Sunday, 4 November 2012

Meatballs nothing like mama used to make....

...unless your mama was Sicilian, then these should be real home cooking.

I love Italian, but meatballs and spaghetti rarely feature on our table. Meatballs I consider too boring, and spaghetti is simply too annoying, with all it's trying to escape everywhere and covering the surrounding room with sauce. But when I do make meatballs, it just has to be spaghetti, the huge surface area means I get so much more sauce than pasta for a stronger tomato hit.

I stumbled across this recently, and immediately knew I wanted to make them. Meatballs are so cost effective, but this just breathes new life into an old favourite. I made them for He Who Must Be Fed, and my parental bottomless pit, aka my dad. My dad is a hard one to cook for as his opinions on food are usually based on solidity, he's very wary of soup but he once described my meatloaf as a nuclear doorstop, and quickly had to explain that was a good thing, very dense meat = great dinner in his book.

I was thrilled when he came to me afterwards and said "those meatballs, best I ever had, adding the raisins was a stroke of genius". I grinned from ear to ear while explaining I can't really take the credit, but I agree with him, these have a lot more flavour than the usual recipes.

Pinenuts don't come cheap at around £1.99 a bag, and they really add on the calories. You could miss them out if you prefer, although I like the bite and texture they add so I use a small amount in the recipe - it could easily be doubled if calories are no object. I use a mix of beef and pork mince to lower calories while keeping them incredibly moist. This is a great batch cook recipe, and the meatballs can be frozen cooked or uncooked - I freeze the mince in batches


500g beef mince
500g pork mince
6 slices of brown bread, torn and soaked in water for 15 minutes.
100g raisins
50g pinenuts
1 egg
zest of a lemon
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Serves: 8
Cost per portion: £1.09
Nutrition: 313 calories, 21g carbs, 28g protein

Drain the bread and squeeze out any excess water.

Add all the ingredients except the oil to a large bowl, mix together with your hands.

Roll the mix into small balls, lay on a plate until ready to cook. You can freeze any mince at this point if required.

Heat the oil in a pan, when hot add the meatballs, cook over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, then turn. It will take approximately 15 mins to cook through.

Serve with your favourite tomato sauce poured over the top, and spaghetti or mash underneath.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Brownie Batter Pancakes

Hello! Did you miss me? Or are you just grateful for the break after all that cake? Well, I'm back with ever more indulgence - but real, healthy food will come by the end of the week, I promise.

I made these up one Sunday morning when I was in a particularly cheery mood, and decided to treat He Who Must Be Fed. I've adjusted the recipe slightly from the one I made to give a more intense chocolate hit, but with fewer calories.


175g self-raising flour
25g cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
300ml milk
25g butter, melted
100g chocolate chips or chunks (I use all dark, but a mix of dark milk and white would be gorgeous too)
sunflower oil or a little butter for cooking
golden syrup, maple syrup, whipped cream or berries to serve

Serves: 4-6
Cost per portion: £0.38
Nutrition (based on 6 servings): 179 calories, 24g carbs, 5g protein

Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl.

Beat the egg with the milk, make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the milk to make a thick smooth batter.

Beat in the melted butter, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Heat a teaspoon of oil or small knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Drop a large tablespoonful of the batter per pancake into the pan to make pancakes about 7.5cm across, your pan will make three or four pancakes at a time.

Cook for about 3 minutes over a medium heat until small bubbles appear on the surface of each pancake, then turn and cook another 2-3 minutes. The pancakes should turn easily when cooked.

Serve with syrup, cream or strawberries.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Chicken, Pepper & Pesto Plait

A very simple midweek supper made up to use up what I had knocking around in the fridge. It worked surprisingly well, hence being deemed post worthy. I used red pesto in the one I cooked at home, but I do feel green pesto would probably suit just as well if not better.

Really easy to reheat in both microwave or oven, so makes an excellent packed lunch. I used the leftovers of our Sunday roast for the chicken, but this is priced based on buying and shredding 3 chicken breasts. Even this way at less than £1 per portion you'd go a long way to find a dinner as filling and tasty for so little money.


1 pack pre-rolled light puff pastry
300g cooked shredded chicken or turkey
1/2 jar pesto
125g ball mozzerella, thinly sliced
1 egg
2 sliced peppers, any colour (contrasting with pesto looks best)

Serves: 8
Cost per portion: £0.86
Nutrition: 327 calories, 17g carbs, 17g protein

Heat oven to 180C.

