Foodie resolutions

A very belated Happy New Year to anyone who happens to be reading! I’ve been dreadful at getting back to this blog, despite racking up the recipes to post and taking photos of just about everything – all bar the writing about it, it seems! So there’s the first of my foodie resolutions for the year: upload the photos, post the recipes, and generally catch up with the backlog!

My other foodie resolutions look a little like this:

  • Try new recipes – the obvious one 🙂 I’m going to go easy on myself and say one each month.
  • Try cooking new foods – thinking halloumi, which I’m amazed I’ve only nibbled once, and perhaps polenta. And maybe this is the year I finally try making scones (I know, I know – hanging my head in shame 😉 )
  • Try a new technique or two – like the spiralizer!
  • Try some new eateries and/or something new instead of the old favourites on the menu.
  • Finally finish (ie restart!) inventorying the freezer, and keep it up to date! Perfect time for a clear-out, too.

Anyone else have foodie resolutions for the year – and how are they going so far?

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Slow-cooked chicken casserole

Much as I love my slow cooker (aka crock pot), my results can be a little hit and miss. Yesterday’s attempts at a fairly simple chicken casserole, however, were so amazing that I had to scribble down my recipe (here) so I can do this one again!

slow cooked chicken casserole

First to mention, I have one of the smaller-sized slow cookers (about 1.5 litres, I think), which is supposed to be a 2-portion version. However, I tend to cook my accompaniment separately (shout out for frozen mashed potatoes, btw!) which means I get 3 or even 4 portions out of a batch – certainly, 4 out of this batch!

Starting with chicken – I suppose I’m a little ‘mean’ with this, using less than 1 breast per person, but I like to balance it with more veg – I used carrots, parsnip, and leek as my veggies. Top tip: leave the carrots far more chunky than you would usually – the slow cooker makes them lovely and tender, and it’s nice to have a substantial ‘chunk’ as an added feature in the meal. This is pretty important, in my view, to balance the super-tender chicken which can flake into next to nothingness after a long cook. The leeks also more or less vanished into the sauce, along with the onion which I’d only added for flavour.

Flavour was the big aim for this dish. First, a splash of white wine. I’d advise going easy on this – wine can turn a little bitter in a slow cooker, I’ve found. Then some herbs and spices: a little garlic puree, a splash of (vegetarian, so fish-free) worcestershire sauce for that ‘umami-ness’, and a good shake of chicken seasoning (I have the Swartz spice one) – these are all rather unspecific, my apologies, but the phrase ‘to taste’ is a saver here 😉

I’m a recent convert to the ‘stock pot’ style of stock (no, I don’t make my own!), and used about ⅔ of one – the rest will go into my risotto tomorrow. I also added some chicken gravy powder – just a little, for flavour and, I’d hoped, a little thickness – no measurement to share, sorry! Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients to about ⅔ – too much liquid is a common mistake (for me!) with slow cooking. Mix it all well, especially trying to distribute the stock.

I’d prepped all this the night before, so as I was heading out to work I put the crock pot on low and left it for about 8 hours. The house smelled amazing when I got back last night!

Alas, I hadn’t quite got the liquid right, so it was looking fairly running – don’t panic! As I stirred, a lot of the chicken broke up, and the leeks broke down, both adding a little thickness. I also added some cornflour – mixed with a little cold water – and left the whole thing uncovered on high for about half an hour while I prepared the rest of the meal. I know some people find the point of slow cooking to have the entire meal in ‘one pot’ fashion, but I like the extra portion of ‘main’ and a little separation for the sides. Besides, frozen mashed potato is surprisingly nice, and ready in a few minutes!

Rather impressed myself with this one – for a ‘made up’ recipe, it was absolutely delicious! 🙂

Pork stew

Or to give it its full name: pork, dried plum, and apple stew. Ahem. Okay, okay – dried plums are more commonly known as prunes, but please don’t let that word scare you! They are sweet and yummy, and go so well with the rich mix of flavours in this dish (recipe here).

