Monday, 22 October 2012

Chicken, Pepper & Pesto Plait

A very simple midweek supper made up to use up what I had knocking around in the fridge. It worked surprisingly well, hence being deemed post worthy. I used red pesto in the one I cooked at home, but I do feel green pesto would probably suit just as well if not better.

Really easy to reheat in both microwave or oven, so makes an excellent packed lunch. I used the leftovers of our Sunday roast for the chicken, but this is priced based on buying and shredding 3 chicken breasts. Even this way at less than £1 per portion you'd go a long way to find a dinner as filling and tasty for so little money.


1 pack pre-rolled light puff pastry
300g cooked shredded chicken or turkey
1/2 jar pesto
125g ball mozzerella, thinly sliced
1 egg
2 sliced peppers, any colour (contrasting with pesto looks best)

Serves: 8
Cost per portion: £0.86
Nutrition: 327 calories, 17g carbs, 17g protein

Heat oven to 180C.

Heat a frying pan on the hob, then dry fry the peppers for 2 minutes. The aim is only to take some of the moisture out of the peppers and seal them, not to cook them through.

Cut a rectangle of baking paper to fit a tray. Unroll the pastry and lay on the baking paper (do not leave on the white rolling paper as in photo - it's a nightmare to get off once assembled).

Take a knife and cut approximately 10-12 horizontal cuts up each side of the pastry, roughly a third of the way across on each side, leaving the centre third uncut.

Spread the chicken along the length of the centre portion of the pastry, spoon over the pesto, then top with the peppers and mozzarella.

Beat the egg, then brush a small amount over the two ends of the pastry, but not all down the sides.

Starting at one end fold the first strip over the plait, pressing to the head of the plait so the filling won't escape. Fold the strip from the opposite side over slightly pointing downwards. Repeat, alternating sides, until the plait is finished. Press the final strip into the base of the plait again to seal.

Brush the plait all over with egg wash, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Small gaps in the plait will fill as the pastry expands creating an even finish. Serve with salad.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Chocolate Caramel Layer Cake

I know, I'm cruel. Monday morning rolled around with the best of intentions to watch the diet this week, and I present you with this.

I can honestly say it's as good as it looks. The cake is very moist, but because there isn't icing between the layers, and the icing there is isn't sweetened with icing sugar or butter, it's very easy to enjoy a piece without feeling weighed down. Probably a bit much in terms of calories for livening up a rough afternoon at work, but a complete show stopper for Sunday tea.

Don't be daunted by this cake, it was amazingly simple to make and the moistness of the cake batter means it produces quite flat layers so no need to take a knife to them to make it stack neatly. If you have icing left over just pop it in a jar in the fridge, it reheats in the microwave in about 20-40 seconds depending on quantity, and is gorgeous as a dip for fruit or poured over ice cream.

Make for your mam's birthday, best friend's new job, a special Sunday tea, to celebrate that letter this morning telling you you're due £7.52 back in overpaid tax... just find an excuse and make this as soon as you can.


For the chocolate & vanilla sponge:
225g very soft butter , plus extra for greasing
225g golden caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
85g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
150ml pot natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp cocoa powder

For the caramel and chocolate-caramel sponge:
225g very soft butter , plus extra for greasing
175g light muscovado sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
175g self-raising flour
85g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
150ml pot natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa

For the filling and icing:
397g can caramel (stocked near the condensed milk in stores)
140g dark chocolate
140g milk chocolate
300ml double cream

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Grease and line bases of 2 x 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment. For the Vanilla & chocolate sponges, mix all the ingredients, apart from the cocoa, together with an electric whisk. Scrape half the mix into a tin and whizz in the cocoa to the remaining batter. Scrape into the second tin and bake for 20-25 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean.

Repeat step 1 for the Caramel & caramel-choc sponges, again leaving cocoa out of the first mixing, then splitting the mix in half and whizzing the cocoa into one batch. Cook as above.

While sponges are cooling, melt the dark and milk chocolate together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and cool or chill until spreadable.

When the sponges are cool, spread a third of the caramel over the Vanilla sponge and top with the Caramel sponge. Spread over another third of the caramel and top with the Caramel-chocolate sponge, then the final third of caramel and top with the Chocolate sponge.

