Recipe: Garlic And Herb Roasted Chicken

I have another favourite blog I want to share with you, Lavender and Lovage, this time through the guise of their monthly cooking challenge to cook/bake with herbs. This month I am taking part with one of best dishes I’ve ever made, and the first roast chicken I have ever, ever cooked. To say I was excited at this feat would be a rather large understatement.

I have always been really cautious about cooking chicken in general, checking it multiple times to ensure it is properly cooked (and thus serving up overcooked tough meat in the process) and before summer I would have never cooked a whole chicken. I then found this recipe on the lovely Lottie’s blog and resolved to make it over my holiday. Then my operation got in the way of things, and I didn’t get the chance. Until my turn to cook Sunday dinner in my house. I decided to test my meat cooking skills on my housemates who probably weren’t of full realisation that they were at risk of food poisoning. Luckily that didn’t happen!

This chicken turned out to have a lovely flavour, and was incredibly moist. I would have liked it to get a bit more bronze and crisp…but I’m blaming the oven for that one! If you have never roasted a chicken before, I highly recommend you try this recipe as I think the coating really stops it from drying out. Definitely a hit!

And on the thrifty-ness, saving money, budgetting side – I really think a whole chicken is great value for money! Our large chicken cost us £4.57. It fed five people at dinner, and then I filled three freezer bags of shredded meat for use in stir fries etc at a later date. Pretty sure spending £4.50 on chicken breasts would not get 8 meals! Per serving that equals 57p, which is a bargain in my books! I’d have loved to have made a stock out of the bones, but unfortunately I didn’t have a pan big enough to do so – that will be a holiday project I think!

Ingredients

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  • 1 whole chicken – it should be at room temperature when you start cooking, so take it out of the fridge about 90 minutes before
  • 300ml of creme fraiche
  • 5 cloves of garlic (I upped the amount!)
  • Some fresh herbs – I chose to use thyme (which I got at a marvelous discounted price in Waitrose) and some rosemary
  • A little oil

So how do you make a flavourful and moist roast chicken? Read on!

Preheat your oven to 180C. Lightly grease a roasting tin, pat your chicken dry with kitchen towel, and place in the tin.

Make the coating – finely chop the garlic, and the herbs (we used about four sprigs of each), and add to a bowl with the creme fraiche. Mix together well.

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Untie your birds legs, and stuff some of the creme fraiche mixture into the cavity. I warn you this isn’t the most pleasant experience!

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Smother the rest of the creme fraiche mixture all over the rest of the bird. Massage it in and, if you can, get some under the skin.

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When your chicken is fully covered, it should look a little like this:

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Add some less finely chopped herbs to the top, just for fancy-pants decoration.

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Then roast for the length of time your chicken packaging should indicate. Ours took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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If you check out Lottie’s post, you will see how it SHOULD look. Crisp and bronze – not pale and insipid! But mine still tasted good, it just lacked the visual wow factor…

Resist temptation to dive straight in – cover with foil and leave to rest for 10-20 minutes (we used this time to crisp up our potato dauphinoise). Then carve up and serve.

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Remember to strip off all the meat from the bones – it would make great sandwiches, and I’ve shredded it for use in stir fries and maybe a risotto in the coming weeks.

So that’s it, a simple and delicious garlic and herb roast chicken recipe. Don’t be like me and let a fear of food poisoning put you off cooking whole pieces of meat – I really regret not doing this sooner!

Does anyone have an other easy and delcious roast chicken recipes?

Recipe: Potato Dauphinoise

We’re getting posh with this recipe! But really, despite the fancy-pants name, and the fact that these taste AMAZING (even if I do say so myself) they are really simple to make, and not toooo expensive. I wouldn’t make these all the time, but for a treat meal they are perfect. Easy to cook for a crowd too (as I did) as you just use the whole pots of cream, and scale up the potatoes.

I would definitely advise making a recipe similar to this, where the potatoes are not pre-boiled before baking. I just think it works better. The potatoes keep their uniformity and don’t turn to mush, and the top gets crispier. Everything tastes better, the flavours kind of meld together if you know what I mean. I certainly know I’m not doing this recipe justice – just go and make it yourself!

