This time last year, we were just beginning to get everything ready for Charlie to go to university. He was delighted to be offered a place at Leicester, and we were slowly ticking off items from the ‘to do’ list, from sorting out a student bank account, to shopping for bedlinen and essentials for his new uni accommodation. Making the leap from living at home is a huge undertaking and can be a really stressful time for even the most confident teenager. Student accommodation provider, Unite Students has recently released The Leap – a report about the challenges involved in making the transition to uni, and providing tips for making the leap to university from a range of experts, parents and students.
I love to travel, but it’s also really lovely to get home and do a bit of nesting. I miss being in our kitchen, cooking for everyone while we all chat, catch up and have a giggle – there’s nothing quite like a house full of people (and quite a bit of mess at the moment – I need to do some decluttering). Charlie is home from uni and Sam has finished uni (I’m so old!) so doing a bit of part time stuff until he can get something more permanent, so often there’ll be all of us – plus girlfriends and often the odd friend too. I love it. The more the merrier, and these easy spiced lamb kofta meatballs are perfect for feeding a crowd. I guess you wouldn’t really look at meatballs as sunny day food, but, if you’re anything like me, there’s only so many salads you can eat when the weather is warm.
I’ve been trying SO hard to be healthy recently. I’m trying to cut down on the booze, eating healthily and I’m still running three times a week – I’ve completed the NHS Couch to 5k app now, but I now just replay one of the later weeks (anything from around week 6 really) every time I run. I find it much more motivating to be told how I’m doing and I genuinely just like having Jo Whiley in my ear. I whack on a bit of The Greatest showman, pop my headphones in and plod along for half an hour or so. I’m not the fastest runner, and I don’t really enjoy it that much, but I like the feeling of achievement when Jo finally says ‘and that’s it, you’ve done it!’ and I know it’s keeping me healthy. I tend to run before breakfast, so I like to make something healthy to come back to, and these vanilla, coconut and cashew overnight oats with frozen berries are my current favourite.
I think finding something delicious to cook for dinner midweek is one of my biggest challenges. I love these coconut chilli prawn noodles because the basic recipe can be adapted to suit so many different tastes. If you’re a meat eater, you can swap the prawns for chicken, and if you’re a veggie you can leave them out and add things like mushrooms, sliced peppers and sliced green beans (of course, you can still do that anyway). That’s the beauty of this dish. It’s also fab for using up leftovers as you can basically bung any old thing in and it will still taste delicious. It’s also one of those recipes where most of the ingredients can be kept in the cupboard and/or freezer for when you’ve got nothing in. When I buy red chillis, I’ll often freeze any that I think I won’t use and you can basically grate them straight into the dish. The same goes for ginger too. Here’s the basic recipe:
One of my biggest challenges is finding things to cook on those days where I’m just rushed off my feet. Often, especially if I’m working on something I’m really enjoying, the boys or Mr E will walk through the door and I’ll realise that I haven’t even had any lunch, let alone worked out what’s for tea. I think it’s really important to have a stock of a few store cupboard essentials that will enable you to quickly whip up a couple of simple, nutritious meals without thinking too hard about it. When Princes sent me the video (see below) for the Moroccan mackerel rice, I couldn’t wait to give it a go – it literally is ready in minutes, and it’s delicious too. I’ve found myself making it quite often for a quick and easy lunch, and we’ve experimented with several of the varieties (my favourite is still the mackerel fillets in a Moroccan style sauce with apricot purée though). The mackerel is skinless and boneless and available in some delicious sauces, so all you have to do is find some quick carbs and veggies to go with it, et voila. Princes also challenged me to come up with my own quick and easy dish using Princes Mackerel. This spiced vegetable, coconut and mackerel stew is warm and comforting and as it’s all made in one saucepan there’s minimal washing up too. I often make this when I’ve got leftover veggies to use up: it’s great with potato, broccoli and carrots too.