Spread the chocolate icing over the whole cake to serve. It will keep in a cool place in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Eat at room temperature, the fridge does no justice to this cake.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Weekly round up - 13th October 2012

It's been a great week for us here, we've had some good financial and employment news, making the end of summer much more bearable. I've been enjoying planning some healthier comfort food for the next few weeks, an afternoon spent pouring over cookbooks can't be beaten in my eyes! Pea's started on her first solids, already a mini-gourmet she has denounced baby rice in favour of mango - and thoroughly loved the new tastes.

What I've bookmarked this week...

Sugar-crusted lamb. Granted I should really be weaning myself off sugar rather than introducing it to more dishes, but this just looks gorgeous.

Mushroom Lasagne by Brown Eyed Baker. Might need to tweek a few ingredients for this side of the pond, but this looks like it could be fantastic.

Pina Colada Cake by Under The Blue Gum Tree. Looks delicious, guaranteed to bring back memories of my honeymoon where I sheltered in the bar on the Maldives from hideous rains and winds and drank from dawn till dusk while the sea level gradually rose to cover most of the Island! Not enough people in disaster movies choose the boozy way to go.

Cookbook of the week... Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. My cousin raves about her Wahacca restaurant in London, but being a Northern girl I have to enjoy making it myself. It's easy to do with this book, which creates some really exciting flavours and takes my understanding of Mexican cusine beyond a sachet of old el paso spice mix and a jar of salsa. Expect to see some highlights on the blog soon.

If you make one thing this week make... Christmas Jewelled Lamb Stew . Hard choice, the ginger beer was so easy and like nothing I'd ever made before, and I LOVE the prawn & chorizo salad, but this one just seems perfect for this weather and has such gorgeous and unexpected flavours.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Fakeaway Friday - Chicken Korma

Korma always brings a smile to my face as I remember when He Who Must Be Fed and I were first dating, he'd never had a curry before, and Korma was his first try. Cruel girlfriend that I was I couldn't stop laughing as the tears streamed down his face, I'd never before met anyone who considered a Korma spicy. I was very lucky in the end though as he married me anyway, despite the cruel laughing.

I've tried a few Korma recipes over the years, and this is the best yet. I'm not going to say the balance is perfect, but most portions of Korma will have over 800 calories and I don't feel it lacks in the rich and creamy department. A lovely mock indulgence at the end of the week.


3 skinless chicken breasts (approximately 350-400g)
25g low-fat natural yoghurt
1 tbsp sunflower oil
400g chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
20g piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
8 cardamom pods, seeds crushed
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 heaped tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp hot chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 whole cloves
1 tbsp plain flour
small pinch saffron
2 tsp caster sugar
sea salt, plus extra to season
3 tbsp double cream

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £1.09
Nutrition: 326 calories, 17g carbs, 33g protein

Cut each chicken breast into bite-sized pieces, season with pepper and put them in a non-metallic bowl. Stir in the yoghurt, cover with cling film and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes but ideally 2–6 hours.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick saucepan and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes until very soft and lightly coloured. Stir the onions occasionally so they don’t start to stick.

Once the onions are softened, stir in the crushed cardamom seeds, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and bay leaf. Pinch off the ends of the cloves into the pan and throw away the stalks. Cook the spices with the onions for five minutes, stirring constantly.

Stir in the flour, saffron, sugar and pinch of salt, then slowly pour 300ml cold water into the pan, stirring constantly.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat, take out the bay leaf and blend the onion mixture with a stick blender or food processor until smooth.

The sauce can now be used right away or chilled until 10 minutes before serving. You can also freeze and defrost a few hours before needed. You may need to add a little extra cream or water when heating.

Drain the chicken in a colander over the sink, shaking it a few times – you want the meat to have just a light coating of yoghurt.

Place a non-stick frying pan on the heat, add the sauce and bring it to a simmer.

Add the chicken pieces and cream and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through, stirring regularly. Exactly how long the chicken takes will depend on the size of your pieces, so check a piece after eight minutes – there should be no pink remaining.

