I’m cooking in my sister’s kitchen, for her and her husband.
I’m making patatas bravas with a salsa caliente. With it, we’re having side salad, stuffed picante peppers my sister bought, and baked halved plum tomatoes layered with mozzarella and drizzled with pesto. It’s a picky tapas/antipasti/meze meal, my favourite kind. I love Mediterranean food. I get so happy making Medi food. I occasionally fantasise about having a big family event to cater for, and being able to make a half-dozen kinds of mezes and tapas for everyone to pick at before they get stuck into a hearty pasta dish. (I have my menu planned out, ready for that day to come!) Tonight I limit myself to a handful of things.
It’s been so long since I cooked for others that I’m surprised they enjoy it. I’d begun to forget the pleasure I get from cooking for people and having them enjoy my food. I also don’t have all my usual utensils and ingredients to hand. I don’t have a kitchen right now. My new job necessitated me staying with my sister during the week, and going home to Mr Scrumptious on weekends. I work Monday-Saturday, and up til recently, went home on Saturday afternoons, cooked (often for the first time that week because of my antisocial hours), spent Sunday with Mr S, did my laundry for the working week, and set off again at 5.45 on Monday morning. I got sicker, mentally and physically.
For what felt like a long while, home was nowhere. I was permanently temporary. Always a guest in other people’s houses.
The plan was that we would relocate to be closer to my new job. After nearly five months, a colleague and I decided to houseshare, and are currently looking for a place together. Shortly after that was decided, Mr S and I broke up.
The personal details are, well, personal, but it’s enough to let you know I’m having a tough time at the moment.
It’s about the kitchen. My sense of well-being is so tied to cooking, eating, feeding people. My happy places are in the pool and in the kitchen. If I like you, I’ll cook for you. Being disconnected from my kitchen is being disconnected from my home. And lately, food was relegated to mere fuel. I’d been working too late to cook when I got back to my sister’s, or was too tired. I couldn’t create, only consume. It is deeply depressing to be deprived of my creative outlet, and my most productive use of my free time. It’s also bloody expensive.
However, I am making progress. I am making an effort to get home earlier and cook more. I cook every weekend. Most weekends it’s Spanish or Italian. I’m looking forward to making some Christmas foods soon, too.
I am so very very excited to soon have a place with my new housemate, and get creative again. I will keep you all posted.
Huevos estrellados is a dish that has a special place in my heart. As well as being pretty impressive when you’re able to pronounce it, it’s simple, but very tasty.
It’s special to me because I cooked it when Mr Scrumptious and I started dating. I was at his place one night and it got to be incredibly late before we started thinking of food. We must have had other things on our minds! He had next to nothing in the fridge and was just getting ready to order pizza, when I poked my head into the kitchen. I elbowed him out of the way and whipped up huevos estrellados. Happily, it turned out okay and Mr Scrumptious enjoyed it, and my company, enough to see me again. That was nearly three years ago now.
I advocate chopping your vegetables in advance so you can hurl them into the pan quickly. If you’re still fiddling about with them while things are cooking, it’s not going to be fun.
The good part is, almost all the ingredients are optional, so don’t panic if you don’t have exactly what’s called for here.
1 red onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 boiling-sized white potatoes, peeled and cut into long slices
Small slices of bell pepper (optional)
Plenty of olive oil, or the oil from your sundried tomatoes
Chilli powder, or chopped fresh mild chillies, if you prefer
Mediterranean herbs to taste (I favour plenty of oregano)
Butternut squash, diced or sliced, about a handful
Chorizo, sliced, about two handfuls
Sudried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
Briefly parboil the sliced potatoes for a few minutes. Toward the end of the parboiling, throw in the slices of butternut squash.
Throw your spices into the bottom of your frying pan and warm them slightly.
Add the oil, the onion, shallot, and garlic to the pan and fry gently for a couple of minutes.
Add the chorizo, potato, and butternut squash, and fry until the chorizo is slightly blackened. The vegetables will visibly absorb the oil. Give the potatoes and squash a few minutes, then throw in the pepper, if you’re using it. Add herbs as desired.
Crack the eggs directly on top of the vegetables and fry gently until the eggs solidify.
After a couple of minutes, use your spatula to quarter the mixture and flip over each quarter to ensure it’s cooked on top. If you can flip the whole lot without quartering, you’re superhuman.
It’s been a while, but I have some lovely food to share with you, so please forgive me.
Things have been a bit turbulent here- I’m currently dealing with some health problems. In short, my GP suspects diverticulitis and I’m having some blood tests (and later, physical exams) to confirm this. It’s painful when it flares up, and the pain makes me really tired (but also too uncomfortable to sleep properly). It also makes my tummy swell up until it’s rock-hard and two dress sizes bigger, and completely steals my appetite sometimes. The last time it was this bad, I lost a stone in about six months.
