Saturday 12 November 2011

something different with tuna

Littl'Un has been unwell this week, and this has resulted in us having even less time on our hands, also we had more leftovers last week when she was obviously going down with whatever bug it was as she was eating far less, and we had a couple of unplanned outings where food was provided, so we didn't eat all the meals we planned, so we actually had more food than I really knew what to do with! By Thursday, I did a very quick pasta for Big'Un, Papa and myself, using a Glorious! pasta sauce pot which had been on offer and stashed in the 'fridge for just such an occasion. But then I realised we had tuna pasta planned for Friday, which just made me feel a tad bored. Then I remembered we had not used the baby news I'd had planned for a different meal, and I had 3/4 of an organic cabbage in the crisper, so I decided to try something different and perhaps a little unorthodox. I boiled the baby news, and steamed the shredded cabbage above them, (ok, so far so normal). Meanwhile, I opened a couple of tins of tuna and smushed them down in a bowl with some crushed wet garlic, finely chopped organic cucumber, mayo and green tabasco. A grinding each of black pepper and sea salt and this was done.

A good dollop of this tuna concoction on a plate with the spuds and greens, the creamy dressing mingling with the simply cooked side dishes, and I was really satisfied, and that's saying something, as breastfeeding Tiny creates a HUNGER I can barely ever sate, and I don't want to fall into real diabetes by constantly snacking on sweet/richer foods between meals. Actually, I'm snacking between snacks, but we'd best not get into that now.

Another thing I've decided, as I'm receiving Healthy Start vouchers, which are not accepted by my milk man, nor by Ocado nor Abel & Cole, I shall treat myself to bags of pre-prepared veg when I can which Papa can pick up on his workdays, which will save even more time, and make sure we all eat more veg in our 5 a day, rather than snacking on fruit, which is how we've been winging it recently. I do love my Abel & Cole box, but preparing veg takes more time than I always have, so we too often go without, or have frozen or a bagged salad, and then only get the Abe & Cole when there are more people on the weekend who can help out. It may be more expensive and less healthful than organic unprepared, but it's definitely more healthful than not enough! And as the government is giving me £3 a week to help me eat more veg, it would be churlish not to!

Saturday 5 November 2011

a new daal

When I am feeling unwell, I often revert to the comfort foods of my childhood. One of these is "khichdi" which is a lentil/rice dish, which is said to be the origins of the British breakfast dish, kedgeree. Different regions in India cook this dish differently, often based upon the more commonly used lentil in the region. As my mother is Bengali and my father is Sindhi, opposite sides of the original country, the 2 types of khichdi I grew up eating are very different.

Bengali khichdi for me is yellow and quite substantial and has onions and potatoes and ginger cooked in, and is something I eat with fried egg, plenty of butter and enjoy on a wet day especially. This uses the yellow split mung daal.

Sindhi khichdi is a breakfast dish or lunch dish which we would eat with roasted poppadum, butter and home made lemon pickle. This uses the split but still husked green mung daal, the lentil which when whole is sprouted to make beansprouts as eaten in chinese cuisine. It is also much simpler and less of a meal on it's own than the yellow Bengali one.

So, a while back, I bought a pack of each lentil, but found I more tend to make the yellow khichdi, and as my usual daal dinner is made with masoor red lentils, which I know everyone likes, the bag of split green mung was sitting neglected.

Well, my mother has always told me that breastfeeding women should avoid red lentils as they are used in India to dry up a milk supply, and since I do not wish to risk my milk supply (there is a similar prohibition of sage and parsley in western cultures) I realised I had to find a new daal to cook regularly, and seeing the neglected pack, I decided to google for a recipe, and was delighted to find a Sindhi recipe! As the Sindhis are a displaced people, and I don't have a lot of knowledge of Sindhi culture, I was happy to learn this dish. My only amusing problem is I didn't at all understand one reference in the Indian recipe, which is to cook the lentils in the pressure cooker for a number of whistles, instead of for a set amount of time. I tried doing a similar time as I do for masoor, and it was perfect, but some subsequent research showed that there is a different type of pressure cooker used in India which is more affordable than the western available ones, and it uses a variable pressure regulator which whistles, as opposed to a constant pressure regulator which just hisses. Therefore, the cooking times don't translate directly, but on average it works out to about 3 minutes per "whistle" if you happen to stumble across one of these recipes.
As a bag of lentils is very cheap especially a large bag from an Indian shop, this is definitely a frugal meal, and was very delicious, and everyone was remarked upon how it tastes exactly like my dad's secret poppadom recipe, in daal form!

Saayi Daal

1 cup split green mung lentils
2 tomatoes
2 or more green chillies
1" piece of ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
for the tadka:
4 cloves of garlic
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oil

Wash and soak lentils for about half an hour. You will find some of the skins of the lentils come off, you may discard or use them as you prefer.
Put the lentils, chopped tomatoes, chopped chillies, chopped or grated ginger, salt and turmeric into a pressure cooker and add about 3 cups of water.
Bring up to pressure adn cook for 7-9 minutes. Alternatively, cook in a saucepan for 20-25 minutes.
Mash lightly if needed.

Meanwhile, heat the spoonful of oil in a small pan, add crushed garlic, curry leaves and cumin seeds - in that order. Let the cumin brown, then immediately pour into pan of daal.

Cook for a further 5 mins in pressure cooker or simmer for 15 more mins in pan to allow the flavours to mingle.

