

Grease a muffin tin.

Mix together the flour, ground almonds and sugar.

Whisk egg whites until white and foamy.

Gradually add the dry mix a spoonful at a time.

By hand, gently stir through the rhubarb* then fill the muffin tin.

Bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown.

*(I added the rhubarb to the to the tin and put the cake mix on top, which resulted in the rhubarb falling out! It also wasn't enough rhubarb for my taste.)

Glorious custard

I love this recipe because it's delicious, cheap and pretty reliable.
You do not need cream to make yummy homemade custard!
The flour reduces your chance of ending up with sweet scrambled eggs and makes it more stable and less likely to curdle. I've made very slight changes to John Torode's recipe because I'm way too tight to buy vanilla sugar, or the pods to make it with. Granulated gets used for nearly everything in this house, and the extract is from a big bottle of pretty decent stuff I got from Costco ages ago.  I also reduced the amount of sugar a little as I want to use some custard in other puddings and cakes, and don't want it to be too cloyingly sweet. 
Some of this will land up in Rhubarb and custard cake later, that the roasted rhubarb was made for the other day.

1l milk
8 egg yolks
120g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3tbsp cornflour
3tbsp plain flour (to make it gf just replace this with cornflour)

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it is just boiling, then remove from heat.
Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and flours and beat well.
Add a ladle of the milk to the yolk mixture and beat really well (I used a fork).
Add another ladle and beat well until thoroughly mixed.
Pour the yolk mixture into the hot milk (that's off the heat) and whisk using a regular balloon whisk (hand whisk).
Gently heat the mixture for about 8 minutes whisking all the time.
Serve immediately over a delicious pudding or eat some on its own as I did for quality control purposes only, of course.
Leave the rest to cool stirring occasionally to prevent skin forming.
Remind yourself that you need the custard for other recipes and you must not just stand over the pan with a spoon.
Refrigerate when cold - it will thicken a little as it cools.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Roasted Rhubarb

We have a fair bit of rhubarb down the allotment at the moment. I've made sorbet, syrup, compote and picnic cake already this year. What to do with the past-its-best rhubarb that's hanging around the kitchen?

I spotted the BBC Good Food recipe for
Rhubarb and custard cake and thought that would work well (my turn to bake a cake for the church cafe next week). I tried the roasted rhubarb recipe linked to it as it was so simple and needed so few ingredients! I also prefer roasting rhubarb to stewng it as it keeps its shape and doesn't go mushy.

Several other recipes call for orange zest or juice, and some for fresh ginger; all of which work well and none of which I have available at 6.30am in the morning! This one is just rhubarb and sugar, and I guess any flavour can be added later in cakes or when stirred into yoghurt or porridge.

1200g rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
150g sugar

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a roasting tin, and give it a shake to spread the sugar out.

Cover in foil.

Roast in a hot oven (200°C) for 25 minutes or so until soft.

Leave in tin to cool.

I'll use a third of the recipe for the Rhubarb and custard cake and keep the rest in the fridge. If it's too tart for your taste just add more sugar or honey!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Picnic cake

With a reasonably warm half term ahead, I decided to bake a picnic cake to avoid buying over priced teeny tiny children's lacked lunches that Wonder Boy would inhale in 30 seconds. This summer, I will save money by making picnics instead of buying so many lunches out. 

I've made two versions of this cake: one is more biscuity (hubby and his Dad prefer this one), the other more cakey (Wonder Boy and I like this one). For the biscuity version: leave out the milk and you can use plain flour with no baking powder if you don't have it. It didn't last long hence making the second version! The pictures show both types - the flatter one is more biscuity.

You don't need a food mixer to make this, but if you are lucky and have one, use it as it's a lot quicker.

Next time I'll use some mandarin marmalade and replace the almond extract and cinnamon with orange or lemon zest.

420g Self raising flour (or plain flour plus 4 tsp baking powder)
240g granulated sugar
240g butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
100ml milk
1 tsp almond extract
240g Jam (I used rhubarb compote leftover from making rhubarb syrup)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

23cm square cake tin

Makes about 24 small cake bars.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease the tin.

Rub in the butter to the flour.

Stir in the sugar.

Combine mixture with the beaten egg.

Set aside 240g of the wet crumble mix.

