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.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Christmas Jewelled Lamb Stew

I know, it's October, but to me the combination of spices in this stew just summon up glorious scents of open fires, Christingle oranges and weekly sniffs of fruit cake as you ladle over ever more booze. It's rare to find a stew we both enjoy, but this has to be my favourite ever. At this time of year comfort food always hits the mark, and finding something packed with unusual flavours which is so simple feels like a secret which should be whispered only to best friends by candlelight.

Keep an eye out for lamb on offer, as it can be very expensive. More lamb in this would go well, but it would bump up the cost and calories quite significantly.


1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
4 carrots, cut into chunks or thick batons
4 parsnips, cut into chunks or thick batons
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves , sliced
5cm fresh root ginger, very finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
500g lamb, cut into chunks
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
good pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground coriander
50g ground almonds
800ml beef stock
100g dried apricots
75g dried cranberries

Serves: 6
Cost per portion: £1.68
Nutrition: 473 calories, 54g carbs, 5g protein

Heat oven to 180C.

Toss the carrots, squash and parsnips with the olive oil. Spread over a baking tray and roast for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile fry the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil until the onions are soft.

Add the lamb and stir-fry until browned. Add the spices, cook over the heat to release their flavours, then add the almonds. Pour in the stock bring to a simmer.

Cover the pan and simmer for 45 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the apricots and cranberries, then simmer 15 mins more until the lamb is tender. Thin with a little water if the sauce starts to get too thick.

Add the roasted carrots, squash and parsnips, stir well and serve with mash or crusty bread.

To freeze, cool, then pack into a freezer container or bags. Will keep for up to 3 months. Thaw for 6 hours in the fridge, then reheat in a pan until bubbling hot.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ginger Beer

Something I hadn't ever considered making, despite it being one of He Who Must Be Fed's favourites. But a combination of finding an old book about making traditional sweets, and his birthday last week meant I had to have a crack.

I've tweaked the recipe slightly from the one I made, as the ginger wasn't fiery enough. This is a non alcoholic version, add a shot of vodka or rum for an extra kick.

If you like your ginger beer a bit sweeter drop the ginger to 150g, and add half an orange along with the lemon.


200g ginger, scrubbed and roughly chopped (no need to peel)
1 lemon, roughly chopped
100g light muscavado sugar
Bottle of lemonade, to serve

Makes around 10 servings, £0.78 per bottle (excluding lemonade)

As simple as it comes. Add all ingredients to a blender and blitz until there are no lumps left. Place a sieve over a large bowl and pour over the gloop. Allow to drain, push through as much moisture as you can. Discard the pulp. Add a muslin to the sieve, then pour the mix through for a second time. Again work with a spoon to get the most mix through. Squeeze the leftovers in the muslin to get the most out of the pulp.

Decant into a sterilised jar or bottle. Will keep in the fridge for two weeks.

To serve fill a glass 4/5 full with lemonade and ice, then top with ginger syrup. Stir well and enjoy.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Fakeaway Friday - Sweet & Sour Chicken

On a Friday, after a week at work that seems a lot longer than 37 hours a lot of us hit the restaurants or the local takeaway. There's something about those overly sweetened, salted, fatty goodies that seems like a great idea, despite the morning after regrets. Did I really wolf down a chicken tikka, rice, naan, poppadom, and a handful of bahji's? No, surely they're in the bin somewhere, or maybe the back of the fridge? Is there any chance He Who Must Be Fed ate them during the night? Then the realisation dawns that after a week of nibbling on salad, cutting out the sugar in your tea, politely declining the office biscuit tin, you undid all that hard work in one evening.

I've been cooking my own takeaways for years (and I'm still on the hunt for the perfect curry recipe), so I'm trying something new with this blog, every Friday I'll share a takeaway favourite recipe, but in a healthier way. If you really can't stomach cooking on a Friday, make it in advance and reheat, takeaway dinner on the table in less time than it takes to call your local.

