In Hels Kitchen #4

Blimey, it has been over a year since I last published a “In Hels Kitchen” post! The main reason for this, is not that I lost my cooking mojo, its more that I have not really had the time to cook stuff properly over the last year or so. Back in Kent, I was working full time hours over odd shift patterns. I mainly worked afternoons, evenings and weekends (i.e the shifts that no one else wants!) As I did not get home until gone 8pm or 9pm, I batch cooked meals and used my slow cooker a hell of a lot. Then just before we moved when I was running the cupboards and freezer down, we ate a lot of ready made pizzas, pre-made sandwiches and pasta parcels!

When we moved here and during the early days of my pregnancy, I was really sick and I could hardly stomach any food. I could only manage to force down ice lollies, toast and mashed potatoes! I felt too rough to cook anything and the kitchen made me heave (it had a funny chemical smell!) Plus the cats litter tray was in there which also made me ill, so Rob was a good boy and stepped up taking over the cooking and made me lots of scrambled egg on toast!

Now that I am feeling much better (although I have been sick twice since I said on here that I am better! Typical!) and currently on the worlds longest maternity leave ever™ I am starting to enjoy cooking once again. I am loving being in my new kitchen and its something to fill my time with during the day.

Its a shame that in a month or so I will no longer have the time or energy to cook again, but at least I have had plenty of practice using my slow cooker and making quick, healthy(ish) meals etc all thanks to working odd hours over the last year or two.*

I am also trying to batch cook and freeze lots of meals in preparation for the kid. So far I have 12 meals stashed away in the freezer. I did a freezer stock take the other day and am now slightly panicking that I have less than two weeks worth of meals! Eek, I had better get my finger out and make some more!

So what have I been cooking lately then?

This vegetable crumble from the Good Food website. It was tasty and something a little bit different. I froze one for later.

Lots of Sunday roasts, while I can of course! This recipe here makes enormous yorkies BTW.

A photo posted by Rob Staerck (@robsbugged) on


Lots of big batch spag bols, curries, chillis and stews etc to freeze. Its a shame that your typical freezer friendly meals are mostly meat based. Does anyone know any good, filling veggie meals that I can stock up my freezer up with? Although I guess that we will be glad of the extra protein when the time comes! Its also a good job that the babe is going to be a winter babe, as who fancies stew or curry on a scorching hot summers day?

I am also gobbling down a bunch of grapes almost daily. I just cannot get enough of them. So sweet and juicy! Nom nom!

*You know that we will end up eating lots of ready made pizzas, fish finger sandwiches, take aways and pasta parcels! All the good stuff!

Lately #16

Oh dear, its October and I haven’t blogged!

I know – I will do a quickie/bullet points/catch up type of post to dip my toes back into blogging and hopefully it will spur me on to write more posts soon!

Q – What have I been up to, then? A – Not much as usual, but here are a few mundane details, if you are interested….

  • We are cracking on with the house and garden to do list. Rob got the all clear from the hospital recently (although he was a bit upset that his Scarlet Johansson look-a-like physio dumped him told him that she did not want to see him anymore!) So now that he is fit enough for manual labour, he has built our garden path and assembled his new man cave, sorry I mean shed. I wouldn’t say that our garden is looking good, but its looking much, much better. I will share some pictures on here soon.
  • I finally found a free WordPress theme that I like! I was thinking of dropping £39 on a fancy Pipdig theme, all because I hated how my blog looked. Luckily I found the clean and simple Prana theme and saved my pennies. Its not perfect, but it will do for now. I just need to figure out how to add social media buttons to my blog now. Help!new bike
  • Talking of dropping a considerable amount of money… I have a new expensive, fancy pants, female specific road bike. And I have never spent so much money on myself! But, I have been working hard of late, and I did get some money back from the tax man as work screwed up my payments last year. Plus Rob contributed some money towards it (its my Xmas and future B.day present combined from him), but blimey, if someone would have told me this time last year that I would own a £600+ bike, I would have told them ‘yeah right’! Its official – I am cycling nut now. What have I become!
Meme source via Google. Credit unknown.

