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?

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?

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?

 

Recipe: Potato Curry (+ Tomato Free Curry Pastes)

This was another recipe I made on a whim that turned out pretty damn amazing, even if I do say so myself. This time, luckily for you, I did decide to take photographs of the process, and so can share the recipe far more easily with you (rather than with this noodle recipe!).

I found this to be quite quick (definitely around the half an hour mark, and that was with taking photographs and trying to keep things tidy!), really filling (you definitely don’t need the rice with it, but I had a microwaveable packet that needed using up), and healthy. If I was organised I would potentially cook some lentils up the day before and add these, but it isn’t necessary, and would only serve to bulk it up a bit more. Mine tasted pretty much exactly like a takeaway bombay potatoes, and I’m definitely cooking it again. It’s cheap and healthy, where can you go wrong?

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Again, I will try and work out costings for you, but I reckon off the top of my head this will be pretty damn cheap!

Making Tomato Free (with the help of Marks & Spencers)

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I’ve always had a big issue with finding tomato free curry pastes. I don’t really want to make curries from scratch all the time, as I find the ingredients are expensive, and they are so time consuming. Sometimes I want the convenience of a paste. Thai curries, and Malaysian ones (I love, love, love Massaman curry, and really want to try making one at some point – does anyone have any recommend recipes?), always tend to be safe for my tomato allergy, but when you are craving an Indian style curry, only that will do! Marks & Spencer came to my rescue on this occasion – at the time of writing (please ALWAYS check the label yourself!) their Tandoori and Balti pastes were both free from tomatoes. I prefer their Tandoori one, as I find the extra oil means it keeps better once opened, but both are good and well worth the slightly extra pennies you have to spend for M&S products! If anyone has any other tomato-free pastes or products they recommend, feel free to leave a comment.

Ingredients & Costings

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  • Curry paste (discussed above) – you can get a decent one for under £2, and you use less than 1/4 of a jar (50p)
  • I used a new discovery for me – tinned new potatoes. I initially turn my nose up at things like this, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. And at 15p for a big tin (which served me for two meals) from Aldi, you can’t go wrong (8p)
  • Half an onion – I buy four big onions from Aldi for 59p, but the average price for this amount of onion would not be more than 10p
  • Half a pepper – probably around 20p
  • Some oil (price negligible)
  • Half a bag of spinach (around 50p)
  • Optional – some dry spices, and lemon juice (around 10p, if that)
  • To serve – a naan bread. I buy 6 for £1, but average price maybe 20p

Price for the recipe: approx £1.70. I reckon you could easily make this for under £1.50 per serving though, by shopping around for curry pastes, and not using extra spices.

Method

Chop up your onions, and fry off in some oil, until softened. You don’t want crunchy onions here – they’ll take around 10 minutes.

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Meanwhile, drain and wash your potatoes (to get rid of any brine-y water).

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Chop your peppers and add to the pan – cook for around another five minutes. Keep stirring the pan occasionally (I should have mentioned this before!) to prevent sticking and burning).

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Choose your dry spices. I used these:

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Add your dry spices to the pan, and fry whilst stirring constantly for around 2 minutes until fragrant. This cooks them out and stops the finished tests from tasting powdery.

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Add your curry paste, and stir round.

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Throw in your potatoes, and mush up with spoon as they heat to make the consistency you want. Make sure they are heated through properly too – I recommend cooking for five or so minutes.

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I ended up with mine looking a little like this…

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Throw in your spinach and your lemon juice, and let it wilt, around 2 minutes maximum.

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Serve up with naan bread, and rice if feeling greedy, and enjoy your homemade takeaway!

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Does anyone have any yummy curry recipes?

Baking: Peanut Butter Snickers Brownies

Another baking post for you! Anyone would think this is turning into a food blog, but that isn’t really the case…much as I love food I still want to keep this as much of a lifestyle blog as I can manage. Food is just a big part of my lifestyle…

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Anyway, this recipe has quickly proved to make a favourite baked good of mine. These brownies are rich, gooey, crunchy from the snickers, with a savoury hint coming from the peanut butter. Wonderful on their own, but spectacular warned with Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. Diet = ruined.

