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

Christmas Chocolate Truffles

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…. Well, given how late I’ve left it to write this, it doesn’t just look like Christmas, it actually IS Christmas.

I love Christmas. Winter’s my favourite time of year and Christmas is just the best bit. I like the presents, the decorations, the lights, the time off work (seriously, a sure sign of getting older must be that you look forward to the six days off just as much as the big day), the TV and especially THE FOOD.

Roast turkey, Mum’s bread sauce, mince pies, Wine Gums (if Nan’s staying), amazing leftover sandwiches, Jan’s Boxing Day chilli…. it’s all good. And giving food as gifts is fun, too.

I wanted to make a little foodie gift for all my work friends to go with their cards. Last year I gave everyone tiny decorated sponge cakes and I wanted to do something similar. I decided on chocolate truffles, decorated to look like mini christmas puddings. I made some last year and really liked how they turned out and it also meant that I could use my edible glitter, which is always a plus.

I found a recipe for chocolate truffles on the good old BBC Good Food website, which recommends using all dark chocolate, but I’ve used 125g dark chocolate and 175g milk chocolate, because I find that they can be too bitter.

I will admit, I’ve had to make this twice because I cocked up and forgot to buy butter so used Flora Buttery instead. I don’t know the science, but it seems that the truffles need the fat to set or something because the mixture just stayed really gross and slimy. So use full fat, it’s Christmas!

Christmas Pudding Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 40 truffles

For the truffles:

  • 300g good quality chocolate
  • 300ml double cream
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • Bitter cocoa, such as Bourneville or Green & Blacks

For the decorations:

  • 125g white chocolate
  • Holly sprinkles
  • Edible glitter
  • Gold petit-four cases
  1. Chop up your chocolate (I used a demi-lune knife) and pour into a large heat-proof bowl
  2. Gently heat the butter and cream until the butter melts and the cream starts to simmer
  3. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and pour over the chocolate
  4. Stir the chocolate and cream together until you have a smooth mixture
  5. Leave to set for around 3-4 hours

Once the mixture has set, you can start decorating!

  1. To shape the truffles, pour the cocoa into a medium sized bowl
  2. Take a walnut sized spoonful of truffle and roll in your hands to make a ball
  3. Drop the truffle into the cocoa and roll around to cover and then place in a petit-four case
  4. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave (much easier than a bain-marie) and then use a teaspoon to dot a tiny amount on top of the truffle, to make the cream on the pudding
  5. Finish by carefully placing some holly sprinkles on top and then dust over the glitter

I think you’ll agree, they’re pretty effective.

For the packaging, I had grand ideas. I wanted to put four or five into a clear plastic box, very simple and classy. I found the boxes by searching “clear plastic favour boxes” on eBay but it turns out I can’t count or measure though and I bought 35 boxes in totally the wrong size. I ended up just giving everyone one truffle in a little box on the day of our Christmas lunch when we wouldn’t want to eat much anyway. The single truffles actually looked really cute in their Christmassy boxes and made a nice little present to go with the cards.

So that’s that. Tree’s up, cards are written, presents are wrapped and gifts are made. We are ready for Christmas! Ha, not really, so much left to do! I hope everyone has a wonderful time over the holidays and if anyone finds themselves needing 25 favour cases, please let me know.

Merry Christmas!!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

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Frimble Frumble

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I’ve been wanting to cook something Christmassy for the last week or so, but I couldn’t decide what to make. I know a gifty thing I want to make for friends, but it’s too early for that. Then it hit me, I’ll try and make Pret’s Crimble Crumble!

I LOVE Crimble Crumble. It’s a mince pie bar that’s shortbread with a layer of mincemeat and a crumble topping. It’s rich and lovely and, it turns out, quite easy to copy.

I’ve decided to call my own version Frimble Frumble, so we all know it’s a fake. I used Jamie recipes for the shortbread and crumble topping, but I used shop-bought mincemeat. It took most of Sunday to make, but its very easy, just a bit of a faff.

