What’s Cooking Wednesday (#6) – AND What Went Wrong Last Week

Time for another week!

You might be able to tell from last week’s post that I didn’t keep it updated very well! Here’s my excuses – firstly, the ‘beginning’ of the week was busy for me, as I was trying to get uni work done so I could enjoy my weekend at home. Once home I didn’t really want to start taking photos of all my meals, as I just wanted to dive in. Readers, chipotle ribs are amazing! Then, arriving at my birthday meal on Monday, my housemates surprised me hugely. They’d arranged for my boyfriend to travel down and stay for a few days. They’d been planning it for weeks, I knew nothing about it, and so had no food in. I pulled together a pretty decent meal though, cooking some of the pies I’d frozen a few weeks ago.

Hopefully this week’s post gets updated more successfully!

Wednesday – Tomato-Free Bolognese

2013-12-04 19.23.54Boyfriend went home today, but took a late train, so I needed something quick for when I got back in – relying on my freezer again I pulled out a serving of Tomato-Free Bolognese, served with spaghetti, stirred through some fresh spinach, and added a bit of garlic bread too. I really enjoyed the addition of the spinach!

Thursday – Something with Leftover Mash

A housemate gifted me some leftover mashed potatoes, and I’m not too sure what to go with. I quite fancy being inventive, so may give gnocchi a try!

2013-12-05 19.38.28I did end up giving gnocchi a try, and I think it turned out quite well, although it was a little too greasy. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but I think I did better than most of the professional chefs on Masterchef a few weeks ago! I served it with bacon and sausage balls, and plenty of cheese – I think it would have been better with the addition of some wilted spinach too!

Friday – Cottage Pie

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I ended up moving this from Saturday – and making six meals! I will be posting a recipe shortly!

Saturday – Mac’n’Cheese

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I tried a new recipe, and it was amazingly good. There is already a blog post scheduled!

Sunday – House Dinner

It’s K’s turn to cook, and I think we are getting Toad in the Hole. It’s one of my favourite meals, so really looking forward to it!

Monday – Sausage Casserole  Cottage Pie

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Due to an emergency doctor’s appointment I didn’t have time to make my casserole (moving it to tomorrow instead!) so reheated a cottage pie, and served with; curly kale, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, and broccoli. With the veg already in the pie too, it felt like a very healthy dinner!

Tuesday – Sausage Casserole

I didn’t take a photo of this, nor did I photograph the lovely Pear & Raspberry Hazelnut crumble I made. I think that’s an excuse to make another just so I can share it with you!

How do you cope with cooking when circumstances unexpectedly change?

Recipe: Chicken & Sausage Pie

This seems like a bit of a strange recipe to write on a student blog, as it seems so expensive – and I must admit the price did make me wince slightly when buying ingredients. But actually it makes a huge amount, and the cost spreads out. Each portion of pie is roughly £1.50, and whilst that’s not the cheapest meal around, its far cheaper than buying a ready meal.

Pies are so fun to make too! There’s so many different stages, but none are complicated (unless you are attempting to make your own pastry, with a cling-film roll instead of a proper rolling pin), and you can tailor the flavours to your own tastes completely. They are perfect for crowds – I made this when it was my turn to cook the house Sunday dinner and it was very well received. Not only did I make enough to feed four hungry girls, I made four individual pies for my freezer too – 2 hours work (and a lot of washing up) but I filled my freezer, relaxed from revision, and generally made a mess in the kitchen. Something I recommend!

2013-11-24 19.16.25And who wouldn’t want a dinner like that?! Served with plenty of mash and veg, this would have actually served at least another person, so I got at minimum nine servings out of this recipe, and I can’t wait to eat some of the ones I have stashed away in the freezer! I originally made a similar recipe from a Times magazine – I no longer have that recipe, so improvised with what was in my cupboard and what I remembered!