You may remember a little while ago, I told you about my favourite little gadget, the Breville Blend Active Pro. It’s perfect for smoothies, purées and sauces because it’s small and neat, but I’ve often thought how nice it would be to have a bit of a bigger receptacle (is that the right word?) so I could use it for soups and stuff like that without having to haul out my enormous blender/liquidiser. Well, happy days are here, because there’s now a fab new Blend Active accessory pack which includes a whole bunch of attachments that allow it to do loads more stuff: whip cream, process larger amounts of food, grind herbs, and even juice fruit! Breville set me a little challenge to come up with a delicious hummus recipe using the Blend Active Pro and new accessory pack, and I had great fun playing with flavours. I think you’ll like this Moroccan spiced hummus with spiced roasted chickpeas – and I’m still thinking about ways to make it even more delicious (see notes at the end).
What if I told you I’d got a recipe for the floofiest pancakes you’re every likely to make, AND that the secret behind them is cheaty, home-made buttermilk, AND that you can make them all in advance, keep them warm in the oven and they don’t even sink a teeny, tiny bit? I know, right? Feeling pretty smug right now. So, quick sciencey bit: buttermilk is more acidic than normal milk (it’s also thicker, making your batter less runny) so using buttermilk in your pancakes (and indeed scones or whatever) means that there’s more acid to react with the baking soda, therefore making more bubbles and making the pancakes lighter and fluffier. See? It’s not magic, it’s science. But I never remember to buy buttermilk, so I use the next best thing: normal milk soured with lemon juice and left at room temperature for a couple of minutes. It works in exactly the same way and will give you the perfect, fluffy pancakes. Want the recipe? Read on!
One of the challenges that many students seem to face when they first move away from home is finding inspiration for decent, cheap meals. It’s not just inspiration that’s the problem either: obviously they’ve got a limited budget and they’re probably not used to supermarket shopping either (let alone on a budget), so they’re overwhelmed with the price and choice of food and end up sticking to the same two or three things that they know how to cook (or blowing a week’s budget on Domino’s then eating beans on toast at the end of the month). I promised Charlie I’d start to write up a few simple, quick and – most importantly – healthy recipes that he can refer to, so I came up this easy veggie lentil chilli for him, but honestly, we liked this one so much I’ve been making it about once a week. I serve it with brown rice and top with a handful of salad, sour cream or avocado. It’s also delicious served with sausages (veggie or otherwise). Read more
If you’ve ever looked at recipes on Pinterest, you’re bound to have seen those ‘three ingredient brownies’ recipes that use just chocolate spread, eggs and flour, right? I keep meaning to have a go at cooking them, I mean they look like they work, don’t they? And then a lovely friend of mine gave me the heads up about Jim Jams – a chocolate spread with 83% less sugar than Nutella, and I thought – wait, then that would be three ingredient brownies with a fraction of the sugar, and well, being January and all about the healthier choices, I gave them a go.
One of my biggest commitments for 2018 is to eat healthily: to nourish my body and fill it full of good stuff. But let’s be sensible: we’re never going to eat healthily 100% of the time. I think I’m aiming for around 80%, with a bit of cake and the odd glass of wine thrown in as a treat (note to self: that’s a treat, not every day – catch up on my Drinkaware month here). Diets are one of my biggest bugbears. I don’t want to count calories, or cut out carbs. I like carbs. Carbs give us energy and are a great source of fibre*, but we need to choose the right carbs for our body, not depressing, flabby white bread, mass produced, sugary biscuits, or – sadly – doughnuts (mmmm, doughnuts). One of the greatest things I feel I do for our family is take the time to bake really delicious, home made bread. Rye is less refined and much more nutritious than some other grains but I’m not really a huge fan of 100% rye, so I mix it roughly half and half with normal white bread flour. These easy, no knead rye bread rolls are so easy to make and this dough will probably make 10-12, depending on how big you make them.
I do love a good muffin, don’t you? Here’s a quick muffin vs cupcake factorama for you: muffins are different from cupcakes because a) they don’t have a big swirl of icing or frosting on top (but they can be glazed), b) the texture is denser (wet ingredients are stirred briefly into dry, rather than creaming butter and sugar) and c) they tend to be much less sweet. Anyway, I wanted to do something with a bit of a Halloween twist involving the cupcake’s less sweet, denser, unfrosted cousin, but I’m absolutely no good with novelty things (as evidenced by these rather clumsy Halloween cupcakes back in 2013), so I decided on chocolate orange drizzle muffins basically because chocolate orange is my favourite flavour combo and also because the drizzle seems suitably autumnal and pumpkin-coloured (I’m always thinking about the ‘gram). I used cacao powder because I think it gives a better chocolatey hit than cocoa, but feel free to use either.
