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.

20130627-133616.jpg

20130627-133656.jpg

20130627-133850.jpg

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:

20130627-134031.jpg

The roasted garlic tastes amazing by the way.

What do you do to make your food taste special?

Pregnancy cravings.. Chocolate Mousse Recipe

Isn’t it always the case that when you really want something it always comes a time when you can’t have it?

Since I’ve been pregnant the food/drink items I have really fancied include:

1.Pimms -I’m not a big drinker but when the Summer finally started to show itself this year the first thing I thought of was Pimms. I love Pimms. I missed it so much when pregnant with Izzy and will look forward to a long glass of it after baby 2 arrives.

2. A soft boiled/poached egg – cooking an egg to a dry hard state isn’t that appealing.

3. Chocolate mousse – I have an awesome recipe for mousse which unfortunately includes raw egg whites which are of course a no no.

4. Mr Whippy! No explanation needed really.

5. Red bull – I drink this so rarely ..normally only after a really bad nights sleep as I’m not a coffee fan but obviously I wouldn’t consider drinking it when pregnant. It’s not something I would ever imagine myself craving but my OH had a can this week after a night shift and the smell of it made me want to drink it SO badly.

Isn’t this annoying?

I am however getting quite good at creating or finding pregnancy friendly options. Coming up on the blog soon is egg free carbonara..a non alcoholic drinks special and for now an egg free mousse which I have been promising to post for agessss so finally here it is:

Bump friendly chocolate orange mousse

You will need:

175grams marshmallows
275 grams dark choc – probably better to use a high quality choc but I used asda basics.
75ml of warm water
300ml double cream
75grams butter
Zest of one orange – if you don’t like the texture of zest you could avoid this and add 1/2tsp extra flavouring
1tsp of orange flavouring

20130625-230335.jpg

Put all ingredients except cream and flavouring in a pan over a low heat and melt slowly stirring as needed. Remove from heat.

Whip your cream and fold into cooling chocolate mixture, adding your flavouring at this stage also. Spoon into 6 ramekins and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.

Serve straight from the fridge either plain or top with fruit and/or cream. Seriously addictive.

20130625-230420.jpg

20130625-230440.jpg

We all enjoyed this recipe..we gave Izzy a small amount in a ramekin and she LOVED IT.

20130625-230752.jpg

Simple Suppers – Cheese and Potato Bake

After a few days away last week I returned home to a sack of potatoes which I really needed to use up and it just so happens I’ve had such a craving for cheese and potato pie. I really didn’t fancy the fuss of making pastry tonight and also I am currently on strict orders to take it easy so I made something quick and simple which my mum made a lot when I was growing up – cheese and potato bake. I adapted it from the basic recipe my mum passed on and it was delicious.

Cheese and Potato Bake

8/9 medium sized potatoes (peeled and diced)
1 red onion (diced)
200g mature cheddar (grated)
75ml of milk
25ml of single cream
1tsp of crushed peppercorns
2 tbsp of butter
1tbsp of herbs (your choice – I used rosemary & thyme)

Preheat your oven to gas mark 4.
Put your potatoes in a pan of boiling water and simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked through and drain.
Sauté your onions in a tbsp of butter until soft. Heat your milk in a small pan or microwave and add to your potatoes, butter, pepper and cream and mash thoroughly. Mix in your onions and 150g of cheddar along with your herbs and spoon it in to a cazuela or large ovenproof dish, top with remaining grated cheese, some sliced tomato and a few basil leaves for decoration and bake for 25-30 minutes.

20130625-213904.jpg

20130625-213937.jpg

20130625-214007.jpg

This was a really comforting, tasty meal. Fairly cheap to make and really quick and easy.

I served this with tinned chopped tomatoes and bacon – yum.

This fed 1 hungry pregnant lady, 1 hungry 6ft man and 1 hungry energetic toddler with a chunk leftover for someone’s (mine) lunch tomorrow.

Izzy enjoyed 🙂

20130625-214755.jpg

Let me know if you try it 😉

Help me kit out my Kitchen

If you know me at all you know how much I love to cook. My kitchen is my place and I’m always looking for ways to improve what little space we have as well as you know buy the ESSENTIAL gadgets I need to make me a better chef 😉

Probably because of overuse my kitchen gadgets and appliances are all starting to break around the same time. Nightmare. I’m having to start trawling around the shops and maybe Pinterest for ideas which can be quite fun I guess.

What are your essential kitchen bits?