 

I will say is that the snickers did make this very unstable and virtually impossible to cut. The crunchiness of the nuts is a pretty key part of the finished bake, but I’m not sure whether Snickers bars is the best way to achieve this. I plan to make another batch trialling a slightly different method, which I will blog about in due course. I will also add my method of using tins is slightly odd – I always line with tinfoil and grease this, then add greaseproof paper. Mainly as it eases the washing up…

 

So, here is the recipe for some of the best brownies I have ever eaten. Gooey, crunchy, chocolatey and salty. If you ever bake one thing from this site, make it these!

I made these as part of a bunch of presents for my lovely old boyfriend, for our third (yep, third – sickenly loved-up couple alert – but happy anniversary again my lovely!) anniversary of being together. His reaction was pretty impressive, so I think he liked them. They have been greatly appreciated by parents and housemates alike (and also travelled the five, yes five, thanks Southeastern Trains, hour journey to said boyfriend in a suitcase relatively unscathed) so would be great to make when meeting new people, having family visit, or for sending home in the hope of a fund relieving cheque in return…

 

Ingredients

  • Brownie mix (I used this recipe, as it is my go to for brownies. I also like this slightly healthier one, but I admit to using Tesco’s “just add water” mix on occasion, as baking ingredients can be expensive!)
  • Peanut Butter (around two tablespoons, smooth seems to work better in baking)
  • Snickers bars (I used three snack sized bars)

 

Method

  • Preheat your oven to around 180C.
  • Chop your snickers into rough chunks.

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  • Once your brownie mix is made up, stir through your chopped up Snickers, and add roughly half the mix to your prepared tin.

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  • Warm your peanut butter slightly in the microwave to make it a little runny (photo is before microwaving!).

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  • Add around half of your peanut butter over your brownies, trying to drizzle it evenly over the mix.

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  • Add the rest of the brownie mix, and drizzle over the rest of the peanut butter. Smooth the top down.

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  • Bake for 20-25 mins, turning if your oven cooks unevenly. If it is slightly underdone when you check it, my tip is to turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven. It should finish it off nicely.

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  • Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin and cutting. If you do this while they are still warm, so know from experience that you will just make a mess.
  • Now sit and eat, preferably with a class of milk or a cup of tea. Oh, and although the snickers might make the base sticky, it means great pickings for the baker…

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This post has made me so hungry, I think I might need to go and steal another from the boyfriend… If you liked this post, check out my brownie post here. Also look at my take on The Londoner’s Banana and Nutella Muffins, and my Citrus Drizzle Cupcakes.

Recipe: Toad in the Hole (+ Yorkshire/ Pancake/ Fritter Batter)

This is a great recipe, one of my favourite meals, and a complete British classic. It is wonderfully simple to make, the basic recipe is ridiculously versatile, and yet so many people shy away from it as (1) they say it is “difficult to make” and (2) apparently it uses “expensive ingredients.” I’m hoping this post will blow both of these concerns out of way!

Firstly, it is so, so, so easy to make, and my recipe requires no scales, no measuring, just a jug, spoon, fork, and a tin. And an oven of course. If your kitchen doesn’t have these, its not really a kitchen.

Secondly, a lot of the ingredients are really basics that you would already have. 1.5kg of flour (ASDA smart price at 45p) lasts me more than a term, salt and pepper at also cheap (and realistically every meal needs them, so I haven’t included them in my costings per portion), milk lasts my house of four a week (6 pints at £1.48). Eggs are £1 for six, and that’s buying free range, as I utterly refuse to buy intensively farmed eggs. I use lard for my toad, but any flavourless oil such as sunflower is fine. Then sausages need not be expensive. Buy the best you can afford, obviously, as the best you buy the better your meal will taste. But you can get 8 decent sausages for under £2. You can get away with using two per person in this recipe but I was greedy and used three for me (but I bought my sausages from Waitrose heavily reduced – 8 for 90p!). I’m going to attempt to include some rough costings within this recipe, but I apologise if these are wrong. I’ve based everything on ASDA prices, using smart price flour, but their standard range everywhere else. My costing will also include some vegetables and gravy (and I use Bisto, so this could be a lot cheaper for you – although Bisto is available in the £1 shops!) I will also include the cost of EVERYTHING if you are making from scratch with an empty kitchen. I hope none of you are doing this though! My estimations are very generous, so the recipe will probably be cheaper!

