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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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)

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Preheat oven to gas mark 4 (180)

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

Simple basil dressing

We bought 10 potted herbs over the weekend to add to our increasing herb garden.. Theses included chocolate mint ( smells good) and an African Blue variety of Basil which looks like this:

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The basil has been taunting me since yesterday just begging me to start using it and so I succumbed and tonight I made a beautiful basil oil dressing to drizzle over a huge salad to accompany our meal of jerk chicken and rice. Its probably the nicest dressing I’ve ever made and I will definitely be doing it again.

If you want to try it yourself it’s very simple, you just need a pestle and mortar, a bunch of basil ( whatever variety you have in your garden or can buy in supermarket) a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of seasalt ( I used Maldons smoked) and some peppercorns ( I used Sichuan). Place everything in your mortar and use your pestle to give it a good bash until all the ingredients combine. Use immediately to drizzle over anything, would also be a lovely dip with some homemade bread.

I can’t say enough just how good this tasted. Try it.