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Mature Cheddar, Shallot and Sage Crusted Chicken

15 Jul

In preparation for our house move, I have been running down the store cupboards and freezer. I had rescued 2 lonely and forlorn chicken looking breasts from the freezer, along with the breadcrumbs and shallots, and a small cube of mature cheddar from the fridge, that was threatening to sport a mouldy cloak if ignored any longer. And the fresh sage was courtesy of the plant that I abandoned last year in the garden, that has defeated the perils of garden pests, children, and the elements to survive and flourish. I love garden herbs. Fresh, fabulous, and free. What more could you ask for?

INGREDIENTS

Serves two teenies and a greedy mummy.

  • 2 chicken breast fillets (approx 250g)
  • 2 or 3 slices of bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs
  • small chunk of cheese, finely grated
  • small handful of fresh sage, chopped
  • small handful of pre-chopped shallots from freezer
  • 60g butter melted (or an oil/butter mix)

METHOD

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees.

Step 1. Slicing up the fillets

Slice fillets in half horizontally (so they are thinner and cook more quickly), then into small ish pieces. I turned 2 fillets into 5 small pieces that look like 1/2 fillets.

Mix together breadcrumbs, shallots, sage and cheese. Add melted butter and mix until combined.

Step 2. The breadcrumb mixture

Line a baking dish with foil (just to save on washing up). Press mixture onto the chicken breasts. Cook for approx 15 mins, checking that it is cooked through once removed from oven. Leave to rest for 5/10 mins.

Step 3. After a short hot burst in the oven

Serve with broccoli and cream cheese (kids) or salad (big kids).

Step 4. Going, going, gone

Self-cook chicken, with asparagus and roasted tomatoes

14 Jun

I love asparagus, and while it’s in season, I add some to my basket every time I shop. My asparagus surplus led to an ‘open door at fridge’ moment on Saturday morning, as I was gazing at my stockpile wondering what to do next..

We are mid-way through packing for a house move, so for the next few weeks, more than ever, speed of preparation is the over-riding priority of my cooking decisions. This is closely followed by my desire make the food as healthy as possible. I have a wedding to attend in 2 weeks time, and no funds to buy a new dress, so I need to pay my penance for the last few weeks of gluttony, and to exert just a modicum of self-control when it comes to meal time. To that end, the cake tin lies empty and abandoned at the rear of a dusty cupboard, and I seem to be eating my weight in fruit and vegetables on a daily basis (chocolate counts as a one of your five a day, doesn’t it?).

Back to the asparagus stockpile. If I had more time to spare I would have considered a risotto, but with a full schedule I had only 5 minutes to spare for the preparation. Luckily, the additional ingredients for this dish were all languishing in the fridge, teetering on the edge of their use by date, calling for a (fridge) search and rescue operation. I am pleased to report, that they were not only found and rescued, but revived with a little TLC and a 30 minute sauna in the oven!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 2 bunches of asparagus (1 would suffice)
  • 1/2 punnet cherry plum tomatoes
  • a few grinds of sea salt and pepper
  • a dessert spoon of shallots from the freezer
  • a dash of olive oil
  • a splash (maybe a glass) of white wine (or stock if you don’t have wine)
  • fresh rosemary (I am lucky to have some in the garden)

    Step 1 The Asparagus

To prepare the asparagus, bend the bottom half of the spear until it snaps. Discard the end, and keep the remainder. Chop the head off on the diagonal, then continue chopping the remaining spear on the diagonal. Lay the asparagus in the bottom of an oven proof dish.

Chop the tomatoes in half, lay them on top then sprinkle on the shallots. Season with salt and pepper and a few small drops of extra virgin olive oil if you have it.

Step 2. Add tomatoes, shallots and seasoning

Lay a couple of sprigs on top of the mixture. Add the wine. My top tip, whenever I have white wine left over (not that often!) I freeze it, to save opening a full bottle when just a little will do for a recipe.

Add the (frozen!!) wine

Place the chicken breasts on top and cover with tin foil.

Step 4. Adorn with the chicken breasts

Cook for approx 30 mins in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees.

Check that the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear. Then leave it to rest on the side for 5 minutes. Slice on the diagonal. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper, or as I did, with pesto on the chicken breast.

Serves 2 adults (and a couple of toddlers)

'Resting'. Almost ready!

