SK: Yoghurt Maker

I really struggle to get enough calcium in my diet. Or I did, until I met my husband who started cooking curries for me. Soon I was drinking glasses of milk with my meal instead of wine, and going through yoghurt like nobody’s business. I like to make my own mint yoghurt mix to dip things like samosas and spring rolls and bhajis into, and we’ve now picked up a few recipes that need yoghurt as an integral ingredient. I eat a lot more yoghurt these days for breakfast too – mixed over fresh fruit it makes a brilliant start to the day when the weather is hot. 

The yoghurt maker was a present from my mother, who had bought one for herself while on a healthy eating kick. I was absurdly jealous and she was kind enough to pick up a second one for me. It wasn’t expensive, about £10, but it has been a brilliant investment. 

I prefer to make my own yoghurt because then I know that it is natural, free from preservatives and absolutely sugar free – perfect for my husband who is a diabetic. We can sweeten it with sugar substitute if need be, or blend it with fresh fruit or jam for added flavour. 

This is the type of yoghurt maker I use:

Easiyo Yoghurt Maker

It doesn’t use any electricity, which is another great thing for me as my husband and I are planning to move onto a canal boat which means we need to think about conserving our power and using less electricity. 

Everything I needed came with the kit, and the mix only took five minutes to put together. There were full instructions which were simple and straight forwards and the yoghurt container fitted easily into the fridge door holder. 

This isn’t something you necessarily need right now – but if you get more into the recipes I post which use yoghurt as a cooking ingredient and start eating yoghurt for breakfast this is definitely something to consider. Next time you’re at the supermarket, look at the sugar content in the yoghurts on sale – you’ll shock yourself. This is a much healthier way of getting it into your diet and it is just a one time investment. The ingredients (skimmed milk powder and long life milk) are readily available for very little money and other than a one off purchase of natural yoghurt to start the process, you should always be able to use the last bit of your old batch to make a new batch. You can even make the low fat option, by opting for the long life skimmed milk, or semi skimmed milk, instead of the full cream. 

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SK: 5 Ways To Rethink Your Breakfast

5 Ways To Revitalise Your Breakfast

Sick of cereal?

Longing for a break from your cornflakes and shredded wheat?

Or are you one of those people who doesn’t eat breakfast at all? I was, for the longest time. I was firmly in the Bridget Jones camp, wondering why people didn’t understand how difficult it could be to make something as simple as a glass of water in the mornings. The idea of eating after clambering out of bed was enough to make me feel sick. Even a cup of tea made by someone else was often beyond me.

But there’s no getting around it, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and a lot of us should get over our tendency to become victims of boredom and time constraints. Your stomach and health will thank you in the short or long term if you can insert this meal into your day.

There are simple changes which can make the idea of breakfast more appealing. The first one I tried to ensure was a pleasant eating area. Nothing overly fancy – no lace tablecloths or suchlike – but just a clear table with none of last night’s dishes cluttering it up and some space to actually sit down and eat without balancing cups and bits of food on the sofa. Sitting upright to eat did have an impact on my stomach, stretching out made me more able to eat than sitting slumped on the sofa. 

I also tried to fit breakfast in with my other routines. it’s the one meal of the day where I allow myself to check my phone and have my laptop open on the table next to me. I figured that I was finding time to do those things every morning, so why not multitask and see if breakfast would fit in alongside.

Finally, I realised that I was bored sick of the idea of cornflakes and needed something more interesting to perk up my gastric juices in the morning and make the idea of eating appealing. So based on my own experience, here’s some suggestions for jazzing up your breakfast menu without needing to move that alarm clock any further forward or ruining your budget.

Rethink Your Toaster Use

We all love the toaster, the classic kitchen gadget. Just set the heat to your desired level, pop in your bread product and off it goes to do the job for you while you hunt for your hairbrush, wrestle with your shoes or feed the pets. Toast itself has probably gotten more interesting since you probably last looked.

White and brown bread have been joined by 50/50 mix loaves, granary, seed loaves and fruit loaves, all of which can be toasted or even eaten fresh at breakfast.

Rethink what you’re putting on your toast too. Strawberry jam and marmalade are all very well, but they are done to death. Try peach jam, or honey. Or something like a sliced fresh tomato. A sprinkling of cheese. Maybe some ham or pate if you need to boost your protein intake.

You could also try looking a little further down the bread product isle for further inspiration. English muffins make a nice change and they are available in white, wholemeal and 50/50 varieties too. Or treat yourself to crumpets, slathered in (substitute) butter and perfect with a cup of tea. There are plenty of afternoon tea favourites which could make themselves right at home on your breakfast table. Plain scones, fruit bread, fruity muffins – now isn’t that a more attractive idea than just boring old toast? 

