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Meatball Madness

14 Mar

I was surprised recently to learn that ‘eating clean’ wasn’t just about green juice and limp leaves. After discovering this rather cool little website called The Kitchen Shed I’ve been educated that you can eat cleanly (if you so desire to) and still enjoy meals that seem to be rather at odds with such a notion. Such as Cheese Stuffed Meatballs – no really. Look!

As a big fan of both CHEESE and MEATBALLS (and of course TRYING TO BE HEALTHY) I had to give them a go. Look, this is basically turkey mince, bound with a little pesto and rolled into meatballs into which you press a little square of feta cheese. Easy, even for me.

FullSizeRenderI cooked these in the slow cooker with some homemade pasta sauce, I optimistically dusted with a little flour so they would hopefully keep their shape. I don’t know if flour is ‘eating clean’ I just wanted my little meatballs to stay that way.

11I’m very happy to report that – whilst a little dry – they remained as meatballish as possible (with only a small amount of mushiness).

112Don’t get hung up on the presentation I know it looks like dog food. But they tasted pretty good and the cheesy inside was a nice little surprise.

IMG_5206This is eating clean I can get on board with. No leaves in sight.

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Curry Kit’s A Hit

14 Dec

Regular readers will know how much I love a cooking kit – from little cakes to a full menu – not being a natural cook I thrive when every tiny thing is written down and weighed out for me.

So I was more than happy to try out a curry kit from Hari Ghotra. I chose a Xacuti Kit because I liked the name, but I should have done a little research first as this was one hot and spicy dish.

Anyway – the kit is a tiny bundle of spice sachets with an easy guide – you just add the meats and vegetables you like. I decided on lamb and here is mine waiting to be curry kitted:
curry1Add the first little bag of tumeric to the lamb and let it sit while you get on with making the paste. Now this is a little fiddly as you have to toast the spices from the second bag (but how do you know when they’re done? I trusted my nose and stopped just when they started to smell lovely and… toasty!).

curry2You grind this concoction up and add it to water – et voila your very own curry paste. Aren’t you clever?

Then there is the very small matter of mashing up some tamarind in hot water while you cook your meat and paste together. Just add this sieved water near the end with the final bag of spices (some lovely nutmeg which I never think of adding to a curry) and you’re done!

It tasted incredible, although I did add maybe a little too much water and this particular curry choice was a little hot – but hey you’ve got to live a little right?

The sauce was more than enough for two people, reasonably easy to make and absolutely a far better bet than buying a ready-made sauce full of stuff that has no place being in a curry. Or ordering in a takeaway obvs.

Plus it makes your house smell completely wonderful and had my family considering the very unusual fact that I might actually be doing some ‘real cooking’ for a change.

curry3

No, I didn’t make the bread.

PLEASE NOTE: This curry kit was provided to me free of charge for an honest review from someone who can’t cook.

Cauliflower gets a pizza the crappy action!

5 Oct

You know I love jumping on a bandwagon, I feel left out if I’m not giving the latest thing a go. And so this week I was eager to trial the new cauliflower pizza that everyone is so keen to talk about. This is a gluten free, carb less, low calorie version of the classic pizza just using cauliflower as the base – no really it’s not a joke, if you haven’t heard of it then where have you been? (Probably enjoying real pizzas from Dominos?)

Anyway my friend at work Kate had made one with much success and I enjoyed a cold slice of it myself in the office. If mine could taste half as good as hers then I could be onto a winner. And maybe even save myself a few calories and some wheaty bloating whilst still getting to enjoy pizza goodness.

You use cauliflower rice (yes this is also a thing) which is just washed florets whizzed up into crumbs. OR you can buy ready made pots of it in Tesco…. don’t judge me I don’t own a food processor (and probably with good reason). You heat this ‘rice’ up, squeeze out the moisture (which takes forever and really burns your hand if you use kitchen roll) and bind it with eggs and some cheese and seasoning. This makes up some kind of dough mixture that you can spread out into your pizza base:

PIZZA

Simply put your ‘pizza dough’ onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven until crispy. Here is mine going in and I’m feeling reasonably confident at this point. And I still was when I pulled it out because it looked round and golden and edible. Could I have made my first pizza base? With cauliflower?

