Blogger Link Up: Simple Snacks for University

Continuing on my Link Up, today we have Olivia from Land of Soap writing about healthier snacks to take to university. Olivia is a medial student so I’m really interested to have her tips – I know my university lunches could really be improved!

 

Eating on Campus can get expensive and boring. At my uni the only thing remotely edible from out canteen is chips, but even that gets boring. Taking snacks is an option, hopefully this post will give you a few ideas of some healthier options.

Choose meals and snacks that emphasize protein over carbohydrate. Protein-rich meals and snacks keep your energy levels even. Sugary snacks will give you energy for a while, but they will eventually  drop causing you to feel sluggish.

Water
This is not a food, but it is still pretty important to stay well hydrated whilst studying. Drinking water can help you stay alert for a bit longer. Aim to carry a water bottle with you at all times.

Cereal Bars
They come in many different flavours so there must be one you might like. A plus side is you can stock up and not worry about them expiring soon. If you put a few in your bag, they will be ready when you need them.
 photo cerealbars_zps40fabd72.jpgIf you feel adventurous you can make your own cereal bars, I personally mix 1 cup raisins,1/4 cup  smooth peanut butter ,1 cup roasted unsalted almonds, loosely chopped, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats together with warm honey. I spread the mixture out to set in a shallow baking tray, and once it is set it can be cut into cereal bars.
Pros–  little to no preparation required
Cons-some varieties can be very high in sugar

Fruit and Veg
Grapes, strawberries, carrot sticks and cucumber slices make great finger sized snacks. Carry them in a small container, and you will have a noise-free snack for when you absolutely must eat in the library or a lecture. These fruits and veg  are mess free so, making them the ideal study partner.
Pros– ultra healthy
Cons– not suitable for really hot days, (warm cucumbers are the weirdest thing I have ever eaten)

Sandwiches
This is not the most interesting idea, but there is no denying the fact that they are filling.  Almost anything can be turned into sandwich fillings so do not be afraid to experiment. Add variety to your sandwiches by using tortilla wraps, pitta bread or hotdog buns.
Pros– Highly satisfying snack
Cons– Requires time to prepare

Nuts
Nuts are full of healthy fats but they can be calorific if you devour the whole bag! A reasonable amount is about 30 grams(a small handful). Nuts  provide vitamin E, calcium, potassium and magnesium, as well as a significant source of protein and fibre. Throw some in a sandwich bag or a small lunch box to nibble on when you become peckish.
Pros– a protein source packed with minerals and Vitamin E
Cons– calorie dense making it easy to eat too much

Popcorn
Popcorn is a slightly healthier alternative to crisps. If you want you can  make your own in the microwave, but if your anything like me its probably easy to get a multipack bag. Popcorn contains more protein than any other cereal and more iron than eggs or spinach.
Pros– fun to eat
Cons-Thirst, I wonder why popcorn makes me thirsty.

Thanks Olivia for the interesting insight into portable foods for university – I’ve realised I’ve completely overlooked taking nuts, which is strange as its something I ate a lot at sixth form! I’ll definitely be looking at overhauling my lunches next year. 

What do you snack on during the day?

Recipe: Steak in a Mushroom & Brandy Sauce

 photo 2014-05-02200146_zps460760ac.jpgBit of a quick recipe here for you, as I was never planning on posting it. But then it looked really photogenic on the plate, and it was a really yummy dinner, so I decided to go with it!

I love a good steak, but so often they aren’t that great. It needs to be tender, no chewy bits, and perfectly cooked and rested. There’s no point cooking a steak to perfection and then not resting it! I’ve pretty much given up ordering it when I’m out, as I always end up a little disappointed, and I do think its overpriced on menus, but I’m partial to a bit of homecooked steak. Or at least, I am during the holidays when someone else is paying for the food shopping…

This is my family’s go-to recipe when it comes to steak, quick and simple, and we usually have everything in the fridge. The sauce is a dream, and I really should make it more often as it goes perfectly with chicken!

Ingredients (for one)

– Steak, whatever cut you like. We usually go for sirloin when cooking at home, and if I’m honest steaks from Aldi are the best bet unless you have a good butcher!