Serve with boiled rice.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Mini meatballs & halogen oven love

In Sainsbury's one day this summer, the promotion was tied into a recipe in their Everyday Easy booklet, and there were little meatballs on cocktail sticks made by mixing mince with a premade tagine sauce. The demonstrator was cooking these in an halogen oven, and I was really impressed with the gadget, even more so than with the meatballs, and they really were yummy.

Recently I saw an amazing offer on one of the halogen ovens most highly regarded by reviews, and so I decided to give it a go.

I can't say I'm sorry! I've used it a few times each week since I got it, and it means I can keep an eye on all 3 kids while I cook if I use it in the sitting room, or if I set it up in the kitchen, it cooks very quickly so I don't have to leave the kids for as long as if I'd used a different way of cooking.
Also, it gives a very particular texture of crisp crunchiness which I've never achieved in other methods of cooking, and it's very pleasing.

We picked up a yellow-stickered Ambrosia chocolate pudding with chocolate custard which needed to be heated in an oved for 15 minutes, and using the halogen gave a really beautiful crust while leaving a decent gooey custard still.

And of course it wasn't long before I tried the meatballs, though I didn't buy any marinade paste or sauce, I just mixed up some cumin, cinnamon, garam masala, Marigold, salt and pepper, left it to marinade, then rolled it into little balls, which I stabbed with presoaked cocktail sticks, and then cooked these on the rack for about 10 minutes.
Served with pitta breads, yoghurt & salad, it was a filling and tasty meal.

I've since made banana muffins, cheese muffins, potato wedges, sausages, toast, sweet potato chips and roasted root veg & roast new potatoes in it... All utterly delicious and definitely better than done with other methods.

Friday 21 October 2011

Fruit Cobbler

I've recently really got into twitter, and I love following other foodies, and then I add their blogs to my gReader on my HTC 'phone to peruse when feeding the baby, or whenever I have time.
A blog I found recently is which is really enjoyable and fun to read, and most notably has recipes I would actually try and amazingly, I can even remember where I saw that recipe that sounded interesting for once!

A few days ago I saw a really simple recipe for a kind of baked pudding they refer to as a cobbler. Now I've always thought of a cobbler as a dish with a sort of scone topping, and this is a kind of batter that becomes like a sort of dough or clafoutis, but it definitely works, and is really tasty.

However, due to other forgetfulness of mine, I decided to tweak it, and I changed it to half buttermilk and half milk in the batter, simply because I bought a big litre carton of buttermilk, because I saw one for the first time, not just a silly tiny pot of the cultured stuff, and at the time I had it in my head that I'd seen a really interesting sounding cake recipe or similar that needed 500ml of buttermilk and I had bookmarked it on my 'phone idly, while at the same time acknowledging to myself that I might never make this because one can't always find buttermilk, let alone in larger quantities.

Of course in the interim I accidentally cleared the data on my 'phone Internet browser, and have no idea what that recipe was now anyway! Typical me, I really do read too many recipes!

Anyway, so what I made today was as follows:

I buttered my pyrex 4 person dish.
I tipped in 2 mugsful (small mugs, more like a cupsize) of a mix of frozen raspberries and frozen blueberries because that is what I happened to have to hand, but any frozen, canned or fresh fruit would work.
I then used the same mug/cup to measure 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and half a cup of milk and half a cup of buttermilk into a bowl. I then added a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder and mixed these all up, not worrying about a few lumps, and poured the batter over the fruit.

This was then baked at 180 degrees for 40 minutes, and served with some cream. We had the squirty fresh variety today much to the kids' amusement!

Very satisfying. And the first day in ages I haven't wanted to snack again later in the evening.

"something chicken with rice"

Probably my favourite meal is generally going to be something with rice, probably with chicken, maybe a spicey or a creamy sauce and some greens to go with it all.

So with Papa's supermarket heavily promoting a half price chicken breast pack offer to celebrate their new more freedom food friendly ethos, we decided to treat outselves for once. I never buy breast as it can become dry and is normally too expensive, but it's what the kids and the ex love and it is admittedly easy to work with.

This time I fried up a chopped onion with a few chopped garlic cloves and then when soft and fragrant, I added a teaspoon of cumin, and one of cinnamon. Then I fried the cubed up chicken pieces in this and sprinkled on some Marigold and poured in a little QuickCup water once the pieces were browned and coated in the spices.

It was then bubbled on the hob til cooked through. Really simple and tasty served with rice and a big pointy cabbage shredded up and steamed and buttered.

Monday 17 October 2011

Suriname food at Big Green Bookshop monthly local market

The fabulous Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green has been hosting a monthly mini local market for a few months, and we've planned to visit even though it is on a Sunday morning, and we are normally at Mass.
However, we decided to skip Mass a week (shock horror) and pop down and support this super community effort.
Egged on by some lovely tweeting from the shop's co-owner, we arrived to be greeted by a woman carrying samples of cookies & cakes. We decided these were delicious and worth coming back to after lunch. The delicate spicy sweet tangy scents from the next stall heralded the exciting Foxy Suriname cuisine - a choice of salt cod, chicken or Pom & chicken in a baguette with pickled cucumber. Pom is a root veg unique to Suriname, pounded into a kind of mash. The photo shows the stall with the lovely cook.
There were also cakes, cookies, bread, eggs, jams, quince preserves, local honey, knitted novelties and cross stitched gifts on sale.
Oh, and books. It was a lovely morning, the Pom baguette filled me up even with my breastfeeding hunger, the people were lovely, and the kids even remained happy. If only it were on til later in the day, I'd be sure to go every month.