First up, a new addition to my takeaway repertoire. This one is from the The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight cookbook - probably my favourite tv duo, whose healthy eating diet book reads like a bible of Great British comfort food. I've adjusted the quantities slightly, as we didn't find there was enough chicken for 4 portions, and the vinegar was a bit strong for my taste in the original.

Sweet & Sour Chicken


1 x 425g tin pineapple chunks in natural juice
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, cut into 12 wedges
2 peppers, red, green, orange or yellow, deseeded and cut into chunks of about 3cm
1 x 225g tin water chestnuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
25g piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £2.17
Nutrition: 368 calories, 35g carbs, 34g protein

To make the sauce, drain the pineapple into a bowl and keep all the juice – you should have about 150ml/5fl oz.

Put the cornflour in a large bowl and stir in three tablespoons of the pineapple juice to make a smooth paste.

Add the remaining juice and 150ml/5fl oz water, then stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, ketchup and chilli flakes until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Cut each chicken breast into chunky pieces. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok and stir-fry the onion and peppers for two minutes over a high heat. Drain the water chestnuts and cut them as thinly as possible horizontally (2 cuts should suffice).

Add the remaining oil and the chicken to the pan and stir-fry for two minutes until coloured on all sides. Add the garlic, ginger, pineapple chunks and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 30–60 seconds.

Give the cornflour and pineapple mixture a good stir and add it to the pan with the chicken and vegetables. Stir well, season with some ground black pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for 4–6 minutes until the sauce is thickened and glossy and the chicken is tender and cooked throughout, turning the chicken and vegetables a few times. Serve with rice.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Welsh Valley Stew

Super quick, lots of flavour, amazingly low in fat, calories AND pennies, and next to no washing up, what more could you want after work? I was surprised my how tasty this was, not being a stew type of person, and how filling it was for a fairly light meal.

Welsh Valley Stew


2 baking potatoes or 4 regular potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 leeks, washed and cut into thick slices
3 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 2cm rounds
300ml hot chicken stock
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced, or approximately 200g of leftover cooked shredded chicken
150g mushrooms
3 tbsp crème fraiche (half fat is fine)
Spring of fresh herbs, thyme works well, but a mixture if you grow your own would also be lovely.

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £0.74
Nutrition: 185 calories, 22g protein, 34g carbs

Put the potatoes, leeks, mushrooms and carrots together in a microwave-safe dish with some salt and pepper. Pour over the stock and herbs. Cover the dish with cling film and pierce a few times with the point of a knife. Cook on High for 10 minutes until the potatoes are just starting to become tender. If using shredded pre-cooked chicken increase cooking time to 15 minutes.

Remove the dish from the microwave, peel off the cling film, remove the herbs and stir in the chicken. Cover the dish with fresh cling film and pierce again, then cook on High for 6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. If using pre-cooked chicken reduce cooking time to 1 minute.

Remove the dish from the microwave, uncover and stir in the crème fraiche and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Italian Creamy Baked Eggs

Okay, I bet many Italians would sob at my adaptation on traditional flavours, but for me it works. These eggs are smooth and rich in a very unexpected way. A slightly alternative breakfast, great for low carb diets. Serve with toast fingers for dipping if you're that way inclined.

Italian Creamy Baked Eggs


2 sun dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp pesto

Serves 2
Nutrition: 173 calories, 1g carbs, 15g protein (without toast)

Preheat oven to 180C/160C (fan)/gas mark 4.

Grease 2 ramekins.

Mix the tomato with the pesto, and divide between the ramekins.

Break an egg on top of each tomato-pesto ramekin.

Drizzle 1 tbsp of cream over each egg.

Bake for 15-18 minutes (eggs will continue to cook within the ramekin outside the oven).

Stand for 2 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Glittery, girlie, strawberry traybake - A Thank You

Last week my daughter, affectionately known as Pea, turned 6 months old. To many parents this day will pass without notice, but to us, this was a big day. A day we weren't always certain we'd get to see. Our daughter was born 12 weeks early, with a lot of respiratory issues, significantly more than most babies of her gestation. She had to have surgery to remove half a lung before she was even 4lbs. We will never be able to do enough to express our thanks to the doctors and nurses who saved her life so many times over, but we can start with cake.

