Friday, 14 December 2012

The BBC Good Food Show and Christmas

Some while back, I entered a giveaway competition over on Mrs M's. I only enter giveaways if I really want the prize, and often they are only open to US residents, but the nice thing about our Mrs M is that she's here in the UK! The prizes in question were three pairs of tickets to the BBC Winter Good Food Show, and by chance the dates fell right around the end of my university term. I entered, assuming as I did so that I would never win, and promptly forgot all about it.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Public Service Announcement

Sainsbury's Basics milk powder in hot chocolate is weird.

It is, however more convenient than going to the kitchen to microwave real milk. The next time I buy hot chocolate, it will be of the instant variety.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday - October 8th - 14th

I have been reading At Home with Mrs M for months, but only just decided that I wanted to take part in her weekly meal planning blog hop. Meal planning, as anyone who has read my blog before will know, is a huge time-saver for me during term. I actually tend to plan for the week ahead some time during the weekend, although naturally plans shift a little as things get organised last minute.

I don't always plan out my lunches, but it does help to have some ideas of things that don't involve bread - I'm not terribly imaginative with lunch. I start my meal plan by consulting my diary and making a note of anything which is happening that affects my meals. For instance, this week I have a drinks party and a dance class straight after my tutoring lesson tonight, so I needed something extremely quick but not too heavy. The choir are going out for curry on Wednesday night, but I couldn't afford to join them so I will be having my own curry at home so as not to miss out entirely. On Saturday I'm going to a full-day event which includes a cooked lunch, so I chose something light for my evening meal.

Spicy chickpeas
Sweet potato & leek soup
Zucchini potato pancakes
Spicy chickpeas
Rogan Josh with rice

Mushroom risotto

Spaghetti bolognese
Event lunch
Quorn chasseur

Chapel supper

And I have just noticed that this is my 100th post! I would never have expected to keep up a food blog for this long. It's great to look back and see how much better I have become at both cooking and managing my meals.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The New Blender's First Outing

A few days ago, while preparing vegetables for a curry (actually, while watching my friend preparing vegetables for a curry - I was not being very useful, although I did provide the vegetables), I peeled and chopped a sweet potato for soup. Then I put the pieces in a box in the fridge and forgot about them.

Today another friend came round for lunch and we dug out the sweet potato which was still perfectly edible, but threatening to become squishy and unpleasant, and made soup out of it, along with a parsnip, a leek and an onion. I also threw in some Bouillon powder and salt, and later the remainder of my blue cheese for an added kick.

It was the first time I'd used my new-to-me stick blender and it worked well. In fact I probably blended the soup more than was strictly necessary... I used the blender to stir in the cheese and salt, just because I could. It wasn't the best soup I'd ever made and it wasn't a hugely appetising colour but I was pleased with it by the end.

The really nice thing was that throughout the time we were cooking, the kitchen was full of people from the other rooms on my corridor, also cooking - and cooking real food: a vegetable stir fry, a Quorn dish, some kind of greyish curry. We chatted about cooking and they offered helpful suggestions which made it clear that they have far more food science knowledge than I. People, I live with fellow cooks! After three years in which the majority of my neighbours think that heating up a pizza counts as elaborate cooking and look askance at anyone who chops their own onions I am thrilled. Perhaps we will swap recipes and bulk-buy unusual grains and have dinner parties. Or perhaps we'll just jockey for elbow room at the one functioning hob - there are two ovens, and in theory two hobs, but the right-hand one has been broken for over a year with no sign of any attempt to fix it. On Sunday night there were no fewer than twelve people in the kitchen at once, thankfully not all attempting to cook their own meal but still. I seem to have ended up in the foodie enclave.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Rookie Mistake

Today I did the first stage in my epic cook-ahead marathon. The supermarket delivery arrived late on Friday night but Saturday was filled with unpacking, choir and a concert in London, whilst this morning was spent attending three different breakfasts and watching Doctor Who (far more time-critical than finishing the unpacking, of course).

