What’s for Dinner, Babe?

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Happy New Year (never sure about those capital letters)! Did you have a good break? Mine was fun and relaxed. I saw lots of friends and family, ate good food and got loads of sleep. Perfect really.

But! Now now it’s all over. Homes have been found for the new presents, the tree’s been taken down (I’m GUTTED, our tree and in particular the lovely bunting that my sister Jem made me looked beautiful this year) and we’re back to the grind. In JANUARY. The bleakest, poorest, most depressing month of the year. Getting up when it’s still dark after all those leisurely 10am wake ups is painful! And its at this time of year that you’re supposed to be healthier too, when you’ve got good and used to staying in all day and eating whatever you like, when you like. But sadly you can’t eat like Henry VIII forever, it’s time to bring back proper meals, at proper times.

Which brings me to… the dreaded “What do you fancy for dinner, babe?” text.

This text is generally received at about 4.15pm, while you’re still at work, possibly just after you’ve eaten your afternoon cake or Kitkat, so you’re not even hungry. You won’t have thought about dinner, apart from reading a Time Out review of a restaurant near work that you really fancy but can’t afford. You know there’s no food at home (apart from brie and Celebrations, obviously) so any dinner prep means a trip to the shops, which is annoying. This is generally a very stressful text. And, by the way, whoever receives this text is making dinner, so get in there first if you can. It’s part friendly query about your evening, part passive-aggressive declaration of war.

I know it can be hard to think of different, interesting meals to eat every night that don’t mean spending £10 to £15 on ingredients on the way home from work. It’s that reason we’re a nation of mince eaters. So I have made a list of my favourite go-to meals, so you don’t have this agony. You can thank me later.

Chicken Thai Green Curry

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We eat this meal so much. It’s from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals book and TV show but I’d say it takes around 40 minutes start to finish. The chicken in this recipe is pan fried under something heavy so it goes crispy, then we always shred it and stir it into the sauce at the end. I now always cook chicken this way, it’s so good.

Any equipment needed? Yes. This recipe is really only fast and easy if you have a food processor or a mini processor attachment on a hand blender, as you make the curry paste from scratch. You can do it with a regular hand blender, but the paste becomes weirdly smooth and creamy.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Co-Op. Jamie generally likes a lot of ingredients so you’ll probably need a few fresh bits. A good cheat would be  buying a jar of minced lemongrass and some trays of frozen garlic and ginger cubes to keep on hand, but you’ll need to pop to the shop for fresh coriander and some green beans.

Find the recipe here.

Leek & Smoked Haddock Risotto

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This is from the BBC GoodFood website and we’ve only had this once, but it was so good. As it’s a baked risotto, it’s really quick to make- about 10 minutes to prepare and then you can ignore it for 20 minutes. No constant stirring required! The recipe specifies haddock as the fish of choice for this, but I used river cobbler because it’s much cheaper and apparently more sustainable and I really liked it. Pollock would work well too. One minor change I made was to add grated parmesan on top at the end, but I was told by my boyfriend that cheese and fish don’t go *shrugging emoji*.

Any equipment needed? Nope, just a pan you can use on both the hob and in the oven. We got Pro Cook ‘Le Cruset-esque’ ones for Christmas and they’re amazing.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Mayyybeee the corner shop for some creme fraiche. But on the whole this is pretty much store cupboard stuff and it would work well with frozen fish fillets if you have any in. Oh, and the recipe says to stir in fresh baby spinach but I added in some of those frozen balls when I took it out the oven and put the lid back on till it thawed and then stirred through. Worked fine!

Find the recipe here.

Ramen Soup

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Another GoodFood recipe! It’s such a good site. I love ramen soups like this, particularly when I’m not feeling well. You can use pretty much any noodles you like for this, we used big thick soba noodles, but regular egg or vermicelli would be good too. For the chicken on top I cooked it the Jamie Oliver way on a griddle pan, for a bit of texture. And I have to admit, I did do soft boiled eggs for the top, but smashed them  (in my HULK-LIKE HANDS) while trying to take the shells off.

Any equipment needed? No, just big bowls to eat out of. As with most Asian cooking though, it is worth getting everything chopped and prepared before you start cooking as it comes together very quickly.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? No! The beauty of this recipe is that you can just chuck in any near-death vegetables and tinned sweetcorn, so as long as you have some noodles in the cupboard, you’re good to go. You may need to go to an Asian supermarket to get Nori seaweed paper, but let’s be honest, you probably won’t bother. I didn’t.