Although I havent tried it, I suspect this would work even better with skin on chicken, and without the foil, which would allow the chicken and the asparagus to crisp up in the oven. One for another day perhaps?

Served with a drizzle of Pesto

Pink Soup

12 Jun

After my cake fest of the last couple of weeks, this week I have tried to reign in the cravings, and up the fruit and vegetable intake. I don’t ‘do’ diets. There is nothing like the lure of the forbidden to make me want something even more. I must be related to Eve!! Instead, I try to make choices that don’t feel like a sacrifice, and that sustain me without leading to hunger pangs.

One of the snippets of wisdom that i have found useful over the years, is that thirst is often mistaken for hunger.  However, I do not seem able to glug the ’2 litres of water a day’ that seems to be the mantra of every health tipster.(Maybe if it was wine I would give it a try)  Instead, I look for alternative ways of upping the fluid intake to keep the hunger pangs and the cravings at bay.

One of my fast fix solutions to drop a few pounds quickly is to have soup for lunch. It’s quick to make. filling, and full of water.  This week I re-visted an old favourite, which is my twist on Borscht.  The preparation time for this dish is about 2 minutes, hardly a chore, even for the most committed sofa sloth.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packet organic cooked beetroot (250g) roughly chopped
  • 250g approx plain yoghurt
  • Dessertspoon shallots (i use the pre-chopped frozen ones from the freezer)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • dollop of yoghurt and chives to serve

Mix ingredients then blitz in liquidizer or with a stick blender.

Spicy Beetroot Soup

The resulting soup has an almost smooth as velvet texture, and the spices gently compliment the earthy sweetness of the beets. The bonus is that it is virtually fat-free, without even giving the slightest impression of dietary restraint. I have successfully served this ‘pink soup’ to my little ones, (minus the cumin and cayenne). I don’t know if it is the colour or the sweetness of the beetroot, but they love it.

Garnish with a dollop of yoghurt and chives

The flavours of the spices intensify if you leave this in the fridge overnight and it can be served hot or cold. Take your pick…

Leftovers Lunch and Mushroom Risotto (Day 6 of The spendthrift’s challenge)

23 May

Leftovers Lunch

Luckily, today’s lunch was more of case of put all the leftovers on the plate and serve. I did make one concession to my non-cook lunch but hardly a big one. I found a large supply of puy lentils in the cupboard. If, like me, you were scarred by the experience of lentils in your childhood by the experience of stodgy orangey or green coloured mush, then set aside those thsoughts. These are in a different league. Think of them as the chic and elegant french cousin of the lentil family. They are almost like small capers in appearance, with a dark muddy green colour and a firm almost meaty texture that would please even the most ardent of carnivores. They need little to compliment them other than a dressing. I added a few cherry tomatoes and spring onions and dresssed with lemon oil. With the minimal effort of cooking the lentils over I simply re-arranged yesterdays leftover salads from dinner, alongside the odds and ends of blue cheese and feta that were lingering in the fridge, some parma ham (bought on offer a couple of weeks ago) and some chargrilled artichokes that I had found at the back of the cupboard. All served with a couple of ready to bake baguettes (my last ones) from the freezer. It couldn’t have been easier, and was the perfect day to sit in the garden to eat.

Puy Lentil Salad

Puy Lentil Salad

  • 300g Puy Lentils
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes chopped
  • 3 spring onions chopped
  • Lemon Oil to dress

METHOD

  • Wash the lentils.
  • Place in pan of clean water.
  • Bring to boil.
  • Add a sprinkle of vegetable bouillon. Stir.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Taste to check. They should be soft enough to eat but still have a little bite.
  • Add tomatoes and onions and anything else you fancy
  • Dress with lemon oil, olive oil or salad dressing
  • Serve

DINNER

I love weekends, because we can all eat together as a family. If we are staying in (which is most weekends) we tend to eat early with the children, which means we are all cleared up once they are in bed and can just curl up on the sofa with a DVD (and some wine).