While she was in the hospital I made it my mission to bake for the staff at least once a week, I couldn't care for those babies like they can, but I can keep the people who care for her so hopped up on sugar the night shift seems half as long.

I believe in the therapeutic properties of cake (in fact I'm considering starting a new cake based philosophy of life), when Pea's doctor told us she needed to be transferred to another hospital and would probably need surgery, he did it while scoffing a huge chunk of my gingerbread. It is hard to panic and think the worst when your consultant is more focused on his sweet tooth and getting crumbs on the floor than the surgical complications.

Cake might be bad for the belly, but it's good for the soul, and sometimes we need a bit of that.

Pea's Strawberry Traybake


100g butter, at room temperature
175g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
225g caster sugar
125ml full-fat Greek yogurt
zest 2 lemons
200g strawberries
200g icing sugar

Total cost: £4.72, cuts into 15-18 squares

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

Butter and line a 30 x 20cm traybake tin with baking parchment.

Measure all the sponge ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix together using an electric hand whisk until smooth. Spoon into the tin and level the surface.

Chop strawberries into small pieces and scatter over the surface of the cake. Press mostly into the batter with the back of a spoon to prevent burning.

Bake for 25-30 mins until lightly golden and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Carefully lift the sponge out of the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Remove the baking parchment.

Mix the icing sugar with the juice of half a lemon, and enough water to form a loose drizzle. Pour or flick all over the surface of the cake, leaving some parts exposed. Sprinkle over edible glitter, if you're feeling in a frivolous kind of mood.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lucky Duck Curry

This is one of those quick and easy whatever-you-have-in-the-fridge type dishes. The key is the sauce, and then you can just throw whichever veg you have going in it. It doesn't have to be duck, it's easy to throw the remains of a Sunday roast in as well. Butternut squash is used to thicken the sauce and add flavour without the calories.

It's so named because quite honestly I think this showcases the duck really nicely, making him one lucky duck (although not quite as lucky as if he were still in his pond).

Lucky Duck Curry


Mixed veg of your choice, chopped. Peppers, roasted sweet potato, mushrooms, courgettes, onions, mangetout and baby sweetcorn all work well.
Leftover shredded duck, chicken, port etc (optional)
2 x 400g cans coconut milk
4 tbsp red thai curry paste
Small bunch of grapes (approximately 40-50) grapes, halved
thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 butternut squash, pealed and chopped
1 tbsp oil

Serves: 4-6
Cost per portion: £0.85 (sauce only, meat and veg is up to you)
Nutrition: 182 calories, 13g carbs, 1g protein(sauce only)

Bring a pan of water to boil, add the chunks of butternut squash. Boil for 20 minutes.

Drain the squash and mash until smooth.

Add the oil to a large saucepan or wok, and fry vegetables for 5 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, lemongrass and thai red curry paste, fry for 2 mins stirring often.

Add the butternut squash to the pan and stir well.

Add the coconut milk, stir well, then throw in the shredded meat, if using. Bring to a simmer and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and throw in the grapes. Serve over rice or noodles.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Sorry - will a cake make it right?

Looks like I need to get a bit more focussed if this blogging lark is going to go to plan. A+ for effort, scheduling the blog posts in advance, big fat F for execution forgetting to finish them before they went live. They have now been fully updated, and I urge you to give them another read - the mushroom tart especially is so simple and tasty, quicker to stick in the oven from frozen after a long day at work than a chilled ready meal, you really can't go wrong.

Normal blogging service will resume on Monday, we're just getting over a few days in hospital for Pea, and I'm lousy with a cold myself at the moment, no interest in food unless it is of the ice-cream variety.

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Mushroom & borlotti bean stew

He who must be fed has very traditional tastes, he would describe his preferred diet as very Irish, favouring meat and spuds soaked in an indeterminate brown. Vegetables should come from a hole deep underground never any kind of bush or overground situation, that's just wrong. He'd never eaten a mushroom when I met him at the ripe old age of 22. This recipe is a combination of the traditional stews he loves for our current budget and waistlines, more veg, more nutrients, no meat. I'm happy to say his palate loved mushrooms.


1tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
3 leeks, sliced
4 celery sticks, sliced
300g chestnut or button mushrooms
30g dried mushrooms, soaked for 30mins in warm water
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 x 400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp plain flour
small glass red wine
600ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
100g kale

Serves: 4 generously
Cost per portion: £1.34
Nutrition: 363 calories, 35g carbs, 14g protein

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, carrots, leeks, celery and fresh fresh mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

Add to the pan the garlic, a generous spring (or about a teaspoon of dried) of thyme, stir, then add the borlotti beans. Take the dried mushrooms from their water (do not throw away - this stuff is gold for flavour), tear any that are too large and add to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes.

Sprinkle over the flour, stir through, then add the wine and soy sauce. Pour in the reserved mushroom water making sure not to add the gritty bits in the bottom of the bowl. Bring to the boil and add the stock.

Leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, then add the kale. Stir through and leave to cook for a further 5 minutes. Serve, I like it with crusty bread but He Who Must Be Fed has infinitely more experience of stews than me and he declared this mash-worthy. That's me told.

This is another one which freezes well and is packed with flavour. A gorgeous combination of comfort food and health food in one bowl.

Garlic mushroom tart

This is my version of fast food - easy to prepare in advance and just thrown in the oven from frozen when required - the ideal on a Friday night after a long week at work. I absolutely love garlic mushrooms, this is a fab way of making them into a main course. Lovely with a rocket salad.


375g block puff pastry
flour, for dusting
25g butter
300g mixed wild mushrooms or mix of wild and chestnut, cleaned and sliced
25g Parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), finely grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 egg , beaten

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £0.78
Nutrition: 473 calories, 39g carbs, 12g protein

Roll the pastry out on a floured surface and cut out 4 circles, a saucer is about the right size. Leave to chill on a lined baking tray in the fridge.

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.

Heat a large frying pan until hot, then add the butter and a dribble of oil and fry the mushrooms for 5 mins until there is no liquid left in the pan.

Season, then take off the heat and mix mushrooms with the Parmesan and garlic.

Score a 1cm border around the edge of each tart, then place in the oven for 8 minutes to blind bake.

Remove from the oven and spoon the mushrooms into the centre circle. Tarts can be frozen at this point for cooking later if required.

Brush the edge with beaten egg or milk, then bake the tarts for 8-12 mins until puffed up and golden. Serve immediately.

To cook from frozen these take around 12 minutes but do not gain as much puff.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Parmesan, bacon, leek and potato gratin

This recipe is adapted from Rose Elliot's latest Vegetarian cookbook 30-Minute Vegetarian. I can't say I'd used any of her books before so I was interested to see what she came up with. The recipes I've tried have all been very easy to follow, inexpensive and quick as the title suggests. However I have found a few of them lacking in flavour and in need of some herbs at the least. So in this I've added some garlic and thyme (I used lemon thyme but any you have around will do the job), and then I also completely destroyed the vegetarian aspect by throwing in some bacon that was nearing it's expiry date and I hate waste. It would have been lovely without, but with it felt like the decadence of a carbonara muddled in with the comfort factor of mashed potato. Bliss!

I know it's not the best in terms of calories, but it's not bad to be honest, and some days I watch what I eat a little too closely and come in a few hundred short, so I figure a nice filling meal is better than sneeking in a glass of vino or (even more) dark chocolate.

I used a dish that was too big here, a large roasting dish. Something more like a casserole pot or very deep brownie tin would be much better. Reheats well, freezes well, batch cooks well, prepares in advance for sticking in the oven when needed.... can't really go wrong.

1.5 kg peeled potatoes cut into 1cm deep slices
400g trimmed leeks, sliced
100g parmesan or grana padano
200ml double cream
4 rashers bacon (optional)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt & pepper
Fresh or frozen thyme, around 1tsp

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £0.98(excluding bacon, £0.25 more per portion including bacon)
Nutrition: 576 calories, 27g carbs, 16g protein

Put the potatoes on to boil for 15 minutes.