True dat. Meme source via Google. Credit unknown.

  • We have been eating lots of crumbles recently, and I have been over sharing them on Instagram. Sorry about that, I just can’t help myself! This is our favourite topping recipe. Its a bit cakey, cobblery, hob-noby, and crumbley all at the same time. If you can imagine such a thing? Needless to say its good! Double the recipe to feed four. Oink oink!crumble

In Hel’s Kitchen #3

It seems that every time I talk about starting a new feature on here it is the kiss of death for it! Remember Design classics, Slow Cooking Sunday and In Hel’s kitchen anyone? Note to self – I must try harder!

This post has been in my drafts since May (!!) because I have not got my act together and managed to take any photos of our meals. So instead I will talk about food a bit randomly in bullet points, just because food is my favourite thing. Especially the kind of food that comes covered in chocolate!

    • Lately I have become addicted to eating fresh mangos. So good topped with natural yogurt and a little runny honey. Mmmm, mangos…Yes, she does like the mangos

  • Related – I made these Deliciously Ella lollies. They were good. I used normal cows milk because I could not be bothered to open a can of coconut milk for just five tablespoons BTW.
  • I work a lot of late shifts, so to make my life easier during the summer months, I would typically cook up a load of grains (usually quinoa), wash and chop up loads of lettuce and lots of peppers, carrots, celery etc, all in advance ready for me to chuck together on a plate, with maybe some feta, halloumi, a can of tuna or salad bean mix and whatever dressing I could be bothered to whip up when I get home. Easy peasy.
  • I am also eternally grateful for my slow cooker. I use it at least once a week. I am also thankful that I invested in a decent rice cooker five years ago. My rice cooker has a huge hole in the lid from where I dropped it, the inner bowl is dented out of shape from where I dropped it and will sometimes get stuck in the cooker (yeah, you could say that I am a bit on the clumsy side!) But somehow against all odds it still works!
    When I come home from work after a late shift, straight away I will bung some rice (or quinoa) in the rice cooker, and if I am heating up a defrosted-here’s-one-I-made-earlier-meal instead of using my slow cooker, I bung that in a saucepan and stick it on the stove to warm up at the same time, then go upstairs and get changed into my pj’s, and then by the time I come downstairs, dinner is usually ready. Boom!
  • We also eat a lot of cous cous these days because its so convenient. Chilli or curry with cous cous anyone? I like to break the food rules from time to time. And make my life easier.
  • You might be fooled into thinking that I have got my meal planning game sorted. That is not the case. I do try, but I am just not the organised/type A/super woman/homemaking machine that the internet (or rather a lot of lifestyle blogs and Pinterest) wants me to be. I love this post from Posy Gets Cosy about the pressure we put on ourselves to feed our families with nutritious meals all planned weeks in advance. The comments on the post are good too. There is a lot of wisdom on there.
  • I baked two successful (refined) sugar-free chocolate cakes. First this chocolate cake (not pictured) and these peanut butter brownies (pictured in the photo below). Both were very tasty, and chocolaty enough to kid myself that they were a naughty treat. I am not sure how healthy they are (as honey and dates are still sugar and I think cocoa powder is pretty fattening) but I am definitely going to make these again.
They might not look pretty, but they tasted good!

They might not look pretty, but they tasted good!

…….I guess you could say this post is a little round up on how we eat in my household in spring/summer. Now that the temperatures are cooling, I am looking forward to cooking and eating more soups, stews and lots and lots of stodge! Mmmmm, stodge!

We Made Some Jam And It Got Me Daydreaming

In my last post I mentioned a chilli eating challenge and I promised to write more on the subject soon.

I think that I might have made things sound more exciting than they actually were, because we took absolutely no part in the challenge! Sorry about that!

Let me explain – There was a person pushing super hot chilli peppers onto poor unsuspecting innocents when we stayed with our friends in Cornwall. Our friends, have a friend who grows extra hot specialist chilli’s as a hobby/side business. A few fools people did take up his challenge and we all laughed at them gurning and crying in pain and then we made unfunny jokes about how they were going to suffer yet again the next morning! Fortunately, Rob and I are now old enough and wise enough to say no to doing stupid things like that just because someone dared us to. Well, most of the time we are sober that is!