This time, however, I’ve actually gone to the doctor and he’s taking it seriously. I’ve had two courses of antibiotics, which help some people. Not me (yet), but I’m hopeful. I’m finding coping techniques and foods which I can eat when I’m feeling poorly. For pain relief, I take long, very hot baths, keep warm, drink plenty of cold water, and watch Bob Ross videos. His soft voice and beautiful landscapes make me really relaxed, and when I relax, all the muscles in my back unclench, the pain starts to dull, and I can get some decent sleep. The first time I watched one of his videos was a revelation. Mr Scrumptious put it on as I was writhing on the sofa during a painful attack. I was asleep about halfway through the one-hour special.
I’m not going to issue diet advice for diverticulitis here because I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor. And frankly, I don’t have a clue what helps and what harms for myself, so I’m not dictating to anyone else. As a general rule, we in the West don’t eat enough fibre, but before you make any radical changes to your diet, seek some medical advice. (Proper qualified medical advice, from someone who went to uni for a decade or so, not from some yoga-posing wellness blogger)
If you’re suffering, go and see your GP, but also know you’re not alone, and it’s not every day, and for most people, it’s not forever. I’m happy to hear from and respond to people who are going through it. There are also some great support groups online.
Anyway. Food. Christmas dinner was lovely, but I didn’t take pictures- I wanted to eat my Christmas dinner and spend time with Mr Scrumptious.
I’ll give you the rundown. It was just the two of us, we like a quiet Christmas. We don’t drive, so we don’t visit relatives. Trains at Christmas are terrible.
We had turkey, which I bought frozen in Lidl in October for around £8. It lived in our freezer, and then I took it out three days before Christmas to defrost in the fridge. We also had duck fat roast potatoes, home-rolled pigs in blankets, braised leeks (recipe another time), crispy roast parnsips, stuffing from Mr Scrumptious’ mum, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peas. The potatoes, parsnips and sprouts came from Mr Scrumptious’ dad’s allotment. We had tonnes of leftovers for picking, and also for turkey curry and pasta alla carbonara.
For those of you who panic about Christmas dinner, don’t. If you’ve done a roast dinner at home before, it’s the same process. If there’s only two of you, consider a chicken, especially if you’re not so good at handling tonnes of leftovers, or have a small oven. Beef and gammon are also great alternatives, and are easier to carve. There’s no need to get a turkey if you don’t want to!
For pudding, we had a ready-made Christmas pud I ordered months ago from Approved Food, my homemade Christmas cake, and my mince pie cake thing (it still needs a proper snappy name). This consists of a layer of pastry in a baking tray, a layer of mincemeat, and a thin layer of cake mixture. It’s so much easier than fiddling about cutting and crimping individual mince pies. You pelt it all in and then you can use a sharp knife or a pizza wheel to cut it once it’s done. I lightly blind-bake the pastry, but not fully. It’s okay for it to be a bit squidgy, especially if you’re using puff pastry. I cheated; I bought the mincemeat and the pastry. But we ate the mince-pie-cakes hot, so that’s fine. You have to draw the line somewhere at Christmas. There’s a lot of pressure to be that perfect person who hand-dips their candles and plucks the turkey themselves. I don’t hold with that crap. You want to have a nice dinner and day with friends, family, or your partner, not be some sleep-deprived zombie martyr!
New Year’s Eve was a lovely evening for us. We had a few friends over, the kind of friends who’re so close they’re family. I made a HUGE traditional Italian ragú bolognese with white wine, carrots, and celery as well as the usual tomatoes and minced beef. It simmered away on the stove for a good four or five hours and was beautifully mature in flavour when I plated up. I served the ragú with linguine, as I didn’t have any tagliatelle in the house. Ragú bolognese is best served with a flat pasta like tagliatelle or linguine, not spaghetti.
On the side, we had a green salad, homemade red pesto focaccia, roasted garlic, and some antipasti my friend Anna brought over.
There was plenty for five adults and a little one, and enough to have some the next day for dinner too. Leftover bolognese is just the best! Especially when it’s all been served out, and you take some fluffy homemade bread and clean the pan with it. The Italians call this scarpetta.
The next event after New Year was Mr Scrumptious’ birthday. It’s not a big one, so we didn’t go all out, but I did make one of his favourite dinners- mushroom risotto. I used to follow the Jamie Oliver recipe, but I found it’s not all that accurate when it comes to how long the rice needs to be fried for. Also, it makes heaps of risotto, which isn’t ideal for just two people, and it spills out of the pan. So I’ve adapted, and I tend to eyeball the quantities, which works out pretty well. I use:
A stick of celery, finely chopped
An large onion, diced, or two smaller ones
A glass(ish) of white or rosé wine
Just under a pint of vegetable or chicken stock, as you prefer (I use vegetable stock)
A couple of shallots, if I have them
4-7 cloves of garlic, depending on my mood, crushed.
A punnet of mushrooms
Arborio rice, about 150g. Ish. More or less.
Plenty of olive oil
Tip the diced onion and celery into a pan and fry in olive oil over a medium heat, until starting to clarify.