Ingredients (I have done this to serve 5 generously);

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  • 1 large potato (or the equivalent smaller ones) per person. Just to let you know, that’s a LOT of potatoes that need peeling, so draft someone in to help if possible!
  • 300ml of double cream
  • 250ml of soya cream, and around 50ml of milk (I used soya cream as I have a slight lactose intolerance and I knew that if I did all dairy things wouldn’t end well – you can just used 600ml of double cream instead, or all soya if you need to). If you are using soya cream, Alpro is the best I’ve found, I can’t tell the difference!
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Some fresh herbs, if you have them (I had some thyme from another recipe), but no worries if not
  • Seasoning – salt and black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (or other strong cheese of your choice), grated finely.

Method

Begin by making your cream mixture.

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Pour the liquid into a pan, add the whole sprig of herb, and a crushed garlic clove. Leave on the lowest heat possible to infuse (such a good word…and such a foodie one too!).

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While the cream is infusing, get on with peeling those potatoes. Thinly slice the potatoes whilst you are at it – ideally they need to be thinner than the thickness of a £1 coin.

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By now the cream should be infused, so you can get on with assembling! Grease the dishes you are going to use well (use ceramic rather than tins!), then build around two layers of potato slices, over lapping slightly. Season each layer with plenty of salt and black pepper.

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Add around half of the cream mixture, then repeat the layers. Add the cheese to the top.

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Cover with foil, and bake in a preheated oven for about 1 hour – 1 hour & 20 minutes at 180C.

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Uncover, turn the heat to 200C, and cook for 20-30 minutes more until browned, crisp and bubbling.

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I like to serve my potato dauphinoise with a good roast chicken (recipe coming soon!) and a nice crisp salad. Yum yum! Oh and by the way, once you have dished up pour washing up liquid into the dish and add boiling water. Otherwise it WILL stick.

Do you have any favourite side dish recipes?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#2)

I wasn’t the greatest at updating last week’s post, but I’m hoping to improve over time! I’m struggling for cash a little this week so trying to use up what I have, and  hopefully come up with some inventive recipes involving lentils at some point…

Thursday – Stir Fry

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I try and make a stir-fry a regular occurrence in my meal planning. I find them cheap (and a great way to use up vegetables), healthy, quick, and satisfying – something about noodles just screams junk food! I’ll often just use veg, but I cooked a roast chicken a while back, and when stripping the meat off the bones filled three freezer bags. I just defrosted some of this shredded meat and tossed in it.

Just look how colourful this was before I drenched it in sweet chilli and soy sauces!

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Friday – Sausages & Mash

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I love sausages and mash! I throw my sausages (completely uncooked) in the slow cooker with some gravy, and it makes a really easy dinner. Throw some carrots in too, and you’ve got soft and stewed carrots (the best way to have carrots in my opinion!), serve with peppery mash and a load of green veg, and you have a very healthy and easy dinner.

I didn’t have carrots with mine, as I forgot to throw them in with the sausages (and I hate carrots unless raw, stir-fried or slow cooked), but I did eat two types of cabbage and some broccoli.

Saturday – Wahaca

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I met my boyfriend and a friend in London, where we did some sight-seeing (far too early for so many Christmas displays Harrods!), caught a showing of Matilda (highly recomended), missed my last direct train back to Canterbury and ate yummy food. I will do a post soon on the newest offerings from Wahaca, as there are some fabulous things!

Sunday – Toad in the Hole

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It was fellow blogger Libby’s turn to cook our house meal this weekend, and she went for for Toad in the Hole. Check out my version!

MondayI will be going for a pasta dish, probably a tomato-free bolognese (recipe coming soon…)

Tuesday – Some form of lentil curry, ideas welcome! (I have red lentils and mung beans, curry paste, various spices and stock, if that helps?!)

Does anyone have any really cheap and healthy budget recipes?

Guest Post: Chocolate Overload Torte

Here is a guest post written by my lovely boyfriend – as he did the cooking for this recipe, I decided it was only fair he did all the hard work of writing too! Any of my annotations are written in italics, so you can easily differentiate between both of our witty comments. He found the original recipe here.

Upon trying to think of a pudding to make for a house of 4 girls plus yourself, the best option by a long mile is chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Cue lots of googling around for a sensible recipe that won’t break the small student bank balance or ask for all kinds of fancy kitchen gadgets.