So this evening as I was cooking my dinner I decided to make a start on the list of meals for the freezer. I made a batch of spaghetti bolognese sauce without any difficulties other than the inexplicable absence of the plastic lids for my freezer boxes - one portion of sauce is currently freezing lidless. Then I put a bag of kidney beans into water to soak ready for chilli con carne tomorrow, and tackled a new recipe: Quorn fillet chasseur. It should have been simple...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Meal Planning with Scrivener

I recently downloaded the trial version of Scrivener to use on a university project, and while I was experimenting with the features I discovered it had a template for recipes. It got me thinking, and I'm now in the process of creating a complete meal-planning system using the program.

Obviously the purpose of the template is to store recipes, but I already have a fairly good system for that - I spent a day this summer formatting my recipe file and I mostly cook things without a recipe anyway. Far more useful is the fact that I can create a menu for the week, a shopping list, a list of what I have in the cupboards and link them all together, as well as include any new recipes I want to try. Of course I could do this without Scrivener too, using different files and saving them in the same folder, but it just seems more fun (and more efficient) with my fancy new software!

Last week I put in an order on the Sainsbury's website to arrive the day after I move back into college. I've got a couple of days free before term starts and I've planned a lot of batch cooking. This year will be even busier than last year, but starting out with a month's worth of meals in the freezer should make it easier. My kitchen this year has a table in it, which will make more difference than I would ever have imagined before I spent two years without one, and is not far from my room (without three sets of fire doors in between either!), and a friend has sold me her fridge as my new room didn't have one, and it has a good freezer compartment and more space than my old one. All in all, it should be an easier year meal-wise.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Chickpeas with Tomato Sauce

This is a recipe I adapted from an ebook recipe from Slow Cooking for Vegetarians, which has some great recipes I want to try. I didn't make it in a slow cooker, I made it on the stove, and I cheated on the herbs - I just used some mixed dry herbs and a tin of canned tomatoes with chillis rather than fresh chillis. But it turned out delicious anyway. All you need is a can of chickpeas - I used about 250g, I think, which was half the can, a can of chopped tomatoes, some chillis if they aren't included with the tomatoes, and some herbs. I fried the herbs and tomatoes in some olive oil for a few minutes, whilst the chickpeas were boiling in a separate pan for about ten minutes. Then I drained the peas, added the tomato mix to the saucepan, added some extra water (this step was probably unnecessary, to be honest) and simmered it until the liquid had evaporated off. It was served on top of rice and very delicious. I'll be making it again soon to use up the other half of the chickpeas, and I'll take a photo next time.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Ratatouille-Style Mince

I'm in the thick of exams still and realised yesterday that I've barely seen a vegetable this week, except at church supper on Sunday night. So I decided to use up the remaining third of a courgette and the aubergine which have been languishing in Lakeland Stayfresh Bags (which are seriously brilliant, I think I bought this veg two weeks ago at least and it's still totally fine, it looks no more than two days old). I chopped them up, and threw them into my slow cooker with a bag of meatfree mince and a carton of creamed tomatoes.

Once it's cooked, I'll eat it with a serving of easy cheesy lentils to get plenty of protein in. I'm planning a run later this evening, so lots of veg and protein is the order of the day.

One of the fellows at my college tells us every exam season "don't eat beige meals". It's a simple rule of thumb, but an excellent one. I fear my diet has indeed been rather beige this week, but things will change the day after tomorrow when I'm finally free! I'm envisaging a mountain of spinach, I've been hankering for spinach all week.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Delicious Stew

Using another of my beloved packet mixes and my wonderful slow cooker, I made a delicious stew today. A leek, some frozen broccoli, half of the largest onion I have ever bought, two Quorn fillets and some random pieces of Quorn, all thrown into the cooker with a packet of chicken casserole mix (once again meat-free, although I had to check carefully) and cooked for seven hours. It was amazing to come into my room and have a hot, tasty meal ready for me - especially since for some reason I am feeling very wobbly this week. I haven't fainted at all but I keep becoming light headed. Coincidentally I've got a health check up next week so if I haven't wobbled all the way over by that point I'll bring it up.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Vegetarian Chilli con Carne