Ingredients

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  • Four chicken breast (£7 from Tesco)
  • 6 sausages (I bought 16 for £5, also in Tesco, working out at £1.88)
  • 1 slice of bread, this recipe is perfect for using the ‘end bit no-one wants’ (5p)
  • Two regular onions (40p)
  • A large knob of butter (20p)
  • A handful of the cheapest mushrooms, optional (20p)
  • 2 chicken stock cubes (10p)
  • Two tablespoons of flour (5p)
  • Some herbs and seasoning (5p)
  • 1-2 packs of ready-rolled puff pastry (£2 from Sainsburys)

Splitting the recipe into eight servings, this works out at £1.49 per serving.

Let’s make pie!

First of all, cook your chicken – preheat the oven to 200C, and get four large squares of tin foil ready. Spread each with a little oil, place a chicken breast in the centre, and season with salt and pepper (I also added a bit of thyme). Wrap the foil into a parcel, it should look a little like a Cornish pasty in shape. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then leave to cool.

2013-11-23 16.20.42Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, and sweat down with the butter until soft.

2013-11-23 16.44.00And while that is going on (see, we’re multi-tasking here!) remove the sausages from their skins. Pulse the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs, and mix this into the sausage meat – a kneading movement works well here. If you want, add a bit of lemon juice to this mixture – but don’t worry as it’s far from essential. Shape the mixture into balls – it makes lots, the picture below shows half of mine…

2013-11-23 17.03.57By now your onions should have sweated down. Make the stock up (you need 1.5-2 litres). Add the flour to the onions and stir to make a roux, then slowly add the stock whilst stirring. Once it’s all in the pan, add some herbs, salt and plenty of pepper, and your mushrooms (if using). You could also add vegetables at this point, I imagine some chopped carrot would work well.

2013-11-23 17.06.11Leave your sauce to simmer on a low heat for a bit, whilst you brown the sausage balls in a little oil. Make sure the pan is hot when they go in, or the bread will absorb oil and the final result will be greasy.

2013-11-23 17.34.48Back to the chicken. Remove it from it’s foil parcels, and drain any grease on a piece of kitchen towel. Cut up into bite sized pieces.

2013-11-23 17.43.15Once all of your elements are prepared, put some chicken and sausage in the bottom of your chosen dish.

2013-11-23 17.49.14Ladle in the sauce until it is roughly this full…

2013-11-23 17.49.19And bake for around 30-45 mins at 160C. If you are making a day in advance, keep the filling in the fridge, top with pastry when ready to cook, and bake covered with foil for 30 minutes, and then uncovered for 30 minutes. If freezing, use pastry that has NOT already been frozen (I made my own for my individual ones), defrost fully before cooking, cover and bake for 40 minutes, and then uncovered for 30 minutes. Remember to only use my timings as a guide – everything should be fully cooked and piping hot.

2013-11-24 19.10.14If you want, you could get fancy with your pastry and make some pretty shapes on top…mine was a little rough looking though!
2013-11-23 19.17.58Serve with plenty of green vegetables and mash, and you have a filling dinner for under £2.

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Having made this, I’ve been inspired to make more pies – I’m planning on making some steak ones over my Christmas holidays! Does anyone else make double portions and freeze meals to save time?

Recipe: Tomato-Free Spaghetti Bolognese

Please note, this recipe has been revised and reposted here – it’s taken nearly 5 years, but I’ve finally developed the best no-tomato spagheti bolognese. Super easy (and easily made vegan with mushrooms and lentils) and so, so tasty!
 photo Nomato Sauce_zpsxouvsbyd.jpg

Has anyone else managed to recreate recipes they thought were ‘no-goes’ due to allergies?

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?

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?

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?

 

Not All Students Live Off Baked Beans!