In the end I settled on a delicious chocolate torte (plus a raspberry coulis – how fancy, right?). It went down extremely well with the 4 girls plus myself and another boyfriend; even if I do say so myself! Perhaps, dare I say, slightly too rich? Hmm… No. I wouldn’t actually. It was lovely! Onwards with the recipe for the torte…

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Ingredients:

  • 75g of Unsalted Butter (split into 50g and 25g)
  • 200g of Dark Chocolate – at least 70% cocoa – and please please please don’t skimp on the quality. As cheap as supermarket ‘Value’ chocolate is it simply won’t taste anywhere near as good! Split the 200g into 50g and 150g.
  • 100g Digestive Biscuits – about 7 biscuits
  • 1tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 250g Mascarpone Cheese – this tends to be available in tubs of 250g which is great because trying to weigh out mascarpone out isn’t fun
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g Dark Muscovado Sugar or Dark Brown Soft Sugar

Now, you’ll also need a heatproof bowl (Pyrex or metal – just not plastic) and a 20cm/8inch loose-bottomed cake tin. Sadly, we didn’t have the latter in the house, so I had to make one out of a cereal packet and tin foil – if that’s not budget lifestyle then I don’t know what is! You could of course buy a tin, but where’s the fun or cheapness in that?!

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And how do you turn these ingredients into something amazingly yummy? Keep on reading!

First of all, melt the 50g of butter with 50g of the chocolate in a saucepan over a LOW heat and stir to combine. Definitely a low heat though – otherwise bad things will happen to your chocolate. Horrible bad things…

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Meanwhile, crush up your digestive biscuits. I like to do this in a sealed sandwich bag using a bashing-type tool. Usually a rolling pin; in this case a potato masher.

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When the chocolate and butter have fully melted and combined add your crushed biscuit and stir well until fully combined before pouring into the base of the tin, levelling out, patting down, and shoving in the fridge to cool for a bit until firm.

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Then, put the remaining 25g of butter, 150g of chocolate and cocoa powder into a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (or you could use a bain-marie on the off-chance you own one). Stir occasionally and allow to melt together. Once it has melted, set it aside and allow to cool slightly.

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Beat the mascarpone in order to soften it before beating into the chocolate mixture until it is thoroughly combined.

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In another heatproof bowl (or the same one with the previous contents moved into a different bowl of any kind) put the eggs and the sugar together and, again, place it over a saucepan of simmering water. Now, if you have an electric whisk, definitely use it! You need to use a whisk to beat the egg and sugar mixture until it is much lighter, paler and thicker than when you started. Much, much thicker. It will also increase in volume!

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This egg and sugar mixture should then be folded into the chocolate mixture. Be patient with it (unlike myself who usually gets far t0o bored by the slow folding process – I will add here that I did this part!) to make sure you keep as many air pockets in the mix as possible – making for a nice light chocolate torte.

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Then pour this combined mixture on top of the chilled base in the tin, smooth out the top and fill all the gaps, then place in the fridge until it has firmed up and you are ready to serve.

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Now time to lick the bowl!

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When it comes to serving it, remove the side of the tin and leave the torte on the base. Cut into the desired wedges, place on a plate and add the optional coulis.

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Eat, enjoy and be very, very happy in chocolate heaven!

For those interested, for the coulis, blend about 50g of raspberries per person with icing/caster sugar and a splash of lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Then force the blended mush through a sieve into a jug. The seeds won’t pass through the sieve and the coulis will be nice and smooth! I used frozen raspberries as they are much cheaper than fresh at this time of year – simply heat slightly in the microwave to defrost them before attempting to blend them.

This chocolate torte really was amazing, especially paired with the coulis. 

Does anyone have any favourite easy-to-make dessert recipes for entertaining? That question was a huge mouthful!

Saving Money: Buying & Eating Meat on a Budget

I’m hoping this post reaches you all before you do your weekly shop!

This is somewhere that I should make note of the saying ‘practise what you preach.’ I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of eating meat simply because of its cost – I generally have a list at the end of term of the meals I want to eat at home. Beef stew, belly pork, toad in the hole, roast chicken. I generally really struggle to justify the cost of meat. However during the last year of university I really noticed the difference that a diet lower in protein made, and so this year am making the effort to buy and cook meat more often, and hopefully grab some great bargains and learn some lovely budget meals. So far I think it has been going well, as some of the posts I’ve linked to above will hopefully show.