Add the arborio rice and fry for several minutes, until the grains are starting to glow. I don’t know how else to describe it. Something happens to the light as they start to get done. You’ll need a heap of olive oil, which you can add as you go along.
After the rice is fried, tip in the wine and turn up the heat to drive off the liquid. Stir until the wine is completely evaporated. Then turn the heat straight down.
Begin to add the stock a very little at a time, making sure the liquid is completely absorbed before you add any more. Don’t worry about the rice sticking or burning, the oil will take care of it. If the rice seems to be sitting in a kind of pasty liquid, you’re adding too much stock at a time. Fry off all the remaining liquid, and when you begin adding stock again, do it more slowly.
Continue adding stock until it’s all absorbed and the rice grains are nice and soft when tasted. Let the risotto rest for a while while you prepare the mushrooms.
Chop your mushrooms up small and fry in the butter, with plenty of black pepper and thyme. Crush the garlic and add to the mushrooms. Fry until silky, then tip the entire contents into the risotto pan and stir in until well-distributed.
Give the whole thing a minute or two on a low heat to warm through, then serve it up!
I like mine with a simple salad, Mr Scrumptious likes his straight (we’re still working on the salad thing).
For dessert, we had a bit of this beauty
A coffee-and-cream liqueur cake (Kahlua and Baileys), watered with some more Kahlua.
I used my favourite trusty coffee cake recipe from BBC Good Food, chucking an extra shot of Kahlua into the mix before baking. I would cook the cakes at a slightly lower temperature than they recommend, and use a tiny pinch more baking powder.
After baking, I livened it up a couple of days later with a liberal sprinkling of Kahlua to help moisten the mix. I’m on the hunt for a pipette to make this job easier and more even. At the moment, I haphazardly drizzle with a teaspoon, and hope for the best.
Then I iced it with this Baileys buttercream. Again, I’d suggest a couple of tweaks to the published recipe. I’d add a bit more sugar to help stiffen it. And, if you’re piping the icing on, let it sit in the fridge for a while. I found it was way too runny to pipe properly without chilling first, but it set nicely after I popped it into the fridge. There’s just enough Baileys to give it a bit of kick. Taste after you add each spoonful. If you like it a bit milder, stop at three tbsp instead of the four called for in the recipe.
Naturally, we enjoyed it drizzled with a last little bit of Kahlua (after the candle-blowing-out ceremony).
As you might have gathered from our cake alone, Mr Scrumptious and I are not doing Dry January. This is my final note for this blog, and I have to confess that Dry January or DryAthlon really gets on my nerves.
The problem is not alcohol, the problem is the way we use it, and our low quality threshold for the stuff we drink. I defy you to have a bad relationship with a decent middle-range Tokaji Aszú. Firstly, you’d bankrupt yourself first (it’s well worth it, this stuff is amazing), and also, I’m not sure it’s possible. A wine this rich and deep has to be respected. It has to be savoured. It’s not for necking down. I did that early on, and I felt robbed. Nowadays, I can sit and cuddle a glass of Tokaji for the better part of an evening. It forces you to reflect on the pleasure you derive from it. It also has a fairly low alcohol content, but still feels potent, maybe because of its complex flavour, or perhaps because of its slightly syrupy consistency. Tokaji turned me from a plonk glugger to a wine wanker. We enjoyed some Tokaji last night at Mr Scrumptious’ birthday dinner, and it was a real treat. I also feel that there is a major gap in the market for grown-up soft drinks. Schloer can only get you so far, and it really is far too sweet to be consumed too often. Aranciata and limonata are good alternatives, but they can quickly get pricey, usually due to the rather attractive Kilner-type bottles they’re often supplied in.
Dry January makes having a January birthday a real pain for Mr Scrumptious, especially when coupled with all the other ridiculous juice ‘detoxes*’, diets, and other absurd hardcore initiatives people embark on in January. *If you need to detox, you need to do it in a clinic, with medical supervision. Detoxing from anything other than a serious alcohol or drug addiction is bollocks.* If you genuinely can’t indulge for health reasons, you have my sympathies, but if you’re just trying to signal your virtue, knock it off.
Masuma Rahim wrote a really good, balanced article this time last year on Dry January and strict diets after New Year, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic. For the love of yourselves, people, find decent food, decent alcoholic drinks, decent non-alcoholic drinks, and enjoy your life.
Today’s post is specially for those of you who are a little bit nervous in the kitchen and would like to break themselves in gently.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am that I grew up with parents, then parent, who knew how to cook and how to experiment with food, and would eat my sometimes rather dangerous early creations. Daddy Scrumptious is well known for his eclectic combining of ingredients. My sister describes his experiments as “About 60% ‘Wow’ and about 40% ‘What the fuck?!'”. (I’ll just smugly mention that I get a 30/70 split.)