Fork Out For A Foreman Grill

Guaranteed to squeeze the bad bits out of all your favourite meaty breakfast foods without needing more than a quick squirt of fry lite spray. Foreman Grills have gotten smaller and more affordable, you can pick up a mini one for as little as £15, which was how much mine cost. It’s big enough for me and my husband, which is all we need.

Bacon and sausage can be back on the breakfast menu, able to sizzle away in the grill without needing your constant attention, safely tucked away from tiny hands and curious pets. I pop fresh tomatoes into mine for the last minute or so as well for a change.  

Make Friends With Eggs

Eggs are an excellent way of getting more protein into your diet and they will liven up almost any breakfast product. You can cook them in loads of different ways, some of which are fast and many of which are even low fat.

Try poaching them in silicone cups in a saucepan of water, or even go for the classic boiled egg – fat free and tasty as when you were five years old.

If leaving unattended pans of hot water isn’t viable in your house, try microwaving them instead. There are microwave egg poachers available in most discount outlets, or you could mix an egg with a bit of butter and splash of milk in a microwave safe cup and make yourself a quick and easy scrambled egg.

If you’ve got time to wield the frying pan, you could even make fried eggs or omlettes – just make the mix the night before and pop it in the fridge in an old jam jar to save yourself time. Eat it plain, add a dash of herbs to the mix, or even add in some mushrooms, tomatoes, ham or a grating of cheese – all of which you can chop and prep the night before.

You could also try the girl guiding holiday favourite, eggy bread. Use a fork or whisk to mix an egg with a small amount of milk, soak a piece of bread into the mixture and fry in a small amount of oil, turning occasionally, until golden brown on both sides. Your kids will love it.

Pancake Day Could Be Every Day

We make a big fuss about pancakes once a year, but they can be excellent breakfasts. The Americans have caught on to this, it’s time the British caught up. Making your own mix is healthy and cheap and far easier than the instant food industry would like you to think.

Just use a fork or whisk to mix about 200 mils of milk with an egg, add a sprinkle of salt and then mix it again with two heaped tablespoons of self raising flour (or bread flour if you want a thicker mix). This recipe will make enough mix for your breakfast and you can even make the mix the night before. With fry lite sprays now available, there’s no need to use fat in the cooking process at all.

Pancakes work well with so many fillings, not just the traditional lemon and sugar. Switch out the sugar completely and try spreading yours with fruit jam or nutella, or adding a handful of dried fruit to the mix while frying your pancake for a healthier alternative. If you prefer a savory taste, check out the suggested omlette fillings and see if any of those take your fancy.

Keep It Cool

Breakfast doesn’t have to be hot. In the summer months, even the idea of a bacon sandwich can be enough to make you wilt.

A bowl of fresh fruit could be just the job, whether it’s the sweet English mix of apples and strawberries or the more exotic mango, pineapple and kiwi fruits.

A slice of melon could be the low maintenance answer to a quick and healthy snack.

If your mornings are already filled to bursting with priorities, you can peel and dice the fruit the night before to save time in the morning. If you pop into the supermarket later in the day, you might even get lucky and find their pre packed selections being discounted for a quick sale.

In fact, there’s plenty of breakfast foods that you can eat which don’t need any prep or cooking at all. A bowl, or mug, filled with yoghurt, perhaps with a spoonful of jam or small amount of fresh or dried fruit to liven it up, is a great way to get more calcium into your diet.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be boring. There’s loads of ways to liven up your food intake for your first meal of the day. After a few days of these, you won’t want even to skip it any more.  

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SK: Slow Cooker

About 5 years ago, my husband and I made a request for ‘kitchen stuff’ from our families for Christmas gifts. We were making plans to move into our new flat within the next year and would finally have some more room for gadgets and this had been on our wishlist for some time. 

At the time, we were working long hours. He was doing six days a week in the bank and was usually busy with RP commitments in the evening. I was working full time and picking up private tutoring on the side, and also had RP commitments. Frequently, we would leave the house by 8am and not return until 10pm, starving, worn out and desperately in need of food. The idea behind this request was that we could let it do the work for us while we were out. 

His family outdid themselves, with an excellent slow cooker and a cook book of ideas to go with it. 

It’s changed the way I cook stews and roasts, and it also cuts down massively on washing up, because the meat, gravy and the vast majority of the vegetables can now be done in one pot. The only thing I cook separately is potatoes because we like them crisped in the oven. 

It’s also lead to me learning to make some brand new foods – like jambalaya, which is a true one pot dish which is cooked in its entirety in the slowcooker. 

The idea behind these is that all you need to do is chop/dice/slice your vegetables, brown your meat in a saucepan or frying pan (ie cook it in a little bit of oil to seal the flesh on the outside) and then add everything into the pot, pour in some water (or wine, or stock) and leave it to cook all day on a low setting with the lid on. 