Add the milk and almond extract. Mix until smooth.

Put mixture in the tin. Smooth the top. (If you're making the biscuity version you'll need to press it down with your fingers as it'll still be crumbly.)

Spread the rhubarb compote/jam onto the cake mix.

Stir the cinnamon into the crumble mix and sprinkle evenly onto the top of the cake.

Cook for about 30 minutes, turning around after 15-20 mins and checking to see if it's cooked after 25mins.

Cool, cut and freeze (or eat). The cake is still nice when zapped from frozen in the microwave for a minute or two.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Harissa paste

This makes a lot of harissa paste, so be prepared to freeze it, give it away or put it in everything you cook. So far we've had it in couscous salad and used it to flavour some chicken (would be good used as a marinade for lamb or chicken).

It's pretty easy to do if you have a food processor/blender, and this version involves no cooking.

I bought a big bag of garlic a couple of months ago as it was very economical. However, I noticed the remaining ones were starting to go a bit 'funny', so I thought I'd make something with them rather than compost them.

I used fennel fronds rather than seeds as the stuff grows like a weed at the allotment (I've got 2 baby plants if anyone wants one!). Replace the fronds with fennel seeds or caraway seeds.

We've also got some leeks at the moment so I used that rather than onion, but onion would work just as well. I reckon the amount of leek I used is the same as 2 onions.

Lurking in the fridge I had a jar of very lazy red chilies which I used up, and added to the soaked dried flaked chillies.

44 garlic cloves
4cm fresh ginger
20 red chilies (or 20 tsp flaked red chilies)
2 red peppers, deseeded
2tbsp chopped fennel fronds (or seeds)
130g sliced leek (or onion)
*3tbsp ras el hanout spice blend 
*5tbsp harissa style seasoning
3tbsp ground cumin
2tbsp coriander seeds
1tbsp ground coriander
1tbsp ground cinnamon
200ml oil

Makes about 4 large jars. Easily halved.

If using dried chilies, soak in boiling water for a good 20 minutes.

Toast the coriander seeds until fragrant, then grind to a powder, either with pestle and mortar or in a spice mill.

Peel and chop the fresh ginger and slice the leeks.

Peel the garlic.

Drain the chillies.

Bung all the Ingredients into the food processor and blitz until smooth.

Store in sterilised glass jars topped up with a bit of oil to cover the paste and help it last longer.

Will last about 4 weeks if kept in the fridge. Can be frozen.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Carrot and broccoli falafels

This is quick to make, as I made them and cooked them before the (packet) fish fingers for the boys, and (homemade) chips were cooked.
I wanted to try an online recipe of Jack Munroe's for falafels that's slightly different to the one in her book that I tried. I changed the ingredients slightly - reduce or leave out the dried chilli flakes if you don't like them - and barely modified the method she used. Although I really enjoyed them as I made them, less chilli would let the herbs come through. When my coriander decides to grow I'll make it again with coriander! I used chilli oil because I have it in, but sunflower oil would do the job fine.
I put broccoli in because I didn't have quite enough carrot and have a handy bag of broccoli in the freezer. I will definitely do that again, it was really good. Spinach and broccoli might work as long as the spinach isn't too watery.
70g sliced carrots
5 frozen broccoli florets
400g canned chickpeas
1 tbsp of cumin
Handful of marjoram
1tsp of oregano
1tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp water
1tbsp chilli oil
(Makes 14)
Bring the chickpeas, sliced carrots and broccoli to the boil in a saucepan of water, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes until very soft.
Strip the oregano off the stalks, and remove the marjoram from the bigger stalks. Chop finely and add to a cup along with the cumin and chilli.
When the chickpeas and carrots are very soft, remove from the heat. Add 2tbsp of the cooking water to the spice mix, then drain the chickpeas and tip into the mixing bowl. Mash well with a masher until a soft pulpy mixture is formed.
Add the flour, and shape into balls using 2 dessert spoons (didn't fancy touching the hot mixture).
Add the oil to a large non stick frying pan, and pop the falafels in on a medium heat.
As with the pancake recipe, add them in a clockwise direction. Then, when the first one looks golden brown underneath you know to start turning them over (in order).
Remove from the heat and serve, covering leftovers and storing in the fridge to have another day.
Serve with natural yoghurt* to dip in as a snack, pop any extras into the fridge for snacking on, pop into a pitta bread with salad leaves and natural yoghurt or chutney for a portable, delicious lunch.
Would be very good with roasted carrot hummus too! 
*or baked beans and chips.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Tiger Bread

Or should that be Giraffe Bread? !