Since the success of the vegetable stew, made with a chicken casserole spice mix, I have been buying packet mixes far more often. They're useful because the recipe is printed on the back and very easy to follow with few, uncomplicated ingredients, and despite the fact that they usually include meat, the actual packet mix is normally vegetarian. During my weekly shop I discovered that the Schwartz mixes were 2 for £1, so I had a sift through to find the ones marked vegetarian and came home with a chilli con carne mix and a shepherd's pie mix.

A recipe AND an ingredient all in one!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Slow-Cooker Curry Experiment

The end result was bright orange and delicious

Because of my mission to empty and defrost the freezer, I haven't been cooking and freezing anything lately. Meals have been whatever I can get together quickly; risotto a couple of nights, sausages and salad in burger buns on others, until I have reached the point where my freezer now contains three almost-finished Quorn packets of various types, some broccoli, some bread and the last two pieces of spinach quiche. The trouble is that with term in full swing once more and my new schedule involving very early mornings but not much earlier nights, I'm not managing to cook dinner before I fall asleep. Last night I found myself eating a Graze box as my evening meal, after a lunch of salad leaves between mayonnaise-smeared bread, and I decided it was time to get sorted.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ode to a Faithful Blender

Alas, alack, I think my dear blender is dead. It perished whilst valiantly attempting to blend up a large quantity of leek and potato soup for the vegan dinner party. Farewell, good friend.

You have served me well, Philips blender

Monday, 23 April 2012

Store Cupboard Eating

My new year's resolution to attempt a new recipe every fortnight has not been going very well. I haven't cooked anything at all for some time now, because I'm making a desparate attempt to empty my freezer so that I can defrost it, and to avoid buying more food when I have so much stored already.

Representative contents of brown bags shown
As a result I've been eating a lot of rather samey meals. Mostly spinach quiche, which whilst being delicious was also huge. I haven't yet got bored of eating it, but I suspect that with another three portions to go I might well be glad when it's finally finished.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


It's Tuesday and I have almost finished the bunch of radishes and two packets of cherry tomatoes which I bought just a few days ago. I've been snacking on them every day, alongside a packet of ginger candies which sadly I finished this morning. Off to the market I go again to stock up on more healthy snacks! I don't have any weighing scales but my waistline confirms that this is working, albeit it very slowly.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Morning Stroll to the Market

This morning I woke up at 8am to sunlight streaming through the curtains. I had set my alarm for 9, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was ready to get up the first time I woke - unusual for me.

I spent my usual hour faffing around and then I strolled into town with a mental shopping list: some dice (for a language game in my ESL lesson), a bottle of oil for my pile-of-rust bike, a pair of scissors and whatever vegetables looked interesting at the market.

I love my market veg stall. There are several different stalls which are at the market on most days - one serves the local restaurants, so imports a lot of hot-housed stuff from London, one sells glossy packaged vegetables which probably were flown in from abroad, and one prides itself on sourcing locally-grown produce, often things grown in their own allotment. You can probably guess which one I go to (hint: it's the latter).

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Collecting New Recipes

I'm gaining a reputation for being a keen cook, which I think is awesome - I look back to when this blog started and I can see how much I've improved as a cook (my food is almost always edible!) but it's pretty nice to have other people acknowledge it too. I guess it is fairly easy to impress other students, who as far as I can tell mostly live on a diet of frozen pizza and filled pasta, but more valuable to me was hearing my mum telling my stepdad about the impressive array of meals in my brother's freezer. Of course as said brother kindly pointed out, she didn't know what they tasted like - they might be disgusting. Thanks for the vote of confidence, kiddo.

Let's not pull any punches: that's a lot of books.