Monday 10 October 2011

spinach pulao with spicy scrambles

On a damp Saturday afternoon, I fancied something a bit different from the usual toast and ham and cheese lunches, so I thought I'd see what I could rustle up from the fridge and store-cupboard. Littl'Un still wanted the comfort and familiarity of toast, having just had her first 2 weeks of hot school dinners, but Big'Un jumped at the chance to eat rice. Just like her mother. GodPapa was torn between home made bread and rice, but plumped for the rice because apparently I "do good things with rice." Lol.

So I fried some frozen onion, some sliced garlic, some mustard & cumin seeds, little dried red chillies to taste, and a pinch of my garam masala in some butter, and then coated 2 cupsful of basmati rice in this, added a teaspoonful of Marigold, and then roughly 2 1/2 - 3 cups of water (I use the finger-joint method of measuring the water for absorption method rice cooking - the water should come up to the first joint of your finger if you touch the tip of your finger to the top of the rice gently.) As I turned the heat up, I chucked in 4 little blocks of frozen spinach, and clamped the lid on.

I brought it to the boil and then turned it pretty low, and left it simmering and puffing for 15 minutes. As with my comfort keema pulao, once the 15 mins timer went off, I switched off the heat, but left the pan alone for a further 5 minutes.

Once that timer was done, I then added a little salt.

During the 15 minutes, I washed up, and also made my spicy scrambles.
Now, I have a different method for scrambles that my ex-hub adores and is apparently not how anyone else makes them.

If I'm making bacon, then I make that first and then use the bacon grease to make the scrambled eggs, but otherwise I just melt a little dop of butter in a frying pan til it foams. I then crack the egg straight into the pan as though I were about to fry it sunny side up. Then I crack another in, and then I take a silicon spatula and I just stir it all about and mix it up.

At this point in this recipe, I ground on some sea salt, and sprinkled on some of my garam masala. I then mixed this all in evenly, switched off the heat and as I'd timed it well, I slid the scrambles onto the top of the well mixed pulao.

A very filling and satisfying meal.*

*Except that something about it (probably the egg) upset Baby's tummy via breastfeeding. :(

Wednesday 5 October 2011

GBBO fix

Was watching the v exciting final of the Great British Bake Off, and realised I had once again made the mistake of forgetting to get some cake or pastry in to enjoy whilst watching. So I was delighted to find a pack of Bonne Maman Galettes in the cupboard.
I smeared them with lemon curd and then dolloped a little thickened organic double cream (the bits round the edges and lid of the pot) on top and enjoyed. V quick and hit the right spot with minimum effort.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Cave girl lamb chops

Sainsbury's had a 3 for £10 meat deal and I bought a rump steak, and big pack of beef mince and a pack of lamb chops to pay forward on a week when I wasn't actually using a lot of meat in my menu plan anyway, and had space in my freezer.
I find if I alternate like that, I spend less money, and I cook half the week from stocks in the fridge or freezer, and half the week with fresh ingredients - be they veg or fresh meat or non-veg alternatives to meat. Obviously we have staples meals too - daals, beans, pastas, rice meals, which need minimal fresh things added to pep them up.

So yesterday I decided to use the lamb chops to do something different for the girls, because the one pots and pastas and so on can get repetitive.

In the afternoon, I marinaded the chops in the juice of a lemon, a defrosted stick of minced garlic and some rosemary from the garden, plus salt and pepper.

Later I diced up 3 largeish squds and microwaved them for 5 minutes in my microwave "pressure cooker" while heating up my saute pan with some dripping. Yes dripping. Once the microwave beeped, I drained the dice and tipped them gingerly into the hot dripping, no, I didn't add ginger!
Spread them out and gave them a chance to sizzle before stirring them gently around to coat all over. I then seasoned the pan and lidded it and left it to cook on a slightly lower flame.

Now I lined my grill pan with foil and preheated it, then placed my lamb chops under the grill on a nice high flame, with the garlic and rosemary still on top.

Once the potatoes were done, about 10 mins, I could tip them into a bowl and then gently place the lamb chops onto the hot fat. This way the top and bottom of the chop get nice and crispy without the garlic burning and going bitter, or getting smeared away.

I also grabbed some tenderstem brocolli and steamed that, and these elements were a very well received supper!
The girls llike most of the meat chopped into pieces off the bone, mainly to help cool it down, but also cos Big'Un still has chewing issues. Littl'Un LOVES gnawing a bone, and this time, we managed to show Big'Un how to do this effectively and she really enjoyed herself!
Will definitely do this again, with MORE chops, as I had to stop Littl'Un from dispatching the last chop which was for Papa when he came in a few minutes later...

The sautes and tenderstem were equally well received, incidentally...

Friday 12 August 2011

crunchy cauliflower salad

Last week Papa and I had an appointment with the consultant, and as it's the holidays, we had to take the kids with us. They were amazingly behaved despite the nearly 2 hour wait because some consultants were on holiday, and others were on call.
So by the time my 10am appointment was over, it was time for lunch, I hadn't had a snack, and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Harvester.
We love the salad bar there, and never bother with a starter, and the kids are being really understanding about my inability to have puddings, so we knew we wouldn't have to spend a lot of money on the meal.
One thing I love about the salad bar is that they have seasonal and interesting veg or pasta salads as well as the usual single ingredients. This time they had a rather interesting finely sliced cauliflower creamy salad with peas and soya beans. I really enjoyed this, and as I'm missing fruit a lot, and don't really love cooked veg with a passion, I thought it might be something I could recreate.
So after the kids had been out to a Godmama's for afternoon tea, I whipped up my speedy comfort keema pulao, and while it cooked, I got out my Boerner "v" slicer, and sliced up 2 mini cauliflower into paper-thin tree sillhouette shapes. I then added half a small bag of edamame from Ocado (they do 3 for 2 on these small bags, and I usually get the soya beans/edamame, baby sweet corn and the snugar shap peas) and Littl'Un helped me add and mix salt, pepper, mayo and lemon juice. I considered adding some freshly podded peas, but it seemed a bit of a sacrilege...
She loved making it, and she loved eating it, having 3 helpings after her rice!
Result! Obviously, Big'Un was the other way round. Oh and incidentally, just to ring the changes, I made the comfort pulao with sweetcorn, not peas...