Slow cookers are excellent at preserving juices, so you really don’t need much water in it at all. The vegetables will release their juices, as will the meat, and when it steams the lid catches up and re condenses it into the mixture, which means the whole thing gets packed to bursting with flavour. 

For roast joints, I rub in whatever herbs I’m using, then place the joint in the cooker. Then I slowly pour some boiling water from the kettle over the meat joint, allowing it to flow over the sides and seal the meat. Then, as before, add the vegetables and stock and just leave it to bubble away. 

You can thicken the juices into sauces or gravies inside the slow cooker itself – just add gravy granules, cornflour or white sauce granules into the mix on the highest setting, after you’ve dished everything else up, and stir with a wooden spoon. Then use a ladle to remove the sauce and either pour it over your meal or place it in a jug. 

I love using my slow cooker for company dishes, because then I REALLY have time to be a good host rather than getting up and down into the kitchen. 

But my favourite thing is that these days when I do come home from a long day, tired, worn out and fed up – the smell that hits me when I come in the door is the best pick me up in the world. Take your expensive social drugs and stick ‘em and give me the smell of a slow roasting beef joint ANY day. 

They’re also good for making vegetarian food and even vegan food, like soups and vegetable stews. I’ve made vegan safe ratatouille in ours which turned out gorgeous and it needed very little water because all of the vegetable juice condensed into the mixture to make it even more tasty.

Slow Cookers are not exactly cheap for people on a budget, but they are more affordable than they used to be. When we needed to replace ours this year (unfortunate crack in the side after some less-than-careful handling) I paid about £30 for a new one. They might not be an immediate thing that you can pick up, but if you’re wanting to bring more ‘real’ food back into your life, I absolutely recommend them as a longer term investment.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

SK: Sausages in Onion Gravy with mashed potatoes

My husband occasionally requests this as a special treat. I love to make it for him, the smell is incredible. It’s the only dish where I fry sausages instead of using my Foreman Grill but it is so totally worth it.

TOTAL TIME FROM CHOP TO CHOMP: About an hour

Serves: 2 People

You will need:

A frying pan
A big saucepan
A potato masher (or a fork and lots of patience)
A wooden spoon
A steamer (optional, for veg)
A tablespoon
A colander
A jug (optional, for serving gravy)

Ingredients

Red Wine (about a glass full)
Chicken Stock Cube
Gravy Granules
Small amount of vegetable oil
Small amount of butter and milk
Six sausages (buy GOOD sausages, I use cumberland ones for this)
One white onion
Potatoes

Vegetables of choice (whichever you like – carrots works well with this, as do peas, broccoli or green beans. Mix and match – go nuts!)

1) Fill and boil your kettle. Peel your potatoes and cut into halves or quarters, then place in the saucepan. Add the water from the kettle and set to boil.

2) Dice your onion into fine pieces. Place your veg in the steamer as required. 

3) Heat the oil in your frying pan. Prick the skin of your sausages a few times and add to the pan carefully. After turning them once, reduce the heat slightly and add the onions. Stir the onions as you fry the sausages to make sure they don’t burn or completely crisp up. 

4) Once your sausages are cooked on all sides, add a glass of red wine to the pan (this might spit a bit, so don’t lean over it!) and then crumble in a chicken stock cube to the mix. You can add herbs (sage works well in this) and/or garlic granules here if you wish. Start cooking your vegetables in the steamer at this point. 

5) Reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer until your potatoes are ready.  Be a good host and keep up with the clear up! Once the potatoes are ready, you should be able to stab them through easily with a sharp knife. Once they are ready, drain them using the colander and return them to the pan. 

6) Add a small amount (a teaspoon) of butter to the potatoes and mash with the potato masher. A note to Americans – I know you like your potatoes whisked and creamed, but trust me – give this a go instead! If the mixture is dry or flaky, add a small splash of milk, or another teaspoon of butter, and continue mashing. 

7) Dishing Up Time! Serve your sausages first, then add a sprinkle of gravy granules to the frying pan mixture, raise the heat a little then stir with the wooden spoon to thicken. Once it does thicken, reduce the heat to minimum. Serve your mashed potatoes and vegetables, then carefully pour the onion gravy over the food (or place it in a jug and allow your guest to help themselves) 

Serve with: Red Wine

Want to show off?

* Add very finely chopped mushrooms to your frying pan a few minutes after you add the onions and stir them into sauce.
* Spice up your mash! Add a dash of dijon mustard, or a twist of black pepper, or even some mixed herbs. Sage mash is delicious. 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

SK: Baked Chicken in Mustard, Creme Fraiche and Honey

I got bored of the same old chicken stuff, so I decided to experiment! This turned out so well that it has become a regular favourite for us.