Hmm, think my food photography needs a little work, too! ;)

Hmm, think my food photography needs a little work, too! 😉

I’ve been seriously slacking with this blog, but also with cooking in general. My poor freezer is looking quite bare – something I’m in dire need of remedying before I embark on the madness that is NaNoWriMo, whereupon I will have no time to cook – barely enough time to eat, with all the writing! 😉 – and need some healthy food stocked up.

This stew has been a family favourite for years now. It can look a little daunting – lots of ingredients, some (mustard powder?!) a little niche, but it’s not really all that difficult, and is both pretty healthy and very, very delicious! Not to mention that it’s a little different from so many of the things that I make. However, like most of my fav recipes, a big batch can be split into 4 or 5 portions and frozen for those moments – just home from work, or mid-NaNo… or both!

Let’s talk stir fry!

sf 1

One of my frequent dinners is stir fry: quicky, easy, healthy. I’m also of the opinion that not every meal has to be from a recipe, and the busy cook shouldn’t have to feel guilty about taking shortcuts – like buying a sauce. That said, every bought sauce can be improved a little…! I’m currently partial to the Blue Dragon sachets (esp. sweet chilli or teryaki) and then jazz it up with a little extra garlic and ginger, and maybe soy sauce.

The base of my stir fries is veg: lots and lots of vegetables! It’s not a stir fry to me without carrots, onion, peppers, mange tout, and then maybe some broccoli or pak choi or bean sprouts. Bean sprouts are rare: they only come in such huge bags that a single person would struggle to get through!

Once in a very blue moon, I’ve been known to buy a pre-prepared pack of stir fry veg. These are for those ultra-lazy moments, or when I’m craving a bit of a shake up. I love the ones that come with sliced water chestnuts – for the crunch! – or bamboo shoots. I used to buy tins of these things, but again they can be difficult to get through for one.

Even if you’re preparing your own veg – and I find chopping vegetables quite meditative (call me odd, but it’s calming!) – do yourself a favour and do at least two portions. This means you get a prep-free meal in a day or two, and lets you split things like peppers and carrots between two meals.

For the protein, I use either diced chicken breast (I pre-dice it, and freeze in individual portions), sliced minute steak (the really thin kind), or tofu – the Cauldron marinated tofu is excellent. I also like to throw in a small handful of raw cashew nuts towards the end.

So, today’s stir fry adventure went like this: first heat a little oil in a wok – big wok! – and cook the chicken until starting to colour. Then add the onion for a few minutes – it needs a little extra, I find – along with some garlic puree. I then added the rest of the sliced veg and some ground ginger or puree, letting it all fry for a few minutes before adding half a sachet of Blue Dragon teryaki sauce – the other half keeps well in the freezer, fyi. Finally a scattering of cashew nuts before serving, with rice or noodles. Total time: 10 minutes (not including the rice)!

Tl;dr:

  • oodles of veg – and prep ahead of time; keep a second portion in a sealed tub in the fridge for a day or two
  • freeze individual portions of pre-diced chicken breast for a quick make – defrost in the microwave if you can’t plan ahead
  • no shame in using a bought sauce! 2-portion sachets can often have the second half frozen, even if the packet doesn’t mention it
  • spice up the sauce with a little extra garlic, ginger, soy, chilli flakes, lime juice, or even a splash of sherry – and these are just a few of the possibilities!
  • serve with rice or noodles – the latter make the whole dish take about 10 minutes to cook.

Let me know in the comments – what do YOU do with a stir fry?

stirfry

Home made coleslaw – take 1

coleslaw

Summer’s practically over before it’s begun, it seems, and salad days are a little dubious. However, early this year I was making the effort to use the season to eat more healthily, and so I thought it’d be nice to try for a healthier coleslaw to go with my salads.

I was overwhelmed with choice! I remember an apple coleslaw from my childhood: should I try making that? Or one of the numerous variations suggestion… Nope, first go, let’s try for classic: carrot, (spring) onion, and cabbage, as shown in my recipe.