I eagerly went to lift it from the paper so I could cool and spread my toppings over it – I had even made my own tomato sauce (don’t be impressed – tinned toms with mixed herbs).
BUT I hadn’t counted on this happening:

Piz3

The base had stuck to the baking paper! I mean how does that even happen? Doesn’t this paper have one job to do? Apparently you are meant to grease the paper first? But how do you know how to do that? Where do they even teach you to do that? Did I miss that day at life school?

I was appalled but desperate not to waste all I had already worked so hard for. so I tried to scrape what I could from the traitorous paper and this was my base.

I didn’t have high hopes for my pizza after this. Look how anaemic it looked. I baked it for a bit longer and ended up with this:

Piz4

That is not a pizza base by anyone’s standards. CAULIFLOWER CAN GO TO HELL! Or at least back into some cheese sauce where it belongs.

Still… I’m nothing if not tenacious (and I hate waste) so I spread my homemade tomato sauce over it followed by some grated onion and carrot (as I said I hate waste) followed by a whack load of cheese because that could only help right?

Of course the pizza base was so depleted by this point the overflowing toppings (made for a far larger and more robust base) remained raw whilst the bottom turned into a vegetable crisp.

I GIVE YOU MY CAULIFLOWER PIZZA:
piz5

I could have cried. It actually tasted of very little indeed, cardboard maybe? With some raw onion. Not sure. Suffice to say I won’t be trying this again and would much rather get that number for Dominos off you. Cheers.

Liked that? Did you read about the time I made spaghetti with courgettes? Courgetti? I know right. That was crap too! Maybe these healthy alternatives are not for me. Sigh…

Baking Not Bad Brownies

24 Jun

The idea of a recipe that only need THREE INGREDIENTS appeals to me. Because there’s obviously a lot less chance of me mucking it up. And so I was keen to try these Nutella Brownies that only need: Nutella, Eggs and Flour – that’s right, just three things.

How hard could it be? Well not very is the answer, in fact even though they were rather basic they were easy and delicious and worked for me. So how did I manage to find a way to ruin it all? Read on…b1

Nutella, flour and eggs mixed in a bowl. I know – so far so good right?b2Mixture spread into a greased dish and baked for 15 minutes:b3Delicious brownies as a result. Soft and springy and edible.

I am QUEEN OF THE WORLD!

Buoyed up by my success and the surprise of my family who actually ate them. I made some more the very next day but – of course – thought I would add to them. Maybe try and make them a bit healthier. I replaced one of the eggs with mashed banana and some of the Nutella with oats.

Thinking I would still have the basic success and taste of the Nutella brownies but with a hint of oaty banana goodness I made this unappetising looking mix to start:

b4My son thought it looked like bird spit and I have to say I didn’t disagree with him. However I was still reasonably confident at this stage.

After 15minutes in the oven sadly I didn’t pull out the same sweet and delicious brownies I thought I had mastered and made my own. They were tasteless and damp and quite dense. How could such innocent tweaks make such a difference?

Well I suppose if you already have a recipe that’s as simple as only having three ingredients then maybe you shouldn’t muck about with it?

They’re still in the cake tin, no one wants them. I shall stick to the originals next time. If there is one.

 

 

 

 

Screwing up with a Spiralizer

10 Jun

If you’ve even got a passing interest in food you’ll have heard of Spiralizing! I’ve been dancing around this new trend for a while now and even invested in my own contraption a few months ago. It has sat dusty and unused in the kitchen and became the cause of many rows over the use of space.

Anyway… I saw the Champions of Spiral Foodstuffs – the Hemsley sisters – on the telly this week and after their demo on how easy it was to replace spaghetti with courgettes (and how no one would even notice the difference) I decided to dust it off and give it a go myself…

Regular readers will know I’m a slave to the bloat and while I love the wheaty pasta stuff it doesn’t love me back so I was keen to see if I could indeed replace it with what is now called ‘Courgetti’ – so ubiquitous is this word now it even comes up on predictive text on your iPhone, try it.

And so taking care not to slice my fingers off with the blades – me and my mandolin fell out a long while back – I duly pressed my well endowed courgette into the vice like machine and off we went:

c1Look – it works. Actual spirals of food. I was rather amused and excited by the whole process! Like a much easier to work mangle and just as satisfying.

