What’s Cooking Wednesday (#10)

Cooking

I can’t believe this is the tenth post of this series! Last week’s menu is all fully updated, so its time to decide what I’m cooking this week…

Wednesday – Cottage Pie

I batch-cooked a load of this tonight – I always add loads of veg to bulk it out, so managed to get four meals out of 200g of mince. I never remember to take photos when I’m cooking with mince (it always looks so unappetising!) but I will aim to get this recipe on the blog too as it’s just great.

Thursday – Sausage Casserole

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Another vegetable based meal – I’m going to add celery and carrots to the casserole for extra yumminess!

Friday – Tomato-Free Bolognese

I’ll be serving my homemade slow cooker tomato free bolognese with spaghetti and garlic bread.

Saturday – Mushroom Risotto

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This is one of my favourite dinners, and (sad I know!) I’m really looking forward to it.

Sunday – House Dinner

It’s Libby’s turn to cook, and I’m excited to announce she has brought Ham & Chicken Pies from the butchers!

Monday – Toad in the Hole

I’ll be prepping my batter in advance, then cooking this up after lectures. Yum yum!

Tuesday – Curry

This will either be one of last week’s lentil curries from the freezer, or a vegetable Thai green curry.

What are you eating this week?

Weekend Wishlist (#1)

This isn’t going to be a regular series (you all know from my Fortnightly Finds that I can’t keep that up!) but I thought it would be nice to do. I like to map how my tastes change over time, but I also like to keep a note of things I really like just in case I win the lottery. So here goes with my first wishlist!

PicMonkey Collage

I’ve become a massive fan of Revlon’s lip products by reading various blogs, and I want their new stains/balms in pretty much all colours. I’m trying to resist the temptation but one has already accidentally made its way home with me! I’m going to have to resist though as I had some large and unexpected expenditure to deal with this week – so no pennies left for treats!

As you know from this post a few weeks ago, I love Massaman curry. I’m craving it again, but I can’t afford the paste, fish sauce and tamarind that I know it needs…I’m going to start picking up ingredients gradually over the next few weeks to spread out the cost!

It’s getting very cold at night, and rather than turn the heating up (and raise the bills!) I’ve been relying on blankets to keep cosy. I love this one from Muji (which happens to be one of my favourite shops at the moment!).

Valentine’s is coming up, and everything seems to be turning red/pink and heart-covered. I’m normally not a fan of this, but I’ve taken a shine to this notebook from Paperchase. I really am a stationary lover, though already have far too many notebooks!

Since receiving Naked 3 for Christmas I’ve been on the lookout for a good eye-primer to really enhance the shadows. The Artdeco one is something I really want to try at some point.

You probably all know that I’m a fan of Filofaxes – whilst I love mine I think this Osterley would be the perfect compliment to it. Having said that, the new release Filofaxes should be published around now, so I’m looking forward to seeing what will be available to buy this year.

Finally, I really fell in love with this shirt dress in Dorothy Perkins today. I love shirt dresses as they tend to fit me perfectly, and I love the pattern and colours of this. So pretty!

Have you fallen in love with anything recently?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#9)

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I’m heading home this weekend (well to my hometown, but admittedly most of the weekend will be spend at my boyfriend’s and not my home!) so I don’t have many meals to plan, and I also haven’t been shopping this week. This meal plan is full of meals made up from store cupboard bits and pieces, and whatever I have left! Its also likely to change, as I’m sure some ingredients will start to get past their best so I’ll move things around to avoid waste. Anyway…

Wednesday – Steak Pie, Mash & Veg

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Bit of a comfort meal this one! I really love a good shop-bought steak pie, but I’m quite limited to the ones I can eat as a lot include tomato paste, so I’m looking forward to trying this.

Thursday – Thai Green Vegetable Curry

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This is just an excuse to play with a new toy – a much awaited Julienne peeler!

Friday – Leftover Curry/Soup

I’m not getting the train til relatively late, but I’ll still only have about 30 minutes to change and eat, so I watered down the leftovers from Thursday with stock, and ate with a Naan bread.

Saturday – Mum’s Meatballs, Spaghetti & Garlic Bread

Sunday – Beef Stew

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I put in a request for this at home, and am really looking forward to it. Yes I can make my own, but its nowhere near as good as mums!

Monday – Lentil Curry

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I experimented with a load of vegetables and curry – recipe to come soon. It  did NOT look good though!