Serves: 2 People

You will need:

A pottery baking dish
A sharp knife
A jug
A bowl
A saucepan
A wooden spoon
A steamer (for veg – optional)

Ingredients:

2 Chicken Breasts (skinless)
New Potatoes (or regular potatoes cut to that size)
Half a dozen closed cup mushrooms per person
Dijon Mustard (1 tablespoon)
Clear honey (just a drizzle)
Creme Fraiche (A small pot will do)
1 teaspoon of Mixed Herbs (or Thyme if you have separates)
1 chicken stock cube
1 teaspoon of Garlic Granules
Gravy granules (or cornflour or white sauce granules)

Serve with – Steamed vegetables (I recommend carrots and broccoli) and a glass of dry white wine

1) Fill and boil your kettle. Place your chicken breasts in the bowl and add the mixed herbs and garlic. Coat the breasts in the mixture. Add the mustard and repeat. Add the creme fraiche and repeat until the chicken is completely covered in it. Cover the bowl and place to one side. 

2) Prepare your vegetables. If you are using new potatoes, just wash them. If you are using regular potatoes, leave the skin on but chop them into pieces about the size of ping pong balls. 

3) Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C and partially boil the potatoes for 15 minutes in the saucepan. Once the time is up, drain them using the colander and set to one side. Refill and boil your kettle. 

4) Place your chicken breasts into the pottery dish and scoop the remains of the mixture into a jug. Add a crumbled chicken stock cube to the mix and then add half a pint (about 300 mls) of boiling water. Stir thoroughly until the creme fraishe has dissolved into the mixture. Set to one side.

5) Carefully place the potatoes in the dish, filling up the spaces around the chicken. 

6) Drizzle the top of the chicken breasts with a few lines of clear honey. No need to do the potatoes, just the chicken, or the dish will be too sweet. 

7) Slice your mushrooms into thin cross sections and layer them over the top of the chicken breasts. 

8) Carefully pour the mixture from the jug into the dish, covering the chicken and potatoes. Place in the oven and leave to bake for approx 45 mins. 

9) Be a good host and keep up with the clear up – you’re going to need that saucepan and the jug again soon!

10) When there’s about 15 minutes left, start cooking your vegetables. I use a steamer for mine, the carrots boil in the water at the bottom and the broccoli sits on top to steam. 

http://www.onestopcookshop.co.uk/ekmps/shops/onestop1/images/judge-stainless-double-steamer-with-base-casserole-pan-1729-p.jpg

11) Remove the dish from the oven and check that the chicken has cooked through. If you pierce it to the centre with a knife, the juices should run clear. 

12) Dishing Up Time! Using a slotted spoon, serve the chicken and potatoes onto your places, then carefully pour the sauce mixture (with the mushrooms) into the saucepan and place on the hob. Add a sprinkle of gravy granules (or cornflour or white sauce granules if you prefer) and stir with a wooden spoon to thicken.

13) While the mixture thickens, serve your vegetables and keep up with the clear up!

14) Pour the thickened mixture into the jug. The sauce is very rich, so it’s better to allow your guest to add it to their meal at their own pace. 

Want to show off?

* You can add some white wine to the chicken stock before the dish goes in the oven for a richer flavour and stronger sauce. No more than half a glass! 

* For a hotter flavour, try using English Mustard instead of Dijon. 

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SK: Fajitas

This is a great versatile dish, ideal for vegging out in front of the telly or sharing on a girls’ night in. I love this, I would make and eat it every week if I could. 

If you remove the meat this is a totally vegetarian friendly recipe – just add more veg to pad it out. Mix up your red and white onions, add more coloured peppers, just go for it and experiment. For vegans, again remove the meat but instead of using wraps, serve the mix with rice or fresh green salad, or boiled baby new potatoes to dip into the mix. My husband doesn’t like wraps, so he has his with fries. 

TOTAL TIME FROM CHOP TO CHOMP: Roughly 30 minutes

Serves: 2 people

Ingredients: 

  • 1 red bell pepper (or a yellow/orange bell pepper)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 large onion – red or white
  • Roughly half a dozen closed cup mushrooms per person
  • One chicken breast per person
  • One can of chopped tomatoes
  • A tablespoon of tomato puree (optional)
  • Spices to taste (I use a tea spoon of each of the following: Garlic granules, paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander and a good coating of ground black pepper from a grinder)
  • A small amount of cooking oil
  • A packet of tortilla wraps 
Optional Extras:
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Fries
  • Guacamole
  • Diced Chillies – one red, one green – add with the onions if you like ‘em hot!

You will need:

  • A big wok
  • 2 plates
  • A big bowl
  • 2 tablespoons (and as many teaspoons as you want for condiments)
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • A sharp knife 
  • A chopping board

1) Chop your ingredients before you heat the wok. Cut your chicken into thin strips across the breast. Cut your pepper in half length ways, remove the seeds and then slice it into half moons. You can halve these if you are enormous. Slice your mushrooms into cross sections. Halve your onion and then slice it into half moons. 