Anyway, somehow a tupperware box full of these chilli’s ended up coming home with us as a thank you for the donation we made for the fundraiser.

They look so pretty and innocent. Do not be fooled, these are some mean mofo's!

They look so pretty and innocent. Do not be fooled, these are some mean mofo’s!

That was a very kind gesture from our friends chilli growing friend, but Rob and I cannot handle anything much spicier than a balti. So what were we going to do with this big box full of super duper hot chilli’s?

Well, just for shits and giggles (literally) Rob gave away some to his VW friends down the pub. They were drunk enough to agree to the challenge it seems, but not daft enough to eat them there and then! They promised to film themselves eating them later then upload it to Facebook, as you do. We are still waiting for the videos to appear BTW!

As for the rest of the chilli’s, I was too scared to even handle them without protective gloves! Once upon a time, when I first moved in with Rob, I cooked a meal involving fresh chilli’s and I naively scraped the seeds inside the peppers out with my fingernails and then could not understand why later that night why the tips of my fingers were stinging so bad and my eyes were sore! That was a rookie error that I never made again! (My mum did not cook with chilli’s when I was a kid, nor did I pay any attention to the important bits on Jamie and Nigella’s TV shows, so I was clueless!)

In the end we decided to make some chilli jam with them.

Rob took it upon himself to be my official food stylist and photographer. I kept saying to him 'food photography is so hard' etc and dammit, on his first attempt he is much better than me!

Rob took it upon himself to be my official food stylist and photographer. I kept saying to him ‘food photography is so hard’ etc and dammit, on his first attempt he is much better than me!

Around seven years ago, I tried to make chilli jam (funnily enough, with a recipe from Nigella’s Xmas book) and it was a total disaster. It was messy, it took forever, the jam never set, it tasted really disgusting (far too vinegary), it was a waste of ingredients and it all ended up in the bin. Basically, the experience put me off jam making for life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like cooking and I like making things from scratch, but I think there are certain things that are just far easier and cheaper to buy readymade in the supermarkets. Like ketchup, Nutella and yogurt for instance (yep, the yogurt maker was donated unused to the charity shop). Ive made my peace with the wasteful packaging and preservatives by pretending they don’t exist. La, la la…whats that you say….Nutella contains palm oil? Plastic doesn’t get recycled it gets shipped to India and then burnt polluting the atmosphere with lovely chemicals?? La, la, la….fluffy bunnies and kittens….think happy thoughts Helen!!!

This time I used a different recipe. I used a top rated recipe from Good Food and I read some of the comments for advice and googled how to sterilise jam jars etc.

This was a project that Rob and I undertook together. It was stressful, sticky, time consuming and for the most part, I hated it. The recipe said that it would take 50 minutes to thicken. It took 2.5 hours. I do not have the patience to spend all evening standing over the stove stirring jam waiting for it to thicken!

But then after pouring it into tiny jars with a huge ladle (fiddly as f**k) and being unsure when to put the lids on (when its hot or after its cooled? They never tell you this kind of useful stuff in the recipe! We did it when the jam was hot BTW. I was to tired to care and I wanted to go to bed!) The next day we excitedly tasted it the fruits of our labour, and boy was it good if I do say so myself! Really tasty and flavoursome, not too hot but with a definite spicy kick to it.

A hot mess.

A hot mess.

The thing that shocked me the most from this project, over than it actually setting and turning out ok, was the feeling of pride that I got from making it!

Call me a smug bastard, but I love knowing that the chutney in my lunchtime sandwich was made from scratch by yours truly! And that it includes homegrown vegetables from a friend of a friend non the less!

Which brings me nicely to the daydreaming part of my post title (well done if you are still reading this post BTW! I do go on a bit, don’t I!) Back in the early days of my blog I talked a little about how I wanted to grow my own veg and keep some chickens etc. Well in the last few years, I have come down to earth and reasoned to myself that its a lot of work, its not the cheapest way to do things and whats the point really when I live a short walk away from a supermarket?