Adjust the seasoning to taste, then serve.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Prawn, Chorizo & Butternut Squash Salad

The perfect winter salad. Really quick to whip up and lovely hot or cold (but definitely better hot). I love the contrast of the spicy sausage with the fleshy prawns, both boosted with the sweetness of the squash. I don't dress the salad, but you can dribble over the chorizo olive oil from the pan if you want.


100g butternut squash (around half a squash)
100g raw peeled king prawns
25g chorizo, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salad leaves, approximately 50g

Serves: 1
Cost per portion: £1.98
Nutrition: 251 calories, 15g carbs, 25g protein

Thinly slice the squash, no more than 1/2cm thick but as thin as possible.

Heat a frying pan over a medium-low heat, spray with oil. Lay the squash in a single layer over the pan. Cook for around 3-4 minutes each side or until showing signs of colour.

Arrange the leaves on the plate, and as ready remove the squash slices and lay over the leaves.

Add the chorizo to the empty pan, fry for 30 seconds to release some oil, then add the king prawns and lime juice. Cook the prawns for 2-3 minutes until cooked through, and add the chorizo and prawns to the top of the salad. Enjoy this one as much as I do.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Christmas Jewelled Lamb Stew

I know, it's October, but to me the combination of spices in this stew just summon up glorious scents of open fires, Christingle oranges and weekly sniffs of fruit cake as you ladle over ever more booze. It's rare to find a stew we both enjoy, but this has to be my favourite ever. At this time of year comfort food always hits the mark, and finding something packed with unusual flavours which is so simple feels like a secret which should be whispered only to best friends by candlelight.

Keep an eye out for lamb on offer, as it can be very expensive. More lamb in this would go well, but it would bump up the cost and calories quite significantly.


1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
4 carrots, cut into chunks or thick batons
4 parsnips, cut into chunks or thick batons
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves , sliced
5cm fresh root ginger, very finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
500g lamb, cut into chunks
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
good pinch saffron
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground coriander
50g ground almonds
800ml beef stock
100g dried apricots
75g dried cranberries

Serves: 6
Cost per portion: £1.68
Nutrition: 473 calories, 54g carbs, 5g protein

Heat oven to 180C.

Toss the carrots, squash and parsnips with the olive oil. Spread over a baking tray and roast for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile fry the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil until the onions are soft.

Add the lamb and stir-fry until browned. Add the spices, cook over the heat to release their flavours, then add the almonds. Pour in the stock bring to a simmer.

Cover the pan and simmer for 45 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the apricots and cranberries, then simmer 15 mins more until the lamb is tender. Thin with a little water if the sauce starts to get too thick.

Add the roasted carrots, squash and parsnips, stir well and serve with mash or crusty bread.

To freeze, cool, then pack into a freezer container or bags. Will keep for up to 3 months. Thaw for 6 hours in the fridge, then reheat in a pan until bubbling hot.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ginger Beer

Something I hadn't ever considered making, despite it being one of He Who Must Be Fed's favourites. But a combination of finding an old book about making traditional sweets, and his birthday last week meant I had to have a crack.

I've tweaked the recipe slightly from the one I made, as the ginger wasn't fiery enough. This is a non alcoholic version, add a shot of vodka or rum for an extra kick.

If you like your ginger beer a bit sweeter drop the ginger to 150g, and add half an orange along with the lemon.


200g ginger, scrubbed and roughly chopped (no need to peel)
1 lemon, roughly chopped
100g light muscavado sugar
Bottle of lemonade, to serve

Makes around 10 servings, £0.78 per bottle (excluding lemonade)

As simple as it comes. Add all ingredients to a blender and blitz until there are no lumps left. Place a sieve over a large bowl and pour over the gloop. Allow to drain, push through as much moisture as you can. Discard the pulp. Add a muslin to the sieve, then pour the mix through for a second time. Again work with a spoon to get the most mix through. Squeeze the leftovers in the muslin to get the most out of the pulp.

Decant into a sterilised jar or bottle. Will keep in the fridge for two weeks.