2) This step is optional, but I pre-mix my spices, and then half the mixture. With the first half, I coat the chicken or pork and leave it to one side whilst the wok heats. The other portion, I set to one side for when I add the veg. 

3) Heat the oil in the wok and then add your meat. Stir until the meat has been coated and sealed by the oil and no raw flesh is visible. 

4) Add the onion (with the diced chillies if you are using them) and stir for 3-4 minutes. Use the two wooden spoons to stir the mix as if you were tossing a salad or stir fry. 

5) Add the peppers and stir for 2-3 minutes. When you add the pepper, add a quarter of your remaining spice mix. 

6) Add the mushrooms and stir for 3-4 minutes. When you add the mushrooms add another quarter (the same amount as in step 5) of your remaining spice mix. 

7) Stir in your can of chopped tomatoes along with the puree and the rest of the spices. Leave the mix to simmer until most of the watery juice has gone and you are left with a slightly thicker sauce. Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan or burn.

8) Be a good host and keep up with the clearing up.

9) Spoon the mixture into the big bowl and serve peasant style – everyone gets a plate for their wraps and a spoon to dig in.  

And now … the million dollar question – how the hell do you wrap and eat a fajita?

Here it is. 

  1. Lay your wrap flat on the plate
  2. Add two tablespoons of fajita mix to the centre of the wrap. Look at a clock and see where the hands are when it’s 12 o’clock – that’s where your mixture should be, down the centre for about two thirds of the length.
  3. Add condiments if you want them – a teaspoon of whatever extra thing you want from the optional extras list. 
  4. Fold the bottom of the wrap up so that it holds in the mixture.
  5. Wrap the left edge of the wrap over toward the centre.
  6. Repeat step 5 with the right side of the wrap.
  7. You should now have a sausage shape wrap with fajita mix in the middle and a sealed bottom to prevent leaking. Don’t overfill your wrap, or it will burst out and spill everywhere. 

Do you want to show off? 

  • Make your own condiments! There are recipes around for salsa and guacamole, I don’t make them myself but it’s super impressive if you can. 
  • Honestly – eating a fajita wrap without spilling the stuff down your clothes is impressive enough

WARNING – as may have been previously mentioned I *adore* spicy food, so you might want to adjust the spice levels if you don’t have a great tolerance. When I make this for my non spice-tolerant friend, a quick sprinkle of paprika and a twist of black pepper and a pinch of garlic granules with each new thing added to the wok is plenty good enough for her. Be careful you don’t knock the heads off your guests! Sour cream is good for taking some of the heat out of spicy food but whilst keeping the flavour, so keep some on hand in case you overdo it. Keep some milk in your fridge too in case your guests need it in an emergency! 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

SK: Leftovers For Lunch

Are you bored of sandwiches? Cuppa soups? Unappetising salads? Fast food? 

Are you starving by mid afternoon?

Do you find it hard to get organised with making lunches for work the night before? 

If you are lucky enough to work somewhere which gives you access to a kitchen with a microwave during the day – this blog post is for you.

I am – quite often – office based for my job and my husband worked for a bank for eight years. So this worked really well as a tactic for us. Whatever you make for your evening meal, if it can be varied in portion size, take some to work for your lunch the following day. 

Invest in a medium sized solid plastic tupperware-style box. They’re not expensive, and they are easy to clean. Make sure it is air tight and try to get one with a solid lid. Recycle if you’re short of cash, use an old icecream tub, or a family sized margarine tub.

This is how it works: 

When we dish up our evening meals, we cut our portion size down a little, and put some into boxes for the following day. Meals which have been successful for doing this have included:

* Pasta Bolognese

* Lasagne

* Curries with rice

* Stir fry with rice (or just the Stir fry mix with some insta-noodles heated up using boiled water from the kettle)

* Stew/Hotpot with mashed potatoes or roast potatoes

* Toad in the hole (with bits of sausages rather than whole ones) with roast potatoes or mashed potatoes

* Fajita mix with wraps

* Pies – Chicken Pie, Steak Pie, Corned Beef Pie, any pie! Heat it up and it tastes so much better. 

If your food needs gravy, you can do that if you have access to a kettle or boiling water dispenser. Take some gravy granules with you in a little bag or pot (I use an old spice jar). Mix them with half a mug of hot water, stir and pour into your box when the microwaving is done.

A few scoops of these foods into a box makes an excellent lunch the next day. Whack any of it in the microwave on high for 4 minutes – it won’t burn, honestly, and better to have it slightly overdone rather than underdone.

I usually remove the box half way through and give whatever is in it a good stir to mix it up. If you’ve got mashed potatoes, give it a fluff up with your fork. Microwaves are supposed to heat things equally, but the ones I have encountered never do. This is especially important for dishes with re-heated rice because it’s *so* important to heat the rice properly all the way through, to avoid the risk of food poisoning. 