In a frying pan fry the leeks and bacon in a little oil over a medium-low heat. When leeks are softened and bacon is cooked through add the garlic and stir. Remove from the heat and add the cream, thyme, half the parmesan and salt & pepper. Set aside.

Turn grill to a high heat if cooking immediately. Heat oven to 180C if cooking from chilled.

When potatoes are cooked layer half in the base of a large casserole dish (at least 4" deep).

Pour over the leek and bacon mixture.

Layer the remaining potatoes on top. Sprinkle over the remaining parmesan.

If making ahead: chill until required then bake at 180C for 20-25mins.

If making for immediate consumption: Place under the grill for 10-12minutes until parmesan is golden and the edges of the potatoes are slightly crisp.

Serve with vegetables (I liked it with kale) and enjoy.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Monday, 17 September 2012

Roasted sweet potato couscous with lime & coriander

'Oooh, is that pudding?' was not quite the reaction I expected when he who must be fed spied this dish simmering away. After carefully explaining the name, he pondered for a moment before declaring 'nope, it has limes in, it must be pudding'. I despair sometimes.

We both really enjoyed this meal, a great summer to autumn transition. The sweet potatoes add some bite and variety, while the lime and coriander keep it feeling remarkably light. It's incredibly quick and easy, and at under 300 calories for substantial portion you can't really complain. It heats from chilled in the microwave in 2 minutes, and can be frozen too, so makes a good batch cook packed lunch meal. The biggest single cost really was the coriander, if you have some growing already or get a plant and pot it outside to use again that will cut down considerably each time you remake.


600g sweet potatoes, washed and chopped into 2cm chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
500ml bouillon or vegetable stock
250g couscous
1 lime, finely zested and juiced
1 large or 2 small red onions, finely chopped
10g fresh coriander, finely chopped (most of a small plant)

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £0.73
Nutrition: 278 calories, 51g carbs, 7g protein, 5g fat

Toss the sweet potatoes in the olive oil, tip onto a roasting tray and bake for 30mins at 200C, giving a turn or good shake halfway through.

Bring stock to the boil, and after the shake of the potatoes pour over the couscous. Leave to stand for 15minutes.

Very finely chop the onions, and fry over a low heat for around 5 minutes until soft.

Grate and juice the lime into a large bowl. Add the chopped coriander.

When ready tip the sweet potatoes into the lime and coriander mix, shake well to coat. Add the couscous and onion to the bowl, stir well and plate up to serve.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Week 1 shopping list & menu plan

2 Borlotti Beans In Water £0.78
1 Brown Basmati Rice £1.68
1 Cabbage Sliced Curly Kale £0.94
1.0 kg Carrots £0.78
1 Celery £0.89
1 Chicken Breast Fillets Skinless £3.70
1 50% Fruit High Juice No Added Sugar Citrus Mint £1.49
1 Fresh Cream Double £1.50
2 Fresh Milk Semi Skimmed £2.00
1 Great Stuff Apple & Apricot Snack Pack £0.50
1 Great Stuff Pineapple Lolly £0.50
1 Great Stuff Snack Pack Apple & Grapes £0.44
1 Great Stuff Snack Pack Apple & Pear £0.50
1 Growing Coriander £0.76
1 High Juice Citrus (No Added Sugar) £1.49
1 High Juice Florida Orange (No Added Sugar) £1.49
1 Leeks Trimmed £1.00
1 Lime £0.27
1 Mushrooms Chestnut £0.98
0.1 kg Onions £0.09
2 Pineapple Chunks In Juice £0.86
0.2 kg Root Ginger Piece £0.42
1 Smartprice Natural Yogurt Low Fat £0.55
1 Smartprice Onions £1.17
1 Smartprice Peppers £1.37
1 Strawberries £1.50
0.6 kg Sweet Potatoes £0.77
2 White Potatoes £2.00
1 Wholefoods Cous Cous £1.35
1 Easy Bakery White Part Baked Baguette £0.78
1 Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder £1.78
1 Scotty Brand Strawberries £1.50

Total = £35.83

I'm quite pleased to be honest, I have some fruit for snacks and treats, I've got a few store cupboard staples, and stocked up on squash. I know for most people the 50p snack packs of fruit aren't great value, however I think 5 packs for £1.50 is good value given I could only get a bag of apples or a pineapple or grapes for that, this way I get a bit of variety.