Tuesday – Tomato-Free Beany Chilli

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A quick dinner from the freezer – a made-from-scratch tomato-free slow-cooker chilli, which I’ll serve with tortilla chips!

Do you make adjustable meal plans to avoid waste?

Fun (Fortnightly) Finds #3

Maybe this shouldn’t be called ‘fortnightly’ because I clearly haven’t managed to keep that up! However now I’m back in a new university term I should have more structure, and so should be able to do this a little more regularly. Here goes! 

Introduction to a New Term & Finishing Coursework

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I love the start of term – new modules to get your teeth stuck into! I’ve started some (so far) really interesting modules, and virtually everything I do within university is showing my degree was right for me. Having said that, I know very well that university isn’t for everyone, and deciding to go is a big thing, so make doubly sure it’s what you want before you go!

On a related note, today was the deadline for possibly one of the hardest bits of work I’ve ever had to do. It’s so nice to be able to sit down and relax without that hanging over me!

Spicy Vegetarian Food

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I’ve really enjoyed cooking spicy food lately, and introducing a lot more vegetables into my meals. My spicy pea fried sandwich (a recipe scheduled to come live in the next few days) has become a lunchtime favourite, and I made a Thai Green curry the other night with added mushrooms, carrots and spinach in addition to the usual pepper and onion – it was so good it definitely didn’t need the half chicken breast I threw in there!

Baking

No picture of this (the cakes are still cooling as we type) but me and Libby decided to make cake pops today. We kinda forget it would be a long process, so instead just made the cakes tonight. We’re going for a chocolate and orange type, and they smell amazing!

And now to the blogs! 

I’ve really struggled recently in cutting down to posts that I REALLY like to post on here – I don’t want to be giving you a hugely long list! After much deliberation, these are what I’ve come up with!

Miss Budget Beauty wrote a great post on the Return of the Filofax. This was something I could really identify with me, as I know mine is a huge part of my life and I would be lost without mine. If you find yourself struggling with anything, be it studying, work schedules, or even blog schedules, I highly recommend trying a Filofax as they are just so customisable. I’ll be sharing my set-up soon!

I’ve fallen in love with Revlon’s Colourburst Matte Balms – I’ve already bought one shade, and I’m trying desperately not to be tempted by another. Let me know if you want a review by the way! I think the best post to show off their true colours is on Katie’s Beauty Blog.

This White Pizza with Spinach and Bacon had me drooling at the thought of it. As someone with a bad allergy to tomatoes, I’m really loving the craze for white pizzas which seems to be taking the blogging world by storm lately! Thank you How Sweet It Is for this post!

How was your week? 

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#8)

Welcome to the first What’s Cooking Wednesday of 2014. It feels like ages since I posted one of these!

My aim this term is to eat more vegetable-based dishes, and try and cut down on my food bill as much as possible. I was lucky enough to be able to stock up on loads of dry foodie items at the start of term, so fingers crossed it’ll be just fresh things I need to buy.

Wednesday – Tomato Free Lasagne

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I did a little bit of batch cooking at the weekend, and one of the things I made was some Tomato-Free Bolognese. Tonight I made it into a lasagne, which I had with a spinach salad – it made a nice change, although I can’t say I was too impressed with the quality of my ASDA cheese!

Thursday – Potato Bake with Bacon Spinach

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I’ve put this into my meal plan to use up the leftover white sauce.

Friday – Mushroom & Sausage Pasta

This has a potential to change – any remaining white sauce will be used here, but if there’s none left I’ll be coming up with an alternative dinner!

Saturday – Mushroom Pasta Bake

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I ended up making loads of sauce on Friday, so incorporated it into a pasta bake the next night. Four meals out of one batch of white sauce – bargain!

Sunday – Chicken & Ham Pie

It’s my turn to cook this coming weekend, so I thought I’d attempt to recreate a favourite. Wish me luck – I’ll be posting the recipe on here soon if it’s successful!

Monday – Chicken & Ham Savoury Crumble

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An experiment which really, really worked well! I served this with bubble’n’squeak leftover from Sunday and it was a delicious and interesting dinner.

Tuesday – Toad in the Hole

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Another of my favourite recipes – this time I adapted it to be milk-free and it was delicious. I always serve this with plenty of veg, and it definitely cheers up a wet and miserable evening.

How do you get more vegetables into your meals?