But won’t the food make a mess in the microwave? I hear you cry.

That’s why you ideally need a box with a solid lid. Remove the lid so that the airtight seal is broken, and then balance it on the top to keep some of the steam in to keep your food moist.

DO NOT LEAVE THE AIRTIGHT SEAL CLOSED – YOUR BOX WILL EXPLODE! I AM NOT KIDDING!

Also – BE CAREFUL WHEN REMOVING IT from the top of your box once the microwaving is done, because the lid will have trapped steam underneath it. Use a tea towel to protect your hands from burns. It is easier to do this with a solid lid. You can do it with a floppy one, but it takes a bit of practice.

My lunchbox is great because the lid acts as a tray, it fits under the base exactly – so once I’ve carefully removed it and rinsed it in cold water to cool it doen, I can place the box on top of it and use it to carry it to the eating area without risking burning my hands or dropping the box and making an almighty mess. This also means that I don’t use up any plates in the kitchen, I just eat my food straight out of the box and then rinse it afterwards before taking it home. I’d recommend taking a spare fork with you if you’ve not checked what’s available – they tend to disappear in communal kitchens.

Obviously if you work at home and have a microwave – this would be perfect for you too 🙂 

By doing this, we have found the following:

* We enjoy our food in the middle of the day far more and we’re more awake and alert in the afternoon

* We save money because we’re not spending cash every other day on McDonalds, Subway, KFC, Sandwich shops, Deli Food and convenience food from Supermarkets

* We are fitter and healthier because we have made all of our food ourselves – everything is fresh and good for us without additives and nasty chemicals, like some convenience microwave foods have. 

* We look forward to eating in the day a bit more than we did when it was ham sandwiches… again… 

WARNING:

Do not try to reheat anything that was made with cream or creme fraiche. No matter how well you heat it up, dodgy stomachs and lengthy toilet breaks tend to follow 🙁 

FUNNIER WARNING:

Your workmates will walk in, sniff the air and go ‘ooooh, that smells good, whatcha got?’. Do not give them a taste. You will have no lunch left. But do give them the recipe and let them in on the secret of leftovers-for-lunch!

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

SK: Yorkshire Pudding – a British Delicacy!

I am honestly not sure how popular this is in America, but it damn well should be. It is cheap, delicious and easy to make and is a great addition to all roast dinners (think the sort of meal you would have for Thanksgiving, or Christmas – roast turkey/goose and veg and gravy and all that)

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkshire_pudding

It’s vegetarian friendly, but not vegan friendly unless you do some substituting. You can use soya milk and egg substitute I guess, but I hasten to add that I have never tried that and cannot vouch for it’s success.

TOTAL TIME FROM CHOP TO CHOMP: About 30-40 mins depending on whisking

Serves: 2 people (but me and my husband eat BIG portions of yorkshire pudding!)

Recipe:

  • 1/2 pint (250 mils) of full cream milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 heaped tablespoons of self raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Small splash of cooking oil or 1/2 teaspoon of fat/lard/butter – I use oil, it’s healthier and easier

You will need

  • A jug
  • A whisk (or a fork and lots of energy)
  • A round cake tin (for a big one) or a muffin tin (for smaller ones)
  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (If you’re making a roast meat dish, obviously you can skip this step if your oven is already on)
  2. In the jug, pour out the half pint of milk and crack in the eggs.
  3. Before whisking, add in the pinch of salt
  4. Now whisk! Whisk with all your might until the mixture is cream coloured and frothy.
  5. Add in the four tablespoons of flour
  6. WHISK! WHISK AGAIN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN! (Tip:  Tilt your jug slightly to one side and whisk at an angle. The whole point of whisking is not only to mix, but to try and fold air into the mix. That’s what makes cakes and batters rise so well.)
  7. Leave the mixture to settle for a few minutes. Put a splash of oil in your baking dish of choice and put it in the oven to heat up.
  8. Once the mixture as settled, check the surface. If all you can see are bubbles, you’re good to go. If you see small flour lumps, whisk again and repeat the process.
  9. Remove the baking dish from the oven *CAREFULLY* and pour in the mixture. Be careful not to splash, that stuff will hurt.
  10. Return it to the oven and bake for about 20 min, but check regularly to make sure it is not burning black.
  11. Yorkshire Pudding should look like this when cooked:image
  12. Remove from your baking dish when cooked and serve with roast dinner, veg and gravy. MMMMMM!

Extra things you can do to show off:

  • Add herbs to the mix
  • Add garlic granules to the mix

You can try a British dish called “Toad-in-the-hole”, which is sausages baked in the centre of huge yorkshire pudding. Use a bigger baking dish for this – it doesn’t matter whether it’s tin or pottery so long as it is clean. Doesn’t matter what shape either!