I’ve been keeping a meal diary since I moved to university, and I want to prove that not all students live off of ready meals, toast and noodles. Admittedly two of my housemates seem to, but I honestly think I can cook better meals and save money. For a start, many ready meals are upwards of £2. Considering I spend less than £10 in total on my weekly shop, I’d be spending a fortune more if I survived on ready meals. Basically, what I’m going to do here is to write a list of all of the dinners I have eaten since I have been here. If I can, I’ll give a rough estimate of cost, and maybe a brief description of how I made it. Some might even have stomach-rumble-inducing photos too…so here goes:

Day 1: Cereal in a mug. Yes naughty of me. Yes my mum would go mad. But I had half an hour in which to eat and get ready to meet newly-made friends. I had no clean pots out. I couldn’t find any of my food I’d brought. So cereal it was.

Day 2: Nothing. Yes I know that was bad. BUT I went to ASK with the family before they left, and had a huge plate of risotto and garlic bread.

Day 3: Chilli con Carne. I portioned out a 500g pack of mince, made cottage pie, bolgnese mix and chilli – and got six meals. This was the first, and very yummy it was with rice, cheese and tortilla chips. Because I’m severely allergic to tomatoes, I use a substitute which due to p&p is very expensive. Not ideal for a student, but I use it sparingly and it does enable me to keep eating a varied diet.

Day 4: Cottage Pie (see above). All I can remember about this is that it was deconstructed as I couldn’t get the oven to turn on. I have, thankfully, solved that problem now. I had this with carrots, peas, brocoli and sweetcorn, as well as extra gravy – yummy, homely and healthy!

Day 5: Prawn Stir fry. I have written about my stir fry recipe on here before – all I did was add frozen cooked prawns. I discovered Sharwoods noodles are awful – the best are Waitrose own, the ones that only need soaking. They’re surprisingly cheap as well, but then I’m hugely defensive about Waitrose prices.

Day 6: Chicken Kiev with Couscous Salad. Had a bit of a kitchen war with my housemates on this night (which gets repeated around once a week – a group take over the kitchen cooking using the oven and all four gas rings for several hours). It was 8pm by the time I got into the kitchen, and I needed something quick. This was the answer.

Day 7: Lasagne. I used the mince mixture I’d made up previously, and half a jar of Dolmio white sauce (the same one my mum used back in the days where I could eat tomatoes). This was amazing; served with a salad it was home on a plate.

Day 8: Pasta Bake, made with ham, mushrooms and the leftover Dolmio from the day before. Again served with salad, this was an amazingly quick meal, but definitely needed more pepper in the sauce.

Day 9: Sausage Casserole. One of my most prized possessions at university is a Le Cruset dish, which is the perfect size for an individual pasta bake or lasagne. Coming a close second is my Le Cruset casserole dish. I love stews and casseroles, and they’re perfect for batch cooking. I buy the most amazing sausages from Waitrose (2 packs for £5 – I get at least 8 meals out of this, which I think is great), they are spicy with chorizo, and they make the most amazing casserole. I also buy their Cumberland sausages for toad in the hole, and meatballs. I also insist on having Waitrose cheese. And to be honest, their meat is almost always on 3 for £10, exactly the same deal as other supermarkets. And call me a snob, but I can tell the difference.

Day 10: Carbonara. This is something I’ve mastered at university. I haven’t managed to take a photo, as its something that needs to be eaten immediately. But basically cook pasta, try chopped bacon, mix cooked pasta into bacon pan, season and turn off heat. Beat eggs with lots of finely grated cheese, and gradually add to pan, stirring constantly. If needed add heat to thicken sauce. It shouldn’t scramble, especially if you add the egg gradually. I occasionally substitute the bacon with mushrooms, courgette or even sausage meat, or a combination of all three. Mushrooms and sausage is my favourite combination – like a full English pasta dish!

Day 11: Prawn, Courgette, Chilli, Lemon and Garlic Pasta. Just something quick and delicious I threw together.