The sisters suggest you clip the stuff with scissors to make it easier to eat – remember the strands are much longer than the actual courgette itself (physics and maths note to self).

You also can’t help but smirk:
C6Apparently the rod that is left behind is called the ‘Chef’s Bonus’.

MADAM!

Enough of that. Now the recipes tell you to just stir it all through a hot sauce – which is enough to cook and soften it – but of course I had to do something else. And so just to make sure it was edible I put the strands into some boiling water for a minute or so. Look at the fresh, steaming loveliness:

c4I had a jar of pesto already (and while you should probably make your own I’m not quite cut out for that yet so don’t judge me) but thought I could at least add some toasted pine nuts. Maybe I could just about stretch to sorting that out?

But while I was taking the very photo above they managed to burn – wow those little sods don’t need long in a hot pan do they?Still, what’s a burnt pine kernel when you have COURGETTI?

Well they did manage to dye everything a rather nasty shade of brown and so my bright and lovely spirals turned into a seaweedy mush when added to the hot pan of black nuts and shop bought pesto:
c5Also the addition of a pan of boiling water to the process created this kind of slime lake in the bowl. I really never learn do I?

But this is not the Spiralizer’s fault at all, I claim all mistakes for my own. It’s rather a nifty little machine and I shall certainly be making more vegetable based pasta substitutes, and crispy curly sweet potato fries, and apple spirals for my son, and all the other stuff that will make me into a kitchen goddess.

Well hope springs and spirals eternal…

WHAT HAVE I LEARNT:

  • One courgette is enough for one person
  • Don’t take photos while you are toasting pine nuts
  • You don’t need to boil courgette spirals
  • Remember to follow the bloody recipe or recommendations (every time folks, every time, I’m hopeless)
  • Don’t be scared of the Spiralizer
  • Make some space in the kitchen
  • Rude vegetables are still funny

Creme Brûlée Hooray!

2 Apr

Regular readers will know how much I love a cooking ‘kit’, those packets that give you all you need to create a specific dish. I know better cooks than me will obviously sniff at such things but hey – I’m a self confessed rubbish cook so I’ll take all the help I can get.

So… I was very pleased to try out the Creme Brûlée kit sent to me by Sainsbury’s to try out.

Creme Brûlée is one of those mystery puddings, if I was pushed I’d find it hard to describe what was in it or how to make it. I sure do love eating it though and so does my son and so he agreed to help me make it.

FullSizeRenderI agree this doesn’t look too inspiring. But to these two little packets you just add some double cream and semi-skimmed milk and you should end up with four little tasty puds.

FullSizeRender[1]

Put the main mix in a pan with the cream and milk and bring to the boil while stirring continuously. First job for the little lad to do.

This eventually turns into a thick custard and smells absolutely delicious!

You pour this unctuous stuff into four little ramekins (those little glass tubs you save up from the GU puds) and put them in the fridge for four hours or until set.

And here are mine going in – admittedly there are some little burnt bits from the bottom of the pan in here making them look a bit bumpy – but I figured it would all add to the flavour? Brûlée means ‘burnt’ right?

FullSizeRender[2]After a few hours take your firm puddings out of the fridge and sprinkle the dark sugar over the top and then grill them until the top crinkles and turns into a crust.

Now, I have to admit I do not have a working grill currently – the one in the oven and the one in the microwave are both so smoky when turned on it renders them useless. Don’t ask why I don’t clean them because I do but they then seem to end up more chemical and worse than ever. So we do not grill anything in my house.

Of course as I never read a recipe to the end before I embark on my cooking adventure I didn’t know a grill would be involved until I was already committed to the custard.