Anyway, because my family know I like cooking I have become the repository for unwanted recipe books. I'm certainly not objecting; reading cookery books is one of my favourite activities these days and I already have quite a few of my own. Unfortunately, most of the recipe books were unwanted due to a lack of storage space. I don't have any storage space either.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Vegan Dinner Party - A Retrospective

I was just skimming through my old posts and I realised that I had never posted about how the vegan dinner party went.

The short answer, from a culinary point of view, is: badly.

The starter was to be leek and potato soup, the leeks and potatoes having been purchased by my fellow hostess as I was embroiled in rehearsals for a concert later in the week. Due to a variety of commitments on both our parts, I didn't get hold of these vital ingredients until an hour before the guests were due to arrive. It was at the same time that we realised neither of us had bought any fruit for the trifle.

Luckily, I had some frozen red berries in the freezer. The strawberry jelly was ready and set in its bowl so I defrosted the berries and added them to the jelly layer. Then we decamped to the kitchen to start cooking.

The risotto was fairly straight-forward. The only advance planning required was soaking the porcini mushrooms, which I had done that morning, so I threw the whole lot into my rice cooker and left it to be switched on at the appropriate moment so that, in theory, the perfectly-cooked risotto would be ready as the last soup spoon hit an empty bowl.

The soup itself presented more of a difficulty. We didn't have a large enough pan to boil all the veg at once, so it was split into several smaller pans and boiled, fried and generally blitzed into softening enough. Then we poured some (again, not all would fit) into the blender. Half of the soup blended. Then the motor burnt out.

Batch Cooking for the Freezer

In the last three days I have made quite a lot of food. I've cooked for between 2 and 5 people each night, although admittedly often it only involved shoving something out of the freezer into the oven for a while, but in between times I've made spaghetti bolognese sauce, curry, meatfree meatballs in a tomato sauce, spinach spaghetti, and shepherd's pie. I've filled fifteen individual portion containers and I've not even divided up the pie yet.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Freezer of Doom

I decided it was time to clear out my dad's freezer to see exactly what was in there, so that I could more efficiently plan my attack for the next week and a half.

It was a scary, scary place.

This is kind of how I felt. Image by Michal Marcol.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Tracking Nutrition

As I mentioned before, I've started using MyFitnessPal to track what I'm eating, and how it compares to what I need. There's a certain amount of estimation involved, as I don't weigh out the portions I eat but I'm getting better at guessing, but the food database is very impressive and I've added the recipes each time I eat something I cooked myself.

So far, I've discovered that my diet is very random and I eat far too much one day, far too little the next. I also eat way, way too much sugar - although today I had a banana and a boiled egg for breakfast, and according to the food diary that contained 15g of sugar. I think I shall take their figures with a pinch of salt, so to speak.

Lately I've definitely not been eating enough fruit and vegetables so I'm hoping to improve that. At the moment I'm staying with my dad and his partner, or alternatively my brother who is living on his own in the house my dad is going to sell fairly soon. He's still at school and doesn't get in until 7.30 most nights (sounds familiar to me!) so my project for next week is to cook him a stack of freezer meals to get him through next term on something more substantial than toast and biscuits. It will be good practice for my own freezer stash which will need rebuilding once I've emptied and defrosted the freezer.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Dipping my Toes into the Diet Pool

For the first time in my life I have decided to take a proactive approach to my diet. I'm not particularly overweight but my doctor advised me last year that I don't want to keep gaining weight and could do with losing some to prevent health problems when I'm older. I'm also getting frustrated by being unable to find clothes (particularly dresses) which fit properly.
I find it hard to believe she is actually having that much fun

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Eating Seasonably

I find this time of year a rather depressing one, in fruit and vegetable terms. I am making an effort these days to buy my fruit and veg locally, and if that isn't possible then at least to make sure it is coming from Western Europe, usually Spain,  rather than Morocco (where for some reason Sainsbury's appears to source almost everything at the moment).

The "everything from Spain" rule was true in France too!