Last week I was in San Diego (I know! I’ve got loads to tell you about it – coming very soon), and one of the meals we all completely loved was a visit to Galaxy Taco in La Jolla. San Diego is really close to the border with the Baja Californian Peninsula, so it makes sense that a lot of the cuisine has a Mexican influence. I loved my beef taco but had massive food envy for the crispy fish tacos that a couple of the others had ordered. The fish has a Baja spiced crispy coating and is served on soft tacos with a zingy tomato salsa laced with green chilli and heavenly fresh guacamole. I decided to recreate the dish for the boys when I got home and this is the result – I’m sure it’s not 100% authentic – especially the spicing, but it tastes pretty good! If you read my last post, you’ll know that Crisp ‘n Dry are supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper fundraising event this weekend and I thought that a whole bunch of these yummy Baja fish tacos with fresh tomato salsa and guacamole on the side would be perfect if you’re joining in (more of that on my creamy fish pie recipe here).
Many of you will know that Mr E is a helicopter pilot. For many years, he flew helicopters over the North Sea, based in Aberdeen and because of that, we’re always huge supporters of the RNLI whose crews work tirelessly to rescue people and save so many lives (including those of 12 oil workers and two pilots who ditched in their helicopter about 30 miles off the Aberdeen coast in 2012). Did you know that 2016 RNLI lifeboats rescued 8,643 people? And they do all that good work with the majority of funding coming just from voluntary contributions. When Crisp ‘n Dry contacted me to tell me that they’re supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper campaign, I was happy to join in and I’ve got two delicious recipes for you if you want to host your own fish supper, including this yummy, creamy fish pie with sweet potato mash, plus a delicious crispy Baja fish taco recipe coming on Saturday.
As Charlie goes off to university very soon (sob), and as we all know, being a student means living on a pretty limited budget. I want to make sure that he has loads of recipes that he can refer to here so that he can make himself a few decent meals without resorting to expensive takeaways. For a Friday night treat, is there anything better than pizza? It’s horrendously expensive to buy, but incredibly easy – and much cheaper – to make at home. Step forward my favourite essential Waitrose range which stocks all the products you need at great prices (and great welfare standards) without compromising on quality. Charlie loves halloumi, so I’ve created this pizza especially for him, piled high with all the ingredients he likes: here’s how to make my halloumi, olive and mint pizzas at home:
I absolutely love the essential Waitrose range – we buy loads of the products, from store cupboard staples like tins of tomatoes and dried pasta, to keeping the fridge stocked with easy things for the boys to cook when they’re hungry: thin and crispy pizzas, filled pastas, as well as everyday items like ham, cheese, bread, fruit and veg. At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer in buying quality food, but that doesn’t mean I want to compromise on affordability or welfare (I especially like the fact that all Waitrose chicken is British and reared to Waitrose’ higher welfare standards. To show you quite how versatile the essential Waitrose range is, I’ve created this delicious Jamaican jerk chicken marinated with allspice, thyme, honey and lime and served with a sweet, refreshing caramelised pineapple salsa, made using essential Waitrose ingredients, giving the quality you’d expect from Waitrose at prices you really wouldn’t:
My Dad’s not been well recently, so he’s not as active in his garden as he once was. He rang me last week and asked if I wanted any fruit, and Sam and I popped in to see him and to perform a quick raid of his gorgeous fruit trees. There are so many plums on the tree they’re weighing down the branches (and the wasps are having a field day), so we picked a load of those and also a load of his apples – I’m not sure of the variety but they’re somewhere in between an eater and a cooker and make awesome crumble. Seeing as we’d picked some blackberries on our walk, I thought I’d make an apple, plum and blackberry crumble. Here’s how to recreate it:
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