– A good amount of (preferably freshly) ground black pepper

– One handful of mushrooms

– Splash of something alcoholic – brandy works best, failing that use white wine or even sherry

– Around 100ml of cream

Now let’s cook a steak!

 photo 2014-05-02195659_zps581ce4e7.jpgAbout half an hour before cooking, cover your steak (on both sides) in the pepper. I like my steak really peppery, but adjust this to your own tastes. When ready to cook, heat some fat in a pan over a high heat, until foaming. We normally use butter here, but my boyfriend has used cocoa butter before which works amazing well! Cook the steaks quickly on both sides (see here for a rough timing guide). Throw on a pan, cover with foil, and pop in a low oven.

 photo 2014-05-02195622_zps65f624e0.jpgThrow your sliced/whole mushrooms into the pan (with a little extra butter) and quickly fry until golden brown. Add the alcohol and cook off, then stir in the cream, turn down the heat, and simmer until thickened.

Serve the steak, topped with the sauce, alongside your favourite accompaniments. Can’t go wrong with chips and peas in my opinion!
 photo 2014-05-02200141_zpse369b03f.jpg

How do you like your steak?

Recipe: Swedish Meatballs

 photo 2014-03-15183941_zps3370449a.jpgI’m not entirely sure where it came from (I’ve never been to Ikea, let alone had their meatballs!) but a few months ago I ended up with a massive craving for meatballs. This coincided with a weekend my boyfriend was visiting, and we did our usual ‘late evening bargain hunt to Waitrose’ where we came across some Duchy Originals pork meatballs at an astonishly good price. Like triple check and ask again at the checkout price…unbelievably cheap! A bit of googling around and we decided to make up our own recipe, but bought a couple of things we decided were ‘essential.’

A few months on and I’ve been tweaking the recipe to my own tastes, and budget when I’ve been unable to find bargain meatballs. I take no shame in admitting I made ‘meatballs’ out of sausages (I do regularly for pasta bakes, but for some reason I feel embarrassed for admitting it in this recipe!), and bulked it out with mushrooms when I was feeling really poor towards the end of term…

 photo 2014-03-15183048_zps8d1bac03.jpgThe recipe here is the best version I’ve come up with, rich but tangy sauce, smooth and creamy, but with a bite from the mustard, sweetness from honey, and freshness from dill. This recipe has reminded me exactly how much I love dill! Its one of the quicker dinners I make, something comforting when I don’t feel like being a slave to my slow cooker. Perfect for this time of the year, on those grey days when it feels like we’ve regressed back into winter. Let me know how you find it, I certainly feel like its a hug on a plate!

Ingredients (Quantities for 1)

  • Meatballs – as many as you can afford/manage. I always find making then smaller makes the portion size seem more generous!
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 300ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1.5tsp mustard (mustard powder might be more useful on a budget, longer lasting than fresh!)
  • Splash of cream (I used around 50ml of soya cream)
  • Three/four sprigs of fresh dill
  • To serve: pasta, or creamy mashed potatoes. The sauce goes wonderfully with broccoli too!

Now let’s be making some meatballs…

 photo 2014-03-15181021_zps3c09f37e.jpgBrown your meatballs in a little oil. You want them to be really brown, and with an almost crunchy outside. Little bits of burnt bits taste good too! Once browned, place in a warm oven.

 photo 2014-03-15181604_zpsf122d6a9.jpgTilt your pan so you have a pool of oil/meatball juice. Stir your flour into this, and cook for a few minutes. Then gradually add your stock, stirring constantly.

 photo 2014-03-15181956_zps7d033a42.jpgAdd your mustard, honey, and some salt/pepper.

 photo 2014-03-15182743_zpsffaccdec.jpgThen pile your meatballs back in the pan, along with your cream. Bubble over a low heat until the meatballs are cooked through. Add some chopped dill around halfway through the bubbling time.

 photo 2014-03-15183048_zps8d1bac03.jpgServe with spaghetti or mashed potato, topped with a little extra dill.

 photo 2014-03-15183936_zpsdeb574b0.jpg

Do you like Swedish style meatballs?

Recipe: Chicken’n’Chips

 photo 2014-04-05194427_zpsa27c8742.jpgAs a student I can’t afford takeaways, and whilst I’m generally not into them (what with allergies it’s often easier to cook for myself!) I do get cravings for a good KFC occasionally. A few weeks ago I was running down the contents of my freezer in preparation for my Easter holiday and found a chicken breast, so decided to make my own fakeaway style chicken and chips.