Year 2 Term 2: Aims & Ideals

Today marks the beginning of the Spring term of my second year at university, so today I thought I’d go with a more studenty post – what do I want to achieve this term, and how am I going to go about achieving it?

 

First, I want to improve on last term’s results. I finished my first year with a high 1st and I definitely want to continue with that this year. I felt my first term went okay (although with much room for improvement!) – we covered a lot of completely new and more applied material than before, so I have a lot of revising to do to make sure it’s up to scratch to prevent falling behind!

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I also want to work on my study skills, or at least at not wasting time! I really struggle to work at university when I have a single hour’s break and last term those hour’s turned into a little bit of a gossip session. This term I really want to make the time a little more productive! The type of work I generally have to do isn’t really suitable for an hour’s work (short of reading over notes, I find an hour is too little for settling down and getting a really good grip on a maths problem of this level!) so instead of studying I’m thinking of making those hours into time for me to work on this blog. I even bought a mini keyboard for my tablet, which is an old one of my boyfriend’s kindly gifted to me over the holidays, which will make this a whole lot easier. Does anyone have an recommendation of blogging-related apps which could be useful?

Also in terms of study skills, I want to continue to improve on my technique when I’m actually studying. I want to share some of these tips with you guys, if its something you’d be interested in reading about?

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In terms of my cooking and diet I want to become a little more adventurous. I really enjoyed experimenting with some new ingredients when making my Chicken Massaman Curry, and I want that to continue. Following on from reader feedback (I love getting it, so please get in touch if you have a suggestion!) I want to work on more vegetarian/meat-free recipes so will be doing that!

Looking at my timetable, I’m due to be doing a lot more full days at university this term (I had a strange timetable last term – full on mornings, but finished by 1 three days a week, which was lovely as I got a decent lunch at home!) so I really need to work on making up a decent packed lunch. Currently toying between salad filled wraps, or rice/pasta combinations, but I’m sure I’ll rotate these ideas over the term!

2013-11-20 15.58.25Budgeting wise – I need to, and I need to save money! I may need to shell out for a deposit on a new rented place in a few months, and invest in some workwear so the pennies need to be saved. I managed to save a huge amount of money using a ‘piggy bank’ last term, and I’m hoping this method along with experimenting with cheaper ingredients will help my savings mount up.

And whilst I am budgeting, I’m also experimenting with my make-up and beauty regime. In the spirit of things, however, I’m trying to keep everything as low cost as possible. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming ‘budget buys’ post as I’ve nabbed some great sale bargains (including the aforementioned workwear!)

So that’s a broad outline of what I want to achieve over the next term. Now for the important bit! What do you want to see on my blog over the next twelve weeks? All and any suggestions are welcome!

In Pictures: Christmas Holiday

I have a lot of pictures to show from my Christmas holiday and as most of today is being spent on a train back to university (I can’t wait to see everyone again, although I’m already missing the people at home!) I thought I’d just do a simple photo-heavy post and show you them all, with a few explanations. Let me know if you want more lifestyle posts like this…here goes!

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2013-12-21 17.45.43Coming back to my mum’s amazingly decorated tree!

2013-12-21 17.49.50Snuggles with this cutie…

2014-01-03 09.43.46…and this one! I enjoyed spending lots of time with my boyfriend. During term time we’re anywhere between 150 and 200 miles apart, and although we try and see each other every fortnight it’s been great to see him every single day for a long period of time. We tried to do a lot of ‘dates’ this holiday to offset me having to study, and it’s been great!

2014-01-09 13.47.01One of our dates included a wander round Borough Market, where we lunched on this yummy paella.

2013-12-31 10.41.18I received some lovely expensive make-up…

2013-12-28 09.22.09…and got myself some fab bargains!

2013-12-23 15.21.05Did a little bit of baking.

2013-12-31 10.39.10-1And made sure I pampered myself!

2014-01-02 13.49.20Made the most of the Christmas leftovers.

2013-12-31 13.31.54Devoured some bread baked by my boyfriend (and resolved to make my own!)

2014-01-04 19.42.19Made some amazingly good Massaman Curry.

2014-01-11 16.19.00Watched a lovely sunset…

2014-01-11 16.20.53…whilst drinking a yummy hot chocolate!

2014-01-13 19.34.51I was treated to my favourite meal, fish pie! Thank you to both my boyfriend and his mum for their joint effort in this meal, it was wonderful!

BeHwDX8IYAAjbmpAnd this was topped off by lemon-y pancakes with the papers the next morning.