The ‘healthier’ part was using Greek yogurt (I like the Fage 0% fat one, for all sorts of things) to replace at least part of the mayonnaise. In the end it didn’t really taste lighter – it was almost sickly rich, to be honest! I added another recipe’s suggestion of cider vinegar – just a splash – to try and cut it.

I think I need to experiment a whole lot more with this one, to get the right mix. And try adding some sweetness – grated apple, perhaps.

Do you have a favourite, healthier take on the classic coleslaw recipe? Do share! 🙂

In Season: rhubarb

rhubarb photo

Cooking in season is something I’d love to do more of. It’s a difficult thing these days, though, with everything available all year from supermarkets. Even with the best intentions, it can be a case of trial and error to discover that, ew, cucumber (for instance) is pretty nasty out of season!

One way around the confusion is, of course, to grow your own – something else I’d love to do more of! Right now, however, I’m happy to help my dad use up the surplus from his garden, and the one thing he has in abundance at this time of year is rhubarb!

My usual method for dealing with this glut of rhubarb is simply to chop – top tip, use scissors instead of a knife! – it into a big casserole, add a couple of peeled and sliced apples (of the sweeter eating variety rather than cooking apples – there’s enough tang from the rhubarb already!) and stew it in the microwave – my 850W takes 10-12 minutes depending on the amount of fruit.

This mixture, cooled, keeps in the fridge in a sealed tub for up to a week. Or, it can be frozen and defrosted for later use.

What use? Well, anything you like! Pie or crumble, anyone? In an attempt to be healthier – not to mention lazier 😉 – I tend to just reheat a portion in the microwave and serve with yogurt. For a little more indulgence, I’ve taken to adding a sprinkle of Dorset Cereals’ Honey Granola, with pecans and almonds, inspired by a colleague treating us all at work to some amazing Rhubarb Squares (donating the stalks I can’t use has major benefits!) – not exactly healthy, but they were gooey and rich and utterly amazing! 🙂

What are your favourite uses for rhubarb? Please do share in the comments! 🙂

Butternut squash and red pepper soup

Ah, the Scottish weather: one week it’s sunshine and salad, and the next we’re plunged back into winter (week? Sometimes this occurs on the same day. Seriously!).

This soup is, in my opinion, a good bridge between the seasons. It’s the lightest, most summer-y soup that I’ve tried, nice and light and yet still warming.

Despite the instructions in the recipe, I kind of forgot this time (I was having a bit of a binge-cook, and it got hectic!) and did my usual throwing everything into the pan – and it worked! You probably lose a little of the depth of flavour that roasting would give, but if you’re in a hurry then it’s an acceptable alternative.

I was using up the other half of the butternut squash (and a stray bit of yellow pepper, which went very well!) I’d used for the Butternut Squash and Bean Crumble, giving me half portions of each – so, three large portions of soup (although it freezes very well).

 

I’ve gone and bought salad for this week, so I imagine it’ll be snowing by Wednesday. Again 😉

Butternut squash and bean crumble

I’m not doing too well on the mix of recipes (or new recipes – yet!) as all these yummy vegetarian dishes have me looking up ones I haven’t tried in a while!

I’m not sure what’s taken me so long to make this Butternut Squash and Bean Crumble again, as it was absolutely delicious! I do love butternut squash, and the mix of the wine and tomatoes is a lovely base. The chilli surprised me a little, but it works – I used a level teaspoon, and wouldn’t want it any hotter. I might, however, have to try butter beans (lima beans, I think?) next time, as the cannellini were a bit small and inconsequential in the finished dish.

The crumble topping is one I intend to try on other things: the breadcrumbs went lovely and crispy, and my experiment of adding some mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) added some lovely crunch and colour – I’ll be doing that again!

My one concern about this recipe is portion size. I remembered the first time I made this ended up with just HUGE portions (perhaps I misread the original recipe‘s 6 portions and thought it was 4?). This time, I halved the recipe – and please don’t worry, I have a great way to use up the other half of the squash! – thinking it would make four decent portions, instead of three huge: instead, I must confess that my version of the recipe gives more of a lunch portion than main course (although: perfect excuse for dessert!). I ended up eating 2/3rds of the half I cooked (the other half is in the freezer), and will throw some salad together with the remaining third for tomorrow’s lunch.