Now, the important bit - what are all these things making?

Roasted sweet potato couscous with lime and coriander
Chicken korma
Sweet and sour chicken
Potato leek gratin
Pasta with lentil bolognaise
Egyptian rice
Borlotti Bean and mushroom stew

If a recipe isn't much cop, I'll let you know, if it's worth making I'll post it in detail. All these recipes make 4+ portions, leaving plenty leftover to freeze for lunches another day. All the meals are planned to be under 500 calories, making shifting a few pounds hopefully effortless. The curry and Chinese are also a punt at a low fat low calorie version of favourites, so we'll see how they turn out compared to the real deal.

Thursday, 30 August 2012


We're off for our first holiday today since the birth of Pea and will return on the 8th September. So no recipes while we're gone, but we're going to a village renowned for it's independent restaurant culture, so I might just blog a few photos of the yummy food while I'm away. Have a great week x

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Soufflé omlette

A year ago I was strictly of the opinion that eggs were good for going in cake batter and not much else. I hate the smell of them, texture, taste. In short, I was pretty egg phobic. But everyone kept telling me how good for me they are, a superfood even, so I made it my personal mission to find one way of eating eggs that didn't involve sugar, and this is what I came up with.

The recipe is an adaptation from GH 200 Favourite Quick and Easy Meals ("Good Housekeeping") which at under £3 is in my opinion one of the best cookbook bargains there is. The recipes all have photos, nutritional information, and they're all easy to prepare after work, this is certainly one of my go to cookbooks.

2 eggs
5 or 6 mushrooms
100g leeks
clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
60ml half fat creme fraiche
10g Grana Padano/Parmesan
knob of butter

Serves: 1
Cost per portion: £1.32
Nutrition: 526 calories, 11g carbs, 28g protein.

Turn on your grill to heat - I tend to have mine at the maximum.
Separate your eggs, put the yolks in a small bowl or mug, the whites in a mixing bowl.
Take an electric whisk to the whites until stiff peaks form (you don't need to hold it over your head, it just needs to have some shape to it). Set aside.
Add around 1-2 tbsp of water into the yolks, mix well and set aside.
Chop the leeks and mushrooms into slices, add to a frying pan with the butter and a small drizzle of oil to stop the butter burning. Stir frequently to stop the leeks sticking.
Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper as desired (I never use salt due to high blood pressure but appreciate many do so will always add to recipes). Add the creme fraiche, heat briefly (around 30 seconds) so it doesn't split, then remove from heat and tip contents into a bowl.
Wipe out the pan and return to the heat, grease the pan with a little butter or oil (very important, this omelette will stick to even non stick pans without some grease)
Pour the yolks into the whites and fold together, some of the volume from the whites will be lost but not all. When well mixed tip into the hot pan and spread to cover the base with the back of the spoon. Cook for around 2-3 minutes (DO NOT TOUCH - this cooks more like a pancake than an omelette) until a spoon inserted under the edge of the omelette can lift the edge from the pan.
Stick under the grill for another 2 minutes. It will lose most of the puffy volume and appear more like a pancake. It doesn't matter if your pan has a plastic handle, it won't be under the grill long enough to heat.
Remove from the grill, slide onto a plate and spread the crème fraiche mixture over half the omlette. Fold and enjoy.

If you have some leftover cooked ham, chicken or bacon throw some shredded bits into the frying pan along with the crème fraiche to up the flavour and your protein. The one in the picture had left over prosciutto in, so felt a bit fancy, but thoroughly enjoyed.

