As a family, we’ve always used this blog as a bit of a recipe resource. If the boys are making brownies or a pasta bake, they’ll look up the recipe on here, and I love that they’ll always have that connection with home. With Charlie just about to go off to university (we’re going to Universal for Halloween Horror Nights – yay! – then he goes practically as soon as we get back – boo) I thought it would be nice to share a few of our family favourite recipes so that he (and any other student looking for decent, great-value recipes for sharing) would be able to recreate them when he’s away from home. I’m starting with this easy, step by step lasagne al forno. If I’m taking my time and making a lasagne at home, I’ll make the sauce with red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes (hit me up for the recipe, I’ve got a fab one), but there’s no shame in using a jar of tomato sauce, especially not when you’re in a hurry (or on a budget – a 500g jar of Tesco Bolognese pasta sauce is about 75p – also, look out for any that are on offer and stockpile them in a cupboard at home). Likewise with the cheese: Parmesan is lovely, but cheddar is cheaper.
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for pork crackling: one crunch takes me right back to sitting on the steps of the cricket pavilion on endless summer evenings, bottle of Coke in one hand and bag of ‘pork scratchings’ in the other. Of course, things have moved on a tad since then: apparently The Snaffling Pig Co’s unique tasting crackling is double cooked to produce a softer product that retains its bite without the teeth-breaking qualities of traditional scratching. They use the finest ingredients and add some pretty bold flavours too. This week I’m playing with The Snaffling Pig Co’s new Crackling Crumb and as my boys would happily live on mac and cheese, I created this extra special bacon mac and cheese with a herby crunch topping just for them. This version contains delicious, smoky bacon pieces, plus mozzarella for extra gooeyness, and the crunchy, herby, crumb topping gives that all important texture.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Korean food is having a bit of a moment. It’s not a cuisine I’ve really explored but I keep reading about it, and it turns out that Korean food is really healthy and colourful, with lots of vegetables and simply cooked, good quality meat forming the basis of many dishes. I tried a Korean crispy lamb recipe from Simply Beef and Lamb, and it’s so easy, it can be on the table in about twenty minutes. This dish uses Gochujang (Korean chilli paste), which I was initially a bit worried about tracking down, but it turns out you can buy it in Waitrose and loads of places online. If you can’t find any, just use any other punchy chilli paste. As usual when choosing lamb, I always look out for a quality mark like the Red Tractor logo – I need to know that it’s responsibly produced, and the logo tells you that you’re buying farm assured, quality meat).
I’m so excited to share this recipe with you. We’re a huge fan of chilled, filled pastas. They’re absolutely great to have tucked away in the fridge, so convenient for last-minute meals and feeding unexpected guests (or hungry post-pub revellers). They’re so simple and quick to prepare (they take less than three minutes to cook) and are such a great way to feed the family this Christmas – completely stress free and absolutely delicious. It’s authentic Italian pasta – the ultimate quick and simple comfort food, and this whole dish takes literally minutes to prepare. I’ve teamed a pack of Giovanni Rana Simply Italian Creamy Mozzarella & Smoked Pancetta Ravioli with a tasty sage butter, some pan fried shredded sprouts and some crisp, smoked pancetta.
More and more recently, I’m finding we’re becoming a two-dinner family. The boys are both busy with college, and both have a part-time job, so it’s often just Mr E and I for dinner. If we’re dining a deux, I’m a bit prone to just grill salmon or bake chicken and serve it with rice and veggies, so I was delighted for a bit of inspiration in the form of these lovely little mini roasts. This one is pistachio and orange crusted lamb and it was so delicious, and it felt so decadent eating it midweek too – like a stay at home date night!
You’ll probably remember that back in the summer, The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the #thriftyorganic challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for a 100% organic one, all for £83, the average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four. We ate really well AND stayed on budget, and it made me really think about what we eat, and made me plan our meals properly as well. Eating organic on a budget really is possible!
How do you cook pasta? For us, it’s generally quick suppers, or large bakes that can be popped into the fridge to be heated up when people get home at various times. A new Australian brand of pasta called Vetta High Fibre is just launching in the UK. It’s huge in Australia and I think it’s going to be really popular here. It tastes and looks the same as other pastas but has loads more fibre, so it’s really good for you. Vetta asked me to share my five favourite pasta recipes using their new high fibre products, so here, without further waffle, are my top five:
So recently. The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the Thrifty Organic Challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for organic. The average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four is £83 a week. Could I switch everything we usually buy to organic , stay on budget, and still produce yummy, healthy food for my family? Here’s how we got on.
Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.
Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.
I LOVE the sunny weather! I know it’s not fun for everybody, but it’s like being on holiday at home! The boys are hoping and praying that it lasts into the summer holidays too. The one downside about it is that I don’t really feel like slaving over the cooker, so supper has become quick, easy and minimal fuss. Tonight we had a lovely, fresh tasting pasta dish that takes about as long as the pasta takes to cook:
Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette
Good quality dried tagliatelle (generally you need to allow about 75-80 of pasta per person)
1 clove garlic
Pinch dried chilli
Good quality olive or rapeseed oil
1 courgette, cut into fat slices
About 1/2 punnet of fresh baby plum tomatoes (or any tomato, frankly)
1 tin white crab meat, drained
Fresh herbs if you have them
So first bring a big pan of salted water to the boil and add in the pasta. Stir it around and leave to cook.
Next, add a glug of oil to a frying pan (I use rapeseed) and pop in the courgette slices. Season well – be generous with the pepper.
With a pestle and mortar, bash the garlic with the pinch of salt. Add in the dried chilli and then a generous glug of oil. Stir in the crab and set aside. Don’t forget to check the courgettes and give them a turn so they brown easily.
If you’ve timed it right, your pasta will be al dente just as the courgettes and nice and golden. Drain it off, reserving a little bit of the cooking liquid in case the mixture is a bit dry
Toss through the oily garlicky crab (also delicious spread on toast, by the way), the courgette sliced, the halved tomatoes and a generous handful of something fresh like basil or parsley – rocket’s nice with this too.
Carry to garden and stuff into face. Preferably with a nice glass of rosé. Cheers!
I love making risotto. I find the half hour of methodical stirring and adding stock really therapeutic and relaxing. I know from recent discussion on Twitter, though, that other people hate being tied to the stove for that long, so I thought I’d try out an oven-baked risotto.
This is loosely based on a Donna Hay recipe, I think from Fast, Fresh, Simple (the idea and the rough timings), but none of the ingredients or quantities are the same – apart from the stock and rice, obviously…
For the oven baked risotto:
Slug or two of rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
Juice (and a bit of the zest) of one lemon
1.5 litres chicken stock
So start (in an ovenproof dish like a Le Creuset with a well fitting lid) on the hob. Heat the oil, add the onion and stir until translucent, then add the rice and continue to stir until well coated in the oil. Next add in the juice of the lemon and a couple of grates of the zest (my kids don’t like it too lemony, but if you like more, feel free to add it – also see my note at the end about parmesan). Now stir in all the stock and put on the lid. Pop the whole shebang into a 200 degree/gas 6 oven and forget about it.
After 30 mins, remove the rice from the oven and give it a stir. It should be perfect, but like any risotto, the quantities needed seem to differ every time you make it, so if it’s a little too liquid, allow it to sit for a while, or maybe pop it back onto the hob for a bit, or if it’s too thick for you add a bit of water. Mine was just about right. Check for seasoning. Often cube or jelly stocks can be a bit salty, so don’t add any in at the beginning.
Allow the risotto to sit while you quickly make the prawns:
1 bag raw frozen king prawns, defrosted (or use fresh if you’re that lucky)
Large knob of butter
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed with a little salt
So drain the prawns and melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the garlic, stir around, then add in the prawns. Cook them until they are just pink and tender. Serve over the risotto with a large handful of chopped parsley or rocket.
A little note on Parmigiano:
I usually use copious amounts of Parmigiano in my risotto, and actually find that lemon risotto benefits from the saltiness of the cheese. Obviously with fish I left out the cheese (never a good mixture), and both my boys found the risotto too lemony. So if you’re making this risotto on its own or with chicken, I’d recommend a couple of good handfuls of Parmigiano, grated, stirred through at the end. If making with fish – go steady on the lemon, or maybe squeeze it over at the end, to taste.
We’ve got a bit of a thing for Halloumi at the moment. I love its squeaky saltiness. The delicious, almost bacony savouriness of the cheese makes it a perfect foil to something a bit creamy, hence our favourite combo of herby, creamy lemon pasta topped with crisp on the outside, soft on the inside cheese…
You will need:
Linguine or spaghetti
1 pack Halloumi cheese
Pinch of dried chilli (optional)
1/2 pack green beans
About 200ml double cream
A couple of large handfuls of herbs – I used parsley, basil and mint
So get the linguine boiling in loads of salted water. I use a whole pack for the four of us but then we are really greedy. Use less if you’re going for arty dinner party rather than ‘fat bird in front of the telly’.