Day 12: Toad in the Hole, Onion Gravy, Spinach, Cabbage, Brocoli and Peas. One of my favourite meals. I use Nigellas recipe for Chinese yorkshire pudding, in which you add flour to eggs and milk rather than the other way round. I make a huge portion, and scoff the lot. I’m hugely greedy when it comes to this dish.

Day 13: Chilli con Carne, with rice and tortilla chips. Another one of my batches from the first few days.

Day 14: Courgette carbonara. Seasoned with lemon juice; not advised with eggs, but I enjoyed the lift it gave.

Day 15: Scrambled egg on toast. This was the night I rushed to the boyfriends…to be fair we had stopped for lunch on route…I had a massive plate of chips, peppercorn sauce, grilled mushrooms and a very rare and bloody steak. Nom nom nom…

Day 16: Nothing. It was an emotional day with my man, and leaving him again made me cry for virtually the whole of my four hour train journey. I didn’t fancy a thing.

Day 17: Carrot Stir fry. It was quick and easy, and used what I had in. Still hated Sharwoods noodles though!

Day 18: Sausages, mash, and green vegetables. Reasonably easy and homely. Not impressed with my cheap potato masher though – its very bendy…

Day 19: Cheesy Ham Potato Bake. My usual pasta bake, with parboiled potatoes cut into slices replacing the pasta. Again served with a salad. I really enjoy this dish, its definitely going to be a staple over the winter!

Day 20: Sausage Casserole, mash, and vegetables.

Day 21: Cheesy Pasta Bake, again with salad.

Day 22: Steak Pie, homemade chips, and vegetables. Pukka pies can be bought and frozen in tesco, and are often on offer for £1. I always stock up as (1) it is rare to find pies without tomato in, and (2) I just love them. They do unfortunately take 50 minutes from frozen, but they’re so good I don’t care!

Day 23: Mushroom risotto, garlic bread and salad. Yes, I cooked risotto. Yes I’m not a normal student. But it was so good! I just made up the recipe, and I’ll probably do a specific blog post about it at some point as it just was so very very yummy. Risotto is actually quite quick, and good for leftovers (one day only) or freezing. Purists would frown on reheating it, but I find it works quite well. Better than reheating pasta anyway.

Day 24: Cheesy Pasta Bake and salad.

Day 25: Creamy Mushroom chicken, with rice, peas and brocoli. I love chicken tonights creamy mushroom sauce, its one of my favourite things. Yes jarred sauces are quite expensive, but I think this is worth it. I get four meals out of a jar of sauce, so its reasonably economical – its chicken thats hugely expensive.

Day 26: Sausages, Mash, and veg.

Day 27: Chilli potato bake. An experiment which didn’t exactly work. I layered chilli with potato slices, topped with cheese and tortilla chips and then baked. The textures were awful, and it was a waste of good food.

Day 28: Cheesy Pasta Bake. Needed something quick and easy as my man was coming down that night and I needed to meet him at the station!

Day 29: Carbonara and garlic bread, requested and devoured by the boyfriend. We also shared a whole chicken and four sides in Nandos…and had chocolate pudding made in the slow cooker (which unfortunately looked rather a lot like poo…). The chocolate sauce was very yummy, the sponge very odd.

Day 30: Sausage Casserole, eaten in tears having said goodbye. Good comfort food, served with mash and veg. And bread to mop up the gravy. And then the last of the chocolate pudding, which was better having rested for a day, and then heated in the microwave.

Day 31: Jacket potato with cheese and salad. Nothing much to say about this really.

Day 32: Mushroom risotto, salad and garlic bread. Not as good as my first attempt, but I was making two batches with a small amount of mushrooms, and no bacon.

Day 33: Leftover mushroom risotto.

Day 34: Pukka Steak pie, and vegetables. Yummy yum.

Day 35: Ham and Mushroom Pasta Bake – with salad. Accidently added too much garlic to the mushrooms, but it was reasonably yummy.

Day 36: Sausage casserole, with garlic bread. I spent a long day at work, got home at half eight, and needed something quick. This was the answer; and as my casserole recipe is quite spicy, it works with garlic bread.