Getting the most from your mushrooms

I promise, a real recipe will come soon. I was writing one up this morning and I thought this deserved a post of its own. My husband once asked why I cooked my mushrooms in butter, and just used a spray of olive oil for most other veggies. While butter undoubtedly gives them a better flavour, it's not that simple. Mushrooms contain high levels of vitamin D, something many of us are in short supply of, white mushrooms have the least, darker and wild varieties contain more. However all this is useless if you dry fry your mushrooms, as vitamin D is fat soluable, meaning it needs fat for your body to absorb it. Butter is better than oil in this case as it contains vitamin A, which assists the absorption of vitamin D. You can even up the vitamin D content of your mushrooms by leaving them in direct sunlight for a few hours (use straight away or they might get a bit shrivelled). I took the picture above in France last summer at a market, all the mushrooms sold there were wild and packed with flavour, to try to replicate this on the cheap try throwing a handful of dried mushrooms in hot water half an hour before you need them to plump up. Dried mushrooms are pretty expensive (usually working out at over £60 a kilo/£2 for a 25g portion). If you can afford to order in bulk do it - I buy these ones at Amazon of all places, £10 for a 500g jar and you can throw them into all kinds of things at a more affordable 50p per portion.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Planning Ahead

Have you ever stood in a supermarket paralysed by indecision? So blindsided by the array of products that you grab whatever happens to take your fancy, dart to the tills and rush home, only to discover £50 lighter you still don't have anything that can actually be called a meal. I've tried taking a list with me, I've tried going accompanied, alone, full, awake, tired, nothing works for me. I can never find what I want and so I grab the next best thing, which all to often bears no relation to what I was after (even the most delirious of online shopping packers wouldn't think to replace AA batteries with sausages).

So I've switched to online shopping. I love the ease with which I can compare products, find the right size or the best value one. I love that the delivery guy doesn't turn up on my doorstep with 2 packs of kitkats and a litre of ice cream because he thought I might like them and they were on offer. I even love our delivery guy, he always brings our shopping to the kitchen, and even gave our baby daughter his pocket change when she came home from hospital. I do like to buy local, but for the next few weeks I may be a delivery only zone, until I learn to stick to my budget.

Picking an obscure delivery time means it is only £3, a bargain unless you happen to live a stone's throw from your nearest supermarket or have very strong arms. There are also usually a few codes floating around for money off certain products, extra points, or easy to spot offers.

It does however make me feel old, as online shopping gives me the chance to say 'back in my day' (with a strong Yorkshire accent, I feel it's needed to pull off such a sentence). Back in my day, I used to order my groceries to my uni flat, which sounds a bit uppity but actually was strictly nessisary, with not having a car and having been told off by a policeman for borrowing a trolley and pushing it back and forth across the town moor once a week to refill with groceries then park behind my flat until it's next outing. Mr T used to use their online shoppers a bit like guinea pigs, and would offer free products they were thinking of stocking to get your feedback. One summer they sent my flatmates and I a 24 pack of ice creams on the hottest day of the year, I think they had 5 customers for life from that day on.

The worst part of online shopping is the complete detachment from your food, you can't handle it, test the quality, see what looks great and what is actually a bit ropey. For that reason I'd always try a market or farm shop for fruit and veg when possible, but save the heartache and bank balance agony for something more deserving. Like a holiday.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Hello to the blogging world

There comes a point in everyone's life where you find yourself staring financial reality in the face, and you don't quite like what you see. For my little family that was this week, when maternity pay ran out two months before we were expecting it to.

So we need to cut our cloth a little differently, we have some well stocked cupboards, and a fairly empty freezer. Our challenge from now on is to feed ourselves for £35 a week without turning to exclusively beige foods.

Currently we average around £70 a week. We love food, not just any old food, well cooked, flavoursome, locally produced, homemade meals. Sometimes I wish we didn't when I see the prices of ready meals in the supermarket compared to a basket of fresh ingredients. A miserable day at work is immeasurably cheered by coming home to a good meal, and life is too short to miss out on the simple pleasures. I'm hoping to discover some shoestring recipes which are both healthy, tasty and cheaper than a processed dinner, and maybe meet some like-minded folk along the way. Come, lurk, follow, share ideas for how to improve the recipes, and lets get our families eating well for less.