Frimble Frumble

Makes about 12-16, depending on how you’re cutting!

Part One, Shortbread (Taken from Cook with Jamie)

  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 125g cornflour or semolina
  • Preheat the oven to 150ºC
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Add the flour and semolina and mix lightly with a spoon then your hands to make a dough
  3. Jamie recommends that you then roll it out on a floured surface before placing into prepared tin. I found this really tricky so I ended up putting the ball of dough into the tin and flattening it into place with my hands.
  4. Prick the dough all over with a fork and place in the oven for 50 minutes or until it’s golden
  5. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Part Two, Mincemeat

  • 2 jars of any shop bought mincemeat (I used Co-Op, because we happen to live opposite one)
  1. Spread the mincemeat over the shortbread. That’s it!

Part Three, Crumble (Taken from the apple pie recipe in Jamie’s Dinners)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 85g caster sugar
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Rub together the flour, butter, sugar, lemon and salt to make a sandy mixture
  3. Add the egg yolk and a dash of water and make a dough
  4. When the dough is smooth, wrap in clingfilm and put in the freezer for a couple of hours
  5. Once the dough is quite firm, take out the freezer and crumble over the mincemeat. I just pulled bits off the dough and scattered over, but I think next time I’d leave it longer in the freezer and then grate a layer over too.
  6. Put in the oven and cook for around 30 minutes. Keep a close eye on it though, as the time it takes to cook depends on the thickness of the crumble.

And its done! I sliced it into smallish squares and rectangles and took it to work for everyone to sample. It went down very well! It’s not *exactly* the same as the Pret version, I think that they use actual crumble rather than a pastry, but its still a nice take on a traditional mince pie. According to the Pret website, Crimble Crumbles are 330 calories per serving and I’d imagine Frimble Frumbles are about the same.

In other news… we got a cat! After 2 solid years of hints and flat out pleading, Jonny finally relented and we adopted a cat from a girl in Manningtree, who is having a baby and couldn’t look after her cats any more.

He’s a tabby boy called Ziggy and he’s very nearly a year old. I would love to put a photo on here to show how handsome he is, but he’s an antisocial sod at the moment and is living behind the sofa, under a radiator. He only seems to come out at night, to test out the acoustics of the house by wailing pitifully in every room. Still, all the (many, many) websites I’ve looked at and friends on Facebook say that this is normal and he’ll relax and make friends with us soon, so I’m not too worried. A little friend for Christmas, yay!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

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Blueberry & Lime Drizzle Cake

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When it’s cold and rainy out like it is now, I really just want to stay in and eat cake.

Actually, even when it’s gloriously sunny out, I still just want to stay in and eat cake.

This is one of my favourite cakes, it’s a Lorraine Pascale recipe, ripped out of a Sainsburys magazine years ago. It’s very easy to make and decorate, but looks quite impressive. It’s a bit of a “village fete” cake, looks pretty in a rustic kind of way and because it’s a drizzle cake, it slices really cleanly. That’s important to me! It also lasts longer than other cakes because it’s so moist.

I made this yesterday without checking if I had all the ingredients and obviously I was missing some bits, so I had to make a few adjustments. I used half caster and half soft brown sugar, and the butter was a mixture of Stork, Lurpak and actual butter. It turned out just fine. This cake is so hard to get wrong!

Lime & Blueberry Drizzle Cake

Makes about 12 slices

For the cake:

  • 225g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 200g blueberries
  • zest of 1 lime

For the drizzle:

  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 100g icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk, or in an electric mixer, until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between.
  4. Fold in all but one tablespoon of the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt.
  5. Toss the blueberries in the remaining flour, then fold these and the lime zest into the cake mixture.
  6. Spoon the mixture into a tin, and put in the oven for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the thickest part comes out clean.
  7. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes or so.