beautiful stripey Abel and Cole beetroot

Thursday 11 August 2011


well, Morrison's don't sell paneer, and someone had bought up all the stock in Asda, so I got a pint of organic whole milk, and I made paneer. I was surprised to remember how easy and quick it is, but I had forgotten how little is made from a pint.
I do love the whey tho, the liquid that is strained off the solid cheese curd, and recall a sort of barley water flavour from my childhood, and so there wasn't really any wastage.
The milk is brought to the boil and as it starts bubbling, a tablespoon of yoghurt or lemon juice is stirred in and then you watch the magic as the milk separates.
I then lined a small strainer with a clean baby muslin and poured the contents of the pan gently through. I caught the whey in a bowl, and bundled up and pressed the excess muslin against the curds.
Half an hour later I had a lovely soft crumbly block of fresh paneer.
This I put into my curry at the last minute, crumbled up.
The curry was a very simple potato, onion, turmeric, sweetcorn, cumin thing; dryish and fragrant. I served the dish with bought chapattis and some pickles and poppadoms.

Saturday 30 July 2011

some catching up and a sudden change in diet!

Well it's been a little while since I blogged! Tiredness & increasing loss of lapspace have meant I've been less inclined to use the laptop for very long at a time...
Also, meals have been simpler, less experimental, and much more based on time available than anything else.
Back in June, my sweet Mum treated me to a ticket to go and see the fantabulous Hardeep Singh Kohli at a local arts centre. It was an hilarious and inspiring evening, and I was extra delighted that he recognised me from Twitter, and joked that "the pressure's on, this woman can really* cook!" :)
I read his book in about 3 days, devouring the details and revelling in the familiar emotions he expresses in his quest, and felt very hungry while doing so!
A few days after the show, I attempted to recreate the meal he'd cooked during his show, especially his mum's amazing mint & apple chutney. If you want to know how to make it, pester him on Twitter til he tells you, tho I will see if he doesn't mind if I write the "recipe" up at some point... He's the friendliest and sweetest of blokes, and I feel he would be quite happy to share, and to be honest, it's a simple accompaniment that deserves to be shared round!
It was a complete hit with all the family, especially the hint to use star anise with the mince.
Another meal that was a huge hit was my mini toads in the hole. My adapted yorkshire pudn batter poured around little balls of good quality sausagemeat browned first in dripping in the holes of a muffin pan.
Another day I did a very successful meatloaf, Littl'Un had thirds... I served with with some potato wedges, brocolli, and a creamy Ikea style gravy. The best part was using a silicon loaf pan to cook the meatloaf in. SO easy to clean!
Then suddenly, about a month ago, everything changed. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and had to take the decision to utterly overhaul my diet.
My parents and brother are all diabetic (type 2) so I wasn't entirely surprised to be diagnosed, though I was annoyed that it was about 10 days after the test that a midwife casually mentioned the diagnosis to me. At least I have plenty of experience of the ideal diabetic diet, and my interest in nutrition was a great support, but it was yet another week before I was able to see a diabetic specialist midwife, and obtain a glucometer, and then ANOTHER 10 days before my diet and sugar levels were assessed and I was then put on Metformin.
The basic diabetic diet is not really at all hard, but there are slightly more restrictions in pregnancy as any and every sugar surge can affect the baby.
I basically avoid all added sugar completely, and eat limited amounts of fresh fruit spread evenly through the day. I avoid refined carbohydrates as they also break down into very simple sugars, and the carbs I do have are around a third of the meal. I'm careful to aim for low GI foods, and to have regular healthy snacks between meals.
I have lean proteins, lots of veg and salad, pasta, wholemeal breads, basmati or brown rice, nuts and lentils. I don't have to be as restrictive about fats as a non-pregnant type 2 diabetic, as the baby is laying down fat in these last few weeks.
The problem is that the kids adore their fruit, especially in the summer, and also a high fibre, low fat diet is utterly unsuitable for small kids, as the fibre will fill them up too much and could cause bowel issues. Kids need plenty of energy to grow and develop, and enough protein and carbs to get that energy. Then again refined white shop bought bread isn't really a "good" food for anyone!
In most cases I've been able to find meals that suit everyone, possibly my best recent meal was a home made pizza, where I made the dough for the base by hand, with half wholemeal and half white bread flours.
Littl'Un just loved the texture and nutty flavour both on the first day and cold the next day, and I suppose it helped that I chopped up the toppings and let the kids each make their own pizza.
Papa has also been trying his hand in the kitchen, and I've loved the Gill Holcombe books for those meals, as well as copies of easy cook magazine, for some simple, imaginative, cheap and confidence-boosting recipes for the novice cook.
My spaghetti "lentilese" was resurrected and went down well, and was very quick and easy, and of course cheap! And the supermarkets have been selling special offers for Ramadan, so red lentils and other Indian basics have been cheap and I've stocked up where I can!
I also bought a copy of Hungry, after browsing through a copy for far too long in Sainsbury's. I have used it a bit, but it's quite fruit heavy, so I shall hold off for a little longer. It's a fab read, and great fun though and I do recommend it very highly to anyone with kids, or without! Some really super ideas and recipes and 85% of the recipes incorporate a couple of your 5 a day fruit/veg.
However, the prize for the best recent meal has to go to Littl'Un (helped a little by Godpapa) who made falafel for supper yesterday, with a tzatziki sauce, and which was served with some gorgeous roasted heritage beetroots (which sadly sent my blood sugar levels a bit higher than usual!)
The recipe for the falafel was from a children's cook book which I've used for years, and would recommend wholeheartedly.
I must add, since cutting sugar out of my diet, I do feel FAR more healthy and energetic. I feel less bloated and less sluggish, and my skin has cleared up, and I find sweet things taste too sweet, and I don't really mind not having sweet food. I have a little sugar free drink from Sainsbury's most days, because they use sucralose, which is the only artificial sweetener I feel safe using, and even those, I'm not that bothered with. I do have a little fruit, and my previous late evening puddn hit is easily sated with a glass of milk and a few almonds. I made a couple of 2 person rice puddns, which uses 2 tbs sugar in the whole dish, which is pretty low, and using a little cinnamon meant I didn't feel any need to add jam, but Papa was able to if he wanted to.
I found sucralose jelly and sucralose instant custard, but they both taste WAY sweet to be honest.
I'm pretty sure I'll stick mostly to this new improved diet, even after baby is born, because it's so much better anyway, and because I'm a bit of a ticking time bomb in any case! And it's not hard, and I have quite honestly experienced so many health benefits anyway. I will be more than happy to give up "punctuating" my fingers to test my sugar levels 4 times a day though!
So watch this space!
*Hardeep used a different word than "really", but I don't publish words like that... :oP