I made up my recipe as I went, not really expecting it to taste as good as it did. When it turned out to be one of the best meals I’d had in a while I knew I had to share it with you, so here it is! Its relatively quick and very easy, and it cuts out the flour-egg-breadcrumbs faff of most breaded chicken recipes, so its a definite winner if like me you dislike handling raw chicken. You can also completely adjust the seasonings to your taste – I went for spicy chicken here, but it would be equally good with something milder, or you could even go down the BBQ seasoning route…I’ve even made sure there’s something resembling a serving of vegetables on the side!

 photo 2014-04-05193251_zps5537c7e5.jpgFor The Chips

  • One large potato, skin on, cut into wedges/slices/chips
  • Seasoning – I went for salt, pepper, mixed herbs and some Cajun seasoning

For The Chicken

  • One chicken breast, cut into strips or chunks
  • A splash of sauce – you could use ketchup, pesto or something similar, but I used Wahaca’s Chipotle Sauce
  • Breadcrumbs – I used ones from a tub

And For The Concession to ‘Healthiness’ – Coleslaw

  • A handful of red cabbage, sliced finely
  • 1 large carrot, sliced finely or peeled using a julienne peeler (I love mine!)
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • A splash of lemon juice

Let’s Get Faking our Chicken’n’Chips!

 photo 2014-04-05185308_zps2bfd4384.jpg

 photo 2014-04-05185653_zpsa017ea19.jpg

 photo 2014-04-05185940_zpsf38de7a4.jpg

 photo 2014-04-05192512_zps74277bcf.jpg

 photo 2014-04-05192655_zpsf9c45755.jpg

  1. Heat your oven to 220C. Cover a tray with foil, spray with a little oil, and place in the oven to heat up.
  2. First, boil the sliced potatoes in salted water for 5-8 minutes. Drain, then tip onto a plate and sprinkle with plenty of your chosen seasoning, and toss together. Place on the hot tray (remember to leave room for the chicken).
  3. Now prep your chicken. Cover the chicken in your chosen sauce, then cover with breadcrumbs. Make sure the chicken is covered all over.
  4. After the potatoes have been cooking for 10 minutes, turn them, add the chicken to the tray, and spray the chicken with a little more oil.
  5. Cook for 15-20 more minutes, until the chicken is cooking through. You may want to shake the pan in the middle of cooking in case the chicken starts to stick to the foil.
  6. Whilst the chicken is covering, make the coleslaw. Put all the veg on a plate, add the mayo and lemon juice, and mix together. I find using my hands is the easiest way to do this. Transfer to a bowl and keep in the fridge until everything is ready.
  7. Serve, preferably in front of a film or some cheesy Saturday night TV.

 photo 2014-04-05194432_zpsef4b9bf9.jpgI find this makes the chicken incredibly well flavoured, and you can adjust the seasoning for your own tastes. Its such an easy way to create crispy chicken and spiced wedges, so I highly suggest giving it a go!

Do you cook fakeaways?

Recipe: Leek & Potato Soup

 photo 2014-03-09114308_zpsf5cb9baf.jpgNot quite the lightest of spring recipes, but I love a good soup! When the weather is warm I often crave lighter, healthier meals (I’m looking for some exciting and filling salad recipes, so if you have any please comment with a link!) but I also love my comfort food. Coupled with the fact that coming up exams the last thing I want to do is have to spend time cooking dinner, I’ve filled my freezer with homemade soup. A veggie packed meal on hand for lunches or dinners, all I need to do is heat it in a pan and stir for a little bit.

This is one of the easiest soups to make – I often find vegetable soups can be a little flavourless but this is always tasty. It just takes a little peeling and shopping, some simmering time, then a whizz in the blender. In less than half an hour you can have plenty of soup – this recipe made me six servings – for the freezer, which is time well spent in my opinion. My only point is to say that it needs vigorous stirring when you reheat, as it separates and looks rather unappetising for a bit. It does come back together though, I promise!