I would like to add that I ate remarkably healthily compared to quite a few of my fellow students. I just shied away from eating meat under the pretence that it was too expensive. I’ve learnt that on the whole I was wrong, and today I am going to give you the tips that I have learnt so far.

  • Check out the clearance section. I always tend to pick up some really good bargains here – just yesterday I managed to get 750g of Tesco Finest lean steak mince for under £4. I will be getting at least 10 meals out of that, so under 40p for a portion of meat is I think excellent value. Obviously only buy things that (1) you know what to do with, and (2) you will have room in the freezer for.
  • Have a browse in the butchers. I never thought that meat from a butchers would be  cheaper, but it actually seems to be. For certain things at least (not, as I unfortunately found out, fresh chicken). One of the main advantages in shopping in this way is that you can buy exactly the amount you need, you get advice about how best to cook things, and they often have cheaper alternatives ‘out back’ if you discuss exactly what you need. That’s how I got the steak for my beef stew.
  • Bulk buy. This is in conjunction with the first point really – if you have space, buy things when you see them cheaply. At the beginning of term I like to take advantage of the “three for £10” offers that all supermarkets have. Of course check the shelves first to grab any bargains!
  • Make the most of your freezer. I couldn’t live without decent freezer space. I like to make up meals and freeze them as ‘ready meals’ and I also like to freeze meat bought cheaply. I buy these bags, which make freezing meals easy, and take up far less space than boxes. Normal freezer bags are fine, but its difficult to prevent spillages when they haven’t quite frozen.
  • Bulk out meals with inexpensive ingredients. I always try and throw a spoon or two of lentils into a mince based dish, my beef stew is well bulked out with carrots (I LOVE slow cooked, stewed carrots) and I like spinach in my curry. Not only do these additions mean I need to use less meat per meal, but they also add a lot of health benefits.
  • Buy better quality. Two contrasts points next. Buying better quality is something hugely important to me. For one, I just think better quality meat tastes nicer. I also like to think that the meat I buy is as cruelty-free as possible. And secondly, I find spending just that little bit more than your basic price means that the meat is less fatty and gristly. To put it simply – I believe that cheap meat is a false economy.
  • Buy cheaper cuts. This appears to contrast with the statement before. But it does mean different things. Buy the best quality level of meat you can afford. But stick to cheaper cuts. For example, boneless chicken thighs are just as good (if not better) than breast, and there are multiple cuts of stewing steak that work differently in different situation.

Does anyone have any tips for buying meat on the cheap?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#1)

I have been hugely inspired by the weekly posts on one of my favourite food blogs – Buns In My Oven. Karly (the writer) does a post every Wednesday where she lists a load of links to other blogs with yummy looking recipes. I’m going to do a little twist on the theme – I’m going to write what I’m planning on cooking over the next week (seeing as I meal plan and shop every Tuesday, this should be pretty simple for me) and include any foodie blogs where I get inspiration. I’m also planning on starting a Fabulous Friday Finds for other blog links, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Enough of my rambling – here’s my weekly menu. I’ll try and check back during the week and add a short review and picture of my meal, and eventually write up the recipes on new posts and link them in. I’m also going to ATTEMPT at some rough costings in a bid to see how much I actually spend on food over the week.

Wednesday – Chicken and Spaghetti, in a Creamy Mushroom and Spinach Sauce

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For the sauce I used a small onion (10p), a handful of chopped mushrooms (25p) some garlic (10p), a can of condensed mushroom soup (90p), 1/4 of a tub of creme fraiche (25p), a stock cube (10p) and some dry mixed herbs (negligible). This made 4 servings, so around 40p a serving. Please correct me if my maths is wrong as it’s been a long day!

I used one chicken breast, but then froze half in a portion of the sauce – so around 75p worth of chicken per portion. Then around 100g of spaghetti. I bought 500g for 23p from Aldi, but say 10p per portion. Then I added a handful of spinach for around 30p.

All in all, a very healthy and very filling dinner for not much more than £1.50. Winning!