Day 37: Chips, garlic bread and chocolate cake; celebrating a friends birthday.

Day 38: Breaded plaice fillet, new potatoes, and peas, with butter and lemon. Managed to get the plaice on a whoops in tesco – £1.25 for two fillets, instead of four pounds something, it was lovely.

Day 39: I was violently ill with a stomach bug, as was everyone else in the house. Somehow I think this might be related to one filthy housemate who continues to chop raw meat anywhere and everywhere without ever wiping down. Anyway, I didn’t eat anything.

Day 40: Luckily I was feeling better. Attended a careers event in London, where I had canapes and wine, following my a dinner date with my dad (who works in the city)  – bread and balsamic, mushroom and truffle risotto to start, then braised rump of lamb with mash and green beans. Some of the nicest dinner I’ve had, although the lamb was well done rather than the medium I’ve asked for. We went to Cafe des Amis, near Covent Garden, and whilst it was lovely it was overpriced – even with 50% off using our taste card, we paid £60. Okay value at this price; full price it would have been a disappointment. But I’ll happily go back there again, maybe for a romantic dinner with the boyfriend.

Day 41: Mushroom and chicken pasta bake, using one of my Chicken tonight bag of frozen leftovers. Tasted very much like the dish on ASKs menu, I was impressed with myself. Served with garlic bread and salad. Word on the garlic bread; tesco values baguettes are 30-something pence, and are lovely. I split them into three. ASDA smart price are cheaper, but the garlic is too overpowering.

Day 42: Plaice fillet, with new potatoes, and chilli lemon garlic spinach. The last of my fish, which was very much enjoyed.

Day 43: The family came down for the weekend, and I was treated to pate and baguette, steak en croute (which I didn’t enjoy) chips and peas. Followed by two tubs of Hagen Daz split between the four of us.

Day 44: I’d been out for Sunday Lunch with the parents, so only had a bowl of cereal.

Day 45: Out for dinner with the parents before they headed home. Found an amazing pub in a village just outside Canterbury – so nice we’ve already booked a table for my birthday lunch in December. I had a chicken, leek and ham hock suet pie, with mash, courgette and cabbage (the cabbage was the best I’ve ever eaten) followed by an amazing sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. I felt feeling totally stuffed and happy.

Day 46: Toad in the hole, mash and veg. Had potatoes to use up, so had a massive, massive dinner that night.

Day 47: Cheesy Pasta Bake for lunch, crisps for dinner; I was working the late shift.

Day 48: Faggots with mash, and veg. I love faggots, but they only seem to sell them up North. I got my parents to bring several loads down from our local butcher – they are 60p each, and one is more than enough for one meal.

Day 49: Spaghetti carbonara for lunch, nothing for dinner. I was heading up to the boyfriend after three long weeks apart. Actually, I lie. I bought a Chicken & Bacon sandwich from M&S at St Pancras – it was the worst £3.25 I’ve ever spent. Very soggy, very fatty bacon, and gristly chicken. I ate two bites.

Day 50: Cheesy Pasta Bake with salad.The boyfriend makes it so much better than I do. Also had a hazelnut hot chocolate and a ‘chocolate egg and soliders’ at his local chocolate chip, preceded by cheese and ham toasties (with chips) at the local greasy spoon!

Day 51: Nothing for dinner, but me and the boy did made cheese stuffed chicken breasts, with homemade chips and chilli/garlic spinach for lunch – delicious. Didn’t make the M&S mistake on the return journey.

Day 52: Fish fingers, new potatoes, prawns, peas in a lemon garlic butter sauce. Youngs fish fingers are by far the nicest and the best quality, and at £1 for 10 I couldn’t resist a box to pop in the freezer. I have two at a time, bolstered with some sauted frozen prawns. This made for a very yummy meal.