To serve fill a glass 4/5 full with lemonade and ice, then top with ginger syrup. Stir well and enjoy.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Fakeaway Friday - Sweet & Sour Chicken

On a Friday, after a week at work that seems a lot longer than 37 hours a lot of us hit the restaurants or the local takeaway. There's something about those overly sweetened, salted, fatty goodies that seems like a great idea, despite the morning after regrets. Did I really wolf down a chicken tikka, rice, naan, poppadom, and a handful of bahji's? No, surely they're in the bin somewhere, or maybe the back of the fridge? Is there any chance He Who Must Be Fed ate them during the night? Then the realisation dawns that after a week of nibbling on salad, cutting out the sugar in your tea, politely declining the office biscuit tin, you undid all that hard work in one evening.

I've been cooking my own takeaways for years (and I'm still on the hunt for the perfect curry recipe), so I'm trying something new with this blog, every Friday I'll share a takeaway favourite recipe, but in a healthier way. If you really can't stomach cooking on a Friday, make it in advance and reheat, takeaway dinner on the table in less time than it takes to call your local.

First up, a new addition to my takeaway repertoire. This one is from the The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight cookbook - probably my favourite tv duo, whose healthy eating diet book reads like a bible of Great British comfort food. I've adjusted the quantities slightly, as we didn't find there was enough chicken for 4 portions, and the vinegar was a bit strong for my taste in the original.

Sweet & Sour Chicken


1 x 425g tin pineapple chunks in natural juice
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion, cut into 12 wedges
2 peppers, red, green, orange or yellow, deseeded and cut into chunks of about 3cm
1 x 225g tin water chestnuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
25g piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £2.17
Nutrition: 368 calories, 35g carbs, 34g protein

To make the sauce, drain the pineapple into a bowl and keep all the juice – you should have about 150ml/5fl oz.

Put the cornflour in a large bowl and stir in three tablespoons of the pineapple juice to make a smooth paste.

Add the remaining juice and 150ml/5fl oz water, then stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, ketchup and chilli flakes until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Cut each chicken breast into chunky pieces. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok and stir-fry the onion and peppers for two minutes over a high heat. Drain the water chestnuts and cut them as thinly as possible horizontally (2 cuts should suffice).

Add the remaining oil and the chicken to the pan and stir-fry for two minutes until coloured on all sides. Add the garlic, ginger, pineapple chunks and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 30–60 seconds.

Give the cornflour and pineapple mixture a good stir and add it to the pan with the chicken and vegetables. Stir well, season with some ground black pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for 4–6 minutes until the sauce is thickened and glossy and the chicken is tender and cooked throughout, turning the chicken and vegetables a few times. Serve with rice.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Welsh Valley Stew

Super quick, lots of flavour, amazingly low in fat, calories AND pennies, and next to no washing up, what more could you want after work? I was surprised my how tasty this was, not being a stew type of person, and how filling it was for a fairly light meal.

Welsh Valley Stew


2 baking potatoes or 4 regular potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 leeks, washed and cut into thick slices
3 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 2cm rounds
300ml hot chicken stock
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced, or approximately 200g of leftover cooked shredded chicken
150g mushrooms
3 tbsp crème fraiche (half fat is fine)
Spring of fresh herbs, thyme works well, but a mixture if you grow your own would also be lovely.

Serves: 4
Cost per portion: £0.74
Nutrition: 185 calories, 22g protein, 34g carbs

Put the potatoes, leeks, mushrooms and carrots together in a microwave-safe dish with some salt and pepper. Pour over the stock and herbs. Cover the dish with cling film and pierce a few times with the point of a knife. Cook on High for 10 minutes until the potatoes are just starting to become tender. If using shredded pre-cooked chicken increase cooking time to 15 minutes.

Remove the dish from the microwave, peel off the cling film, remove the herbs and stir in the chicken. Cover the dish with fresh cling film and pierce again, then cook on High for 6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. If using pre-cooked chicken reduce cooking time to 1 minute.

Remove the dish from the microwave, uncover and stir in the crème fraiche and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Italian Creamy Baked Eggs

Okay, I bet many Italians would sob at my adaptation on traditional flavours, but for me it works. These eggs are smooth and rich in a very unexpected way. A slightly alternative breakfast, great for low carb diets. Serve with toast fingers for dipping if you're that way inclined.

