Making simple food taste special – chicken #1

I love quick, cheap and easy ways to make plain food such as a chicken breast taste really good.
Don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoy spending hours in the kitchen working on complicated dishes but more often that not I don’t have the time and at the moment definitely not the energy for it.

Every time I create an easy way to make my food taste that little bit extra special I’m going to share it on here, it may not be every week or even every month but I will try to do as many as I can.

Last night I had chicken breasts to work with and not an awful lot else as the big monthly shop is tomorrow but I wanted something tasty. I found a simple recipe for a lemon butter sauce in my latest Jamie Oliver mag and decided to make something that would work well with it so..

Chicken, Basil and Garlic parcels

You will need:

Chicken breasts (1 per person)
Approx 2 large basil leaves per breast
1 garlic clove per breast
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Tin foil

Preheat oven to gas mark 5.

Place your chicken breast in the centre of a large square of foil, pour over some olive oil and top with basil leaves,clove of garlic and seasoning. Make a parcel out of the foil, place in a baking tray and bake for approx 20 minutes. I say approx as breast size varies a lot and you obviously need to check its cooked. I use a meat thermometer to do so.

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Tips:

*I use flavoured salts, often smoked but on this occasion I used a pink pepper salt so I didn’t need pepper as well. Flavoured salt will transform your food – I currently have 4 different types and my favourite is Maldon smoked sea salt. They are more expensive than normal salts but seem to last forever as you need such a little bit.

*I also use smoked garlic for this kind of dish, I tend to pick mine up from markets or food festivals but they smell them in most supermarkets now.

*If you don’t have basil try this with any fresh herb that you have at home.

To serve your breast remove from foil and leave to cool slightly then slice and arrange on plate – I topped with lemon butter sauce.

Lemon Butter sauce

Melt 125g butter in a pan and then whisk in the juice of 1 lemon and season. Pour over your chicken or fish. Easy peasy lemon squeezy – couldn’t resist that.

I understand this is far from gourmet cooking and that a lot of you will cook like this all the time but for me a simple addition like garlic and herbs makes a huge difference to my food and I hope it helps some of you in some way.

I think the beauty of this is that the chicken tastes so good that you can serve it with a very basic side salad and a stuffed pepper and still feel like you have eaten a really good meal:

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The roasted garlic tastes amazing by the way.

What do you do to make your food taste special?

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Home sweet home

In the last 2 years we have made a lot of improvements to our home. Nothing major or ridiculously expensive but little things which have slowly made it more and more into a family home.

There is still a LOT on our to do list.

1. Bathroom

2. Chimney removal

3. A lot of redecorating

4. Completion of our conservatory renovation

5. Garden makeover

6. Spare room makeover

7. Completion of my pantry!

A lot yes? I would LOVE to get all this done before baby 2 arrives in November but really I know it’s not possible ..both from a budget point of view and also time!

So we are aiming to hopefully do these 4 :

Removing the chimney at side of house – this has to be done as is causing a leak.

My pantry – this is really not essential to anyone but me and is a bit of a selfish want.. My kitchen is pretty small and I spend a LOT of time in it. This will help me to be more organised and just make me HAPPY!

Bathroom – it’s a depressing mess. We need a new bath and floor and we need to tile the room. Fun. On the plus side my very handy OH has already made an awesome cabinet for it. Yay.

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Garden – this is exciting for all of us. Izzy adores the garden but at the moment it’s cluttered with rubble and so although we spend a lot of time there you can’t take your eyes off her for a second.
I have lots of wonderful ideas for it ..some of which may never happen but fingers crossed hey.

Wouldn’t some decking just look soooo pretty? I think this is my favourite one

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Garden makeover starts this week with Izzys grandad and daddy getting hard at work removing rubble and tidying up. Exciting huh? For me anyway.

Once the have to do list is finally completed.. By next summer perhaps we can move onto the making the house pretty stage..I may like a little porch at some point. I think most of the time we neglect the front of our house yet it’s the first thing visitors see.

Anyway that’s my to do list! What’s on yours? Anything absolutely essential that you just have to get done?

* this is a sponsored post.

Cinco de Mayo – Discovery challenge

Ok so we are a little early for Cinco de Mayo but we were sent some lovely goodies from the people at Discovery and I actually felt well enough to cook last night – I don’t know if this will last as my morning sickness has been pretty rough so I took advantage of a nausea free body and cooked!

We were sent a fajita kit which contained: 8 flour tortillas, salsa and fajita seasoning. We were also sent garlic and herb sour cream and Cajun season n sauce.

Firstly I got to work on a side dish to accompany our fajitas. Part of this challenge was to create a new recipe using some of the ingredients we were sent so I decided to make Fajita spiced parmentier potatoes.

You will need:

4-5 medium sized potatoes
1/4 packet of Fajita seasoning
Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 200.Firstly put a pan of water onto boil. Then dice your potatoes so they look like this:

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You could peel them first but I never bother. Put your potatoes in your pan of water and let them bubble away for 5 minutes. Whilst your potatoes are cooking put a large glug of olive oil in a baking dish and place in oven to warm.