Wednesday 1 June 2011

a few foodie successes from the past fortnight

The day before Big'Un was due to go off on her first school trip away, we made Calzone for dinner, with left over ragu sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the usual pizza dough done in the bread machine. Big'Un loved it so much she asked to save one for her packed lunch on the way to the activity centre. I was part proud mama, part embarrassed at how middle class mama!
Anyway, it meant I didn't have to make a sarnie, so I didn't mind that much!

Littl'Un was looking forward to a few unusual meals with her big sis away, so we had a prawn rich paella, thanks to Nigella, and mussels another evening, where she shared a kilo with myself and Papa, and we definitely got the less generous part of the deal!

Gammon steaks fried up with roast potatoes and greens were delicious, and a very simple tofu noodle stir fry was a huge hit, probably more for the fun kiddie chop-sticks Littl'Un uses for these type of dishes...

Godmama gave us a lovely Waitrose recipe for a creamy chicken dish that we revisited along with a spinach and sweetcorn dish my mother often makes and some buttery pilau rice.
To make the spinach dish:
fry slices of garlic in a pan with a little oil. When soft, add a spoon of ground cumin and a spoon of ground coriander, or garam masala if you prefer. Some tiny dried red chillies would be nice here if you are so inclined.
When the spices are fragrant, chuck in a few lumps of frozen spinach, and a handful of either frozen or canned sweetcorn. Dribble on a little hot water, cover and simmer until the spinach is cooked. Season with black pepper and salt if necessary.

Another day out in half term and we needed a quick supper, so I quickly chopped up the left over gammon steaks, and roast potatoes, and fried them with some onion in some butter. When it was cooked thoroughly, I squirted on ketchup and brown sauce, yes really, and mixed it all up.
Delish with a quickly thrown together salad.

Finally, we had the gorgeous brainiac nephew over for supper before his return to the Far East. I'd asked him what kinda meal he wanted, and Big'Un was delighted when he asked for sausages and yorkshire pudding with gravy!
I was less delighted, as recently my yorkshires have NOT been working properly. Time for drastic action.
I altered the recipes I've used in the past. I used 6oz flour (with a pinch of salt) with 2 eggs and 7fl oz milk. Heated my muffin tin with dripping, and then divided the batter between the 12 recesses.
Oven at 220 deg, 20 mins later, OH WOW, best yorkshires EVER! Finally!

I suppose I should make a little mention of the egg mayo that Littl'Un helped me make to go with jacket potatoes, snipping the cress and cracking the eggs and seasoning the final dish. She now loves the filling, which is handy as she's stopped eating baked beans at all, which is the other standby on jacket spud days. But as I'm not a fan of the musical fruit either, and I DO love an egg mayo, I'm happy! :)

Monday 16 May 2011

baked bean pie

ok, I needed cheap, nutritious and quick and easy. I also seemed to have 4 tins of basics baked beans taking up space on my flarder. Also a lot of Abel and Cole bags of spuds in the dark box I store them in.

So I grabbed a bag, scrubbed the squds, and sliced them into discs about half a centimetre thick. Then I cooked them in the microwave for 7 or 8 minutes. Once cooked, I tipped them into a pyrex baking dish, and spread in a thick layer. Then I seasoned them with salt and pepper and poured over a slosh of organic single cream.
Leaving that to soak in, I opened a tin of the aforementioned beans and tipped it over the squds, and spread them over. This was all then liberally covered in grated organic medium cheddar.

This was then baked in a moderate oven til the cheese was melted and crispy at the edges.

I served this up with torn up organic iceberg lettuce which the kids LOVED! Papa was not convinced by the idea of the meal when I described it, but admitted at table that it was much yummier than he imagined, and he did end up having 3rd helpings.
All in all a very successful and frugal put together!