However ALL WAS NOT LOST because they were great just with some sugar sprinkled over the top – in fact they tasted absolutely lovely. And to make up the effect I did try and burn a bit of the sugar with a lighter but then I burnt my fingers so really DO NOT TRY THAT AT HOME. See my efforts here:

FullSizeRender[3]

But I am totally chalking this one up as a success because:

  • My son and I got to do some simple cooking together
  • I never make puddings because I find them too mysterious
  • They tasted absolutely luscious and what’s not to like about sweet baked custard?
  • This is a cheap and easy way to make something that could be rather impressive – if you have a working grill of course

More Cooking Kits Successes:
Mary Berry’s Christmas Cupcake Mix
Witches Hats on Trial for Halloween 

Some rather racy Thai thanks to Racey

11 Jul

Years ago I used to live in a lovely flat in Notting Hill with a lovely friend called Rachel, I always say that while I lived there I had the time of my life (and I really did), Rachel and I had a lot of fun but I won’t go into any of that here. I knew she had spent a lot of time in Thailand and travelling the far east but I certainly don’t remember her cooking for me and I certainly didn’t for her (I don’t think we ate a lot in those days) but now Rachel is a fully grown up food blogger writing about beautiful, easy Thai food over on Racey’s Easy Thai(ish) Cooking.

We met up recently and in amongst the memories of our shared flat we also discussed me trying out a couple of her (easier) recipes, and so this week I did! She suggested the simplest might be her ‘Lovely Mince & Noodle Thing’ (it doesn’t have a name) and try out her technique to make perfect rice.

photo 1

First up Mince & Noodles.

It certainly seemed simple enough, and I prepped all the ingredients easily:

This is the mince mixed with soy sauce, curry powder, salt, pepper and flour. Plus chopped celery and garlic, a jug of stock and some red wine vinegar mixed with chilli flakes.

I then browned the mince mix in a frying pan in a little oil before adding the celery, garlic and stock to the pan to simmer for about 15mins.

 

photo 2This bubbling away made the whole kitchen smell lovely .

As soon as the celery started to soften and the stock had absorbed I was left with an unctuous mix that a pack of ‘straight to wok’ noodles was added (well I wouldn’t spoil it by making my own).

After another couple of minutes I added the vinegar and chilli mix and turned it out onto a plate to serve with some salad.

Well…. I have to say it was incredibly tasty, so if you actually have all the right ingredients and follow a recipe exactly as someone has described it works really well? Who knew?

photo 3

As I was on a roll I tried out Rachel’s rice the very same night. Now me and rice do NOT get on very well as this blog will testify. I now use the microwave sachets – which taste terrible – just because I cannot take any more burnt pans, sloppy rice pudding or grains like little bullets, but I thought it was worth another go.

Again I did exactly as Rachel explained, no washing, no  banishing of starch, no stirring, I just put some rice in a pan of salted boiling water and after 12 minutes took out and let it steam in a sieve for another 10 minutes above some remaining hot water. And look – fluffy and separated well cooked grains of rice – a cautious but well received success! My husband couldn’t believe it, and neither could I.
photo 4 Thanks Rachel!

Friends Provide The Spice of Life

12 Feb

I have some very lovely friends who often help me out with kitchen tips and ideas.

Creative cook Claire made me up a beautiful parcel of exciting foodie items to help me out recently and I’ve enjoyed trying out various things such as pomegranate molasses, vanilla sticks and harissa. As a big fan of flavours from around the world she also packed in two lovely new spice packs I had no idea even existed! Sumac (or Somaq) and Za’atar:

photo 1Claire gave me some ideas of what to do with them and because I love North African and Middle Eastern food plumped for a chicken and chickpea tagine. (Normally I would buy a paste or a packet marked with the words TAGINE or CURRY or SHEPHERDS PIE so there could be no mistake as to what I was attempting).

I hoped my new flavoursome additions would raise the basic taste of that lovely bird into something all together meatier. And indeed it did! I happily threw my spices around with wild abandon – you know me – and ended up with this gorgeous looking dish:

photo 2The Sumac added the citrusy tang of lemons and the romantic sounding Za’atar provided the spicy, warm depths.

See – It’s not all doom and gloom in my house when it comes to cooking. Sometimes I can spice things up a bit (with a little help of course). Thanks Claire!

Alice’s Laboratory – New Year, New Ways With Pasta

17 Jan

It’s the new year, you’re bored, you’re trying to eat sensibly, you’re so poor you’ve only got dry old pasta in the cupboard… ok I’m painting a terrible picture but you get the idea.