I used a recipe from 'timetocookonline', and made slight variations.

I really identified with the author's approach to bread making: I mostly make bread dough in the breadmaker leaving it to prove (rise) and shape it afterwards.

I would have made it with half wholemeal bread flour but we didn't have any! You could of course make this by hand - it's really not hard - some good basic instructions are found here. Just substitute these ingredients for Mr Hollywood's and you'll be fine!

Basic White Bread Dough
625g strong white bread flour
10g easy blend yeast  (I use this)
1tsp sugar
1tsp salt
2tbs oil
400ml water

Put the ingredients into your bread-machine in whatever order is specified for your machine.

Set it to ‘dough’ (mine says ‘pizza’) and press start. When finished, place dough in a large oiled bowl. 

As soon as the machine starts, mix the topping.

Tiger Bread Paste
210ml warm water
180g rice flour
1 sachet easy blend yeast
2tbs toasted sesame oil (I happened to have this and it does add a nice flavour but it wouldn't hurt to use bog standard oil)
2tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and leave to rise. The original recipe said the eventual consistency should be of double cream, and to get this I definitely needed the extra water.

Shaping the rolls
Now unless my family is not very greedy (unlikely), shaping this dough into just 8 rolls would result in MASSIVE rolls. Ok for burgers maybe? I would suggest splitting the dough in two, then shaping one half into a loaf and the other into 8 rolls. You could of course do all rolls. I tried a loaf and 6 rolls and possibly the rolls were a bit big (hubby doen't think so).

Split the dough into two.

Using a floured surface (chopping board), shape one half into a sausage shape and place in the middle of a greased baking tray (or use the baking tray liner things from Lakeland - they're failsafe and reusable).

With the other half of the dough, gently roll it out into a sausage shape and cut into 8 roughly even pieces. Shape each one into a ball and leave more space than you think between each one on the baking sheet. Use your largest baking sheet!

Leave the dough to prove for about 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, give the paste a good stir and GENTLY paint it into the bread/rolls. I used a silicone brush as suggested, a cleaner way than a traditional pastry brush.

Turn the oven on to preheat it: 200°C (180°C Fan)

Leave the rolls to prove for another 15 minutes whilst the oven is heating up.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the sheets around halfway through cooking time. You might find they need an extra 5 minutes to go brown enough.

(The original recipe suggested 15 minutes total cooking time, turning baking sheets around after 10 minutes. However, I found this to be nowhere near long enough.)

Turn out onto a wire rack and leave until cool enough to handle.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Saag aloo

It's just that time of year where I'm beginning to bring actual food back from the allotment, not just dirt. Thanks to a BBC Good Food article I read last year, I realised that radish leaves are edible. The smaller ones are good in salads but the larger ones benefit from a little cooking.

This recipe would work well with spinach, and if you prefer it less spicy you could use garam masala or ground cumin in place of the chilli. You don't need to be too worried about exact quantities either. I've included substitution ideas in the ingredients list as it's good to cook with what you have in, I think, rather than going out specially to buy stuff all the time!

This is a cheap recipe to make, especially if you grow your own vegetables. Check out Fuss Free Flavours and Fab Food 4 All for other budget recipes as part of the Credit Crunch Munch challenge, and this month's host for the challenge: Jen's Food.

135g radish leaves OR any leafy greens
300g potato (diced into 2cm cubes) OR tin of value new potatoes, thoroughly rinsed
1 small green pepper (diced) OR a couple of florets of broccoli
1 onion (sliced) OR half a leek
1tbsp sunflower oil
2 fat garlic cloves (finely diced)
2cm root ginger (finely diced) OR 1 tbsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp each of tumeric and chilli powder, salt and mustard seeds