Friday 13 May 2011

next week then

Sat: oriental beef with dumplings, stir fried chard and rice.
Sun: hopefully we will go out for the day with a picnic, and come home to throw some peanutty noodles together for supper.
Mon: sliced squds baked with cheese and baked beans and some spice.
Tues: home made ham and chicken creamy pasta bake
Weds: oven baked bacon & cherry tomato risotto + salad.
Thurs: spicy sausagemeat patties in pitta bread with lettuce & crunchy veg.
Fri: haddock chowder.

I shopped with Ocado this week, and even with the wonderfully easy to use Ocado on the go Android app helping me add those things i'd forgotten, the shop still only came to just over £50. I decided to go for the reduced priced Delivery Pass and aim to shop online twice a month.
Watch this space to see how it goes and feel free to apply for any recipes from these weeks that might tickle your fancy.!

3 good frugal weeks

I've had a good run of luck and planning with my menus, but not with my computer, so haven't had the ability or time to blog them. So, as a catch up, first here are the last 2 weeks' plans followed by the upcoming week's plan.

Sat: chilli con carne, rice, sour cream and salad
Sun: blackened chicken in wraps and shredded veg.
Mon: veggie pizzas (chopped veg & let kids make these)
Tues: sausages, (basics instant)mash & broccoli
Wed: jacket squds with home made egg mayo (using boiled eggs from orthodox easter gifts and cress from sunday school easter gardens)
Thurs: home made rolls with ham and rest of egg mayo and crudites.
Fri: tuna pasta and veg

This was a week where both kids ate all food put before them and asked for more, and the shopping bill was under £30!

The following week was really pretty good too:

Sat: bacon pasta with peas & corn and fried cubes of bread (had less pasta than I thought and an extra person to feed, so I improvised) Papa also brought some spicyish prawns to oven cook and I had grabbed some cheap doughballs to add some fun.
Sun: jerk chicken, coconut rice & plantain (Godpapa cooked this for us, really yum!)
Mon: mac and cheese with sweetcorn and peas
Tues: homemade meatballs with pulao rice. Ikea style cream sauce and spinach. Littl'Un had double helpings of this, and ate more than I did!
Wed: spaghetti lentilese
Thurs: baked beans on cheese on toast
Fri: homemade smoked mackerel & cream cheese pate on home made rye bread, asparagus
The kids didn't really love the mackerel, but otherwise the week was very successful and shopping cost about £60.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

My antidote to aubergine-phobia

Ah, spring is sprung and the Abel & Cole boxes have completely changed character. We got our first aubergine of the year and the obligatory clutch of courgettes this week. They make Papa's heart sink, but this early in the year, they constitute a challenge to me! I decided I'd do something curry-ish with the aubergine, but then started to worry that the kids wouldn't eat it, but I countered that by deciding it would be a naan bread meal, and that might swing the balance, and if not, then naan bread and yoghurt is kind of nutritious... Well, Littl'Un asked for seconds, and even Big'Un ate all her portion up. They both loved mopping this up with their bread, and so I have got to make a note of how I did this, as when Papa came home even he ate it and said it was bearable and edible, albeit with a hefty dollop of mango chutney alongside! Ingredients: 1 (small) aubergine 1 smallish onion (red in this case) 1 medium to large potato 2 or 3 tomatoes a teaspoon of "panch phoron" - Bengali 5 spice a teaspoon of ground cumin a tablespoon or 2 of yoghurt salt to taste. some oil Heat the oil in a saucepan and cube up the aubergine. Fry the cubes off on a medium high heat, until browning at edges. Add the spices and stir to mix well. Finely chop the onion and add, and mix, on a slightly lower heat. Now cube up and add the potato. When the onion is soft, (about 3 - 5 minutes) roughly chop the tomatoes and add those too. Cover, lower the heat, and allow to stew down. After 10 or 15 mins, remove the lid, and let some of the liquid boil off. Add salt to taste after this point. Just before it is done, stir through the yoghurt. If you prefer your potatoes not mushy, then use a handful of small waxy potatoes instead. This is very flavourful and unctuous and the hot fresh naan will be glorious to mop up the gravy and melty aubergine, be prepared for this, and make extra naan dough!

Thursday 10 March 2011

picnic yellow potatoes with mustard seeds

When I was little, whenever my family was driving a long way, we packed a picnic to eat in the car, en route. Our picnics were not like the picnics in the picture books I loved from the library; we had no checked cloth, no wicker basket, no jam sandwiches 0r fizzy pop.
We had boiled eggs and boiled potatoes with little sachets of salt and pepper. We had "loli", a Sindhi flatbread made with dried pomegranate seeds, chillies, chopped onions and coriander leaves. We also had puris (deep fried wholewheat flat breads) with cooled yellow potatoes fried with turmeric and mustard seeds. We would lay a puri on one hand, and spoon a few potatoes onto the centre, then roll it up, and devour. This has always been one of my favourite foods, I would ask for "puri and potato with the little black things" but obviously, I needed to be able to feed this to my kids, and to be able to make this for myself too. So a few months ago I perfected the puris, but I still had to get the potatoes right.
I sat down with an Aunty, and asked her to tell me how she made it, because hers are the closest to the way my grandmother made them. My mother makes them, but they're not quite right.
As my aunty described her method, I scribbled down what she was saying, and I've tried it out a few times since then. Her instructions are not like recipes in books, with precise amounts, or exact timings, so they are harder to follow to get the taste just right...
A few days ago, I was making dry chickpea curry and naan bread anyway, so decided to experiment with this potato dish again, and by Jove, I got it right!
So, here is the process, hopefully slightly less imprecise, because obviously most of you have no idea what flavour you are aiming for, but I urge you to try it, it's SO simple, and SO delicious, and you are bound to find a version you like.
A quick tip: I used limes, not lemons, because Indian lemons are much more like our limes, but if you can actually get Indian lemons, smaller than limes but yellow, and with quite thin skins, then use those. Or just squirt the juice out of a bottle or a plastic lemon shaped receptacle, obviously!