Drain your potatoes thoroughly and set aside. Get your baking dish out of oven and tip your fajita seasoning into the oil and mix well. Add your potatoes stirring to ensure they are all covered in the spicy oil and return to oven for 25-30 mins.

Whilst your potatoes are in the oven get to work on your fajitas:

You will need:

Packet recommendations: 3-4 chicken breast, 1 onion and 2 peppers

What I used:

2.5 chicken thighs – boneless, skinless and fat trimmed. Cut into strips.
1 large green pepper cut to strips
1/2 a large yellow pepper cut to strips
1 large red onion chopped roughly
1/2 pack of fajita seasoning

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Firstly add some olive oil and fajita seasoning to your hot griddle pan or frying pan then add your chicken and add some more seasoning until fully covered. When the meat is well browned add your peppers and onions and cook until meat is fully cooked through. Thighs take longer than breasts in my opinion.

Warm your tortillas as directed on packet ( I prefer to griddle them to get the nice effect but last night I was lazy and microwaved) we used 6, he had 4 I had 2.

Get your potatoes out of oven, they should look like this :

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The chicken in its sizzle pan:

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The potatoes were gooooood:

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And Cider for him.. Non alcoholic cider for me:

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Fully loaded:

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So that was last night…fast forward to tonight and I again felt well enough to cook so I decided to try the Cajun season and sauce and a new recipe for fajita seasoned tortilla chips.

Firstly I marinated 3 chicken thighs in the Cajun seasoning and some olive oil and refrigerated it for a few hours. I tend to marinate chicken in the packet..saves getting raw meat on another dish. Other than this step I pretty much followed packet instructions.

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When I was almost ready to cook I cut my two leftover tortilla wraps from last night into triangles, placed them on a wire rack and brushed them with a mixture of olive oil and the leftover fajita seasoning.

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I set them aside while I boiled water and put my rice onto cook them griddled my chicken thighs whole until browned.

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I then cut into strips and put back in the pan to ensure they were thoroughly cooked prior to adding my sauce. When the chicken and rice were almost ready I placed my tortilla chips in a preheated oven for around 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them as I may have slightly overdone mine.. Although they still tasted pretty awesome.

Serve your Cajun chicken on top of rice with a dollop of garlic and herb sour cream and coriander.

Dip your chips into the sour cream or the Cajun sauce or a combo of both. Delicious.

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* please note there is Parsley in above pic and not coriander as I ran out!

I’ve used Discovery products before and have to admit that as always I was impressed. Their products are easy to use and pretty tasty. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my meals and the two new recipes you can create using leftovers. I highly recommended the garlic and herb sour cream if you fancy a change from the normal sour cream as its really good!

Enjoy Cinco de Mayo and get creative in the kitchen!

* I was given these products by Discovery in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

With my compost..arium there is no place I’d rather be

I don’t know about you but I can’t think of the word compost without singing the theme tune to Mr Blooms nursery. I guess if you don’t have a child of Cbeebies age you may not have a clue what I’m talking about. Mr Bloom is a character from a Cbeebies TV show who has as many mum fans as toddler fans…I don’t really know why…ahem.

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Anyway this post is not about Mr Bloom. Every year I think ah I want to get my garden in order but this year I actually am planning to. I love the idea of being able to get all my salad and herbs from my own vegetable patch. I already grow a lot of herbs.. Mint, oregano, parsley, lavender, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and sage to name a few and we have just planted rocket and basil and starting to think of what else we can have – any suggestions? I am not even remotely green fingered so I need a lot of tips. Next job is to make a compost heap or compost bin. I’ve scoured the web for some tips and here are the more useful ones I’ve found:

What can you compost:

grass cuttings
soft prunings
annual plant and weed remains before they have set seed
fruit and vegetable scraps
old cut flowers
tea bags and coffee grounds
Cardboard
Newspaper
Scrunched up paper
Straw

Do not compost:

diseased plants
meat and fish
dairy
cooked food
coal ash
cat and dog waste
disposable nappies
perennial weeds eg bindweed

Plenty more useful tips here

Apparently the best time to start your compost heap is Spring but I think I’ll be starting mine sometime one the next month.

If having a compost heap encourages my daughter to recycle and helps to stop our family adding more than is needed to landfill it can only be a bonus 😉

Any tips for me with regards to composting or what to plant at this time of year would be greatly appreciated!

*this post contains paid content

30 Ways to save £1 ..or more.

For the 30th anniversary of the £1 coin MoneySupermarket have asked bloggers to come up with 30 ways to save a pound (or more). One lucky blogger will win £1000. Below is my entry. For more details visit MoneySupermarket

1. Meal Plan : I cannot tell you enough how much this has saved me over the past year. Plan your shopping exactly around your meals. It halved my shopping bills.

2. Buy own brands – for example the Sainsburys basic range is just as good as any of the more well known. I use chopped tomatoes and Passata at least twice a week – using the basics range for just these items saves me approx £2.00 per week.