The difficulty is that in March, there is very little fruit available from anywhere closer than Spain. According to this handy seasonal calendar, it's because there isn't actually any fruit in season in the UK at the moment. The closest we are to fresh fruit is rhubarb in May - not really my favourite fruit without an accompaniment of strawberries or similar.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Vegan Trifle Ingredients

An exciting parcel arrived today - and I knew what it would be before I had even seen it! The vegppl sticker on the front confirmed it.

What did it contain? Well, if you've been paying attention you will know that I'm hosting a vegan & gluten-free dinner party at the end of next week and I decided to serve vegan trifle as dessert. So I ordered some soy squirty cream, some vegetarian jelly and a box of egg replacement.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do about the sponge layer. I will have a go at making sponge fingers myself, using gluten-free flour and egg replacement, but I have a feeling it might take a few attempts. So far a couple of recipes have turned up; I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

"What's for Dinner?" "Food. Eat it."

This exchange echoes through my memories of my childhood. I always liked to put a definite name to my meals, and I wanted to know that my mum had consulted a recipe and was following The Rules. If something wasn't instantaneously recognisable I started questioning. It must have been very annoying.

Tonight's dinner, I have to admit, made me ask myself the same question.

It's certainly colourful, whatever it is

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Challenge - Vegan, Gluten-Free Dinner Party

A few days ago a friend and I were eating dinner in her kitchen when somehow we had the idea of giving a dinner party to celebrate the end of term. We talked about who we might invite, and I made a few suggestions. Of the people I asked, two of them can't make it on the date we chose.

Our table will not be this fancy, but the company will be good! Click for source
And the other two are my "food fussy" friends. One is a straight-forward vegan, which as a vegatarian I don't feel is a very big step. The other is lactose-intolerant (not a problem when the cuisine is already vegan) and also gluten intolerant, with a few other exciting allergies to spice things up.

So that has presented me with a challenge! Not prepared to opt out and cook separate dishes for each guest, I have been scouring the internet for vegan, gluten-free dishes.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Slow-cooker Spinach Quiche

The second recipe I decided to make this weekend was spinach quiche, again inspired by Fix it and Forget it. It took two days to make, although the actual preparation time was more like two hours at the most. I made the filling yesterday and left it to cool overnight, and then added the eggs while the pastry was baking blind before putting the whole lot together.

I love the different colours from the soup and the cheese

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Quorn Fillet Alfredo

Quite spontaneously today I decided I wanted to cook two new recipes in my slow cooker. Although I frequently use the rice cooker function, I have only used the slow cooker once before.
Both of today's recipes were inspired by Fix it and Forget it recipes, with assistance from a variety of other websites for advice on how to make alfredo sauce (not available in jars here, as it apparently is in the USA).

Quorn fillet alfredo, slightly eaten
 Apologies for the fact that this photo is, once again, terrible and taken after I had started eating. Photography is not my strong point.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Slow-cooker Vegetable Stew

When my mum came to visit we decided to make something in the slow cooker, and she decided it should be stew. So we raided my cupboards, stocked up on a few things and flung a bunch of ingredients into the slow cooker.

A colourful selection of ingredients (not exhaustive)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Exciting New Appliances!

For my most recent birthday a few days ago my mum bought me a gift I hadn't even realised I wanted - a KitchenAid! I'm so excited about trying it, although we have agreed that it wouldn't be sensible to keep it at uni with me, as it's too heavy to carry around and too valuable to leave in the kitchen. So I will be going to visit it until I have a home of my own.

Also coming up: new recipe, which I will call "some vegetables with Quorn pieces and chicken casserole packet mix in a slow cooker for three hours". It hasn't finished cooking yet but I have some work-in-process photos.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Spaghetti with Creamy Spinach Sauce

My first new recipe this term has been a roaring success! I got it from The Vegetarian Student Cookbook, which is one of the best recipe books I own. The recipes are simple without being dull, and there's a really good range. I don't make particularly extensive use of the cocktails section or the breakfast section (I have never in my life woken up with the desire to spend half an hour in the kitchen before getting any food into my stomach) but the main meals and desserts are all great.

Spinach spaghetti - simple and delicious!