And as Dad pointed out, it’s only food. If it isn’t Michelin star quality, you throw it out, or you drown it in ketchup, learn, and move on. You don’t get to see the Scrumptiouses-gone-wrong (except my Oreo Chocolate Disastercakes , because they were just too funny to not share.). You haven’t seen the occasional times I’ve looked at something made in my kitchen, decided even I can’t rescue it, scraped it into the compost bin, and dialled Domino’s.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be afraid to try a few new things. The worst thing that can happen is either you hit it with your favourite condiment and force it down, or you have an excuse to order in.
Anyway. The point. Here are some handy hints:
Don’t try a new recipe for the first time when it’s a big occasion, dinner party, or anything when you need it to go absolutely right. Just don’t. See the Oreo post.
Alcohol is for when it already has gone as wrong as it can go, and you have to get just drunk enough to get the food down. OR, for when you’ve made a recipe a dozen times before and can do it on autopilot.
Kid’s cookbooks are amazing. Really really. They often contain the simplest versions of recipes, some useful hacks, and are generally geared toward the novice cook. Plus, their recipes are fun and very photogenic. Don’t turn your nose up at making your own quiche or sausage rolls. This is still on my cookbook shelf to this day. My sister bought it me when I was ten and it’s fantastic. The quiche recipe is on point and makes the most delicious quiche I’ve ever had.
Ready roll is your friend. Pizza dough, puff pastry, filo, shortcrust, croissants, they’re all out there. I suck at pastry and buy Jus-Rol every time. It still tastes better than buying pre-baked from a store, and it gives you chance to worry about the filling or topping. Get to making pastry or dough for yourself in time.
Jazz up pre-made meals or ingredients with your own twist. Cooking frozen potato wedges? Toss them in some spices, garlic salt, or cajun seasoning to suit the dish you’re having them with. Bought a pizza? Make it your own by adding your choice of vegetables, pepperoni, or other toppings. Sauce mixes are a useful tool, and you can personalise them and make them healthier by adding extra veggies of your own. Making Dolmio bolognese? Throw in some courgette (zucchini), extra bell peppers, fresh cherry tomatoes, or some briquettes of frozen spinach (I LOVE my little briquetttes. So good for sneaking in iron and fibre into any meal).
In time, you can figure out what mixes to outgrow and what stay useful hacks. No person with a full time job makes their own custard, really. And whatever Jamie tells you, most Italians don’t make their own pasta. But making your own bread, soup, and pasta sauces is great fun, fairly easy, and very rewarding. Instant mash is handy to have around for emergencies (and for thickening soups, stews, pie mixes, anything wet really), but mash made with real boiled potatoes is so much tastier!
Fridge cake is still cooking. There are plenty of things you can make just by melting chocolate and mixing in something dry. Rocky Road, Rice Krispy cakes, ganache truffles, and more, can all be done without even touching your oven. Just google ‘no bake desserts’ for a wealth of ideas. Cheesecakes are ridiculously easy, too. Here’s my favourite.
Find recipe ideas on Youtube and other social media. Tasty by Buzzfeed have simple, impressive-looking, easy-to-follow recipe videos, as well as some guidance on kitchen skills. A lot of Tasty’s recipes are great for entertaining, or for taking to potluck dinners, as they make a lot in one go. If you want something a little more upmarket or challenging, try Great British Chefs. Their videos and articles are almost encyclopaedic. Every kitchen skill you could ever conceivably need or want is gone through in thorough detail. Their photos and articles are beautifully composed, unfussy yet stimulating. There’s also something incredibly soothing about their videos. I love this guide to making Sicilian Salad, where you can hear each little thump of the chef’s knife on the board. I doubt I’ll ever make Sicilian salad, but I know I’ll watch this video over and over (it helps me get to sleep).
If you have a friend that cooks really well, invite them over! Set aside a day or evening for cooking, go shopping together, plan a dish, and enjoy. Cooking with friends is so much fun, and you’ll have an experienced co-pilot to navigate you through this uncharted territory.
Check out local healthy eating groups and resources for basic kitchen skills/cookery courses. Change 4 Life, Wrap, even Tesco, offer free basic cookery courses from time to time. If you’re a parent, enquire at your children’s school or nursery about a cookery club. Also investigate your local Super Kitchen, Real Junk Food Project, church kitchen, or community café. Many of these groups will welcome a willing volunteer and will offer some training for those who want to learn. You might start off peeling potatoes, but your skills will grow, and it’s a great way to meet people.
Whatever you do, enjoy your new skills. Cooking and eating are for fuel, yes, but they’re also for enjoyment, community, sharing, and for giving you a sense of pride in what you’ve made and what you eat. If I’ve even inspired someone to switch from microwave pasta to cooking by themselves with Dolmio, job done. Journey started. Enjoy every step.
Today I’m doing a dedicated blog post about the Sheffield-based company Approved Food.
I just want to make it clear that I’m not being paid by AF for this post (although they do know about it). So, now we can begin!
I got my first Approved Food order on a couple of months ago, and have already been tucking into some of their delicious goodies. I was so impressed I sent off a follow-up order pretty soon afterwards!