So of course this chilli jam making has now re-triggered the Tom and Barbara Good in me! Also influenced by the fact that we have been eating and enjoying lots of beetroot, sweetcorn, carrots, runner beans (5 days in a row – we have so many bloody runner beans!), spinach and curly kale all grown by my parents on their allotment. And it does taste fresher and better than the veg from the supermarket. It has made me think again that it is worth all the agro and effort after all, cos you cannot beat the feeling of knowing that you grew/made that with your own fair hand.

Rob designed me a special label, bless him!

Rob designed me a special label, bless him!

Plus as an extra bonus I can become a future Instgram bore sharing square (or rectangle!) photos of my homegrown tucker!

Watch this space!chilli jam 3chill jam 4

By space I mean at least five years! Our garden is still a state work in progress!

Lately #15

Here is what I have been up to lately –

We went camping again for another one night quickie trip. This time was with my sister, her family and my parents who stayed in a glamping pod as my Mother refuses to camp. And we remembered to take our towels this time! We stayed near Stonegate in East Sussex in a lovely little campsite that was for Camping and Caravanning club members only. Oops! I did not realise that small detail when I booked it, and I felt really guilty and like a fraud when I filled in our details in the paperwork when we got there! Ah well, hopefully, they will never check us out!!

My one and only snap of our break

My one and only snap of our break

Spotting some knock off Pyrex Cinderella bowls in TK Maxx. I could not believe my eyes when I saw these amongst the official Pyrex! I cannot remember the manufacturer of them, but needless to say, they were made in China, the land of cheap counterfeit goodies!

Apologies for the terrible mobile snap. I am due an upgrade!

Apologies for the terrible quality mobile snap. I am due an upgrade soon!

Washing my hair with Dr Bronners. I would love give low poo or no poo a go, but my hair is quite fine and greasy, so I always cave in and reach for my bottle of SLS and paraban free shampoo. Recently, I found some Dr Bronners at a discounted price in my local TK Maxx store, and I love it! Its great as a shower gel too. You only need a few drops as it foams up loads so a bottle will last for ages. I love all the hippy stuff about it, like that its not tested on animals, vegan and completely biodegradable. It also opens up lots of homemade cleaning solution options, but to be honest I will probably just stick to using Wilko’s cheap ready made white vinegar and liquid soda crystal solution to keep things cheap and easy!

Eating homemade lollies to survive the heat. I made the simplest of simple homemade lollies by just juicing a bowl of oranges and pouring the juice into my moulds and freezing them. Its a refreshing (if a little sticky) treat full of vitamin C and much nicer than the sugary alternatives in the supermarkets. And so simple! I cannot believe that I did not think of doing this before! Disclaimer – this was not my good idea. I saw it on someones blog!

Hand model I aint!

Hand model I aint!

Acquiring a new blog obsession. Like I need another, eh! But now, alongside my usual lifestyle, 30 something British lifestyle, mid century modern, vintage, food, frugal and Pyrex blog collections in my Feedly feed (I love saying Feedly feed BTW!) I now have a new category – Cycling and fitness blogs! I guess a lot of people might think that reading these kind of blogs would make you feel inferior because you never work out and feel like a fat bastard because you prefer to eat cake to kale (or is that just me that I am talking about here?) but I must be immune to all that stuff, because I find them really positive and inspiring! I am so pleased with my new blog discoveries that I might write up a little completion of them in a post on here soon. So many blogs about so many women being happy and enjoying life, it would be rude not to share the blog love!