Find the recipe here.

Crispy Chicken Legs with Sweet Tomatoes

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This is honestly one of my favourite ever dinners and it’s so easy. I’ll link the recipe below but basically: put cherry tomatoes and garlic in large pan, place chicken legs on top, scatter basil and drizzle oil, cook. That’s it. Half way through the cooking time I chuck in a tin of cannellini beans and then serve it with crusty bread. Excellent dinner.

Any equipment needed? No, none at all. Just remember to season the chicken well.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Tesco for chicken legs and fresh basil (the plant on your window sill is dead, btw), but it’s totally worth the trip.

Get the recipe here.

Basil Pesto

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Yes, boring old pesto, stirred into pasta. I know its a cheapo studenty dinner, but if you make your own it makes all the difference. If I’m on my own I’ll just have it with pasta, but when we’re both in I stir through tagliatelle and place white fish on top, that’s been steamed in foil with a bit of lemon.

Any equipment needed? Yep, food processor or at the very least a pestle and mortar.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Co-Op. I guarantee you’ll need at least one of the ingredients, probably pine nuts.

Get the recipe here.

So there you go, a Monday to Friday of meals and not a beige dinner in sight. Let me know if you cook any!

Final Signature

Beef Wellington

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I made a beef wellington!

And I do not mind admitting, I am SO proud of myself.

I really like cooking up savoury dishes, but I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to making this kind of thing. Like most people, I tend to stick to the 5-6 meals I can make without really thinking about, rather than looking up new things to cook. But, I wanted to make something special for my boyfriend’s birthday, so I decided to attempt the wellington and he loved it. He said it was the best thing I’d ever cooked him and I really liked it, too.

I used a recipe from Jamie’s Comfort Food (Although 90% of my cookbooks had a variation in them) and it was actually quite simple and only took about an hour and a half. The effort to impressiveness ratio is high!

As there were only two of us, I made a mini version with a smaller piece of fillet. My small one worked out fine and was actually handy because it fitted exactly in a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, but the recipe below serves 4-6.

One word of warning though, this meal is NOT CHEAP. Just for my little two-man version, the fillet I bought from the market cost £18.50. EIGHTEEN POUNDS AND FIFTY PENCE. Once I’d bought all the other bits it came to around £25.00 for the whole meal. This puts beef wellington firmly in the “Birthdays, Christmas and off to prison tomorrow” category as far as I’m concerned.

Beef Wellington (Taken from Jamie’s Comfort Food)

Serves 4-6

  • 1kg centre fillet of beef, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large knobs unsalted butter
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or Dorot frozen cubes
  • 600g mixed mushrooms (I used chestnut and button, but generally, urgh mushrooms), finely chopped
  • 100g chicken livers, chopped
  • 500g block of puff pastry
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • Worcestershire sauce
  1. Preheat a large frying pan on a high heat and add the oil, butter and rosemary.
  2. Season the beef with the salt and pepper, then seal by turning it regularly with tongs for about 4 minutes. Take it out the pan and put it aside on a plate.
  3. In the same pan, fry the onion and garlic until softened and then add in the mushrooms. Cook for around 15 minutes.
  4. Add in the livers and cook for a few minutes, then tip the contents onto a large board.
  5. Finely chop it all by hand with a big knife, to a spreadable consistency. I used my trusty demi-lune knife for this.
  6. Taste and season, then stir in the breadcrumbs which should hopefully stop the pastry getting too soggy.
  7. Preheat the oven to 210ºC/425ºF/gas 7.
  8. On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the pastry to 30cm x 40cm. As I mentioned earlier, I used pre-rolled puff so I just left it on the waxed paper it came in and didn’t need any flour. This next bit is directly copied from Jamie, as it’s a bit confusing:

“With one of the longer edges in front of you, spread the mushroom pâté over the pastry, leaving a 5cm gap at either end and at the edge furthest away from you – eggwash these edges. Sit the beef on the pâté, then, starting with the edge nearest you, snugly wrap the pastry around the beef, pinching the ends to seal.”

Basically, fold it over itself and squash down the edges.