My microwave, kettle, toaster, oven and fridge freezer could all do with being replaced although due to budget it will not be done at the same time. There are so many brands and types of devices now that it’s so hard to choose – I mean yes of course I would love an ice dispenser on the front of a swanky new freezer but do I need it? Would I even use it? Probably not a lot.

Just choosing a basic toaster or microwave isn’t simple anymore. Do I want a toaster that can make eggs at the same time? Or a microwave that is also a combi oven? Hmm.

If you had to choose your top 5 gadgets/appliances what would you pick.. And why? Is it because they look good or are they just really useful?

For me the ones I use the most are:

My oven – obvious one I guess
Fridge freezer
Slow cooker
Smoothie maker*
Microwave

Aargh 3 out of the 5 are on the verge of dying. Tell me what brands you use and if you recommend them.

*By the way I am not an uber health whizz who is forever making smoothies but I use it to make soup, smoothies, milk shakes and crush ice etc for cocktails ( or mocktails for the moment) and this is also probably going to die soon!

Help kitchen and foodie lovers.

*this post contains sponsored content

Creamy Meatball and Gnocchi bake – #hungrytohappy

I was recently sent some vouchers for Richmonds mini meatballs as part of the Britmums hungry2happy competition. The challenge was to make a new recipe using the meatballs. I love a recipe challenge and I was soon thinking up ideas. If you read my blog regularly you will know that most of the meals I make are proper family dishes, good hearty and mostly healthy meals which can be made cheaply and quickly whilst not compromising on taste. I kept this in mind for the challenge and came up with a dish that my family loved and that I know I will make again.

Gnocchi is one of my favourite foods, I love to make it from scratch but for a quick easy meal you can’t go wrong with the store bought packets. They normally cost less than a pound per packet and when combined with a few ingredients you could well have in your cupboard already then it can make a filling and delicious meal. I decided to make a Gnocchi and Meatball bake as I knew that this would be simple to create and cheap!

Creamy Gnocchi and Meatball bake

You will need:

1/2 packet of Richmonds mini meatballs
1 packet of Gnocchi
250g of Passata
3 tbsp of creme fraiche
1 shallot ( diced)
1/2 a pepper ( I used yellow, diced )
1 large tomato (diced)
1 squeeze of garlic purée or 1 clove (diced)
Fresh herbs ( I used basil – I love it ) dried would be ok too
Grated cheese ( approx 100g)
Olive oil
Seasoning ( if required)

20130614-220759.jpg

Preheat oven to gas mark 4 (180)

Cook your meatballs as per packet instructions whilst you prepare your ingredients.

20130614-220655.jpg

20130614-220903.jpg

Heat some olive oil in a large ovenproof pan or cazuela and add your pepper, tomatoes,onions, garlic and herbs, cook over a low heat until softened.

20130614-220938.jpg

Cook your gnocchi per packet instructions (normally approx 3minutes ) then drain and add to your pan with passata, creme fraiche and seasoning if needed. Stir well. Add your now cooked meatballs ( I chopped in half to make it toddler friendly) and make sure the sauce covers all ingredients. Add your grated cheese, top with more herbs if you like and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.

20130614-221023.jpg

20130614-221125.jpg

Serve with a large green salad and if you like perhaps some garlic bread.

20130614-221219.jpg

The verdict: it was absolutely delicious. The sauce is creamy and the meatballs are incredibly tender after being cooked that way … Yum.

You could adapt this in lots of ways, using up vegetables you have left in you fridge or cupboard. If you are calorie counting you could use just passata rather adding creme fraiche and you could certainly replace the grated cheese with herby breadcrumbs. You could also use pasta instead of the gnocchi but I think for this dish gnocchi is best.

*This post is an entry for BritMums’ Hungry to Happy Challenge sponsored by Richmond Mini Meatballs

20130614-221551.jpg

Dark chocolate and Maple Syrup cookies

Tonight after a fairly large evening meal I wasn’t hungry yet still really wanted something sweet. Of course I didn’t fancy the homemade ice cream, lollipops or Thorntons chocs which were already in my kitchen but I suddenly wanted cookies OR something with maple syrup on. I was also feeling fairly lazy after a long, tiring day so I decided to just spice up my usual cookie recipe with some adaptations and woohoo if it didn’t work out perfectly. Dark chocolate and maple syrup cookies – the dark chocolate stops its being too sweet whilst the maple syrup helps to create a perfectly moist cookie which holds together well. I am creating some pretty lovely recipes whilst being pregnant.