We had our new flooring fitted yesterday. I am so pleased with it! We are nowhere near finished with the decorating yet, but I have shared a little sneak peek of the progress so far below. We replaced the crappy laminate that we inherited in the hallway when we moved in 5 years ago, along with the kitchen flooring and the carpet in the dining room. Whats that I hear? Didn’t you just put in new carpet in the dining room and vinyl down in the kitchen not that long ago? Yes, we did, but from the minute we laid down the kitchen flooring, I hated it. It was too dark and ridiculously hard to keep clean. I put up with it for three years (yes it really is three years since we decorated the kitchen!) Finally, we sucked it up and accepted that we made a bad choice with the flooring (or rather I convinced Rob to change it) and we set about fixing it. Next came a few stressful window shopping trips around flooring places. Agh! Too many options! Too many colours! Too expensive! But eventually, I decided that I wanted pale, neutral coloured flooring, and we found some we both liked in the first shop we looked around!
Regarding the carpet in the dining room, it is being relocated upstairs to the smaller spare bedroom. We found that the dining chairs were slowly ruining it with their pointy feet, and laminate is much more practical for times like when the cat throws up in there (she always chooses that room for some reason) and when I am feeding my nephews etc (they are messy little rascals, believe me!). Plus Rob needs a bib when he eats sometimes too.

Top row - the concrete floors hath returned! Bottom row - a little look at the progress we have made. It also needs cleaning FML!

Top row – the concrete floors hath returned!
Bottom row – a little look at the progress we have made. It also needs cleaning ATM!

In Hel’s Kitchen #2

Here is what we have been scofing down lately –

  • As I work until 8 pm on average four nights a week, We eat this meal quite often. Its a favourite in our house because its quick and easy to prepare, foolproof and super tasty. (I never bother adding the extra 1/4 cup of water BTW). We eat one meal of this with brown basmati rice and freeze the other portion to have on Tacos Tuesdays!!! Thank you Instagram for introducing me to this institution! Shove some lettuce then shredded salsa chicken mix into a taco shell and top with cheese, bite into it and then pick up the broken taco pieces off your top, the table, the floor and eat them up. Messy food on Tuesdays is the best!

    Wow, look at my food styling and photography skills. Salad still in the spinner, cheese in the box grater, taco shells still on oven tray and bowl of un appetising looking slop. Wow, just wow!

    Wow, look at my mad food styling and photography skillz. Salad still in the spinner, cheese in the box grater, taco shells still on the oven tray and a bowl of brown unappetising looking slop. Wow, just wow!

  • When I first left home, before I started worrying about processed foods, I cooked a lot of frozen things covered in breadcrumbs. The only thing that I really miss eating from those days is Spicy Bean Burgers (and maybe chicken Kiev’s, a guilty, trashy, food pleasure of mine!), so I have been on the hunt for a good homemade bean burger recipe for a long time. I have made a few duds over the years, let me tell you! I find that veggie burger recipes that involve breadcrumbs just taste bland with a horrible, overpowering soggy bread flavour. Yuck. Plus there are loads of over complex veggie burger recipes out there – like this one that involve hours in the kitchen and tons of washing up! I finally hit the bean burger recipe jackpot with this one from Moosewood Low Fat Favourites. Its so easy and tasty. Win, win! And wowzers, Rob does not complain about the lack of beef in his burger! I just fry up my onions etc, then bung all the ingredients (halved, using just one can of kidney beans) into my food processor, wiz it up, shape them and fry them, then enjoy them with salad for tea and the left overs for lunch the next day.beany babies
  • This recipe here from the Moosewood resturant (again) was very easy to cook and the most hippy chow type meal that I have made in a while. I felt some serious good vibes from all those greens, legumes and grains (I served ours with bulgar wheat) man. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo. I was too busy making peace signs and sticking it to the man, man.
  • This tamale bean pie recipe pictured below, that I tore out of the Sainsburys magazine ages ago, and now cannot find online or anything like it. Although this recipe here has similar ingredients and what not, but is done in the slow cooker with the cheese in the bottom, rather than the top like mine (so not at all like it then!). This is yummy, proper, stodgy comfort food that deserves its very own post. I will sort one out eventually. By eventually, I mean next year probably!

    Yet more of my award winning food photography

    Yet more of my award winning food photography

  • On my never ending quest to make the perfect sugar free oaty energy type bar, I made these healthy apple flapjacks. Which were not quite as good as this favourite bake of mine. I felt they were missing something. Maybe a little butter or marg and some sugar maybe? But still, it was an healthier acceptable alternative and I used up some apples that were about to turn.