Heat a frying pan on the hob, then dry fry the peppers for 2 minutes. The aim is only to take some of the moisture out of the peppers and seal them, not to cook them through.

Cut a rectangle of baking paper to fit a tray. Unroll the pastry and lay on the baking paper (do not leave on the white rolling paper as in photo - it's a nightmare to get off once assembled).

Take a knife and cut approximately 10-12 horizontal cuts up each side of the pastry, roughly a third of the way across on each side, leaving the centre third uncut.

Spread the chicken along the length of the centre portion of the pastry, spoon over the pesto, then top with the peppers and mozzarella.

Beat the egg, then brush a small amount over the two ends of the pastry, but not all down the sides.

Starting at one end fold the first strip over the plait, pressing to the head of the plait so the filling won't escape. Fold the strip from the opposite side over slightly pointing downwards. Repeat, alternating sides, until the plait is finished. Press the final strip into the base of the plait again to seal.

Brush the plait all over with egg wash, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Small gaps in the plait will fill as the pastry expands creating an even finish. Serve with salad.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake

I know, I'm cruel. Monday morning rolled around with the best of intentions to watch the diet this week, and I present you with this.

I can honestly say it's as good as it looks. The cake is very moist, but because there isn't icing between the layers, and the icing there is isn't sweetened with icing sugar or butter, it's very easy to enjoy a piece without feeling weighed down. Probably a bit much in terms of calories for livening up a rough afternoon at work, but a complete show stopper for Sunday tea.

Don't be daunted by this cake, it was amazingly simple to make and the moistness of the cake batter means it produces quite flat layers so no need to take a knife to them to make it stack neatly. If you have icing left over just pop it in a jar in the fridge, it reheats in the microwave in about 20-40 seconds depending on quantity, and is gorgeous as a dip for fruit or poured over ice cream.

Make for your mam's birthday, best friend's new job, a special Sunday tea, to celebrate that letter this morning telling you you're due £7.52 back in overpaid tax... just find an excuse and make this as soon as you can.


For the chocolate & vanilla sponge:
225g very soft butter , plus extra for greasing
225g golden caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
85g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
150ml pot natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp cocoa powder

For the caramel and chocolate-caramel sponge:
225g very soft butter , plus extra for greasing
175g light muscovado sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
85g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
150ml pot natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa

For the filling and icing:
397g can caramel (stocked near the condensed milk in stores)
140g dark chocolate
140g milk chocolate
300ml double cream

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Grease and line bases of 2 x 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment. For the Vanilla & chocolate sponges, mix all the ingredients, apart from the cocoa, together with an electric whisk. Scrape half the mix into a tin and whizz in the cocoa to the remaining batter. Scrape into the second tin and bake for 20-25 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean.

Repeat step 1 for the Caramel & caramel-choc sponges, again leaving cocoa out of the first mixing, then splitting the mix in half and whizzing the cocoa into one batch. Cook as above.

While sponges are cooling, melt the dark and milk chocolate together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and cool or chill until spreadable.

When the sponges are cool, spread a third of the caramel over the Vanilla sponge and top with the Caramel sponge. Spread over another third of the caramel and top with the Caramel-chocolate sponge, then the final third of caramel and top with the Chocolate sponge.

Spread the chocolate icing over the whole cake to serve. It will keep in a cool place in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Eat at room temperature, the fridge does no justice to this cake.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Weekly round up - 13th October 2012

It's been a great week for us here, we've had some good financial and employment news, making the end of summer much more bearable. I've been enjoying planning some healthier comfort food for the next few weeks, an afternoon spent pouring over cookbooks can't be beaten in my eyes! Pea's started on her first solids, already a mini-gourmet she has denounced baby rice in favour of mango - and thoroughly loved the new tastes.

What I've bookmarked this week...

Sugar-crusted lamb. Granted I should really be weaning myself off sugar rather than introducing it to more dishes, but this just looks gorgeous.

Mushroom Lasagne by Brown Eyed Baker. Might need to tweek a few ingredients for this side of the pond, but this looks like it could be fantastic.