Ingredients for 6 Bowls of Soup

  • 1 large knob of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 3 leeks
  • around 800g of potatoes – 6 should do it!
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock

Now Let’s Make Some Soup!

 photo 2014-03-09114947_zps8615282a.jpgFinely dice your onion and celery, then slice your leeks – just mainly the white part and discard the green ends.

 photo 2014-03-09115423_zpsdcf80161.jpgMelt the butter in your largest saucepan, and slow cook the onion, celery and leeks until soft. photo 2014-03-09120736_zps84757b55.jpg

 photo 2014-03-09120058_zps2a523737.jpgMeanwhile peel and dice your potatoes into roughly 2cm chunks.  photo 2014-03-09120744_zps4c5b18e4.jpg

 photo 2014-03-09121103_zps7a7e7e99.jpgAdd your potatoes to the pan, followed by the stock and some seasoning – I used a little dried thyme and a bayleaf. Simmer for around 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

 photo 2014-03-09132032_zpsb294b17d.jpgTransfer to a blender (you may need to do this in batches) and whizz until smooth. Leave some chunks if you like, but I like my soups completely lump-free. Pour the whizzed soup into a clean saucepan to cool for freezing, or serve.

I like to serve mine sprinkled with black pepper and some crisp bits of fried bacon. And plenty of bread for dipping…

 photo 2014-03-12194243_zpsca84869d.jpg

What’s your favourite soup?

Recipe: Chicken Khari Curry

KhariCurry6 photo 2014-03-03194816_zps296459ab.jpgYou may remember from my Spicy Pea Toasted Sandwich (which I hope you try, by the way, as its an amazing recipe!) that my boyfriends dad has been taking an Indian Cookery class in Northampton run by Rashmita Shah (I believe she is hosting these workshops this year). Being away at university I’ve yet to sample any other dishes he’s learnt, but he did send me down this recipe, along with a spice mix from Rashmita herself (which I’m amazingly grateful for – so thank you to John and Rashmita – its getting a lot of use!). I was also sent an amended (to remove the evil tomatoes) recipe, which I generally follow to the letter. In fact my only deviations are to add extra veg, generally spinach, and use garlic granules if I don’t have any fresh! I also generally don’t include fresh coriander, simply because I have bought two plants since starting university in 2012, and killed both…

KhariCurry2 photo 2014-03-03192014_zps91a572ab.jpgThe spice mix I am using is made up of hing, whole cumin seeds, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt and low sugar. I’ve no idea whether this would work with other spice mixes (and please don’t go and buy generic curry powder…at the very least buy a few separate spices and experiment). I’ve really enjoyed being able to enjoy a curry that isn’t Thai, or a korma – I’ve felt really limited due to my tomato allergy before now! Lets get cooking…

Ingredients (scaled down for one person)

  • 1 portion of chicken
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • 1.5 tsp spice mix
  • A splash of boiling water
  • Small handful fresh coriander, if you have greener fingers than me!

KhariCurry1 photo 2014-03-03192004_zpse2b57bb2.jpgStart by chopping your onion, garlic and ginger together, as finely as possible. Rashmita suggested grating these ingredients, though I cheated and used an electric chopper. Fry in the oil, which you have heated to a high heat. You want to stir-fry these at a continuous high heat, stirring very frequently, until they are soft and turning golden brown.

KhariCurry3 photo 2014-03-03192901_zps0898b61c.jpgThen add your spice mix to the pan, and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

KhariCurry4 photo 2014-03-03193225_zps7c924658.jpgThen add your chicken, and continue stir-frying over the high heat until completely sealed and virtually cooking through.

KhariCurry5 photo 2014-03-03194458_zpsc42fc176.jpgTurn the pan down a little, and add the boiling water slowly, still stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is as thick/thin as you like it. I add my spinach just before it is done. Then serve, garnishing with coriander if you have it.

KhariCurry6 photo 2014-03-03194816_zps296459ab.jpgAnd that’s it! I was shocked at how simple this recipe was, as I always assumed most Indian recipes were complicated and used a long list of ingredients. Okay, I’m using a spice mix, but even that isn’t overly complex! This is a quite and easy recipe, that’s well spiced with a complex flavour. It takes around 20 minutes to make, and for me the difficult part is cooking rice on an electric hob (any tips, please pass them on!).

What’s your favourite curry?

 

Recipe: Vegetarian Bean Chilli

 photo IMAG1098_zpsmwrulozq.jpgA quick and easy recipe for you today, something that’s become a staple with me over this winter as its warming and comforting without taking hours to cook. I love stews and casseroles, but they aren’t exactly convenient when I leave the house at half 8 and get back at half 6, even with a slow cooker. This takes about 20 minutes from start to finish (less if you have an electric chopped, but then there’s more to wash up…) and I’d like to say it’s relatively healthy.