Italian Creamy Baked Eggs


2 sun dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp pesto

Serves 2
Nutrition: 173 calories, 1g carbs, 15g protein (without toast)

Preheat oven to 180C/160C (fan)/gas mark 4.

Grease 2 ramekins.

Mix the tomato with the pesto, and divide between the ramekins.

Break an egg on top of each tomato-pesto ramekin.

Drizzle 1 tbsp of cream over each egg.

Bake for 15-18 minutes (eggs will continue to cook within the ramekin outside the oven).

Stand for 2 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Glittery, girlie, strawberry traybake - A Thank You

Last week my daughter, affectionately known as Pea, turned 6 months old. To many parents this day will pass without notice, but to us, this was a big day. A day we weren't always certain we'd get to see. Our daughter was born 12 weeks early, with a lot of respiratory issues, significantly more than most babies of her gestation. She had to have surgery to remove half a lung before she was even 4lbs. We will never be able to do enough to express our thanks to the doctors and nurses who saved her life so many times over, but we can start with cake.

While she was in the hospital I made it my mission to bake for the staff at least once a week, I couldn't care for those babies like they can, but I can keep the people who care for her so hopped up on sugar the night shift seems half as long.

I believe in the therapeutic properties of cake (in fact I'm considering starting a new cake based philosophy of life), when Pea's doctor told us she needed to be transferred to another hospital and would probably need surgery, he did it while scoffing a huge chunk of my gingerbread. It is hard to panic and think the worst when your consultant is more focused on his sweet tooth and getting crumbs on the floor than the surgical complications.

Cake might be bad for the belly, but it's good for the soul, and sometimes we need a bit of that.

Pea's Strawberry Traybake


100g butter, at room temperature
175g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
225g caster sugar
125ml full-fat Greek yogurt
zest 2 lemons
200g strawberries
200g icing sugar

Total cost: £4.72, cuts into 15-18 squares

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Butter and line a 30 x 20cm traybake tin with baking parchment.

Measure all the sponge ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix together using an electric hand whisk until smooth. Spoon into the tin and level the surface.

Chop strawberries into small pieces and scatter over the surface of the cake. Press mostly into the batter with the back of a spoon to prevent burning.

Bake for 25-30 mins until lightly golden and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Carefully lift the sponge out of the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Remove the baking parchment.

Mix the icing sugar with the juice of half a lemon, and enough water to form a loose drizzle. Pour or flick all over the surface of the cake, leaving some parts exposed. Sprinkle over edible glitter, if you're feeling in a frivolous kind of mood.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lucky Duck Curry

This is one of those quick and easy whatever-you-have-in-the-fridge type dishes. The key is the sauce, and then you can just throw whichever veg you have going in it. It doesn't have to be duck, it's easy to throw the remains of a Sunday roast in as well. Butternut squash is used to thicken the sauce and add flavour without the calories.

It's so named because quite honestly I think this showcases the duck really nicely, making him one lucky duck (although not quite as lucky as if he were still in his pond).

Lucky Duck Curry


Mixed veg of your choice, chopped. Peppers, roasted sweet potato, mushrooms, courgettes, onions, mangetout and baby sweetcorn all work well.
Leftover shredded duck, chicken, port etc (optional)
2 x 400g cans coconut milk
4 tbsp red thai curry paste
Small bunch of grapes (approximately 40-50) grapes, halved
thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 butternut squash, pealed and chopped
1 tbsp oil

Serves: 4-6
Cost per portion: £0.85 (sauce only, meat and veg is up to you)
Nutrition: 182 calories, 13g carbs, 1g protein(sauce only)

Bring a pan of water to boil, add the chunks of butternut squash. Boil for 20 minutes.

Drain the squash and mash until smooth.

Add the oil to a large saucepan or wok, and fry vegetables for 5 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, lemongrass and thai red curry paste, fry for 2 mins stirring often.

Add the butternut squash to the pan and stir well.

Add the coconut milk, stir well, then throw in the shredded meat, if using. Bring to a simmer and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and throw in the grapes. Serve over rice or noodles.