  1. Thoroughly wash the leaves and prepare the vegetables and put to one side ready to use.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry on a low heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes, chilli powder, salt and 100ml water and stir. Put a sieve or colander on the top of the pan and add the radish leaves. Cover with a large saucepan lid and simmer for about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the leaves to the pan (I had to snip them with scissors once they were in the pan as they looked a bit clumpy). Stir well and cover the pan with the lid. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Add a splash of water if it looks a bit dry.
  5. Serve alongside a yummy curry like Jack Munroe's Peach and Chickpea Curry. Serves 2 as a side dish. 
**Leftover idea** Anytime pizza is a current favourite in our house, and I often have individual pizza bases in the freezer ready to go. The other night I was just cooking for Wonder Boy and myself, and made him the traditional margarita pizza but for myself I used leftover Saag Aloo as a pizza topping sprinkled with grated cheddar. Carb overload but it was really nice! I put chilli jelly on my pizza base in place of a tomato based sauce. #NoFoodWaste

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Anytime pizza

I've done enough cooking to know which instructions to treat as a vague guideline and which ones to actually follow. I really like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'Magic bread dough' recipe because it's cheap and it works. It's in his Veg Everyday book, which I bought ages ago for a fiver, so shop around.

This is my version:

As long as the flour quantity adds up to 500g you should be okay, and use at least 50% strong flour as I think it makes a difference to the rise if you use it for bread.

250g wholemeal strong flour
150g self raising flour  (normally would use plain - this is the end of Leaky Bag)
100g strong white flour
1tsp table salt
1.5tsp easy-blend (active) dried yeast
1tbsp vegetable oil
325ml water

This is for my Panasonic breadmaker, brands differ on how you should add ingredients. I bought it 2nd hand on ebay well over 6 years ago and it's had almost daily use.

Add yeast to breadmaker pan followed by the flours, salt, oil and water. Set machine to pizza setting - mine takes 45min.

When the dough is ready, tip out into a large oiled bowl. This makes the dough easier to remove later.

Leave for an hour or two then shape as you wish. I split the dough in two and put one lot in an oiled loaf tin, and shaped the rest into 3 pizza bases and 4 small rolls. Once shaped, the loaf and the rolls need to be left for a good half hour to rise again (proving time).

Shape the pizza dough. I basically flattened it with my fingers onto some reusable baking sheet liners I bought from Lakeland.

Spread your chosen pizza topping on the dough. I used Jack Munroe's lentil bolognese that I'd made with yellow split peas/chana dhal. I'd had to puree it to hide the big fat yellow lentils from Wonder Boy so it's gone from poisonous to delicious apparently.

I got the grated mozzarella out of the fridge (I find the value range ones pretty good value), and discovered hubby had eaten half of it, so grated the same amount of cheddar and mixed it up. I topped each pizza with the cheese then put it in a preheated oven for 20mins (take it out after 10 if you want to freeze it for later).

During the making process, Wonder Boy announced he wanted pizza for breakfast.   Thinking 'pick your battles', 'it's too early for an argument' and 'it's homemade and pretty healthy anyway', I complied like a good/caffeine deprived mummy.

It would be better to double the recipe next time and use half for a loaf as the one I've made looks pretty flat and pathetic and the rolls are tiny.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Roasted carrot hummus

I was rereading the 5:2 recipe book by Kate Harrison for some inspiration on lower calorie meals and warmer weather friendly lunches. I can't quite face doing 5:2 again at the moment - did I mention the chronic lack of sleep issue? - but thought I'd go back to boring old calorie counting. It does work, I just get bored. In it there's a recipe for roasted squash hummus with some good strong flavours to keep you interested in your good-for-you food.

I know I've already said I'm inspired by Jack Munroe's approach to cooking, and that I'm loving her recipe books. In one of them she has a cheap recipe for hummus which is great, and a search on her blog reveals some good replacements for 'fancy pants ingredients' that you don't really need. I'm a sucker for them, but completely resent spending upwards of £2 for a jar of tahini paste just for the odd bit of homemade hummus when I can be bothered to make it. I have got a jar of sumac which I've used once so I've put it in the hummus too, to justify having it! I have a large collection of spices and do use most of them, honest!

I had a big bag of carrots in the fridge so replaced the squash with the carrots, and the tahini with peanut butter. My peanut butter is homemade (see here for recipe). I'm not sure mine came out as it was supposed to but I'm the only one in the house who eats it so I don't care!