It was really hard to stop here and leave some for tomorrow's lunch...!

It was really hard to stop here and leave some for tomorrow’s lunch…!

Banana oat bars

As requested (hi, Karen! 🙂 ), here’s a super-easy recipe that you can modify to suit your own tastes.

I love this as a way to use up over-ripe bananas – the riper the banana, the sweeter the recipe. It also feels super-healthy, as far as snacks go, and can be made with as little as two ingredients: oats and banana. Easy to remember, too: 1 cup oats for every banana! The size of the banana is important, of course: if it’s large then add a little bit more of the oats, until the mixture is quite stiff (why does this post feel like a Carry On script!?!).

That seems a little dull, though, so I tend to add chopped dried apricots – tip: ‘chop’ the apricots with scissors, much easier than a knife – sultanas (slightly juicier than raisins) or dried cherries (goes really well if you add a smallish amount of ground almonds).

My last batch also saw me experiment with adding golden syrup. The extra sweetness isn’t really needed, but it’s a nice addition if you’re willing to forego a little of the healthy feel.

In the pic above, I should point out that the baking tray used is super-tiny: about 6×4 inches, I think. Line it well with greaseproof paper, as the mix does stick quite a lot!

Alternatively, when I’ve done a double batch (2 bananas), I get enough mix to use a bigger tray and a silicone sheet – this is perfect, as the whole result just peels off! For that, I use a normal-sized baking sheet and don’t try to push the mix into the edges (see pic below). If doing this, it’s important to keep the mixture as non-runny as possible, and don’t press the edges down too thin, or they’ll burn before the middle is cooked.

I would recommend keeping the mix reasonably thin – about half an inch? – to stop the middle feeling a little gloopy. That’s matter of taste, though, as I got complaints with that batch about the edges being a little chewy! You can’t win, but at least this recipe is easy enough for repeat trials!

Enjoy 🙂

Veggie shepherd’s pie

assembling the pie pic

Happy Easter! To balance out all that chocolate (I suspect!) the supermarkets have all had offers on their fresh veg this past week, so an excellent time to stock up on soup ingredients. And to balance out all that chocolate (I know! ;)) a perfect time for some more veggies-as-main-courses, too. This Veggie Shepherd’s Pie is a perfect healthy and hearty, warming dish with the added benefit of a whole lot of flexibility! Make it all at once, freeze it, or make the sauce separately and add fresh sweet potato when you’re ready to eat. I made this a month ago, eating a single portion of the four. This can feel like a long-to-make meal – it’s not really, but anything with more than one step can be too much effort, right? 😉 Making the sauce – chop carrots and bung stuff into a pan for a while; making the topping – if you dice the sweet potato it cooks in 15 minutes or less; and finally assembling (tip: press the mash on rather than trying to spread it, which moves the base in a messy way) and baking.

The other three portions of the sauce base went into the freezer (in individual portions) so today I could defrost the sauce and use up one of my fresh bag of sweet potatoes (the rest went into a Sweet Potato and Chilli soup – nom!). I both defrosted and heated the base in the microwave, so it was warm under the new mash, and the whole thing only took 20 minutes in the oven, and around 40 minutes total. Had I cooked the whole thing from frozen, it would have taken 40 minutes in the oven, so either approach has benefits. At least this way I didn’t have to find quite as much space in my freezer, and didn’t ‘lose’ a dish in the meantime! I’m sure I could find other uses for that base sauce – it’s very tasty! It’s also a great way to use up carrots, and – as the recipe notes say – the secret to this dish is making sure you leave a little firmness and ‘bite’ in the carrots, rather than letting them cook to mush. The green lentils also add to the heartiness, while just a small amount of red lentils soak up any extra juices. I’d recommend the sweet potato over regular – in fact, I may have to try that more in general, as it is a healthier choice – as it goes so well with the flavours here, adding that bit of sweet to the red wine and herb richness, and the slight tang from the cheese sprinkles. Veggie Shepherd's Pie photo