Slice the Halloumi quite thickly and put the slices straight into a dry frying pan. Sprinkle with the chilli. Check periodically and turn them over when the first side is brown.
At about the same time as you turn, pop the green beans in with the pasta. Then, chop the herbs, measure out the cream and squeeze the lemon and have them ready.
When the pasta is ready, quickly drain it, whack it back in the pan and add in the cream, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 the lemon (or all if you like it zingy) and add in all but a spoonful of the herbs.
Toss it all together and pile straight into bowls. Teeter your now golden and crusty Halloumi slices on top and finish with the remaining herbs.
A fresh, summer delight which is, when you think of it, practically storecupboard-ready and ridiculously quick to cook too.
We have a lovely chap from a local farm who pops round regularly with fresh free-range chicken breasts and eggs. He’s a godsend as I freeze the chicken breasts in bags of two and they’re so handy for things like this easy risotto as I just pop the frozen breasts straight into the stock and let them poach while I’m stirring. By all means use fresh though.
Make sure your stock is well flavoured. I’m quite lazy and if I haven’t got home made I tend to bung in a couple of stock cubes. I’d been sent these Knorr pots to try and actually the herby one tasted (and smelt) delicious so I’ll definitely buy them again.
You will need:
2 litres stock (I used 2 Knorr Herb Infusion pots and one chicken stock cube)
2 large free range chicken breasts
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
300g risotto rice
Couple handfuls of frozen peas
So firstly, get your stock bubbling away in a large saucepan. Make sure the cubes have dissolved (another bonus with the stock pot thingies as they’re just kind of jelly that melts quite easily) and pop in the chicken breasts.
Put a pan on. I use a large saucepan with quite high sides – the thing with risotto is that you need to beat it about a bit to make it nice and creamy (it’s all about releasing the starch) so use something like that or a large saucepan so you can give it a really good mix.
Bung in your oil, then fry the finely chopped onion until it’s translucent. Now chuck in the risotto rice and give it a really good stir around. There is a school of thought that you should almost ‘toast’ the rice in the oil before you add any liquid. I don’t go that far, but I do give it a really good stir before adding my first splosh of liquid (you can obviously use a nice glass of white wine here, but my pernickety youngest doesn’t like the taste).
Now just keep stirring ENTHUSIASTICALLY until each ladleful of stock is absorbed before adding another. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Enjoy the process.
When you’re left with your chicken breasts just nestling in a teeny bit of stock, take them out, chop them (checking they’re cooked through) and add them to the risotto along with the last bit of stock. Add in the frozen peas, stir and cover for a final 5 minutes with the heat off.
Finally, pop out to your tubs in the garden where you sewed your dried peas a couple of weeks ago, and pinch off some fresh pea shoots to garnish.
Yum. Summer in a bowl, people.
We LOVE lentils. The texture is almost creamy, satisfying in that way that only a big dollop of mashed potatoes is usually satisfying, plus of course they have the added bonus of being VERY good for you and low fat too. This recipe is one of our favourites – I often make double and blend the leftovers with stock the next day to make soup. It’s best, though, served with some big, fat, meaty sausages: our favourites being the ones from Jimmy’s Farm. Nommers.
You will need:
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
1 leek, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
150g red lentils
500ml chicken stock (or I often use leftover gravy from a roast dinner topped up with water)
Salt and pepper
So heat up the oil in a big saucepan and bung in the chopped onion, carrots and leek (any old veg will do, really). Give them a little sprinkling of salt and a quick stir around then leave them on low for a good ten minutes to soften. A little sprinkling of dried chilli flakes wouldn’t go amiss at this stage either.
After that you can just bung everything else in, really. Leave it on low, pop a lid on and go and do something else for half an hour. Oh and don’t forget to pop your big, fat sausages in to the oven – they’ll take about 30 minutes too, at 200 degrees/gas 6.
Check the seasoning and away you go. I’ll warn you, it’s very moreish, so it’s best that you make double.
l love cream. But with double cream containing 48% fat, it’s not exactly your healthy option. Fine for the occasional treat, but not for every day. So how can we still make all the lovely creamy recipes and sauces that we love whilst reducing some of the calories and producing a lighter, fresher end result?