  1. Transfer the Wellington to a large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, with the pastry seal at the bottom and brush all over with eggwash.
  2. Before it goes in the oven, heat the tray for a few minutes on the hob to crisp up the base, then transfer to the oven and cook for around 40 minutes.

For the timing, I wasn’t sure how long to cook it as I’d used a much smaller piece of beef. I cooked it for about 35 minutes in the end and it was very rare, which is fine for my boyfriend and me (we eat like wolves) but I know not everyone likes their beef like that. As for the breadcrumb trick, the pastry was a little soggy but not bad. Ooh, one more thing; I couldn’t find chicken livers when I was shopping so I just used some Crème Fraiche I found in the fridge to make it creamy. Turned out fine.

A few other recipes I’d looked at suggested making dauphinoise potatoes to go with a wellington but as the portions turned out enormous we just had ours with broccoli and some onion gravy. Classy!

This week I’m sure I’ll be straight back to my usual bolognaise, Thai curry and chili routine but I’m pleased I made the effort with this. I’ll be riding the smugness for weeks to come!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

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My Spaghetti Bolognaise

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I think all families have their own special way of making spaghetti bolognaise. A recipe that everyone can knock up without even thinking about it, just because they’ve seen it being made 1000 times before, by various members of the family. Some might involve tomato ketchup, chorizo or even baked beans. This recipe is how my family make a bolognaise, and it’s the best ever, obviously.

When I was little, spaghetti bolognaise was definitely my dad’s domain and we ate it at least once a week. I still don’t know what he put in it (and he’ll never tell, my dad is the ultimate “I swear, I’ve added nothing” liar), but it was the spiciest food I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, I remember one of us crying once, it was so hot. Until I was about 16, I honestly thought authentic Italian food had to be about as hot as your average Vindaloo. Obviously, now when I make this myself, I don’t add the mystery ingredient that made dad’s bolognaise taste like fire, but it’s still pretty much the same apart from that.

When I cook this for myself, I like to use the absolute cheapest, value, probably-horse-meat mince I can find; the one I used in the pictures is from Farm Foods. This low-quality mince means that it breaks down while cooking, making it all soft and mushy and perfect for eating it out of a bowl on these colder evenings. This is also a great way to get rid of any vegetables that you have hanging around; my recipe lists carrots, celery, pepper and courgette, but that’s just what I happened to have in the fridge.

Spaghetti Bolognaise (Serves 3-4)

• 250g frozen minced beef
• 1 large onion, chopped finely
• 1 clove garlic (I use frozen Dorot garlic, so much easier!)
• 2 carrots, cut into small pieces
• 2 sticks of celery, halved and chopped finely
• 1 red or yellow pepper, cut into small pieces
• 1 small courgette, halved and chopped finely
• 1 tinned of chopped tomatoes
• Big squeeze of tomato puree
• 1 beef stock cube
• 2 tablespoons of gravy granules
• Sprinkle of Italian seasoning
• Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
• Salt and pepper
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Method

1. Over a medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, carrots and Italian seasoning until the onions are softened and starting to colour. Add the mince and cook until browned.
2. Pour in the tin of chopped tomatoes and about half the tin of water. Add the celery, pepper and courgette and stir.
3. Add the gravy granules, the tomato puree and sprinkle over the beef stock cube. Add the salt and pepper and Worcestershire Sauce, to taste.
4. Bring to the boil and let it cook away for a few minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn’t catch. If it starts to taste a bit salty at this point, stir in a teaspoon of white sugar.
5. Turn down to a low heat and ignore it until you’re hungry, stirring occasionally. When you are ready to eat, stir in a spoonful of pasta water to loosen up the bolognaise a bit and serve.

I usually eat this with wholemeal pasta (it was hard, but I’ve FINALLY weaned myself off white pasta and bread), but it’s just as good over a jacket potato. Or, if you’re feeling really lazy, simply out a bowl, using a mini pitta as an edible spoon. Just don’t forget to add lots of cheese and pepper.

A few points:

• This is really, really cheap to make, I think less than £2.00 per serving for meat and vegetables (Especially if you use cheap mince like me!)
• About 210 calories per serving, before any pasta or cheese
• If you have loads of veg to use up, it is definitely worth making lots of this and freezing in portions. Bolognaise tastes even better when it’s been frozen or chilled for a few days

Now enjoy this cold weather, get under a blanket and enjoy this lazy dinner!

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