Approved Food aren’t your average internet retailer- they specialise in out-of-date (perfectly good) and short-dated items, but you will find items with longer dates on their website, too, usually surplus from bigger retailers. Almost all their items are significantly discounted compared to the usual supermarket RRP. I’d always advise you to compare on more expensive items, though, and to check offers at your local supermarket.
They estimate they save 32 million items from landfill every year- a big deal if you’re concerned with sustainability, food waste, food miles, and so on. And let’s not forget that the more food we waste as a society, the higher food prices will be. That’s bad not just for us in relatively wealthy countries, but also in less economically developed countries, where poorer people can be priced out of a decent diet.
Of course, Approved Food helps to reduce waste in the supply chain, but they also educate consumers to help save food at home, too. Following their Facebook page is a good way to keep up-to-date with their offers and outreach. Explaining the difference between ‘Sell by, ‘Use by’, ‘Display until’, and ‘Best before’ helps consumers to make more informed choices about when a product really is past its best. Anyone who knows me will know my strong feelings about best-before dates, especially on things like pickles, chutneys, and so on, which actually improve with age, so long as they’re packaged soundly. Woe betide anyone who tries to police my cupboards!
Because of the nature of AF’s business, the majority of the foods it sells are imperishables- pasta, noodles, tinned fruits and vegetables, sauces, spices, and so on. They do however offer a small range of fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn’t order any of these this time as I was well-stocked from my usual supplier. At the moment, I’m using AF as a cupboard-filler, for staple ingredients. Pasta here is super cheap, which is ideal. They also stock a few niche products I wouldn’t normally buy- ghee, for instance. I’ve been meaning to get some for a while for curries and general frying, but always put it off as I’d never buy enough to justify it. At this price, though, I nabbed some, and I can always ice-cube it and store it in the freezer until needed.
They’re also pretty good for baking ingredients, although you won’t find everything you want all the time.
So, is it worth it? If you find something you like at a good price, then yes, definitely. But be quick!
I feel it’s definitely worth taking a peek and seeing what’s on offer.
Here are some of my key points:
Mostly very cheap. Like, really really cheap.
Good shipping (in my experience)
Chance to try new products. For me, finding ingredients dirt cheap on Approved Food makes it worth going out on a limb to try them. And so far I’ve been really pleased with the results.
Not for faddy shoppers. Most of AF’s products are out-of-date, out of season, or short-dated. If you stick rigidly to your sell-by-dates, this isn’t the store for you. Also, have a read about the amount of food wasted in this country and then tell me you can afford to be picky. If you don’t mind a short date or a dented tin, shop away, friend!
Great for groups and co-ops. Shopping at Approved Food would really, really suit a community group, soup kitchen, food pantry or food co-op. You can get great bargains if you’re able to buy in bulk. Pro tip: search for ‘Case Price‘ to find the biggest bargains. Club together, formally or informally, with friends or relatives, to get great value. Unfortunately, most food banks don’t accept food past its best-by date, though, so check and donate with care.
Changeable range. Although AF fairly solidly stocks its staples, and some of the more niche products move slowly so tend to be available for longer, it’s always as well to jump on a bargain as soon as possible. They seem to have a pretty dedicated customer base who will snap up the insane bargains. I have an order of staples saved in my basket, waiting for a super-bargain on something fun to clinch the deal.
Low minimum order. I love this fact. The minimum order is £17.50 at time of writing, far less than most online supermarkets. And besides, £17.50 goes a LONG way at Approved Food!
Niche products available. I don’t know how, or why, but they come across some amazing, random cool stuff. Including some diet food, some free-from, some coeliac-friendly, and some muscle-building stuff. They’re also brilliant for East Asian and South Asian ingredients.
Outside courier delivery (usually UK Mail). Which is fine, but it does mean you can’t book a delivery slot or date as you do with some online supermarkets. So it’s better for people who work part-time, or from home, or have friendly neighbours. I’d really like to see Approved Food grow and hire their own delivery guys, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be possible for them.
Referral bonuses. Once you’ve created an account, you can share Approved Food with others. I’m not sure the exact algorithm for assigning credit, but if a friend follows your referral link, creates an account, and completes an order, then you can accrue some credit toward your next order.
Good customer service. My first order with AF got damaged in postage. Their customer service team gave me options as to how I could be compensated- either re-ship the order, abandon it and have the funds credited to my account, or get a refund to my payment card. The fund credit was sorted really quickly and my subsequent two orders have been problem-free.
Great for parties. Because you can bulk order, and they sell alcohol (!), Approved Food is a fairly easy way to cater for parties and gatherings. Whether you tell your friends that the food they’re eating is short-dated, I’ll leave to your own moral compass. I’ve never seen anyone check a best-before date on a bottle of beer.
I hope this has inspired you to think of trying Approved Food, and to try to think of ways you can minimise your food waste! Try freezing, swapping with friends, menu planning to reduce waste, and so on. If you have any great tips for reducing food waste, share them in the comments.