Its Meat Free Week this week and Rob and I are taking part as I love a challenge! I always do dry January, Sober October and took part in the blog every day thing a few years back, and not forgetting my upcoming 35 mile bike ride (which I might have mentioned once or twice on here!) Are you taking part in meat free week? I will do a little blog post about our week and reveal if we have made it all the way. Or rather, if I make it all the way, as Rob has already cracked and eaten a ham and Philadelphia wrap for lunch!*

*Amendment – I stand corrected. Rob is not taking part. He didn’t crack at lunch time because he is not taking part.

Update 13/05/15 – I ate no meat for a week and a half in the end. I would have been happy to carry on indefinitely, but Rob wanted a chicken curry and I could not be bothered to cook two meals. We still have meat free meals 3-4 times a week though.

In Hel’s Kitchen #1

I love food, cooking and eating.

Maybe, just maybe, I love the eating part a little bit too much for my own good!

Never mind eh! Even though I love talking about food, I don’t really like blogging about food. I find typing up the ingredients and method really tedious. And, if Im honest, my posts are dull, too long and my food photography is lacking good lighting, pretty props and all the rest of the stuff that passes as good blogging!

But I still want to share the best of the wholesome, cheap ‘n’ easy recipes that I cook on here. So I thought I would start a new series similar to my Lately# posts where I just round up my thoughts and share a link and a picture or two.

I know plenty of other bloggers do these type of posts (thanks for the inspiration gals) and I really like them. I always click on the links to see if I fancy trying out the recipes and I love having a nosey at other peoples meal planning and daily eating habits. So its only fair that I share mine in return!

Plus, this is a quicker, lazy way of food blogging and I have been dying to drop Hel’s Kitchen as a blog post title (snortle!). Win win!

I don’t know how frequent these posts will be, time will tell. But for now here are some of the highlights of what we have been stuffing our faces with in late Jan/early Feb –

  • This vegetarian chilli from Whats Gaby Cooking. Very tasty. Next time I make it I will use less stock though. I actually had some fresh limes for once (Mum sent them over) and the freshly squeezed lime juice definitely adds an extra something to the dish.
  • Another healthy oaty snack bar to satisfy my sweet tooth from Ellie Krieger. Don’t bother making these if you do not have a food processor.snack tretch
  • Another veggie chilli from Bessie’s Veggie Food. I messed mine up by adding too much chilli powder. (Whoopsie! Think runny noses and tears while eating, not a good look!) But I will make this again. Its quick, cheap and filling. And it makes a huge amount. You will be eating this for days.chili
  • This two ingredient pizza dough. I was intrigued to see how it works, and sure enough it does make a nice enough pizza dough, thats great for days when you have no time to let a dough rise etc. I made mine with Lidl’s Greek style yogurt (as its cheaper than the traditional Fage Greek yogurt) so my dough was very heavy and dense (still tasty though). Next time I will try it with the real deal strained Greek yogurt to see if it makes any difference.
  • Yet another chilli recipe! This chicken barley chilli from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. One meal eaten and two meals frozen, for when I am working lates, all from two chicken breasts. Boom!
  • And finally as a little treat, just to maintain our podgy figures in order to keep warm during Februarys big freeze, these cocoa powder brownies from Smitten Kitchen found via The Wednesday Chef. Mine were a little crunchy on the top, but still very moreish!

I promise you that we do not just eat chilli’s, pizza and brownies! These were just my favourite new recipes that I have cooked recently. Honest!

Although, to be fair, I would be quite happy existing on a diet of chilli, pizza and brownies!

Two Healthy Snack Bars

Rob and I have major sweet tooths. I don’t know what it is, but after eating something savoury, we immediately start craving something sweet. Even if we are full.

We both grew up being told that once we have eaten all our dinner, we can have our pudding. (So basically, even if we are stuffed, we will still force a pudding down!) Sugary sweet things will always be a treat to me. And a necessary. Blame it on the parents, eh!

Over the last few years, my baking habits have changed. I no longer bake sugar laden cakes every week. Back in the heady days when I first discovered my love of baking, I was eating a slice of homemade cake nearly everyday. No wonder I went up a dress size!