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I hope I have convinced you to give this recipe a try. It takes little to no time, a tiny bit of pre-planning (although if you are really pushed it isn’t necessary!) and results in a filling and tasty meal that really does remind me of home. Definite comfort food for this dreary, rainy, grey weather. By the way, the photo above is an old one, but the recipe is still the same!

The batter recipe can also be used for individual Yorkshire’s (cook in a muffin tin, for around 5 minutes left), fritters (add your ingredient, I like sweetcorn, and fry in a pan until crispy), or pancakes (leave out the salt and pepper, and fry in flavourless oil for around 1 minute on each side). So it is definitely a good recipe to learn!

Ingredients (I would eat this amount on my own, but with mashed potatoes would serve two!)

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  • 2 eggs (£1 for six, 33p in recipe)
  • 2 spoons of flour (45p for 1.5kg, approx 5p for amount used)
  • Milk (£1.48 for six pints, approx 15-25p for amount used)
  • Salt (29p for 750g, negligible in recipe)
  • Black pepper (29p for 25g, roughly 1p in recipe)
  • 2 sausages (based on £2 for 8, 50p in recipe) – ignore me being greedy and having three!)
  • A chunk of lard, or some oil, around 25g/ml (39p for 250g, approx 5p)
  • Gravy – I use Bisto’s Onion (£1.75 for 170g, approx 30p in recipe)
  • Vegatables – I would have around 1/5 of a cabbage, 1/4 of a broccoli head, and a handful of frozen peas (roughly 50p maximum)

Total cost of recipe – £1.99 including vegetables and gravy, per portion. Starting from scratch would be around £10, but this would leave plenty of ingredients left for other dishes. Scaling up this recipe wouldn’t double the cost, particularly if you just made mashed potatoes instead of extra batter.

Method

Take your two eggs and crack into a jug. Ignore my bloody, plastered finger – I decided to slip with a knife earlier in the day and have badly sliced my finger. Typically I am left handed and it is very painful to write, so am instead drafting lots of blog posts (lucky readers!).

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Add two rounded tablespoons of plain flour to your eggs, beating between each spoon, and trying to beat out all of the lumps (though lumps don’t hurt!).

Add in around 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper. The batter will go a funny colour if you use ground pepper, but I find it gives a better flavour.

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Add enough milk (no more than 1/2 a pint – I used two ‘splashes) until you have a thick but pourable consistency that coats the back of a spoon, similar to this next photo.

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If you have time, cover the batter with cling film and leave in a cool place. I like to make this on days (i.e. Wednesdays) when I finish at lunchtime. I will make it as soon as I get in, winding down from lectures, then get on with some work until dinner time. Come then my batter is nicely rested and I have very little prep to do. Here’s my batter resting by the window, with our pretty little garden – we got lucky for a student house!

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When you are ready, heat your oven to about 200 degrees.

Throw your lard in the pan, and let it melt in the oven.

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Once melted add your sausages, and throw back in the oven. If you are using oil, add the sausages straight away.

Cook your sausages until browned all over. This takes about 10 or so minutes, and you may want to poke them with a spoon to ensure they brown evenly.

When your sausages are browned, removed the tin from the oven then quickly pour in your batter.

Put back in the oven, and set your timer for 15 minutes – do not open the oven in this time, or you will end up with a soggy bottom (to your Yorkshire!).

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Try and time your veg and gravy to be ready at roughly the same time (cabbage wants 4-6 minutes boiling, broccoli 2-5, peas 5-6). You can prep your veg whilst it is cooking (here is what I had tonight!)

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Occasionally your Toad may stick to the tin slightly – if it does then add some washing up liquid and pour in boiling water before it cools, and it should just scrub off easily. Mine stuck tonight – it is a rare but annoyance!

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Serve up your toad, add your veg (drain it well) and cover in gravy. Then devour and enjoy!

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Does anyone have any tips for making the perfect Yorkshire Puddings or Toad in the Hole?