2014-01-15 20.48.02One of our date nights was a lovely Italian meal (paid for via a voucher we received for Christmas) which we finished off with a trip to the local cinema purely for the Ben & Jerry’s counter! I went for Peanut Butter Cup, with is my absolute favourite, and Smores. The perfect combination in my eyes!

And finally, perhaps best of all…

1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_nYep, I managed to secure my Year in Industry placement which forms part of my degree! I feel really proud of myself for gaining one so quickly, it was my first non-retail/leisure interview, and I didn’t have to start panic-applying to every single placement I could find! I have a few posts set to publish on the University of Kent’s Employability blog about my application journey, but as soon as they are up I’ll be reblogging on here to give some tips. Back to the subject- I’m looking forward to working within the Pricing team of one of the UK’s biggest insurance companies from July, it’ll definitely be a change from university, and it’s an amazing opportunity. So excited!

 

How was your Christmas holiday period?

Ready Meal Review: Sainsbury’s Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake

 

 

It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m not a fan of ready meals. Definitely not to live on by any means – I just don’t think they are particularly nutritious, and I also think they are a ridiculous waste of money. That said they do have their place. There are (very rare!) occasions where you don’t have any food in the house, don’t want a takeaway, and just want the comfort of something warm and stodgy. On those occasions I do see the point of ready meals. As long as they are good. To that end, I’m going to add very occasional reviews of any ready meals I eat to this blog. They will be rare because I probably eat one a term if that. But if I can’t persuade you to steer away from them all together, I can recommend ones that aren’t too offensive. And offer tips to make them better.

2014-01-08 19.16.49First up is this offering from Sainsbury’s – Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake. Not that there was much of a ‘bake’ element with it…

I decided to buy a ready meal on this occasion because I headed back to university in the middle of my Christmas holidays for one night only. We’d also suffered a power cut in the “Storms of 2013” and so I couldn’t rely on any of my ready-frozen meals being safe, so my boyfriend and I opted for a ready meal. We bought two of these pasta dishes (at £2 each, I KNOW I could make something for the same price, if not less, that tastes far better!) along with a garlic bread and a salad. Cheaper than a takeaway, but definitely not inexpensive.

The instructions (we used the oven) were to cook for 15 minutes (lid on, but pierced), then take the lid off, stir and cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes.

The stirring part was when I encountered the first problem. It didn’t actually taste of anything except whatever herb that was in there! I panicked ever so slightly and turned to the spice rack;

2014-01-08 19.14.08I stirred in hell of a lot of black pepper, a good lot of garlic powder, and a little onion powder. This lifted the dish right up, but I’ve got to be honest, it still wasn’t great.

After it had finished cooking (including at extra 10 minutes at a higher temperature) it looked like this;

2014-01-08 19.16.32Definitely not what was advertised on the packets…where’s my crispy ‘baked’ top?! I’ve got to be really honest, I reckon this dish cried out for a cheesy topping. If I’d had some, I would have definitely added some!

Having said all that, adding all the additions definitely helped, and along with the salad and garlic bread it certainly made for a comforting dinner in front of a DVD. Would I have it again? Possibly if I was absolutely stuck. Would I rush out and get another one? No, I reckon it was overpriced for what it was, and I’d sooner try something else, just in case there’s something better. Moral of the ready meal story? Add salt, pepper, garlic and onion, and everything will taste a lot better.

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Do you have any ready-meal recommendations?

 

 

 

Recipe: Chicken Massaman Curry

I first came across this dish as a ready meal. I know, I know, I hate ready meals and think they are awful value, but this was (1) from Waitrose, (2) very nice and (3) reduced. Clearly it didn’t suit the tastes of regular ready meal consumers though, as I’ve never seen it since. I craved this dish for months, then ordered a beef version in a Thai Restaurant in Northampton (if you’re in the area, do give the Thai Emerald a go – one of the best meals I’ve had in the town!) and again loved it. I’m not sure why I waited so long before making my own!

One of the things I love most about this curry is that it tastes pretty Indian, so helps that craving (I really struggle to find a spicy and tomato free Indian curry that’s actually good), but still is fresh and fragrant like the more typical Thai curries. Its creamy, nutty, spicy, and full of interesting textures. Maybe not the healthiest dish in the world, but it is damn good and tasty. Just what I want from a Saturday night curry.