 

Thursday – Tomato Free Lasagne

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My recipe turned out to use 27p worth of meat in each serving of bolognese sauce – coupled with a basic cheese sauce and a few lasagne sheets, this recipe definitely wouldn’t be expensive (as long as you weren’t using super expensive tomato substitutes). This dinner was massively filling, especially with the garlic bread, but it provided much needed comfort food on a night I wasn’t feeling too great!

 

Friday – Homemade Tomato-Free Pizza

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No picture of the finished dish tonight I’m afraid, but the main ingredient in my ‘tomato free’ recipes is often this pesto from Waitrose – I hope they never stop selling it!

 

SaturdaySpicy Sausage Stew.

Sunday – In my house, we all take it in turns to cook a ‘family’ dinner on Sundays. This week Katie (who doesn’t have a blog!) is doing a roasted turkey breast with stuffing.

Monday – Thai Red Curry (with chicken and extra vegetables)

Tuesday – I have a late-running extra careers session at university, so the current plan is to eat out on campus. However if this changes I will reheat a Three Bean Chilli.

Wednesday – Due to aforementioned careers session, we won’t be going shopping on Tuesday next week. So on Wednesday I will rely on whatever that is still fresh, or use one of the many meals I have cooked and frozen.

Does anyone else plan their meals in advance? Which of my meals are you most looking forward to hearing about?

Recipe: Simple Beef & Carrot Stew (Black Pudding Optional!)

Okay, maybe this is turning into a bit of a foodie blog. Not that that is a bad thing – I love foodie blogs! But (I say defensively) I know so many people at university who simply cannot cook, who rely on oven meals like chicken nuggets, and their only “proper” meals are ready meals. Though to be honest even knowing how to cook isn’t the whole story – my boyfriend is a fabulous cook (he even makes chocolate fondant puddings and souffles!) but even he survived off ready meals for a while at university. It is unfortunately a huge opinion that cooking from scratch takes too much time, too much effort, and too much money. So I’m hoping that my recipes will change a few peoples minds, and get a few students cooking! And of course my recipes aren’t just for students – I like to think they are suitable for everyone, albeit with potentially scaling up as a lot of what I cook makes just one or two portions. What are you waiting for – get in the kitchen and learn to cook!

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This is another traditional-type recipe (a little more traditional and British that this casserole), very, very filling, very hearty, but slightly more expensive that what I would usually make. It’s not hugely expensive, probably around £2 per portion, and such comforting treat that occasionally it does no harm. Like with all my recent recipes I’ll try and do the costing, but bear in mind that I’m not particularly accurate!

The amounts I’m giving here made a HUGE meal for me and my boyfriend. If I was making it just for me, I’d probably stretch it to three meals, but my costings below assume it’s just being split into two.

Also, apologies for the pretty horrendous photos in this post – my kitchen was very crowded as at the time of preparation my boyfriend was also cooking this amazing breakfast – I am a lucky girl!

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Ingredients

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  • 300g approx of stewing/braising steak. I got mine from a local butchers, and they got me a cut out of the back that is perfect for a slow cooker. No idea what it was, but it cost £2.42 and was absolutely amazing! Probably some of the best I’ve eaten in a stew… You generally pay around £5 for 500g, so I’m going to estimate at £3 for the steak.
  • OPTIONAL – two slices of black pudding. I wouldn’t make a special trip just to buy black pudding for this, but I had some, and found it gave an extra meaty depth to the stew, as well as a warmth and spiciness. It melts down into the gravy, so suitable for even the most adamant “I don’t like black pudding” people. The sausage pictured cost me around 60p, it gave 10 slices, so 12p for this.
  • A couple of carrots. Probably costs around 10p.
  • Around a quarter of an onion. Probably around 5p, if that.
  • Some lard for frying. I’m not including this in the costing as the price in the amount used is tiny, and you could just as easily use whatever oil you have around.
  • Seasoned flour – 1 tablespoon of flour, mixed with finely ground black pepper, and a little paprika. 5p, if that.
  • Onion gravy – 10p for the amount used
  • Beef stock cube – around 10p per cube
  • To serve: three large potatoes (mashed with a little milk and butter), some cabbage, some broccoli – 50p maximum

All in all, around £4 (generously) for 2-3 portions of a good beef stew. Obviously as always it pays to shop around for your meat (do try and go to a local butcher), and bulk buy things like spices and stock cubes. But again this recipe shows that proper cooking doesn’t always have to be expensive.