Day 53: Carrot Stir Fry – and yep the noodles are still horrible, but they have finally all gone now!

Day 54: Mushroom pasta bake for lunch, with salad and garlic bread, crackers for dinner – another late night shift at work.

Day 55: Toad in the hole, spinach, cabbage, brocoli and peas. Was the best toad I’ve ever made. A very yummy dinner, even if I did cause the smoke alarm to go off.

Day 56: Sausage carbonara – simple and quick. Had with yet more garlic bread.

Day 57: ‘Homemade’ curry. This was a huge triumph. I finally found a curry sauce that doesn’t contain tomatoes, but tried some out of the jar and oh god it was bland! So I fried off two onions and one pepper in curry powder, and various spices. I marinaded my chicken in the same mixture of spicies, and I added three garlic cloves and two chillis, plus virtually a handful of black pepper. Two chicken breasts made three meals like this; to the one I ate tonight I also added spinach. Yes it looked liked sick, but it was the first curry I have eaten for two years, and it was delicious. I served with rice, and some naan bread.

Day 58: Cheesy Potato Bake, with garlic bread and salad. I need stodge and comfort food, as I didn’t feel great.

Day 59: Fish fingers, peas and homemade ‘chips’ – I had frozen some pre-boiled potatoes (I always tend to cook too many) so defrosted them, threw them in the oven tossed in oil, thyme, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. They were a little burnt, but tasted great, and the texture was as close to chips as I think you could get them. Will definitely have an experiment with making more like this.

Day 60: Mushroom Stroganoff. This was a bit of an experiment, and it paid off beautifully. I knew I had loads of mushrooms in the freezer – they seem to fry better from frozen – and I have a huge amount of rice, so I just bought some soured cream and raided my spice cupboard. I fried off some onion, then mushrooms, and added garlic and a little chilli. I stirred in a spoonful of paprika, added a bit of veg stock, simmered whilst the rice cooked…then stirred in a 3-4 teaspoons of soured cream and served. The sour cream did split a little – I heated it for too long – but it tasted good! Would have been better with some steak, but thats virtually impossible on a students budget! Another  dinner that looks a little like sick though:

Day 61: Stir fry with rice. For some reason, my usual yummy stir fry recipe wasn’t great that night. The spring rolls I bought (50p down from £2 – and 4 more in the freezer) were great though!

Day 62:  Homemade mushroom risotto – I seriously love this, isn’t become one of my favourite meals! Had with garlic bread and salad.

Day 63: Mushroom risotto again – it reheats beautifully as long as the leftover portion is undercooked. Had with salad, after coming home at 10pm from work and then picking the boyfriend up at the station. He wasn’t as impressed as me – but then he heavily dislikes mushrooms.

Day 64: Chicken and sausage casserole, with mash and veg. This was delicious, and a bit of a treat as the boyfriend was round. No photos unfortunately, as it was just to yummy to risk getting cold. We also split a whole tub of Karamel Sutra – haven’t been so full since I started university! I was especially full as we’d found an amazing cafe in Canterbury that lunch – Christmas Dinner baguettes are the best sandwich invention ever!

Day 65: Reheated chicken curry. Yes, it still looked like sick, but it froze and reheated really well. I again added spinach, and served with rice and naan. Great comfort  food after the train station goodbyes!

Day 66: Cheesy Pasta Bake, with salad.

Day 67: Faggots, mash, cabbage, brocoli, peas and lots of onion gravy. Delicious on a very cold and rainy day!

Day 68: Nothing for dinner, as I was working late, but for lunch I made bubble’n’squeak, with sausages, bread, and sweet chilli sauce. This deserves a blog post of its own!

Day 69 (que immature giggle): More cheesy pasta bake and salad. I have this far too often, but its so good! Served with a massive plate of salad, I didn’t feel toooo gulity when I ate this entire huge portion!

Day 70: Steak pie, mash, gravy and vegetables.

Will try and keep this post updated – and post more regularly.