Note: I bought a Massaman curry paste. It is actually one of the most complex curry pastes to make, and the extensive ingredients list (most of which did not reside in my cupboards!) really put me off. So I bought in. I’d love to make up a paste at some point in the future, but spices are expensive, and although I’m slowly building up my collection I’m having to do it one spice at a time, spreading the cost out. Remember, if you are allergic to tomatoes, check the label of any paste you buy. Thai pastes are generally tomato-free, but always check!

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You will need:

  • Chicken breast – one per person
  • 1 onion
  • 1 potato (I’d maybe up this to 2 next time, as this was my favourite part)
  • Half a pot (3-4 tablespoons) of massaman curry paste
  • 4 cardamon pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 cans of coconut milk
  • To taste (I have added the amount I used as a guide) – 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, a squeeze of lime juice, and two handfuls of raw peanuts (ie not the salted snack version)

And to create a delicious curry:

Prepare: chop the chicken into chunks, peel and dice the potato (around 1cm cubes), slice the onion and crush the cardamom pods.

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2014-01-04 18.20.46Then fry the curry paste (with a little oil if it looks dry) along with the crushed cardamom and cinnamon for a minute.

2014-01-04 18.21.06Then fry the chicken in the pan until completely sealed, adding the onion and potato part-way through. When sealed, add the coconut milk (I only needed just over 1.5 cans, so add the second slowly).

2014-01-04 18.34.28Simmer on a very low heat (don’t boil or the coconut milk might split) for around 25-40 minutes until thickened, glossy and the chicken and potato are cooked through. Meanwhile cook any rice or other accompaniments you feel like.

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Stir in the seasonings – fish sauce, tamarind paste and lime juice. The fish sauce should serve as the salt in this recipe. I will warn you – these parts of vital towards the taste. The dish truly wouldn’t be the same without them.

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Serve into warmed bowls, spooning the sauce over the meat/potatoes. I took the last few photos before adding the sauce, hence it might look a little odd! When we ate this the bowls were almost full of the most deliciously thick and savoury sauce.

2014-01-04 19.42.56I really would urge you to try this curry, its a great introduction to Thai food, and is simply one of my favourites.

Whats your favourite curry recipe?

Love Your Leftovers: One Pan Mac’n’Cheeseboard with Gammon

Its a little bit late for Christmas leftovers I know, and I had originally planned to do a couple more posts (I made and devoured a fabulous goose stew, but it just wasn’t attractive to photograph so I didn’t dare post it!), but I couldn’t resist sharing this little recipe alteration to an existing recipe with you. It’s an adaption of my One Pan Mac’n’Cheese, which of course was based on The Londoner’s fantastic post.

My experiments for this post confirmed my suspicions – you could add a variety of things to the basic recipe. Its perfectly versatile, would take pretty much any cheese, as well as work with plenty of meats. I’m thinking of doing a lighter vegetable version in the summer, so watch this space!

Also – Don’t forget to vote for me in the National UK Blog Awards 2014, in the following three categories; Food; Lifestyle; and Young Persons (18-25) 

2014-01-02 13.46.04You will need:

  • 90g of pasta
  • 1/2 a mug of vegetable stock
  • 1/4 of a mug of milk/cream (I used soya cream – you could indeed use up scraps of ordinary cream here too)
  • Slice of leftover gammon (thrifty tip – the Aldi smoked gammon joint is one of the best I’ve ever bought/eaten, and a lot cheaper than anywhere else)
  • Any leftover cheeses, around a handful or so – here I used cheddar, red leicester, and some type of blue cheese that was stinking the fridge out

Now to turn these simple ingredients into a bowl of yumminess:

As in my original recipe, add the pasta to a saucepan with the milk/cream and stock, stir, cover with a lid, and put on the lowest heat possible. Remember to stir every now and then.

Meanwhile, cube/grate your cheeses, and chop the gammon into large-ish but bitesize chunks.

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Resist giving scraps of cheese to any waiting soulful eyes.

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After about 12-15 minutes or so (as I’ve said before, keep stirring every few minutes!) your pasta should be cooked to your liking, in a thick creamy sauce.

2014-01-02 14.03.17Add your cheese and your gammon. I would add that I’d like to try adding the gammon earlier, as I reckon it’d impart more of its flavour.

2014-01-02 14.04.29Allow the cheese to melt, stirring constantly, then tip into a bowl, curl up on the sofa, and enjoy.

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How did you use your Christmas leftovers?