Preheat your dish with a bit of oil. Remove and place your sausages in the dish – either whole or in little chunks if you are stretching your meal further. Once the sausages have cooked for about 10-15 mins, remove the dish and pour the yorkshire pudding mix all over the top. Return to the oven and bake for 15-20 mins until the yorkshire mix looks like that *points above*.

Remove from the oven, carve up into however many slices you want and serve with chips/mashed potatoes/roast potatoes and lots of gravy! 

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SK: Buying In Bulk

A lot of people claim that they can’t afford to ‘cook properly’, so part of this blog will be dedicated to hints and tips for keeping things affordable and manageable for people who run busy lives. There are two simple rules for shopping which will help you out with this financially and timewise:

1) Don’t buy brands if you don’t have to. Sometimes generic is good enough.

2) Sometimes it is easier and cheaper to buy in bulk and keep it for later.

There are times when it pays to pay for quality, and there are times when it does not. My husband and I buy very few brands but quite a lot of generic store branded or economy stuff.

This includes:

  • Ketchup / Brown Sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Tinned Tomatoes
  • Tinned Carrots
  • Tinned Sweetcorn
  • Tinned Chicken in sauce
  • Stewed Steak
  • Cordial/Juice Drink
  • Fruit juice
  • Butter (Or butter substitute)
  • Dried Fruit
  • Biscuits (if I don’t have time to make them)
  • Salsa
  • Wraps or Naan bread
  • Dried Pasta
  • Tinned Tuna
  • Tinned Corned Beef
  • Baked Beans
  • Gravy Granules
  • Dried Yeast
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Mixed Herbs
  • Garlic Granules

All of these things can be enlivened with imagination and effort and a sprinkling of herbs and spices. Some of them are fine on their own. Don’t rely on food producer to do the job for you in making stuff interesting – that’s what they charge the extra for. Buy simple and do it yourself and that goes for fresh stuff too. We also buy the following fresh produce from our supermarket’s ‘own brand’ selection:

  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Chicken breasts
  • Mushrooms
  • Apples
  • Citric fruits (lemons/limes)
  • Pate

For fresh fruit and vegetables and bread products, if at all possible I go to the supermarket on my way home from work or in the evenings. Quite often, after 6pm, I find that the fresh produce from that day has been reduced for a quick sale, so that it doesn’t have to be thrown away. This is a great way to pick up fresh food for using in the next couple of days which would have been full price just a couple of hours earlier. 

Things that we never ever compromise on:

  • Sausages (This was my husband’s one concession on moving in with me. No crap sausages. 5 years down the line I heartily agree with him)
  • Bread (We usually make our own, but on the times we don’t, we like good quality and fresh baked stuff)
  • Frozen Chips (cheap and nasty equals pale, soggy and fatty – not good)
  • Flour (we bake our own bread and cakes so we use a lot!)
  • Coca Cola / Pepsi Max (economy cola is bad for my husband’s diabetes so we opt for the brands)
  • Eggs (Bad egg =  poor cooking/baking, free range is always best)
  • Milk (powdered or long life just doesn’t taste the same)
  • Rice (Poor rice turns starchy and gooey and rinsing just won’t help like it will with pasta)
  • Stock Cubes (Poor stock cubes don’t dissolve properly and you just get yeasty lumps in the mix)
  • Cheese (I don’t eat it, so my boy indulges with the best as a treat)

These are the things where we have noticed the difference because they are the staples of our cooking and or they are not so easy to liven up. With many of these things, if you start cooking with crap you will *get* crap.

There are things we look for special offers on:

  • Alcohol

There is always an offer on Wine somewhere. You never ever need to buy wine at full price or put up with cheap crap. Shop around, don’t stick to one store. In the UK, if Sainsburys aren’t running an offer, ASDA will be, or TESCO will be. Ditto for beers and cider. Buy when it’s cheap, keep it for later.

  • Cola

The day that neither Pepi Max / Coke Zero is on offer somewhere, I’ll give up and go live in a shack. We mass buy whichever is on offer at the start of the month on payday.

  • Fresh Meat

One week it’s chicken, next week it’s pork, if you’re lucky it’s some sort of fish or even red meet. Buy bulk and freeze it until you want it. Invest in some small plastic freezer bags, divide up your meat and freeze it. Admittedly this is difficult if you don’t have a large freezer, but if you do have one, it’s worth doing.

  • Dried Pasta

Once in a while it’s cheaper to buy a huge sack rather than the smaller ones. Sainsbury’s run some stupid offers sometimes, like £3.30 for a sack or £3 for two sacks. Yes, that’s right, it’s not a misprint.

  • Rice

Again, the sacks offer. Buy in bulk and store it. It’s not going to go off, so get it when it’s cheap and keep it for those days when you’ve run out of money.