Mr Scrumptious’ parents visited us this weekend and dropped a load of delicious homegrown veggies on us, including about a kilo of fresh tomatoes and some red and yellow bell peppers.
To make use of this bounty, I made one of my favourite simple suppers: Cajun chicken and chorizo bake, with bell peppers and tomatoes.
It’s not quick, but it is minimal in fuss, and is delicious served over rice. Have a cool drink to hand as this is not for the faint-hearted! The quantities here are enough for 5 portions. Or four, if Mr Scrumptious goes back for seconds. On day 2, I like to reheat the remainder and roll it into tortillas with plenty of guacamole or fresh avocado.
3 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
3 bell peppers, any colour, cut into chunks
2 medium-sized onions, sliced into strips
4-5 cloves of garlic (you know my views on garlic!), chopped roughly
Fresh tomatoes, as many as you have, chopped fairly small
Cajun spice mix
Chorizo sausage, about 120g (around half a chorizo ring), chopped into 1/2 rounds
Handful fresh basil leaves, if desired
Tinned chopped tomatoes or tomato juice
Rollthe chicken in the cajun spice mix until well-coated.
Lay the onions, garlic, bell peppers, basil leaves, and fresh tomatoes into your roasting dish.
Add the meats on top of the vegetables.
In a jug, mix a little oil, chipotle paste, and tomato juice or chopped tomatoes. Blend if desired (I tend not to).
Pour the tomato-chipotle mix over the meat and vegetables. Add pepper and a little Worcestershire sauce or Henderson’s Relish if desired.
Bake at 200°C until the vegetables are softening and the spices on the chicken are starting to blacken.
Serve over rice or grain of your choice, with a refreshing drink nearby.
Follow with ice cream!
If you need to make the dish less spicy, ‘soften’ the Cajun spice mix with a little turmeric, a tiny amount of flour, and some green herbs. Thyme and basil would be perfect here.
Just a quick one to share my new discovery- Italian pear cake!
I often buy fruit with good intentions, fill the fruit bowl, and then forget all about it. Then I find myself scrabbling for ways to use it and not waste it. Usually, I chuck it into a crumble, but it doesn’t work with pears, they’re just too mushy.
So a quick google revealed this recipe for Italian pear cake. The blogger Mimi shares a lovely fat-free pear cake recipe, which I’ve adapted slightly.
Follow the link above for her recipe, but I made a couple of small adjustments:
Instead of pressing the pear slices into the batter, I layered the pear slices between a thin layer of cake mixture. Cake mix first, then slices of pear, and so on.
I added 2 tbsp of ginger syrup (what your stem ginger floats around in), to add a little flavour to the mixture, and to loosen the very stiff batter.
I only used 2/3 of the mixture (dictated by only having two eggs to hand!)
Lastly, I turned down the oven partway through cooking, to 160 degrees. The top of the cake was cooked and the cake had mostly risen, but I could tell the inside wasn’t quite done yet, so I turned the oven down to let it cook through.
And I highly recommend serving with another drizzle of ginger syrup!
I wanted to share one of my favourite comfort recipes- Moroccan lamb tagine.
I adore lamb, and lamb shoulder is a relatively affordable cut, perfect for slow-cooking with Moroccan spices.
If, like me, you don’t have a slow cooker, you can either use a casserole dish on a low heat in the oven, or a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker is my favourite method, as you can achieve a slow-cooking effect in a short amount of time, and with very little gas or electricity. Once it’s at pressure, you can turn it right down and just let it whistle away for a while.
Lamb shoulder won’t really suffer from over-cooking, so you can cook it as long and slow as you like. I cook mine until I can break up the chunks of meat with gentle pressure from a wooden spoon. The tenderness of the meat should be like that of pulled pork.
Some recipes call for the addition of dates, sultanas, or apples, but I find these leave the dish too sweet for my taste. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash are enough to balance out the spices.
Boneless shoulder of lamb joint, diced
Cumin, paprika, cinnamon, chilli powder, cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic, and black pepper, all in generous quantities. Or a generous amount of a pre-blended Moroccan spice mix. (I’d still recommend having your own spices on the side, to tailor)
Butternut squash, in large chunks, about a handful per person
Sweet potato, the same
1 can of tomatoes, peeled or diced
Lamb or beef stock cubes
1 1/2 green bell peppers
1 large onion, cut into strips
1-2 shallots, cut into strips
More garlic if you prefer!
Soy sauce, to taste
Method -Begin the day before if possible (I didn’t, and it was still darn tasty!)
Cut the lamb into chunks, and generously rub in the spices until the meat is completely coated. Refrigerate for as long as possible, overnight is best. However, if you can’t marinade the meat, don’t panic, I never marinaded mine and it’s still delicious. Trim the fat if desired.
Fry the garlic, onions, and extra spices in olive oil or the trimmed lamb fat.
Add the lamb and brown along with the onions. Remove everything from the pan and set aside.