To make the lime drizzle, mix together the juice of the two limes and of icing sugar. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a skewer or thin knife and then pour over the mixture. Leave for a few hours or overnight for the drizzle to sink in.

I iced the cake really simply by mixing together about 125g of icing sugar and 1 and a half limes, so the icing is thick and white but still runny. I then let it run off a spoon to make stripes across the cake and sprinkled over some lime zest to decorate.

According to MyFitnessPal, this cake is about 345 calories per slice. Not too bad! Keep it in a tin and it’ll be good for about 4 days. Enjoy!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

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Birthday Cake

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At work I have a reputation to protect. Not for being tough, or speaking my mind or even being particularly good at my job. Without even trying, simply by turning up one day in a big skirt with a satchel, I am the office girly girl.

I have a pink lunch box, Hello Kitty tissues and once announced that I always used limes instead of lemons because limes are ‘a prettier colour.’ I run to the window whenever we hear horses outside (always for a funeral, so I must look like a death-obsessed goth to the offices over the road). I have also been limping for over a week because I chose pretty, spotty trainers instead of actual, functional running shoes. See, not particularly clever but definitely girly.

So when it was my birthday last week (thirty-one, thank you very much) I had to a make a cake that lived up to my girly reputation. I decided to make a big, traditional lime (obvs) sponge with a buttercream and lime curd filling, using a tried and tested Nigella madeira cake and a curd recipe I found online.

Lime Madeira Cake (Adapted very slightly from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess)

Double the amounts to make the 2 cakes

  • 240g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Grated zest & juice of 1 lime
  • 3 large eggs
  • 210g self-raising flour
  • 90g plain flour
  1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3/325ºF.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar, and add the lemon zest
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, with a spoonful of flour for each
  4. Gently mix in the rest of the flour and lime juice
  5. Pour into a cake tin and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean
  6. Cool in the tin before turning out onto a cooling rack

I baked the two sponges in springform tins and when the cake was put together it was ENORMOUS. So big that when there was a wedge left it collapsed under it’s own weight and had to be thrown away. So maybe use regular Victoria Sponge tins?

Lime Curd (Taken from BBC Good Food website)

  • 112g plus 1 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 25g cold unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Freshly grated lime zest of 1 lime

Method

  1. In a heavy saucepan cook the sugar, butter, eggs and lime juice over a moderately low heat. Whisk frequently, until it is thick enough to hold marks of whisk, about 12-15 minutes.
  2. Immediately pour the curd through a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the zest of one lime and cool.

I think I scrambled my curd quite badly but once it went through a sieve it was absolutely fine, but I think I’d do it over a bain marie when I make it again just to make sure it stayed smooth.

But how to girly up such an enormous cake? I saw a beautiful cake on Instagram made by Emma from A Beautiful Mess and decided to base it on that. The main thing that went wrong with this plan is that the cake I was copying had frosting all over and piping on top, but I only bought one tub of buttercream so could only do a layer inside with the curd and some on top (as I’ve mentioned before, I DO NOT make frosting). I decided that the filling showing and the curd oozing out looked a bit country-cottage anyway.

To make the cake look really Disney-princess, I scattered heart sprinkles and pink sugar around the edges of the cake and then dotted Love Hearts randomly. I finished with some edible glitter and put it on a pink cake board. Finished!

I text a photo of the final cake to my mum and she described it as the “campest thing I’ve ever seen.” She may have a point.

You might notice that there’s no photos of ingredients or the making of the cake. This is because all the lights in the kitchen died at once and we’re now cooking by lamplight like squatters, which is annoying. But that doesn’t matter because we are moving! To a house with stairs! As much as I love this flat; it’s the first place I’ve lived properly alone and I really love the big rooms here, it is exciting to be moving to a new place. But it does mean the next couple of weeks will be full of cleaning, polyfilla and paying out lots of money, it seems. Moving house is expensive! It will definitely be worth it though.

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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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