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SK: Chicken in Cream and White Wine

I love this recipe, we have several versions of it now including one that comes from a slow cooker (crock pot) but this one still, to my tongue tastes the best. I hope you like it. It is an excellent ‘show off’ recipe for parents/new partners. Done correctly, it tastes like it came from a posh restaurant.

I recommend cooking this with alcoholic wine, even if you don’t drink it, because it really does enhance the flavour, but I guess non-alcoholic wine works well as a substitute if you are particularly picky. Again, I have been told that tofu works well as a substitute for chicken, or you can make it with more mushrooms to replace the chicken instead. Naturally, you can use cream substitute (Elmlea for the Brits), butter substitute for the garlic bread (Vitalite or free-from spread will do) and gluten free pasta if that works better for you.

TOTAL COOKING TIME FROM CHOP TO CHOMP: 1 hour

SERVE WITH: White Wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio if you’re fussy about types, Chardonney tends to be a little too sweet in combination with the creamy sauce.

Serves: 2 people

Ingredients:

  • 2 Chicken Breasts
  • 1 medium sized white onion
  • 1 teaspoon mixed herbs (OR half a teaspoon of sage and half a teaspoon of dried tarragon)
  • Half a dozen closed cup mushroom (1-2 inches in diameter)
  • Sprinkle of salt and ground black pepper to season
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic granules OR 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • Small splash of cooking oil
  • Half a glass of white wine (about 125 mils does the trick)
  • 300ml of fresh double cream
  • 4 cups of dried pasta (shells works really well for this as they absorb the cream and create a lovely texture)

Optional Extras:

  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon
  • White sauce granules/Corn Flour to thicken sauce
  • 4 slices of smoked bacon

WANT TO SHOW OFF?

  • Garlic bread (make your own! Get some soft bread rolls or 2 slices of bread, split them in half and butter them, sprinkle a bit of mixed herbs and garlic granules on the top and save them for later)
  • You can use fresh pasta instead of the dried stuff. The recipe is for dried, but if you decide to use fresh pasta then skip step 7, make sure you leave the cream mix to simmer for at least 15 minutes after step 8 and leave cooking the pasta until step 11 – it should literally take 5 minutes to cook through)

Utensils:

  • Wok
  • Large saucepan
  • Chopping board
  • Sharp Knife
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Colander
  • Ladle
  • Baking Tray (for garlic bread)
  • To dish up: 2 plates and a small side plate

1) Fill and boil the kettle for your pasta. Pour a small splash of cooking oil into your wok.

2) Slice your onions and dice your mushrooms.

Open your wine.

3) Dice your chicken into small bitesized pieces. Place in a bowl and add your salt, pepper, garlic granules (if you are using fresh garlic, peel it and chop it as finely as you can and add it now, or if you have a garlic crusher use that instead) and dried herbs and stir together so that the chicken is coated.  If you are using bacon, slice the bacon into thin strips and add to the bowl with the chicken so that it is coated in the herbs and seasoning.

4) Heat the oil in the wok and add the onion once it is hot. Cook the onions until they turn slightly yellow and become softer.

5) Add the chicken (and bacon) to the wok and stir in with the onions until the bacon turns light pink and the chicken turns white.

6) Once the meat has changed colour, pour in the wine and as soon as it bubbles up, add the mushrooms and stir them into the mix. Turn the heat down immediately and, if you have one, cover the wok with a lid.

7) Start cooking your dried pasta at this point. Cover it with boiling water and star cooking it on a high temperature, and then turn down the heat once it bubbles up. Remember to stir it with a wooden spoon occasionally to stop it sticking to the pan. If you are making garlic bread, remember to preheat your oven at around about this point.

8) Crumble your stock cube into the mix and stir until it melts and the wine colours slightly. Then add your cream and stir slowly until a smooth mix is achieved. Turn the heat down, recover with the lid (if you have one) and leave it to simmer while the pasta cooks.

9) Be a good host and keep up with clearing up

10) Once your pasta is cooked, drain it using the colander and rinse it with the clean hot water from the kettle. 

11) Remove the lid and give your mix a stir. If it is too thin for your taste, add some white sauce granules or corn flour to the mix to thicken it up.

12) While you are dishing up your pasta and mix, put your garlic bread into the oven to warm up. If you are adding fresh tarragon, stir it into the mix before you start dishing up your pasta. I recommend heating your plates for this meal, as it can lose its heat very quickly otherwise. To do this, pop them in the oven or under the grill for 30 seconds if they are oven proof, or if not rinse them in hot water for a few seconds and dry them with a clean tea-towel.

13) Dishing up time! Serve your pasta onto the plates and add the chicken and cream mixture to the middle of the pasta. Once you’re done, rescue your garlic bread from the oven and serve it on a side plate. Don’t forget to turn your oven and hobs off.

And there you have it! Chicken and mushroom a la creme, served with pasta and garlic bread. Perfect with a nice cold glass of dry white wine.

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