I seem to have been suffering from a burst of risotto mania earlier in the year, and found the odds and ends of 3 different bags of risotto rice in the cupboard. When I saw that mushrooms were on offer at Sainsburys this week, that was tonight’s dinner sorted. The only thing is, I can’t really be bothered to stand over the stove cooking. An internet search found a simple recipe from Donna Hay for a baked mushroom, bacon and spinach version. We didn’t have any bacon to hand, so I decided to add the remaining parma ham from lunch. And we only had spinach from the freezer. This did take about 15 minutes to get going, but after that I just left it to do its thing in the oven. If you have one of those saucepans that can go in the oven, then this is a great one pot dish. It worked really well. It perhaps wasnt quite as al dente as if I had stood over it lovingly stirring and tasting it like the archetypal Italian mama, but was really very good. And, amazingly, I persuaded my son to eat spinach by putting some leftover garlic butter and grated parmesan on it. And he did!

To serve I did add one slightly decadent touch of my own, which is to add a few drops of truffle oil to the finished dish. The heady, concentrated aroma will lift the dish to another level. Although truffle oil is very expensive, it is to be used sparingly, just a few drops at a time, so it will last for ages. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have even been known to put a couple of drops on a dippy egg!!

Mushroom, Spinach and Parma Ham Risotto

Day 6 Summary

The cupboards are thinning out as is the freezer, and our fridge has not been so bare for a long long time. Tomorrow we are out for lunch, and I have been asked to bring dessert. Not sure I can make it on the £1.92 remaining!

Nigella’s Never Fail Victoria Sponge

10 May

Let me dispel a few myths. You don’t need to be any sort of domestic goddess to make a good Victoria sponge. You don’t even need much time. If you have all the ingredients in the house, you should have it all prepared and in the oven in under 5 minutes. And the washing up is  courtesy of the dishwasher.

I am not sure that any cook can honestly claim the rights to a ‘recipe’ for a Victoria Sponge, as the ingredients and quantities seems to be almost identical in a number of cook books. On this subject I am slavishly devoted to the teachings of Ms Lawson in her first (and to me her best) book, How To Eat. Since I first made this speedy, all in one, processor method of making a Victoria Sponge, I have resisted the siren call of all other cookery prophets and remained loyal to this easy peasy never fail recipe.

To those of you that buy your cake in the supermarket, or make your cake from a packet mix, I would like to prevail upon you to cast aside your prejudice and to try this, just once. You will not look back. You are likely to have everything you need without even stepping into a shop. Butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, vanilla essence, Jam. All storecupboard staples.

Just follow a few simple rules and you cannot go wrong

  • Use the size of tin that is recommended or the cooking times will change
  • Know your oven temperature. They can vary widely. Cooking it at the right temperature is key.
  • Relax. Even if it does not look as pretty as a shop perfect cake, the first bite will have you hooked.
  • To make life easier I use pre-cut cake tin liners. This saves the step of greasing and lining the tin..

So successful and easy has this cake been, I have made it on numerous occasions, to cheer up a sad friend, to fuel a tired new mum, and when I am calling in on friends for coffee and realise I have not even a packet of biscuits to take.  And I made it for myself twice a week, when I was an almost sleepwalking tearful and tired new mum, just to give me something to look forward to in the afternoon.

A few tips

  • The recipe suggests room temperature/soft butter. Not many people are so well prepared that they get the butter out of the fridge a day early in anticipation. I use the defrost facility on the microwave, until it gets soft but not runny and melted. It takes about 60 seconds on defrost in my microwave. Try it in 20 second bursts. You are looking for a glossy, gooey, about to melt texture.
  • I recommend keeping your eggs in a cupboard at room temperature, then you don’t have to remember to take them out in advance.
  • If you are using fridge cold milk I would recommend 15 seconds in the microwave to take the chill off.

You can find Nigella’s recipe at page 26 of her book.

I have adapted the quantities to suit the size of tins that I have (18cms)

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees (or 160 degrees for a fan oven)

INGREDIENTS

6 oz  or 170g plain flour

6 oz  or 170g soft unsalted butter (but you can use salted if thats all you have – it just alters the taste a little)

6 oz 170g sugar

3 large eggs – if you only have medium eggs just add a little more milk

2tbsps (ish) milk.

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not essence)

Place all ingredients into processor. Blend until combined, adding enough milk to give the mixture dropping consistency.

Put in oven for 25 minutes. If you are not sure if it is cooked put in a skewer (or knife if you don’t have one). If it comes out clean (ie without sticky cake mixture on it) it is done.

Just out of the oven

Once the cakes are out of the oven, leave to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out on to a cake rack (or grill rack if you don’t have one)

Allow to cool for about 45 minutes.