Well, last time I was there, the Yeo Valley chaps set me a bit of a challenge: have a go at substituting yogurt in some of my favourite creamy recipes. And you know me, I’m always up for a challenge in the kitchen.
In baking, dressings and marinades you can add yogurt straight from the fridge. If you’re cooking with the lower fat yogurt varieties, you do run the risk, as with single cream, that they will ‘split’ (ie curdle) if you place them straight into a very hot environment. You can counter this by using the ‘standard’ versions rather than the low fat (still much lower fat then cream) and bringing the yogurt up to room temperature before you cook with it.
I used Yeo Valley’s Greek Style Natural Yogurt which has 9.5% fat (plus a nice long sell-by date) so it’s still got a nice creamy finish and isn’t too sharp-tasting. I’ve taken to keeping a couple of pots in the fridge as I use them at breakfast time, with fruit and muesli, as well as for cooking.
I had a go at cooking some of my favourite creamy recipes, substituting yoghurt instead. Here’s how I got on:
Spaghetti carbonara (or yoghetti carbonara – see what I did there?)
Snip a pack of smoked streaky bacon (outdoor reared, please) or pancetta into strips and fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until nice and crisp. Set pan aside on a low heat (you can do this while the spaghetti cooks).
Cook 300g spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water.
Meanwhile, mix a large tablespoon of Greek yoghurt with two eggs and a splash of milk, then stir in a big handful of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino.
When the spaghetti’s cooked, drain and dump it into the bacon. Pour over the yogurt mixture and toss to combine.
To be honest, once we’d added Parmesan, we could hardly taste the difference. Slightly sharper in flavour but still yummy. Fussy Death Wish Dude didn’t even notice and hoovered it down, and the Prof said that he’d ‘noticed something a bit different’ when I told him afterwards. Success.
We also tried:
Ice Cream: AMAZING success here. We actually liked the flavour of the ice cream better with the yogurt. Especially good with fruity and citrussy flavours and the bonus is here that you don’t need an ice cream machine. Try folding lemon curd through Greek yogurt and adding a grating of fresh ginger for extra zing, or just fold through your favourite fruit compote (Yeo Valley do some lovely flavours) before freezing. Take the ‘ice cream’ out of the freezer to soften up a little before serving.
As a dressing: I mixed the yogurt half and half with mayonnaise, added a squeeze of lemon and a handful of herbs and served it with smoked haddock fishcakes. Delicious.
Scones – totally yummy and the yogurt keeps them lovely and tender.
So as you know I’m involved with the Fish is the Dish project, a fabulous endeavour from Seafish.org encouraging families to eat more fish. Basically I get challenged every couple of weeks to cook with a different fish ( love it when my delivery man appears at the door clutching my parcel – it’s like a fish version of Christmas). This week it was beautiful fillets of undyed smoked haddock from Delish Fish. The fillets were firm and meaty, and not at all yellow (remembering the smoked haddock of my youth here).
I fiddled with this recipe quite a bit, but I have to tell you, the end result was fabulous, and was woofed down by every member of the family – even the curry-hating Death Wish Dude. English Dad isn’t sure he could eat it for breakfast (I certainly could), but it’s an easy and nutritious supper and would make a fab brunch if you have guests or over Christmas:
450g smoked haddock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 pinch crushed chilli
350g basmati rice
4 hard boiled eggs
Firstly, boil the kettle (the man from British Gas told me never to heat water on the stove – apparently it’s much more energy efficient to use kettle-heated water!)
So lay the haddock fillets in a nice heavy frying pan and pour over enough milk to just cover them. Add in the bay leaves and quartered onion. Poach for about 8 minutes or until the fish is beginning to flake.
In the mean time, pour boiling water over 4 eggs in a saucepan and place on the heat. They’ll take 8 minutes too.
Once cooked, remove the fish, cover and keep warm in a low oven. Reserve the cooking milk in a jug, topping up to 600ml with stock.
Chuck out the bay leaves, but keep the onions and chop them as finely as your burning fingers will allow. Fry them in the butter for a few minutes until softened, then add in the spices.
Pop in the rice, stir around until coated and then add the milky/stock liquid. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Then stir in the flaked haddock (and add frozen peas if you’re using them) and cook for about another 5 minutes or until the rice is just cooked. Keep an eye on the liquid. You might need to add a bit more stock.
To serve, top with the boiled eggs. And I think a nice sprinkling of coriander would be perfect.
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