Of course I decided to share the recipe with you and quickly while its fresh in my mind and baby brain doesn’t kick in so here it goes:

Dark Chocolate and Maple Syrup Cookies

You will need:

100g softened butter ( now margarine would be ok but I feel strongly that you should use butter 😉 )
75g light brown soft sugar
30ml of full fat milk
75g of dark choc chips ( I used Asda basic dark chocolate 30p for 100g)
30ml of maple syrup
175g of self raising flour

Preheat oven to gas mark 4 (180)
Cream your butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Put 15 dollops of your mixture onto your greased baking trays,flatten slightly and bake for 10-12 minutes.

The raw cookie dough is pretty tasty..and with no eggs it’s safe for pregnant women and children too 😀

20130610-211959.jpg

Remove from tray and cool on a wire rack.

* The cookies will still feel very soft when you remove from the oven but they are done and will firm up on the wire rack 🙂

20130610-212051.jpg

These are so super simple to make.. the whole process from weighing the ingredients to taking a bite took less than 30 minutes and they were so delicious. I highly recommend you give them a whirl.

Lucy’s Not really Macaroni Cheese

I am very happy to share with you another guest post from the very lovely Lucy. If you follow Lucy on twitter ( @Lucy_SG ) you will know she makes delicious family food on a regular basis and most days will see a mouthwatering tweet with the hash tag #tweetwhatyoueat. Anyway today sees a really comforting, homely recipe that she has been making for a long time. Thanks Lucy for another delicious recipe which I will certainly be trying when I’m over the worst of this darned morning sickness!

Lucy’s Not really Macaroni Cheese

The title of this recipe is such because I can honestly say I have never in my life bought a packet of macaroni. So this recipe has only ever been made with fusilli or penne. Since having children, I always use wholewheat fusilli and there is really no difference between this and ordinary pasta. But you can pretty much use any pasta you like.

This is the very first recipe I ever attempted on my own. My mum is a wonderful, hearty home cook and when I was young, the kitchen was very much her domain so opportunities to cook for myself were scarce. She worked nine-to-five and my dad worked shifts that often meant, come the school holidays, he would emerge from his murky pit ravenously hungry at strange times of the day. He’d eat weird stuff like mahoosive serving bowls of cereal or entire packets of jumbo rice cakes. My mum had a tiny cupboard in the kitchen stuffed full of slightly crusty-round-the-edges 1970s cookbooks, so one day I pulled one out, found a recipe for macaroni cheese and made it for my dad. I remember hovering over the pans, checking the recipe every ten seconds, fretting and fussing. What if I destroy my mum’s pans? What if it’s a disaster? What if I’ve got all the weights wrong? But it worked! And he liked it! He said it was better than the pasta my mum made! This was my first experience of the utter pleasure to be had from other people enjoying my cooking.

My version has been tweaked a thousand times since my first attempt in my early teens. I know it by heart and often chop and change what I add to it but the basic recipe is still much the same.

Ingredients:
6oz pasta
1oz butter
1oz flour
½ pint milk
6oz strong cheddar, grated
1tsp English mustard
Pinch of pepper

20130512-122753.jpg

Method:
Stick the oven on to pre-heat at 200 degrees. Boil the kettle and pour it straight into a pan to cook the pasta. While the pasta is bubbling, get a larger pan and melt the butter on a medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and combine to make a dough. It won’t look pretty but squidge it around the pan a bit for a few seconds to cook.

20130512-123202.jpg

Gradually add the milk, each time combining it with the dough. Use a whisk if need be but keep working it so it has as few lumps as possible. Once it’s all combined, keep stirring it until it’s smooth and starts to thicken up.

Check your pasta. You do not want it to be fully cooked or it’ll end up pappy later on. At this point you can add peas, broccoli or cauliflower to the pan for the last few minutes of cooking if you feel like it.

When the sauce has thickened up sufficiently and you see one or two bubbles popping on the surface, remove it from the heat and add nearly all of the cheese.

20130512-123256.jpg

Keep some back for sprinkling on top. Stir it in until melted, then add the mustard and pepper. You don’t need any salt, as the cheese is already quite salty. At this stage, you could add some pre-cooked ham or bacon or some fried mushrooms. Or not. Up to you.

Drain the pasta/veg and tip into the pan with the cheese sauce. Give it a good stir and transfer the whole lot to an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheddar and some parmesan for extra crunchy bits. A little cayenne pepper on top or some slices of tomato are special if you’re feeling a bit fancypants.

20130512-123412.jpg

Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or until the top is all crispy and scrumptious. Serve with garlic bread or a side salad. It will be a gazillion degrees when it comes out of the oven but it’s well worth burning your tongue on account of it’s amazing tastiness.

20130512-123456.jpg