I’m always keen to try new things and new ways with old things (not always successfully of course) and thought that cupboard staple dry pasta deserved another turn in my kitchen this boring January. Happily the lovely chaps at Sainbury’s sent me some of their huge range to experiment on (and no not like the time I slow cooked pasta into jelly and broke my crock pot). Time to set up Alice’s lab…

*Puts on safety goggles*
First up – if you’re trying to eat healthier then more veg is in order right? Well as I was weighing up the contents of my cupboards and thought about what a pain it would be to cook both pasta and vegetables at the same time (because I’d have to wash up two pans) I realised I could just cook them together – in the same pan. Well they both need to be boiled in water right? What’s the problem? Well it turned out there wasn’t one. I happily managed to boil up some rather lovely wholewheat tagliatelle (that’s the healthier brown stuff) with some green beans before adding a pot of fresh tomato pasta sauce:

Pasta1Look – it was really great. Not sure why I don’t cook pasta and vegetables together at lot more? I suppose as long as you wash the veg no harm done right? And you’ve saved on the washing up. Win!

Secondly – everything is not always what it seems – I was sent something called Orzo, a little packet of rice. No, I hear you cry that’s not rice that’s tiny little pasta pellets, it just looks like rice. OK right, I still thought it was rice for quite a while and bought some risotto paste I’ve been desperate to try out to go with it. As soon as I realised  that Orzo is not rice it still did not deter me, I decided to treat it as such and made a PASTA RISOTTO. Yes you read that correct.
photo 1I am unable to make real risotto – see here for evidence – so maybe this is the way forward? Certainly worked well, it behaved just like rice, just without that tiresome age of simmering and stirring, it absorbed my risotto paste and tasted pretty good too.
photo 2Well done Orzo, I applaud you.
And well done Sainsbury’s for your large range of dried pasta, I applaud you too!

PastaNext up – using spaghetti as a dessert, no just joking.
Or am I? *Puts on lab coat again*

Giving up giving up… Some new new years resolutions

2 Jan

Christmas is over, and yes I did buy some mince pies, even though I swore I wouldn’t. And I ate some even though I don’t like them. Thinking about it I do this a lot, sabotage myself but dress it up as treating myself.

Every new year I laugh and declare that I am going to ‘give up giving anything up’ and continue to do whatever I liked and wanted. Which included eating, drinking, not exercising and generally not giving a shit. (although I did manage to ditch a 30-a-day fag habit about 7 years ago for which I still feel I deserve a daily medal).

But in my pursuit of fun, hedonism, relaxation, treats, freedom, not missing out on anything (and trying not to be sanctimonious about what I ate or did) I find that I am not really enjoying myself anymore. As I get older whole food groups have stopped agreeing with me, it’s hard to get out of bed without my joints and muscles hurting, I never sleep a full night through and my colds and hangovers are becoming events rather than niggles. (I sound attractive right?)

And so maybe instead of insisting on opening a second bottle of wine when I’ve clearly had enough, or just buying grab bags of crisps for the car on the way home because the supermarket was a bit of a bugger I should maybe look into this ‘moderation’ thing and create new levels of what’s acceptable for me now. What will help me not feel bloated, sleep better, not wake up feeling dreadful? They are clearly different from what they were when I was 20.

So no I am still not going to give anything up, but I am giving up giving up giving up.

And so here are my 2014 resolutions in full... (the list doesn’t include trying not to shout at my son or dog, read more bedtime stories, wash my make-up brushes, have more patience etc because these are just daily guilt trips I could write a whole other blog about)

1. Don’t waste time on books I don’t want to read. Once I start a book I always have to finish it, even if I realise half way through that I hate it, I always press on despite dreading opening the pages. This is a waste of time when I could be reading books that I will love. There are so many out there.

2. Keep to the evening skincare routine. It’s not hard to rub a couple of creams in before you go to bed and when I don’t it doesn’t take long for my skin to start resembling a parched river bed.

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3. Don’t overeat, especially when already full and bloated, and never just because I’m bored or something is in the cupboard.

4. Go at least three nights a week without booze instead of just the current two – hopefully drinking will become enjoyable again instead of guilt-inducing and humdrum. Oh and maybe experiment with other drinks instead of just white wine which is starting to give me a headache if I’m honest.

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5. Try not to just sit on the sofa scrolling through Twitter when bored, I need to pull myself out of the time sink sometimes to do something physical and worthwhile.

6. Learn to cook. Ha ha, who I am kidding?

Happy new year to you all, and if you have any resolutions to share I would love to hear about them.
photo

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