Method

  • Heat some lard/oil in a wide pan. This is one recipe where I strongly advise searing and browning the meat before slow cooking, as it helps kickstart a meaty flavour and dark colour.
  • Whilst the fat is heating, slice your onion, and peel and slice your carrots.

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  • Toss your stewing steak in the seasoned flour until reasonably well coated. Doesn’t have to be perfect as you can see!

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  • Brown the meat in the pan, turning when seared on each side. You may need to do this in batches – transfer to your slow cooker pot when done.

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  • Add your onion slices to the pan, and quickly fry (stir often as they will catch easily on a high heat!) until turning golden. Throw these in your slow cooker too.

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  • Dice up your slices of black pudding, and try briefly until just beginning to crisp. Into the slow cooker these go…

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  • Finally toss the sliced carrots around the pan just to soak up any flavours.

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  • Once everything is in the slow cooker, make your sauce. Dissolve the stock cube and around 3-4 teaspoons of gravy in some boiling water. The mix should be quite thick.
  • Season it well with lots of black pepper. If you add too much black pepper, some lemon juice stirred through should counteract this – but be careful not to add too much as you don’t want a lemon taste.
  • Feel free to add any herbs you like to this recipe – I prefer my beef stew to be less messed about this, so I just stick to basic ingredients, but things like thyme work well.

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  • Add this to your slow cooker, cover, and turn to low. Leave it for at least six hours.

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  • After about eight hours (with the last hour turned to high, and lid off – to thicken the gravy) mine looked like this.

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  • Serve with mash and veg (and maybe a cheeky slice of bread for mopping up!) in a big bowl.

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  • If you don’t have a slow cooker, but in an ovenproof pot with a lid, and cook on 100-120 degrees for 4+ hours, although you may want to check that it doesn’t dry out.
  • Tip: I had some gravy leftover, so have frozen it in a bag ready to kickstart the flavour of another stew this winter. A bit like keeping a sourdough bread starter if you like!

So that’s that – a very simple beef stew, with optional black pudding. Let me know if you make this recipe! I know from last year that portions free really well (reheat in the oven on a low heat for a while though, it didn’t seem to taste as great microwaved/boiled!) so feel free to scale up and batch cook as it does take a while for the meat to render down to become tender. Does anyone have any tips for a really flavoursome beef stew/casserole?

All Stars Guest Post: Cissy’s Interview Tips

Hi readers! I relatively recently signed up to be part of Philofaxy’s All Stars 2013 Team, and here is the first guest post on this blog. Written by Cissy of The Contemplative Belle, it’s a fabulous little guide  to interviews. Check out my CV writing tips on this post here, and of course have a look at Cissy’s wonderfully eclectic blog!

 

All the studying, the budgeting, sitting through lecture after lecture that you thought would never end and finally you are at the light at the end of the tunnel. Your dream has come true and your college education is complete, diploma in hand. What’s next?

The job search is the next step and by this time you have probably gotten a lot of advice about resumes and the CV. However, it seems no one has given you much advice on the actual interview and what to do and say once you are in the “hot seat” sitting across the desk from your desired employer.

There are a few critical points to remember. The first is to remember that you are there to interview for a specific position and need to remain focused on your skills and qualifications as related to that position. Your job in that interview is to convince the interviewer that you are the best person to fill that position and that you have growth potential. Too often interviewees spend too much time focusing on unrelated skills and fail to fully express their ability to fulfill the job duties in the position they are applying for. Stay focused on the mission at hand.

Another error interviewees often make is jumping directly into discussions regarding salary and benefits. There are two kinds of employees: money-takers and money-makers. If you jump into the money talk first you are likely to come across as a money-taker rather than a money-maker. Any discussions regarding money should be instigated by the hiring party. After all, you don’t even know if they are interested in hiring you yet. Your focus should be on convincing them they can’t live without you. Once you have done that the money conversation will be brought up.

Remember, the interviewer is a professional and it is their job to make you feel comfortable so that you disclose things you may not otherwise choose to disclose. The interviewer is NOT your friend. Build a good rapport but do not let them distract you away from discussing your skills and qualifications for the position and into confessing the irrelevant or disclosing personal details that may not place you in the most flattering light. Keep the conversation on the skills you bring to the table and what you can offer the employer. If you focus on your skills, as related to the job you are interviewing for, and demonstrate the traits of a money-maker you are sure to make a good impression when you hit that “hot seat”. 