The best thing about this recipe is that its cheap. As long as your spice cupboard isn’t totally bare (at a minimum you should have cumin, chilli powder, salt and pepper) and you aren’t allergic to tomatoes it shouldn’t cost you much at all!

 photo IMAG1090_zpskpeulb9i.jpg

Now a point about beans. I buy dried beans (with the exception of kidney beans) all the time as they are ridiculously cheap, and I use a lot of them. Generally I cook them in my slow cooker every once in a while and freeze in portions – to do this just add to slow cooker, top with twice and much water and cook on low for 5-7 hours, keeping an eye on the water level. If you don’t eat beans often, I would use a can of mixed beans here.

My favourite combination of beans is predominately black beans (thanks to Wahaca I am addicted to these!), with some pinto beans. I’ll then add a small can of kidney beans too. On the tomato free front  – I use Wahaca’s smoky chipotle sauce in my chillis, and don’t miss the tomatoes at all – its definitely the best ‘substitute’ I’ve found for this kind of dish!

 photo IMAG1095_zpsyxb4rrdy.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 pepper
  • Beans (see above, or use a can of mixed beans like this one)
  • Spices – I use 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder, a sprinkle of coriander and cinnamon, and some garlic powder
  • Tomato Puree (or chipotle sauce for tomato-avoiders like me!)
  • Vegetable Stock

Start by dicing the onion. I prefer my onion pretty small and well cooked, so I start to fry in a little oil before doing anything else.

 photo IMAG1086_zpsl0rfm3rr.jpg

Then slice up the pepper, and add to the pan. Fry for a few minutes, then add the spices.

 photo IMAG1087_zpslsoijm8n.jpg

Add the spices, and fry whilst stirring all the time, before squeezing in your tomato paste. If you are making this tomato free, add some chipotle sauce when you add the stock.

 photo IMAG1088_zpsnmxs4ofp.jpg

Add the beans and around a mugful of vegetable stock, then simmer. Just simmer until it gets to the consistency you want – thick or thin. I found I only needed 5-10 minutes on a very low heat.

 photo IMAG1091_zpswsdznpsi.jpg

 photo IMAG1096_zpsmbiaijje.jpg

 photo IMAG1097_zps0oorflxx.jpg

Serve with rice, or if you are really lazy (like me) with tortilla chips and a little grated cheese.

 

 photo IMAG1098_zpsmwrulozq.jpg

 

What’s your favourite vegetarian recipe? Let me know if you want me to provide rough costs of my recipes!

Recipe: Shortcrust Pastry for National Pie Week

 photo IMAG1026_zpsycplbblv.jpgIt’s national Pie Week this week (as I found out walking into Tesco’s to shelves of special buy pastry) and I couldn’t be more excited. I love pies, they form some of my favourite meals. They are just so filling, so versatile, and also pretty quick to make – they freeze really well, so whether you make your own or buy them in you can just throw one in the oven, then come back in a hour and cook some veg. Delicious meal with very little effort.

I prefer to make my own pie (although the Chicken & Ham Pie from the butchers nearby is hard to beat!) filling and then top with ready-rolled puff pastry. I’ve never had the time to make puff pastry from scratch, although I aim to give rough puff a go in the next few weeks. I can, however, make a pretty decent shortcrust. As most students will know, I suffer from a lack of freezer space and often its impossible to freeze fully made-up pies. Its easier and more space-efficient to spoon the filling into a bag, seal, and squeeze in the tiny gaps available. When I do this I really need to make my own pastry, and that’s where this recipe comes in!

I’ve managed to devise the perfect amount to cover my ‘individual pie dish’ – ie the smallest rectangle dish Le Creuset make (I buy mine discounted – and couldn’t recommend the brand enough!). It covers the filling, and leaves just enough to double round the edges to make a thicker, crunchier crust. Not only this but it is extremely quick to make (I can make it in five minutes, before a 9am lectures, then just roll out, cover and bake when I get in) but it is relatively flaky and buttery, and extremely flavoursome from the seasoning. Not quite as good as puff pastry, but a good second-best!

Pastry Ingredients (for a big one-person pie – I am greedy, and I also like lots of pie and no other carbs!)