On the rack

Add jam to one sponge then put them together. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Serve

I don’t generally add whipped cream, unless I know it will get eaten that day, as it doesn’t keep well.If you have just used jam, it will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Ready to eat

Cordless Cleaning

29 Apr

When it comes to housework, I am firmly in the camp of less is more.  I like the place to look clean and reasonably tidy, but I am not going to give up my very limited free time to achieve Bree Van der Kamp style perfection.  I am always looking out for shortcuts and time savers.

I loathe the seemingly endless household chores, but there are some things that cannot be ignored. My little treasures are so talented and capable at ensuring no surface is left untouched with their own unique blend of  crumbs, dirt, and unidentified sticky patches, that if I leave the cleaning of floors for more than two days it bears a striking resemblance to an advert for the before shots in ‘how clean is your house’.  But getting the Hoover out always seems like such a big committment, and should not be entered into lightly, in my book at least.

In December last year, I had an episode of back pain that resulted in a trip in an ambulance, wearing only a swimming costume (not my finest moment). At first I was rather buoyed by the silver lining in that particular cloud, which would mean, sadly, I could no longer risk my back with any sort of heavy housework.  It wasnt long before that initial joy was replaced by the slightly less euphoric realisation that the floors were not going to clean themselves, and that we were not suddenly rich enough to employ daily help.

The answer to this dilemma, I soon discovered was a cordless cleaner. After extensive online research I found mine on Amazon for a very well spent £38. It is lightweight (approx 1.6kg), powered by a rechargeable battery. It has a small drawer that collects the dirt that you empty into the bin. This means you can retrieve the toy pieces you have hoovered up, stray money etc. It even works on larger things like rice krispies and shreddies (if they are not soggy).  In under 5 minutes I can pretty much cover the entire downstairs of our house (5 rooms) and leave them, not spotlessly perfect, but very respectably clean and tidy.  It does not give the same finish as a thorough going over with the Hoover, but if you are pressed for time with visitors about to descend, it comes a pretty close second, and at that price, who is complaining?

The model that I have is the GTECH Cordless Sweeper 7.2v NiMH SW02

And if you are not already persuaded, an unexpected upside of this purchase, is that children of all ages seem to love it. It has an adjustable length handle so you can make it small for the little ones and get them to help out too. Even my domestically challenged  nephews ‘volunteered’ to help with the cleaning with this.

(ps I have absolutely no connection to Gtech. If you know someone who is, then please show them this and maybe they will send me some freebies?!)

Paper for Painting

22 Apr

I probably should have included this in the last post.  I ran out of paper for drawing and painting a couple of weeks ago.  I have to confess I really resent paying High St prices for drawing paper that is likely to end up in the bin within hours. Obviously some of you might get your supplies ‘free’ from work, but unfortunately I don’t have that option.  A quick rummage in the garage yielded an unexpected treasure. Lining paper.

This has a number of advantages to my mind over cheap shop bought pads of paper.

  • It’s cheap as chips, always a winner in this house. Something like £1.78 for a value roll of 10 metres at B and Q.
  • It’s thick enough not to get too soggy when painting
  • You can cut it to size and use it for things like height charts, and just very long pictures!
  • Did I mention that it’s really cheap? (Sorry, that’s such an unfashionable word. I meant thrifty!)

Banqueting Roll – not just for Banquets and Birthdays…

22 Apr

Being at home a lot, I have found that the one job that has an almost Sisyphean feel to it is the almost relentless wiping of tables and sweeping of floors. There are days when I seem to do little else, and feel like cinderella, with no hope of a fairy godmother in sight.

I had my Eureka moment for this little tip, after Annabel’s birthday. We had some left over banqueting roll hanging around, and as I seemed to have run out of drawing paper, I decided to cover the table with this then let the little darlings get the crayons out. I then left it on for dinner (spaghetti with meatballs – always a messy one). A quick (and rather satisfying scrunch) of the paper tablecloth post dinner and instant clean table. It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy these days!

I then discovered that this stuff is super cheap if you buy it in bulk. Our local party shop sells 25m for £6.99 and if you want to buy a job lot then its about £22 from memory for 100 metres. Now I do realise that this is not entirely environment friendly, but it is very friendly to my environment from time to time. I use this on a quite regular basis when we have playdates. A few pens or crayons on the table keeps the children occupied for quite a while in the run up to dinner, and the joy of a bit less clearing up should not be underestimated….

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