Quickly fry the butternut squash and sweet potato until lightly cooked on the outside. You can skip this step if you wish.
Remove the vegetables and return the meat and onions to the pan of your pressure cooker. Add the stock cube, tinned tomatoes, and just a little water. Stir thoroughly, then place the lid on your pressure cooker. Raise it to pressure, then drop the gas until it’s just hot enough to keep the pressure up. Cook for around 20 mins at pressure, or until the meat is just beginning to soften.
Add the sweet potato and butternut squash. Taste to check your spices, and add more if necessary. I like to go heavy on the cumin. If it looks like the tagine is getting dry, add a little water. Replace the lid and bring the cooker back up to pressure. Cook for five minutes.
Add the bell peppers and repeat, cooking at pressure for 2-3 minutes.
When all the ingredients are soft and you have a thick sauce, serve over fresh couscous.
I may have mentioned that I relocated recently. I’ve moved to Nottingham, about 60 miles from where I was living before. The more significant news is that Mr Scrumptious and I have moved in together!
So now we’re sharing a life, and a kitchen, although as I’m off work with my still-healing ankle, I’m taking care of most of the cooking.
This is no hardship, though, because I love cooking and I now have access to a beautiful huge oven and a big five-ring hob. I’m really pleased because it’s a gas hob too, which means it’s really responsive (good for not burning your food), and also costs less per unit than electricity. I’m a bit of a geek about gas cookers.
Also, we have our own garden now, and it has an established herb bed, so I’m really pleased, because I love growing my own. I’ve added my own basil and parsley, and we’re hoping to add some thyme and marjoram to the herb garden, because in my opinion fresh herbs are just so much tastier than dried.
Mr Scrumptious’ dad has donated us a couple of lovely tomato plants, too, so hopefully we’ll be enjoying a few delicious garden-fresh tomatoes soon. (Black Russian and Big Mama varieties, in case you were interested)
In addition to these, I’m experimenting with some vegetables which have sprouted in my fridge- a few potatoes which were more sprout than spud, and a couple of neglected spring onions. I’ve shoved them in compost and hoped for the best. As it’s a rented place, I can’t rip up the weed (as in plant out of place!) patch at the back of the garden and turn it into a vegetable plot, so I’ve had to content myself with a few pots on the terraces.
There’s a lot of work to be done in the garden, and we won’t be self-sufficient in vegetables any time soon (if ever), but I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and shaping it to be a bit tidier and more productive.
Getting back to the kitchen:
The first cake I’ve baked since arriving at the new place was this mini Victoria sponge.
For the cake 100g self-raising flour
100g butter or margarine (I used Aldi’s own blended butter and vegetable oil spread- it looks like Lurpak)
100g caster sugar
For icing and decorating
50g butter or butter blend
110g icing sugar
Jam or conserve of your choice
Sprinkles or decoration of your choice
With a wooden spoon, beat the butter for a minute to soften. Add the caster sugar and cream together until well mixed.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together until the yolk and white are no longer separate.
Add the eggs to the butter and sugar (buttercream) slowly, around a quarter at a time. Each time you add some egg, beat well until the mixture is uniform and has no lumps of buttercream visible.
Sieve the flour into the wet ingredients a tablespoon at a time. I made my cake without sieving, but it’s best to sift the flour to get out any lumps (if you’re not feeling aggressive). Keep going until all the flour is gone!
Keep mixing until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Then spoon or pour it into a lined cake tin. I love my Jane Asher cake tin liners, and you can get a 15-pack at Poundland! They take the measurement and fiddling about out of lining the tin, and the mess out of cleaning it up afterwards.
Bake at 160-180º for around 30 minutes, until golden on top. The cake is done when it’s risen to a gentle dome shape, and a butterknife, fork, or knitting needle can be inserted and pulled out cleanly. Resist the urge to open the oven to check your cake, as a drop in temperature can cause it to collapse. So can poking it too early. Instead, be patient, and peek through the door!
When the cake is golden and cooked through, set it aside to cool. Take it out of the hot tin so it doesn’t carry on cooking and burn underneath. Rest it on a rack or ceramic plate. While it’s cooling, make the icing.
Icing the cake
Again, beat the butter gently to soften it. Add the icing and cream together until smooth and lump-free. If you want to add any food colouring, add it a drop at a time, and mix well. It should only take a few drops to colour your entire bowl of icing.
If the cake is still hot, store the icing in the fridge until it’s ready to use. It may need some extra beating and a few minutes to warm up before it’s ready to spread.
Once the cake has cooled, slice it in half horizontally with a long, non-serrated knife. A carving knife would be ideal to get a smooth cut. A breadknife will do in a pinch, but it will leave a messy, fluffy cut, so only use this if it’s your only big knife.
Spread jam over one side of the cut, and buttercream over the other. Sandwich together neatly.
If you have enough buttercream left over, ice the top, too, smoothing over gently with a knife blade or silicone spatula.
Decorate with your favourite sprinkles or decorations. These are handy for hiding any bits of buttercream which aren’t as smooth as you’d like!