  • 25g butter
  • 50g flour
  • Seasoning
  • Ice-cold water

How to Make Pastry (also, it’s easy to double/triple/quadruple the quantities if you’re feeding more than yourself – just keep the ratio of half-fat-to-flour!)

Add the flour to a mixing bowl, and season well. My preferred seasoning is a little salt, plenty of ground pepper and a little dried thyme. Tip the butter into the flour. The butter should be cubed, and straight from the fridge.

 photo 2014-03-05100024_zpsf5da3c2c.jpgRub the butter into the flour with your fingers until  its all breadcrumby. No, that’s not a word, but its a good description of what you’re aiming for!

 photo 2014-03-05100357_zpsc69ecc89.jpgNow get some cold water in a glass, and add a drop at a tip to the mix. Stir vigorously with a knife to combine, and only add enough water so that the pastry just comes together.

 photo 2014-03-05100651_zps24e1fe4c.jpgTip the pastry onto clingfilm, and put in the fridge for at least an hour, or until its nearly dinner time! Then you want to roll it out until it’s about the thickness of a £1 coin.

 photo 2014-03-05182806_zpsca95a734.jpgTypically the day I make this pastry for photographing is the day it fails and decides to stick to my marble surface, and then sink into my pie filling. It was still lovely and crisp though!

 photo 2014-03-05192706_zpsb5cad7ba.jpgYou want to bake your pie for about 45 minutes at 180C, until it’s crisp and golden. Brush with melted butter, milk or egg if you want it shiny, though I don’t usually bother.

This pie filling was something quick I knocked up – I sweated down an onion and some garlic, added chicken breast and sealed, then fried some mushrooms off. I then added half (soya) cream and half chicken stock, some lemon juice and seasoning, then simmered for a bit. I find this kind of sauce freezes really well and is so adaptable!

So that’s how to make my version of a simple shortcrust pastry. Let me know if you try it out! Its also a pretty cheap recipe too – far cheaper than buying ready made pastry.

What’s your favourite type of pie?

Valentine’s Baking: Very Easy Chocolate Fudge Cake

2014-02-12 14.34.39A bit of a romantic themed bake for you today. If you remember last weekend I posted about making Cake Pops, and promised you my favourite chocolate cake recipe? Well here it is! I originally found it here, but have altered it ever so slightly to be more to my taste. Really all I have done is increased the cocoa:flour ratio and decreased the sugar slightly. The cake is rich and moist, but to make it even more of a treat (looking at the weather forecast, I’m getting more and more worried that I’ll be spending V-day crying into a plate of cake…so if the weather/train gods are reading this, I’d like the lines to be clear from Northampton to Canterbury please!) I added a very rich frosting. I haven’t eaten it yet, but I have a feeling it will be chocolatey heaven!

If you aren’t in the romantic mood, this cake fits perfectly into two 20-inch sandwich tins. To be honest I reckon heart-shape tins bake unevenly, so I’d recommend you use a normal tin really!

So to the really easy recipe!

2014-02-12 13.31.22Grab three eggs, and weigh them in their shells. Weigh out the same amount of butter, and make sure it is really, really soft. Weigh out the same amount of sugar, then put around 25g back. Weight out the same amount (again!) of flour, but 70g of it back and replace with 70g of cocoa powder. That’s your weighing done!

2014-02-12 13.50.54Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy…this is a great way to burn the calories in the cake before you’ve eaten them! I always find beating the butter before adding the sugar helps this step a little.

2014-02-12 13.52.01Now beat in the eggs one by one. If you add them all at once (like I did in this recipe) it will go wrong and curdle. Curdled mixture is fine in the long run, but it doesn’t look pretty, and often the cake is a little greasier than it should be!

2014-02-12 13.58.52Gradually sift in the cocoa and flour mixture, incorporating the mixture fully. It should be thick and fudgy looking (a little like brownie mixture!) but if it looks too thick add a splash of milk.

2014-02-12 14.23.17Spoon into a tin (which you have greased well, obviously…don’t be silly like me and forget!) and bake for 20-25 minutes at 170C, until firm to the touch, but with a slight give. Let it cool completely before removing from the tin.

2014-02-12 14.34.39Now to make the frosting! I used this recipe, but found it to produce ridiculously thick icing which I had to thin with a lot of water. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but it sure tastes good! I’d like to try this frosting again but on a slightly plainer cake.