Pina Colada Cake by Under The Blue Gum Tree. Looks delicious, guaranteed to bring back memories of my honeymoon where I sheltered in the bar on the Maldives from hideous rains and winds and drank from dawn till dusk while the sea level gradually rose to cover most of the Island! Not enough people in disaster movies choose the boozy way to go.

Cookbook of the week... Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. My cousin raves about her Wahacca restaurant in London, but being a Northern girl I have to enjoy making it myself. It's easy to do with this book, which creates some really exciting flavours and takes my understanding of Mexican cusine beyond a sachet of old el paso spice mix and a jar of salsa. Expect to see some highlights on the blog soon.

If you make one thing this week make... Christmas Jewelled Lamb Stew . Hard choice, the ginger beer was so easy and like nothing I'd ever made before, and I LOVE the prawn & chorizo salad, but this one just seems perfect for this weather and has such gorgeous and unexpected flavours.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Fakeaway Friday - Chicken Korma

Korma always brings a smile to my face as I remember when He Who Must Be Fed and I were first dating, he'd never had a curry before, and Korma was his first try. Cruel girlfriend that I was I couldn't stop laughing as the tears streamed down his face, I'd never before met anyone who considered a Korma spicy. I was very lucky in the end though as he married me anyway, despite the cruel laughing.

I've tried a few Korma recipes over the years, and this is the best yet. I'm not going to say the balance is perfect, but most portions of Korma will have over 800 calories and I don't feel it lacks in the rich and creamy department. A lovely mock indulgence at the end of the week.


3 skinless chicken breasts (approximately 350-400g)
25g low-fat natural yoghurt
1 tbsp sunflower oil
400g chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
20g piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
8 cardamom pods, seeds crushed
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 heaped tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp hot chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 whole cloves
1 tbsp plain flour
small pinch saffron
2 tsp caster sugar
sea salt, plus extra to season
3 tbsp double cream

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £1.09
Nutrition: 326 calories, 17g carbs, 33g protein

Cut each chicken breast into bite-sized pieces, season with pepper and put them in a non-metallic bowl. Stir in the yoghurt, cover with cling film and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes but ideally 2–6 hours.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick saucepan and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes until very soft and lightly coloured. Stir the onions occasionally so they don’t start to stick.

Once the onions are softened, stir in the crushed cardamom seeds, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and bay leaf. Pinch off the ends of the cloves into the pan and throw away the stalks. Cook the spices with the onions for five minutes, stirring constantly.

Stir in the flour, saffron, sugar and pinch of salt, then slowly pour 300ml cold water into the pan, stirring constantly.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat, take out the bay leaf and blend the onion mixture with a stick blender or food processor until smooth.

The sauce can now be used right away or chilled until 10 minutes before serving. You can also freeze and defrost a few hours before needed. You may need to add a little extra cream or water when heating.

Drain the chicken in a colander over the sink, shaking it a few times – you want the meat to have just a light coating of yoghurt.

Place a non-stick frying pan on the heat, add the sauce and bring it to a simmer.

Add the chicken pieces and cream and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through, stirring regularly. Exactly how long the chicken takes will depend on the size of your pieces, so check a piece after eight minutes – there should be no pink remaining.

Adjust the seasoning to taste, then serve.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Prawn, Chorizo & Butternut Squash Salad

The perfect winter salad. Really quick to whip up and lovely hot or cold (but definitely better hot). I love the contrast of the spicy sausage with the fleshy prawns, both boosted with the sweetness of the squash. I don't dress the salad, but you can dribble over the chorizo olive oil from the pan if you want.


100g butternut squash (around half a squash)
100g raw peeled king prawns
25g chorizo, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salad leaves, approximately 50g

Serves: 1
Cost per portion: £1.98
Nutrition: 251 calories, 15g carbs, 25g protein

Thinly slice the squash, no more than 1/2cm thick but as thin as possible.

Heat a frying pan over a medium-low heat, spray with oil. Lay the squash in a single layer over the pan. Cook for around 3-4 minutes each side or until showing signs of colour.

Arrange the leaves on the plate, and as ready remove the squash slices and lay over the leaves.

Add the chorizo to the empty pan, fry for 30 seconds to release some oil, then add the king prawns and lime juice. Cook the prawns for 2-3 minutes until cooked through, and add the chorizo and prawns to the top of the salad. Enjoy this one as much as I do.