I had to admit that all the sugar, butter and buttercream (which is again is just sugar and butter) in and on the cakes was not doing me any favours. And my lack of exercise, but thats another story.

Slowly, but surely, I cut down on making cakes. It breaks my heart that I don’t get to practice my main hobby and use my Kitchenmaid mixer as much as I would like too. But Spinderella will last me a lifetime, and I would like a long lifetime in which to use her.

I still really want sugar though! I want something sweet ALL THE TIME!!!! I am addicted!

At first, instead of cakes, I baked flapjacks and snack bars. I absolutely adore flapjacks and they are one of my favourite foods. But they still contain lots of sugar and butter. So the hunt for healthier alternatives was on.

Recently I have been pinning away recipes like a mad thing, check out my board full of healthy snack bars! Thank you internet for providing me with plenty of recipes based around oats, using natural sweetners like maple syrup, honey, dates or bananas instead of sugar, and coconut oil or peanut butter as a fat!

Here are two of my recent favourites that I want to share. For both of these recipes you need a food processor. Sure, it would be nice to have a Magimix or a Kitchenmaid model, but there is no way on earth I would pay £200+ for something that does the same job as my little old £30 job from Phillips. It might not win any awards for design, nor can it manage to grind oats into a fine flour as required in some of the recipes that I have tried (dammit!). But it can cobble together some houmous, veggie burgers and manage to smoosch up a few dates and thats all I use it for! If you don’t have a food processor you might be able to manage making these with a steady hand and a hand blender. Let me know if you can, as I am always looking for ways to reduce my washing up!

The first is this recipe from The Minimalist Baker. Its so moreish and easy to make. Its a bit of a bugger to spread out in the tin to set, but it works well with both Medjool dates and the cheaper Deglet Nour ones. I know as I have tried out both. Its a perfect treat for the 3pm afternoon energy slump and will keep you going until dinner time thanks to its slow burning carbs and all that other good stuff. Try them, you won’t regret it!peanut butter bar
The next recipe is more of a formula than a recipe. I found it here on The Kitchn. I used 1 cup of Medjool dates, 1 cup 50/50 of raisins and cranberries and 1 cup 75/25 of almonds and sunflower seeds. Plus about a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder. Because we all know that added chocolate makes things better.fruit n nut

I mixed my fruits, nuts and seeds purely to keep costs down. Dried fruit and nuts are not cheap, but I am a savvy shopper and I usually get mine from Lidl, Aldi and Grape Tree rather than your traditional health shops. Plus I am sad because I always request my giant tubs of Manuka honey, coconut oil and natural peanut butter for birthday and Xmas presents. Edible bulk buy presents FTW!

Now on to the dates. I was never a fan of dried dates before. They always made an appearance at Xmas time when I was a kid, in those funny oblong containers with their strange plastic stick things to eat them with, and were hard and horrible. But once I tried Medjool dates I was a fan! How can something that is grown on a tree taste so rich, sweet, indulgent and vanilla-ery? I can see why they were called the fruit of the Kings!

Yes, Medjool dates are more expensive, but they are worth it. I have shopped around and the cheapest that I have found is in Sainsburys at £2.15 for 200g. They are in the fridge next to the fruit BTW, in case you head over to the dried fruit baking section like I did. Buy the organic dates and feel smug while you eat your homemade chocolaty energy bars that taste just like expensive Nakd and Trex bars etc!

Going back to all the recipes that I have pinned on Pinterest. To be honest, I don’t think I am going to bother making any of the other date based energy bars, as they are more or less the same recipe again and again, and this recipe/formula is pretty much perfect for me. The fruits, seeds and nuts I have used are all my favourites and they blend together perfectly for just the right level of virtuous sweetness, with a subtle hint of chocolate. Yum.

Vegetable Cobbler

As promised here is a recipe. Finally!

As I have mentioned before, I love cooking and trying out new recipes. I am currently compiling a recipe folder (a never ending project that I have been working on for about six years) and I find most of my favourite recipes from magazines, blogs, the Good Food website and sometimes written in cheap non-celebrity-chef recipe books.