2014-02-12 19.37.12You want to melt 100g of chocolate, beat into 100g of soft butter, and then beat in 400g of icing sugar and 50g of cocoa powder before thinning down with two tablespoons of strong coffee. I used 300g of icing sugar and it was still very thick!

2014-02-12 20.02.44I sandwiched the two cakes together with some of the icing, then attempted to smooth (not so neatly!) the rest over the top and sides. I was slightly constricted with the size of my tin (I AM buying a domed cake stand with my leftover Amazon vouchers!) so it wasn’t the neatest work I’ve ever done. To try and disguise the damage I added a final flourish of grated white chocolate (grated a piece of my nail off in the process…) which I think works well!

2014-02-12 20.19.19So that’s my little Valentine’s themed post – together with my favourite and easiest chocolate cake recipe. Its the type of sponge that’s easily adapted to anything – I’m thinking of introducing orange and/or chilli to a version soon!

Are you baking for your loved one this Valentine?

Recipe: Cheat’s Chicken & Ham Pie

It was recently my turn to cook dinner for my housemates; I wanted something warming and comforting so pie was the obvious choice. But I also didn’t want to spend forever cooking! I mean, I do have work to do, and Simulation homework doesn’t do itself (though I wish it would!). In the end I decided to experiment with a quick version of a Chicken & Ham Pie, using a few cheat ingredients.

2014-01-26 19.14.24

It turned out to be just what I wanted. The sauce was thick, creamy and full of flavour, the pastry crisp, and enough meat to feel like a good meal without it costing the earth. Served with some mash and plenty of green veg it was certainly a success! Admittedly not the cheapest recipe, but very nice for an occasional treat – I’m sure you could make it thriftier buy roasting a whole chicken breast, making your own pastry/sauce but that really isn’t the point with this cheat’s version!

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 packet shredded ham hock (I got mine from Waitrose)
  • Can of condensed chicken soup
  • Can of condensed mushroom soup
  • 1 small onion
  • Seasoning – I used plenty of pepper, onion and garlic powder, a little parmesan and around 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry

This made enough for two large pies (easily feeding four), one large portion of filling leftover, and 4 pretty sizeable sausage rolls with the leftover pastry.

Method

Finely dice some onions (I have a confession to make – I recently started using a mini food processor to do this for me, and am wondering why I didn’t start sooner!), then soften in a little butter over a low heat.

Meanwhile chop the chicken into relatively big chunks, and fry on a high heat in some oil until sealed. Then add in the onions.

2014-01-26 18.01.54Pour in the two cans of soup, adding around half a tin of water to each one to ensure everything is out.

2014-01-26 18.03.41

Stir gently until lump-free, and season with your chosen seasonings.

2014-01-26 18.07.22Gently stir in half of the ham – it will break up slightly.

2014-01-26 18.08.42Divide between pie dishes, topping with the remaining ham.

2014-01-26 18.18.49Top with pastry. If you want a nice shiny top, brush with milk, beaten egg or melted butter.

2014-01-26 18.26.51Bake for around 20-30 minutes at 180C, or until puffed up and golden.

2014-01-26 19.14.24

Serve with plenty of vegetables and mashed potatoes, if you like.

2014-01-26 19.28.03

Now I’m not saying this is the most impressive of dinners, the most refined of meals. It was just damn tasty and easy to do, and is great for feeding a larger number of people. If you want to make a meal for housemates during a busy period this is just what is needed, and I reckon it would be perfect for busy mums to – its quick enough to prepare after work, or you could even assemble it all in advance and just bung it in the oven.

I also adapted a crumble recipe to make a savoury topping for the leftover filling – for one serving rub 80g of flour in 50g of butter, add plenty of ground pepper and a little parmesan cheese, scatter over the filling, and cake until the filling is very hot, and the topping golden and crispy. Yum yum!

NOTE: This recipe forms an entry to the Co-Op Electrical Shop’s Winter Warmer competition, the details of which can be found here. In short, bloggers are challenged to create a recipe of their favourite winter warmer, be it stew, pie or pudding. I love winter recipes, as I’m just a lover of cosying up by the fire with something comforting, so I’m hoping the organisers will share all the entries in one place!

What are your favourite winter warmer recipe?