I parboiled 600g of carrot wedges and roasted them in 1tbsp hot oil until they were soft. We ate 1/3 of them with dinner last night and I had to hide the rest of them from Wonder Boy so he didn't eat them all. What kind of parent hides vegetables from children?!

400g carrots (raw)
2tsp oil
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2tsp peanut butter
1tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed with a large knife and a bit of salt
1 roasted red pepper (I still have that jar knocking about the fridge)
Concentrated lemon juice to taste (you could use juice of half a lemon I just don't have any at the moment)

Chuck it all in the food processor and press go! You could use a stick blender or a potato masher/ricer, just make sure you chop the garlic very finely.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Scrambled eggs and fish

I was all set for being smug and reheating the homemade, cheap as chips (cheaper? ) tomato and haricot bean soup by Jack Munroe. Check out her blog and cookery books they are ace.

However, we obviously ate it last week. Oh.

We have what feels like a freezer full of kippers as hubby got a little over excited in Tesco last week and bought loads of them 'on cheap'. He loves them for breakfast but the thought doesn't do it for me anymore, so my cooked kipper has been waiting for me in the fridge since Saturday morning. It's been in the fridge for 2 days, smelt and tasted fine so I'm assuming it won't kill me. Tune in later in the week to find out! You could use any fish - packets of cooked smoked mackerel are basically the same thing and are pretty cheap - different fish would be a different flavour obviously.

We also have an allotment down the road, with a few perpetual spinach plants doing rather well, and quite a few spinach leaves in the fridge looking a bit dodgy from when I picked them last week. I fancy perpetual spinach needs a bit more cooking than the normal spinach you get in bags from the shop. It's got the flavour of spinach but needs cooking like kale, only you can eat the stalks. With the normal stuff you could probably add it at the same time as the eggs.

I could have added onion, chilli and garlic or even stirred through some cooked rice which probably would have looked disgusting but tasted like kedgeree. But I didn't because I wanted something quick and that allotment won't weed itself.

Melt the butter on a gentle heat, cut up the spinach into small pieces and stir until they go dark green and are coated in butter.

Add the eggs and stir to make sure everything is evenly mixed, then add the fish and stir again.

Take off the heat before it's fully cooked unless you enjoy rubbery scrambled eggs.
Serve in a bowl with a fork and eat it before you remember to take a photo, or serve on toast (I must not eat all the bread, I must not eat all the bread, I must not eat all the bread).

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Pancakes to save the world

It turns out that chronic sleep deprivation affects one's ability to remember a previously memorised pancake recipe. It also transpires that Pintrest was not my friend on this occasion as the link I'd saved is so old it didn't work.

Family emergency!

The day was saved by hubby remembering I'd posted the recipe on Facebook in response to his thoughtful 'Dearest, you need to give me your pancake recipe because if you're hit by a bus it'll all be over'.

Why thank you darling. So romantic.

I don't even like pancakes that much, but hubby and Wonder Boy love them!

I used 130g of self raising flour today, for no other reason than the packet has a hole in and is leaking all over my cupboard (I know I could fix the bag that's too easy) and my hand slipped. Yes I was too lazy to take 5g flour out.

If you use self raising flour you don't really need the baking powder but I used it anyway because I knew it would make them super fluffy, and that I'd be using the whole mix at once. If I'd kept it in the fridge it would've looked like it was alive, producing bubbles at the top of the mix and seemingly thickening. That's fine, you just to give it a good stir and might need a splash of milk to give it the right consistency before you cook it.

1 egg
200ml milk
125g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
Splash of oil for the pan

Makes 10 (it did today anyway)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan to a medium heat.

Beat the egg and milk together.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl (I used a mug).

Gradually add the flour mixture to the liquid, whisking well as you add each spoonful.

Add a dessert spoonful of the mixture to the pan leaving a bit of space between each dollop. It sounds silly but add the mix in order (I do clockwise), so that you know which dollop has been cooking the longest.

Once you can see a good few ml of the pancake cooking (bubbles might also burst on the surface), turn them over if you can remove them from the pan easily.
Give them a few minutes, then move to the edge of the pan and add the rest of the mix (or just cook two batches).

Serve with fresh fruit, unless you live in my house then serve with lashings of golden syrup.