I have a habit of flicking through recipe books in charity shops and discount bookstores, and if anything catches my eye, I will purchase the book, copy down or scan the recipe, then donate it back to charity once I have finished with it. Although I have been known to tear a few pages out of cheap books when I am feeling lazy! Sorry to all book lovers out there!

I found this recipe for vegetable cobbler in a book that was 99p from The Works called Cookery for Beginners. The recipe caught my eye because the sauce involved yogurt, orange juice and milk.

I thought to myself – how can that work? I figured that it would either result in one of the worst things I have ever eaten, or go the completely other way and result in something really rather tasty!

cobblers

Thankfully through some kind of cookery alchemy, it turned out to be the latter – a really hearty, yummy dinner. The first time I made this I was gobsmacked as Rob asked for seconds (there were none) and then asked if he could have it for dinner again the next day!

Result! Its not often I hear this kind of praise about my cooking from him. And least of all about a meal that does not involve any meat! So me, being the perfect stepford wife, dutifully made it for him again the following week. The first time I made this I halved the original recipe. The second time I made it, I made two thirds of the stew (so we could have seconds – oink, oink!) with the cobbler mix halved and I did not have any courgettes.

Are you still with me? The point is that this recipe is very forgiving. You can adjust it to your own taste. More sauce? Thats fine. Lots of carrots and leeks but no courgette? No problem. It all goes down the same way I say. And who can be bothered with weighing vegetables? Not me thats for sure.cobblers again
Anyways here is the original recipe that serves 4 that you can adjust to your households appetite –

Ingredients

1 large onion
225g leeks
450g carrots
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
225g courgettes
25g butter
1 tbsp oil
25g plain flour
2 tsp mustard (I used around 2 tbsp of mild Dijon mustard. It was all I had in the fridge)
150ml orange juice
300ml milk
150ml natural yogurt

Scone Topping
225g self raising flour
1 tsp mustard powder (I used 1 tsp of readymade Dijon again)
50g margarine
75g grated cheddar cheese
150ml milk

Directions

  1. Chop the veg. Leeks into 2cm chunks. Carrots into 5mm slices. Peppers and courgettes into 1cm chunks or there about. (Or just chop your veg that you have guesstimated the weight of into tiny bits and hope for the best like I do!)
  2. Heat the butter and oil in a pan over medium heat, add the veg and fry it for around 10mins until softened, then sprinkle over the flour and cook for 1 min stirring.
  3. Add mustard, orange juice and milk. Increase heat and stir continuously until thickened. Then reduce heat and cover for 10 mins until veg are tender.
  4. Meanwhile make the topping. Sieve flour into bowl, add mustard and margarine and rub in until resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in cheese, then add milk, stirring with a knife to form a dough.
  5. When veg in pan are tender add the yogurt and transfer to oven proof dish.
  6. Roll out topping and cut into rounds (I can never manage this, I alway make it too wet, so I just dollop mine in!) and arrange around bowl in a circle and brush with milk (again, I never manage this part!).
  7. Bake in a preheated oven at 220degC/425degF/gas 7 for 25 minutes until scones are puffed up and golden.

Slow Cooking Sunday – Squash, Sweet Potato and Harissa Soup

Before I start this post, I would like to say that I am available to hire for food styling and food photography. Look at my mad skillz below! So much effort with the sprig of parsley, eh!

Wow, its been a while since I last posted a slow cooker recipe. I still use my slow cooker regularly, I just don’t bother to photograph and blog the meals. Plus most meals are unphotogenic slop.

I bought this book for cheaps recently, and it has some great soup recipes in it. Here is my recipe for a tasty soup which I have slightly adapted from a recipe published in it.soupySquash, Sweet Potato and Harissa Soup

Ingredients
1 chopped onion
1 chopped stick of celery
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons of harissa paste (depending on how spicy you like things!)
Around half a large squash
2-3 sweet potatoes
1 chopped carrot
700ml-1 litre vegetable stock (I used boullion powder)

Method
Put all the ingredients into your slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
Once cooked blend with a hand blender until smooth and serve.
Serves 4-6
soupy soupy