 

And so that’s Cissy of The Contemplative Belle‘s interview tips. Have a look at all of the All Stars entries here.

 

Good luck for any of my job-hunting readers out there! Do you have any good tips to share?

Recipe: Spicy Sausage Stew

As you know from this post, I have a huge love for my slow cooker, so I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite recipes. I will admit that, due to the sausages in this, it isn’t the cheapest recipe on my blog. However I do know it is possible to get just as nice spicy sausages from places other than Waitrose, they just have tomato in. So as always my advice is to shop around.

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There’s my beloved slow cooker (number two), halfway through preparing for this. I decided to be ‘fancy’ and fry off the ingredients, but I have been known just to throw them all in at the start of the day and cook from raw. It works absolutely fine that way, and to be honest I probably prefer it, so don’t feel you have to cause more washing up!

This recipe is warm and hearty, a great winter dinner. I like to serve it with just some boiled green vegetables, but I have been known to omit the potatoes and make some mashed potatoes to go with it. This type of dinner is definitely my idea of perfection! It’s also given a modern twist with the spiciness, which just makes it even better in my opinion!

Like with all my recent recipes, I’ll be attempting to work out the costings of this. As I have said, I’ve had to use slightly expensive sausages and so am calculating it with those, but feel free to chop and change ingredients to suit your tastes and budgets.

Ingredients

  • Spicy Sausages X2, I used these but you can get a pack for under £2 in ASDA (£3 per pack, £1 in recipe)
  • Vegetables – I used half an onion, half a pepper, two carrots, half a tin of potatoes (see here) and a mushroom (probably around 50p)

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  • Some kind of beans – I used a small tin of butter beans, but I am starting to use more dried beans in cooking (42p)
  • Gravy – I used a mixture of chicken and onion (approximately 15p)
  • Cornflour (to thicken if needed, price negligible)
  • Spices – I used the ones in the picture below (around 10p)

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So all in all, this recipe probably costs around £2.15 to make in this way, but it could be a complete meal as it doesn’t NEED the green vegetables alongside. This amount actually made enough for two meals, bar the sausages – so I have a portion of the sauce in the freezer, and next week will just fry off some sausages and reheat the sauce. So TECHNICALLY I’d probably put this recipe at maybe £1.80 a portion. Let me know if you think my costing is way out!

Method

Remember that I don’t think you always need to fry off the ingredients first – if you want just throw everything (vegetables chopped) into the slow cooker pan, mix up the gravy with around half a pint of boiling water (but make it quite thick), add the spices to the gravy, pour in, and switch the dlow cooker on. Done. But if you want to do it with a bit more prep…

Fry off the sausage in a little oil until browned.

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Then fry off the onions and the peppers until slightly softened.

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Followed by the carrots and the mushrooms until a little golden.

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Throw everything, including the potatoes (I try to keep these at the bottom, particularly if using raw, to make sure they cook through) into the slow cooker.

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Add your liquid, cover and cook on ‘low’ for around 6-8 hours.

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If it needs thickening, mix some cornflour with cold water to a thin paste, and slowly add whilst stirring. Turn the heat up to high, leave the lid off, and cook for another 10-30 minutes, stirring often.

Served on its own, or with some green vegetables. Some nice crusty bread to mop up the juices wouldn’t go amiss either!

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What do you think of my first slow cooker recipe? Do you have any budget ones to share?

A Love for Slow Cookers

Even I, as a totally abnormal student (we had a house party last Friday, and I played drinking games with a cup of tea…I will add I am taking part in Sober October!), will admit this is an odd post for what is essentially a student lifestyle blog. However I cannot post most of my favourite recipes without proclaiming love for the kitchen gadget that helps me create them, so for the time being we are going to indulge my middle-aged infatuation and talk slow cookers. Or crockpots for those who use that term.