Picnic aloo.

Peel, wash and dry 2 or 3 medium potatoes. Chop them into 1cm dice.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small lidded pan.
Add a teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they start popping, (this releases their fragrance and flavour) add the potato and fry on a medium flame for 2-3 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt, and half to 1 teaspoon of turmeric.
Cover and lower the flame and cook for about 10 minutes. If they are not fully cooked, add a teaspoon of water, stir, and cook for another few minutes.
When cooked through, add 1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice , and stir.

Serve with puris ideally.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Tom Yum soup

- Sent from my HTC on 3 -

Tom Yum soup from Lemon Piri Piri Mussels

A couple of weeks ago, Papa brought home a bag of mussels. I love fresh mussels, and my appetite had been whetted in Cafe Rouge when someone else had some and I'd pinched one. I had never cooked them myself before, tho we've had them at home, but cooked by GodPapa. I found I was a tiny bit squeamish about cleaning them, but Papa was fine, tho I did realise this is the fiddly bit and I'm sure it took as long to prep them as it took to EAT them!
Anyway, Papa prepped them, and I fried onions, fennel seeds, and added a few tablespoons of a Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Lemon Piri Piri sauce we'd had in the cupboard for ages (probably since barbeque season.) Then I poured in some coconut milk and got it simmering. I seasoned the stock with some soy & fish sauces and a teaspoon of brown sugar.

Now we put the mussels into the pan and stirred the whole thing, covered it, and let it steam for 4 minutes.

After that time they were all open and looking glorious.

It was a Brownies night, so the kids had theoretically already eaten, but Littl'Un came nosily up to table, spotted the bivalves and got herself a plate...:D

They were spicy, lemony, full of flavour and VERY yummy! The actual mussels were WAY nicer than the ones in Cafe Rouge, which had been a tiny bit too fishy tasting for me, without that sweetness. These were perfectly cooked and really fresh and juicy. Littl'Un left us some, and Papa mopped up the gravy in his bowl with bread. I was kinda wishing for rice, as the effect was far more Far East than Portugese!

At the end of the meal, Littl'Un chose a few shells that we washed and she loves playing with them, tho the cat seems to find them very interesting too...

I then asked around and googled and found I could save the cooking liquor, so we froze that in a stock bag.

So this week, I bought some lovely raw prawns, and decided to capitalise on the flavour of the broth and try to bring it to a sort of tom yum soup.

So this time some snipped up spring onions and a stick of lemon grass I had in the freezer, and then once the flavours were released of those, the stock went in.
Pausing to taste, I found it had a real stab of heat, but the flavours needed building, so I added water and started compiling the flavours.
I added fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and finally a shot of lime juice. There, I had it - zing: hot, sweet, sour! Perfect. So in went some mange tout, some snapped baby corn, pak choi stems, and then the prawns (deveined, which is a VERY annoying task) and a leaf of rice noodles, and then the pak choi leaves on top. Then I covered the pan and switched off the heat after 2 minutes. I wanted to put in some oriental mushrooms but couldn't get any I liked at the time.
I put out a bowl of coriander leaves to garnish and I have to say the bowl of soup looked and tasted really authentic. We used to go to a lovely place in Golders Green called Tiger Under the Table, and I remember their laksa and tom tum soups so well, and this was midway between both, so I was happy.
Just a shame I won't really be able to replicate the meals!!!

Monday 7 February 2011

making room for mushroom!

We had 3 gorgeous portobello mushrooms in our organic box delivery, and I was really pleased to see them. One of my favourite lunches is a nice soft brown roll filled with a butter-fried large mushroom, with maybe a rasher of bacon and some melted cheese perhaps. So, I used 2 of the 3 like this, giving one to GodPapa on a weekend lunchtime.
However, I wanted to try something different with the other one, especially as Papa and both girls are suspicious of cooked mushrooms, but mushrooms are so versatile and delicious, and I'd love them to learn to enjoy them.
Sainsbury's is doing a series of recipe sets which are 5 meals costing under £20 altogether, and they are pretty interesting and different and mostly pretty simple too, so I decided to try a few, though I knew some wouldn't really work for us. One was a recipe for a pizza, using bought bases, and salami and mushrooms as the topping with simple tinned tomato puree as the tomato base, so I thought it'd make a variation on the pizzas we usually make with a breadmachine dough and a sauce made from scratch. So I sliced up the mushroom and just presented it as the topping on offer, along with the lovely thin salami we use from the Sainsbury's Basics range, and the ready grated mozzarella which the kids find easier to use, and works out as better value anyway.
Well, the girls loved arranging their toppings on their pizzas, and ate the pizzas with delight, and Littl'Un even loved the leftovers cold the next day for her lunch after nursery!
I never would have imagined it would be that easy!

Thursday 20 January 2011

paneer pakora

well, I had some gorgeous leeks in the box and I really wanted to melt them down with butter sloooooowly as my grandmother used to, and I had a little yoghurt which I fancied using to make naan breads, so I thought, why not do something with some paneer?
And lo and behold the paneer box had a recipe for a yummy looking paneer pakora on it, so I thought I'd try that.
However, the pakora recipe was very bland, and just a pancake type batter, which ISN'T pakora, so I improvised and devised my own.