3.Use chicken thighs instead of breasts in curries/casseroles. Not only are they tastier but they are approximately half the price. A saving of £2/3 on each meal.

4. Don’t forget to take your own bags! Plastic shopping bags in Wales cost 6p per bag. If you use 6 per week that’s a minimum of £18 per year.

5. Use comparison sites – we saved £120 on our car insurance and £50 on our home insurance by using various sites.

6. Look for voucher codes before going on holidays/ for family days out or for meals – I estimate this saves us about £250 a year.

7.Bulk buy at baby events – nappies and wet wipes in particular are far cheaper when bought in large boxes.

8.Use sites such as eBay,gumtree and similar when making a purchase. We bought a Mamas & Papas changing unit for £70 on Gumtree in impeccable condition. In store we would have paid £600.

9. Cook in bulk and freeze : not only do you save on energy costs but you have a handy meal for those nights when you just can’t be bothered.

10. Make your own – be it takeaway style food, birthday cakes or just plain old bread. It can save you lots and taste far better.

11. Change or at least threaten to cancel Internet/TV providers at the end of your contract. You will normally get a far better deal as a new customer elsewhere and if not your current provider will usually slash your current rate by £10 or more.

12. Go veggie occasionally – we have vegetarian weeks every now and again and it saves us quite a lot as good meat is expensive.

13. Buy lentils, rice and pasta in large bags a saves a lot and they are always handy for cheap, filling meals.

14. Grow your own – herbs especially basil can be expensive when bought fresh from your local supermarket but most grow very well on your kitchen windowsill and the seeds are normally far less than the price of one packet of fresh herbs.

15. Use free trials for film rentals, if you work your way around them all you could get approx 6 months free use. Don’t forget to cancel before the 30 days are up.

16. Use your local library. Free books!

17. Loyalty cards – nectar cards and Tesco clubcards in particular can make you money and cost you nothing at all.

18. Share bath water- Izzy always bathes with either her dad or me.

19. Companies often give you money off for paperless billing and its far less clutter!

20. Turn it off – before you go to bed make sure you turn off all your appliances.

21. Walk instead of using public transport or car whenever possible. Keeps you fit too 🙂

22. Take a packed lunch – to work or on trips with family.

23. Watch exercise programmes such as 30 day shred on YouTube instead of buying. After all it may not be for you.

24. Save money on gym membership by cycling, walking and enjoying the countryside.

25. Know where the reduced to clear sections are. We regularly buy close to end of date items and freeze them for later use.

26. Look for free eye tests – at present Tesco offer free tests,

27. Shop around for bank accounts. Some accounts pay you a monthly amount if you put in a minimum of say £1500 each month.

28.Try to use cash instead of your card, it’s far too easy to overspend when using plastic.

29. Take turns with friends coming over for dinner and you going to theirs.. Or each make different courses.

30. Use the money supermarket website and read the forum posts for news of flash sales or supermarket price glitches.

The 50 breads challenge #6 – proper garlic bread

I’m starting to think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this challenge. It’s March and I’m only on challenge number 6… Aaarghh why does life always get in the way of baking? I’m determined to not give up so there may be at least one week where I make a LOT of bread ( who is coming to stay? )

This week I made Paul Hollywoods garlic bread – this isn’t our typical dripping with butter Garlic bread but a proper bread with the incredible addition of roasted garlic cloves kneaded in before the final prove. It’s fairly simple to make and the taste is pretty awesome.

Here are some pics:

Just ready to knead in my garlic:

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One loaf ready for the oven topped with oregano – yum

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And don’t they look beautiful:

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If I haven’t said already the silver Fox How to Bake book is fabulous and a must for any wannabe bakers. I want to try his new Bread book next…

The 50 breads challenge 3,4 & 5

I do apologise for the delay in updating you on my Breads challenge but I have still been baking I promise!

I have actually completed a further 3 bakes in my 50 breads challenge but I am still a long way from my target..oops better get my skates on.

Recipe No.3 was a basic white loaf which I somehow neglected to take a photo of .. Sorry! It was good and I’m surprised that I’ve never tried a plain loaf before. Izzy loved it too. The recipe was from Paul Hollywoods How to Bake book.

Recipe No.4 was a variation on a flatbread recipe that I tried a while back which you can read about hereThe simple addition of Sichuan peppercorns (crushed) and chilli&garlic rapeseed oil made this a super tasty bake. Yum.

They are meant to look rather blackened don’t you know?

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Recipe No.5 was Foccacia. I will almost certainly be repeating this recipe within the next fortnight. So so so so good. The recipe I used was from my River Cottage book and you can actually find it on the River Cottage site here

I used my spiced salt ( seasalt, chilli flakes and star anise) along with a chilli and garlic rapeseed oil in my dough and chopped fresh rosemary on top. It was my first attempt and I absolutely loved it.

Before first prove:

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And after:

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Shaping ready for the tin:

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Ready to bake:

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Just out of oven:

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Cooling while I eagerly await a taste:

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What do you recommend for number 6?