A traditional Victoria sponge cake is usually made by sandwiching together two separate cakes, or by cutting a much bigger one. This is quite a small cake for a Victoria sponge. The cake I made was supposed to be a ‘light’ version, to be thinner, and have a single central layer of buttercream. However, it turned out I had enough to ice the top, too, so I did, decorating with red sugar sprinkles. If you want only one layer buttercream, you can store the excess in the freezer for another time, or simply make less. You could use 40g butter, and 90g icing sugar, for instance. Use a ratio calculator online and round up.
Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe you can start to vary it and experiment for yourself, remembering that for every 50g of other ingredients (flour, sugar, and fat), you use 1 egg. So to make a cake 1.5 times the size of this one, you’d use 100g sugar, flour, and fat, and three eggs. This is a handy rule and applies to most sponge mixtures.
I’d love to hear about your baking experiments in the comments below!
So I made roast chicken this week. It was exciting (really!). I was excited because I love roast chicken, and so was Mr Scrumptious, but I was also excited because I get really happy about how I can use up the rest of the chicken once the roast dinner is over.
I want to remind you all that buying a whole chicken for roasting can be an economical way of buying chicken if you know how to make the best use of the whole bird. Daddy Scrumptious can make a chicken serve two people for a whole week, without anyone getting too bored of it, and I’ve taken his frugal ways to heart.
However, many people are simply unaware of the range of things you can do to really get all you can out of your bird, and eat what they can for Sunday dinner and chuck the rest out! So to help combat this sorry waste, I thought I’d compile a list of uses for leftover components of a roast chicken (meat, bones/stock, and fat).
Please feel free to add your own in the comments.
The cover photo shows two uses on the go- a chicken curry on the right, and chicken bones and skin boiling down for stock on the left.
Curry (South Asian style? Thai? Chinese style?), biryani, or tagine
Stir fry or fried rice
Chicken cabbage rolls
Cold chicken for salads, sandwiches, wraps or snacking
Pasta or pasta bake (this is a whole list in itself, but I’ll just say one word- carbonara). For a shortcut to carbonara, use a tin of mushroom soup. (You can also use this as a chicken and mushroom pie or pasty filling)
Salad or pasta salad
Add to stuffed peppers
Coronation chicken (sneer if you will, I love the stuff as a picnic treat in summer)
Bones The only thing you can really do with chicken bones is make stock, and then throw out or compost the bones when the stock is made.
When you make stock, weigh up in your mind that although you don’t have to be there the whole time, the process is time and energy (in the gas or electric sense) consuming, so you have to decide whether it’s worth it for you.
I wouldn’t recommend making stock if you have an electric hob, because electricity is so much more costly per unit than gas. Nor in the height of summer, where you don’t want your kitchen to be full of chicken-y steam.
If you’re going to do it often, do it on a chill winter’s day where you don’t need to go out, and enjoy the heat filling your kitchen. I’d also strongly recommend using a pressure cooker, as they greatly reduce cooking times and are great for getting out every drop of flavour from the carcass.
My favourite thing to do with the stock, once it’s taken on a good colour and tastes of chicken more than of water, is to fish out all the bones and skin, plunder any last overlooked scraps of meat, and then add leeks and potatoes to make a deliciously rich chicken, leek and potato soup. This has been enjoyed by the faddiest of eaters and also gained the Daddy Scrumptious badge of approval.
You can also use your homemade stock in risottos, casseroles, and so on- anywhere that you would have used a made-up stock cube! You can keep it in the fridge for a few days, or freeze it for months. Freeze it in tupperware containers, or, rather more niftily, use an ice cube tray, then decant the cubes into a bag. You can then use homemade chicken stock straight from the freezer in your dishes.
Chicken fat has a lot of uses, and is a particularly popular ingredient in Ashkenazi Jewish cookery. It can be used instead of dairy fats in order to obey kosher (kashrut) restrictions. If one wanted to make a kosher chicken pie, for instance, one would use chicken fat rather than butter in the pastry, so as not to mix milk and meat in the same dish.
Chicken fat is also incredibly tasty and imparts a beautiful flavour. I’d recommend it for roast potatoes, and for frying vegetables which will be used in chicken dishes. It’s a wonderful substitute for olive oil in a chicken risotto.
If you’re old school and remember eating bread and dripping, chicken fat from the roasting tin is even better, in my opinion. Find or make some good bread and you have a deliciously simple old-fashioned snack. It may not be a health food, but it is goshdarned tasty. Or use it instead of butter on your cold chicken sandwich.
Alternatively, you can use the chicken fat to make croutons and fried onions to top your homemade chicken soup. If you don’t eat the chicken skin with your roast, bake it, smothered in the fat, to make chicken crisps. They’re like a kosher version of scratchings- salty, definitely not good for you, but very tasty.
Hopefully some of these ideas will have tickled your tastebuds and sharpened your appetite for what comes after the roast dinner!