I mixed gram flour, garam masala (my homemade blend), sesame seeds, cumin and salt in a dish, trickled in some water to bind, and stirred in a teaspoon of oil.

Then I cut up my paneer block into strips, cubes and chunks and then I first fried a few small cubes plain, and then I coated the rest in the batter and fried them in batchs in my karahi of oil. I find a karahi uses much less oil and heats up more quickly.

When they were done I removed them with a slotted spoon and drained them on absorbent kitchen paper, and they were really delicious and very more-ish!
This would definitely work with tofu for vegans.

Thursday 13 January 2011

creamy cumin chicken

My wonderful "godmother" MamaC shared a delicious sounding Waitrose recipe which she had loved, and I thought it'd be nice to try a recommended recipe. And it seemed straightforward enough. And I like ringing the changes regularly. And I start too many sentences with "and". So anyway, I dutifully bought the chicken as listed in the ingredients - and forgot to check what else was needed. When today rolled round, I looked at the rest of the stuff needed, and realised I don't much like smoked paprika, the kids don't eat mushrooms really, nor does Papa (even though his shift means he doesn't eat with us on Thursdays, he loves a little leftovers for his lunch) so I decided to switch a bit around and improvise.

So here's what happened:

OK, so first off, I started the rice to soak up the delicious sauce. I made my simple "party rice" - pulao rice cooked on hob - chopped onion fried in butter, little whole cumin, some frozen peas, cup of rice, teaspoon of sesame seeds (optional), teaspoon of Marigold, cup and half of hot water, (Quick Cup, yes) bring to boil, turn down low, simmer for 15 mins, switch off, DO NOT UNCOVER - re-set timer for another 5mins, then uncover and add a little salt if desired.

Inbetween times, I browned a pack of chicken mini fillets in a saute pan in some oil. Once they were nicely browned on all sides, I took them out to drain on kitchen paper and added a chopped onion and a crushed garlic clove and cooked that for 3 minutes til soft. I then added 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and a shake of coarsely ground black pepper(the recipe called for the smoked paprika here if you're interested), and once those were mixed in and coated, a teaspoon of sundried tomato paste (and I'm glad I did have that, as it does make a difference from ordinary tomato paste) and finally about 250ml chicken stock. Depending on the stock, you may want to add some seasoning now.
Now I returned the chicken to the pan, covered the pan and simmered for 15 minutes until the chicken was tender and cooked through.
Now the recipe asks for a pack of halved chestnut mushrooms, so I tipped in the rest of a tetra of cannelini beans instead, (had used some earlier in the week in a pasta sauce) and simmered the whole she-bang for another five minutes.
After this I switched off the heat and stirred in half a tub of organic creme fraiche I had instead of the 170ml carton of soured cream the recipe lists. (I had yoghurt on standby if it wasn't creamy enough, but it was gloriously creamy) and finally I sprinkled on a handful of fresh parsley.

Oh, the sauce was sour and creamy and unctuous and wonderful mixed with the lightly scented vaguely nutty perfectly separate-grained rice, and the chicken had absorbed so much flavour and was juicy and succulent, and most importantly, the kids LOVED it, and Littl'Un has a cold and hasn't much of an appetite, and yet she ate almost all of it.

Definitely yum, definitely one to do again! In the summer, I might add a really simple salad of leaves and a lemon dressing to mop up even more of that amazing sauce.
Thanks MamaC, we love the recipe - we'll call it our inspiration!

Thursday 6 January 2011

new year, new stuff

well, it's been a crazy Christmas and New Year, we planned less as we had so many leftovers.
I knew we'd have chicken as we do every year on Christmas Day, (I hate turkey, so we get organic, free range and spend money on the accompaniments) and Littl'Un did her Stone Age act with the chicken on the bone, and Big'Un went to town with her fave, the brussels.
Left over chicken got folded into a pasta dish with left over veg and similarly, the gammon we had on New Year's Eve is still going.
Ah, the gammon, now that was fun! I desperately wanted to try the cooking gammon in cola trick that was brought to my attention by Nigella, but is apparently common in parts of the US. But with my caffeine sensitive kiddies, I couldn't risk it without taking advice.
Well the consensus was that cooking doesn't "kill" caffeine, as it does alcohol, and I couldn't go for caffeine free coca-cola (tm) because that doesn't use sugar and the sugar is an important part of the process. Not to mention I won't even allow sweeteners in the house, let alone into my beloveds precious little bodies! Then a helpful Facebook friend reminded me that Whole Earth cola is sans caffeine, so then I scoured the shops for the magic stuff! Asda used to sell it, and I thought I might find it in Waitrose, but no, I finally tracked it down in the little health shop in Southgate where I used to go regularly when I lived 10 minutes away. I'm so pleased it's still hanging in there.
Well, I have to say the effort was worth it! I'd picked up a gorgeous free range smoked gammon in Sainsbury's after Christmas, half price, and Godpapa found the right recipe to follow, and we found it luscious and juicy and really really tasty.
Big'Un had 2 or 3 big slices, and Littl'Un has been chomping some most days since.
We had our usual picky party food for the New Years "party" - including the much advertised - and extremely overpriced - sweet sandwiches from M&S, but the true star was Godpapa's cola gammon.

We've barely had to cook since then, we've had gammon and spaghetti with garlic and sweetcorn today, and sandwiches, and ham & cheese salad plates. Definitely worth the money, even if we'd paid full price.
I will be doing that again!