I have no idea where my love for the slow cooker came from. My mum has certainly never used one. My maternal grandmother did…and thats exactly why my mum doesn’t. She is THAT bad a cook that she managed to both dry out the meat and make a watery sauce in a slow cooker. I still shudder with the memories. But for some reason I decided, whilst preparing for university all those months ago, that it would be an essential piece of kit. I was right, and I am SO glad I got one. So glad, in fact, that I now have two…

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew (with mashed potatoes and two types of cabbage)

 

So, why do I love a slow cooker so much. I’ve decided to write you a list! And here it is:

  • Convenience – it means I can fit meal preparation in whenever I’m free, and not have to worry about making a full meal when I get in just before 7.
  • Health/Diet – its a lot easier to hide vegetables when they are soft from slow cooking, so I always get a few extra portions in.
  • Cost – they make the most of cheap ingredients (including cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, as the slow cooking process renders down the fats and makes them soft) and are also low on electricity usage. Its much better to cook a slow for 8 hours in a slow cooker than in the over!
  • Smell – you will walk in to the most delicious smell of cooking food.
  • Cooking dried beans & pulses – I’m becoming a huge eater of these, but having to boil and simmer for a long period of time puts me right off. The slow cooker takes this annoyance away, and makes them a lot more convenient. I will say that I would never cook kidney beans in this way, as they can be toxic without a proper boiling (I always rely on the canned varieties of these!).
  • Cooking with my Tomato-Free Substitutes. I buy these occasionally, but they are thick and dry out easily, so rather than using several jars (as they are expensive) it works well to slow cook the meals using them, and this saves me money. I rather prefer how mince turns out in the slow cooker, although the preparation is actually quite labour intensive.
  • Ease of cooking. Mince type meals aside, I find that it is oh-so-easy to chuck this into my slow cooker, turn it on and go. I’m looking into a timer attachment to make this even better, and easier to work around my very awkward lecture timetable.

 

Student to student, I recommend one with a maximum of a 1.5 litre capacity. In general I can get two portions of a chunkier stew in this, or 3-4 portions of a mince mixture. Really anything bigger would be far too big, and my freezer would be more jam packed than it already is. It’s bad enough chiselling away to get into my drawer now, so more food would NOT be a good idea! If you are bigger family, or even cooking for two people with bigger appetites I would go for around a 3 litre one. I’m already planning to grab a 6l one when I start a family, and that’s a LONG time away. I currently have two of this cooker, and I really recommend it for the excellent price, compactibility, and the wonderful temperature control (so many smaller ones just have ‘off’ or ‘on’).

I also have another list to share with you, this time of tips on how to get the best out of your slow cooker:

  • You don’t always have to precook ingredients and brown meat. It doesn’t hurt the dish to do so, and in some cases it does look a little better if you do, but its not necessary.
  • If cooking with mince, brown off first, drain off the oil AND blot any grease with loads of kitchen paper. I didn’t do this step once, and the spooned off a whole cup full of oil off the finished dish. It kind of put me off!
  • Cut vegetables into as even pieces as possible.
  • For cooking dried beans – rinse the beans under the cold tap to get rid of any dust and grit, and add to slow cooker with approx 3x their volume of water. Cover and turn onto low, and cook for around 8 hours. Halfway through add some seasoning – I tend to go for vegetable stock, onion and garlic. If I’m cooking black beans to refry, I’ll start adding paprika and cumin at this point too. Don’t add salt or seasoning too early as the beans won’t soften.
  • If you are adapting a regular recipe, just use about 1/3 of the amount of liquid, but try to keep proportions of liquid the same.
  • If you do end up with something that is too watery, cornflour is your friend. Mix to a paste in a mug with some cold water, and slowly add to the slow cooker whilst stirring constantly. Stir regular, with the heat on high and lid off, until ready to serve. I like to ‘cook out’ my cornflour for around half an hour for the best texture.
  • I find I always have to add more seasoning to slow cooked meals, particularly spices. But obviously taste and do so to your own preference.
  • I prefer my meals to be serve with fresh vegetables, so will always do a pan of those alongside.
  • To clean your slow cooker, empty it (after cooling), freezing any leftovers, squirt in some washing-up liquid, add boiling water and soak overnight. It should come off easily when you wash up the next day.

So, there’s my preliminary list of slow cooking tips. I will add more periodically when I come across them. As part of my Student’s Survival Menu I am planning on publishing a lot of recipes in the next few weeks, and quite a few will be made in a slow cooker (though they can be adapted to ‘normal’ cooking methods), so please do keep an eye on my blog for these.

 

Does anyone own a slow cooker? What’s your favourite recipe?