Category Archives: Healthy

Alyson’s Top Ten Ingredients of 2015

The end of the year is always seen as the perfect time to reflect on the year that’s just gone by, and look forward to the next year. Since we’re a food blog, it’s only fitting that we look at the past year in terms of food and its impact on my life. So here are my top ten ingredients of 2015.

Garlic

1. Garlic 

The smell of garlic has always reminded me of the best kind of home cooking. It was my uncle who first inspired me to cook, letting me sit at his butcher’s block as he chopped and fried, throwing together the most delightful array of tasty little dishes in seemingly no time at all. Now I’m older and can look back on it, I suspect he lost whole mornings making lunch!

Garlic always featured heavily in his cooking, and was the predominant smell in his house, but in a “welcome to the nourishing bosom of our home” kind of way. So that’s what got me into garlic. And I just can’t seem to look past it. If it’s a pasta sauce, curry sauce, marinade, soup, roast or stir fry, garlic is the starting point. It’s good for you and it does so much flavour work!

 

2. Ginger

This year has been a turning point for me in terms of food and nutrition. I’ve finally had the willpower to make a few healthier changes which have helped me to drop the dress size I wanted to shed before our wedding, as well as helping me to realise that eating healthily is a lot less difficult, and much more tasty, than you might think.

Soups for lunch and stir fries for supper have played a massive part in this, particularly when I learned that it’s pretty easy to keep stocked up with the makings of a great stir fry marinade, delicious enough to forget about those calorie stuffed sachet sauces. Ginger is a big hitter for me, and I always have a knobble in my fridge (especially since Charles told me off for resorting to ginger purée!).


3. Soy Sauce 

For similar reasons to the above story about stir fries, soy sauce has been hugely helpful in letting me throw together healthy but filling suppers, satisfying enough to stop me rescuing for a takeaway menu or a bag of pasta. Even if it doesn’t feature in your stir fry, it’s a slightly heather way to ass on your Asian food, so stick it on the table in case there isn’t enough salt on your noodles or rice.

The legend says that light soy is for flavour, whilst dark soy is for colour, but I just prefer dark soy sauce – it seems a little less bitter to me.

 

4. Honey 

Honey has been getting a bad rep, recently  – “oh it’s not as healthy as you think”, “it’s as bad for you as sugar”, yadda yadda, but everything in moderation.  A teaspoon in your marinade isn’t going to kill you, but it will give you the perfect dash of Asian sweetness, as well as the most beautiful sticky glaze to your stir-fried meat (see my Chicken Teriyaki for the evidence!).  I like to buy the runny kind in a squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I’m not at all fussy about brand so don’t take the photo as a specific recommendation – whichever is on offer will be the bottle which makes it into my basket.

 

5. Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Really, I could be giving you a top ten rundown of my favourite/most eaten fruits and vegetables, so I’m afraid the title of this item will have to be as general as this!  You may remember (if you’ve followed my blog from the beginning) that one of my major resolutions for 2015 was to do my darnedest to eat my 5-a-day.  And, for the most part, I’ve achieved this (apart from the odd Saturday and Sunday, but that will change in the Brooker household).  It’s really much easier than you think.  I’m sure I’ll eventually get round to a post about the little changes you can make to the everyday to make your diet that little bit healthier, but generally melons and grapes have replaced my lunchtime packet of crisps, homemade soups and salads take the place of M&S sandwiches, apples and clementines float around my handbag in case I get peckish mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and bulking out my suppers with lots of fresh vegetables helps me to cut down on the carbs.  It can seem like an expensive way to eat, but once you’ve figured out your favourites, your weekly shop becomes a lot easier and a lot better for you.

 

6. Ribeye Steak

Charles has the credit for introducing me to this one.  The lovely, succulent, tasty ribeye.  It has more flavour that a sirloin or a fillet, and it’s generally pretty easy to trim out the excess fat.  It just has more…steakiness about it.  We had ribeyes from my butcher for our first supper as an engaged couple (I didn’t know we would be an engaged couple but we were otherwise celebrating heading off for a wonderful week together on Skye, it just worked out quite well) and Charles has also introduced me to the wonders of Aldi steaks.  Seriously. Try them.  They beat the butcher hands down because they are hung for a bit to tenderise and mature the beef, and yet they are sourced locally from farmers who meet the highest standards.  When I’m not celebrating, however, I love these Tesco ribeyes, which, at £3 a pop and big enough to make two stir fries, are my protein-packed best friend for a tasty midweek supper which will help my muscles to recover from HIIT and Pilates.

 

 

7. Brown Rice 

My name’s Alyson and I used to be a brown rice sceptic.  Until I bought a bag, learned that it took forever and a day to cook it, and tasted it.  It’s easier to prepare than basmati (provided you have 20+ minutes to let it simmer),it won’t turn stodgy on you, it tastes beautiful and nutty and delicious enough to eat alone, and it has a low GI, which means it takes longer to break down in your body and is therefore less likely to turn to fat.  Sorted.  Although you should definitely stock up when i’s on offer as it can get fairly pricey (£2.50 from Tilda in Tesco right now ….on the shelf you will stay).

Olive ou


 

8. Olive Oil

Everyone, surely, knows the benefits of olive oil.  It’s a staple. It’s always kicking around somewhere in both of our kitchens.  If I’m stir frying, I prefer groundnut oil as it can handle a higher heat without burning (be careful if you’re allergic to nuts), but olive is still a great starter for dressings, marinades, pestos, and getting a gently sweat or fry on the go.  Let’s try some new oils in 2016…

 9. Tinned Tomatoes 

Such a staple, even my Mum keeps them in the house, tinned tomatoes are a must-have store cupboard ingredient.  They’re a great start to a pasta sauce, a curry base or a casserole and they help to make an excellent minestrone.  Buy a four-pack when they’re on offer.  I used to be all about the chopped tomatoes but I think I’ve convinced myself that tinned plum tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush) give you a better flavour and texture.

image

10. Stock Cubes and Stock Pots

I’ll probably be breaking a “foodie” (yeurgh) law by telling you that I swear by Knorr stock cubes.  Chuck two or three in some boiling water and add to some vegetables in a soup pot and you’re halfway to a week of nutritious hot lunches.  They also give a great savoury backbone to sauces, and one beef stockpot added to a stew or casserole will hit all the right notes.  By all means, make fresh stock if you have leftover bones and the wherewithal, but don’t be too much of a snob to reach for reach for a helping hand from your cupboard.  Cooking loses it’s shine a little if make things too difficult for yourself, so take shortcuts when you can!

Let us know which ingredients you haven’t been able to keep out of your shopping basket this year, and have a great time at New Year!

Butternut Squash Risotto

The last few weeks have been a bit of a festive whirlwind with present-buying and wrapping sitting alongside Christmas baking and work, of course. But at last (hooray, hurrah) I’m off work until 29th December, so finally I have a chance to breathe.

Roasted squash risotto recipe

My first free evening was largely spent in the kitchen and on the floor wrapping presents, but I was feeling a bit more chilled than I have been and I’d bought a butternut squash at the weekend as an antidote to lots of meaty meals, so I thought I’d throw together a wholesome risotto for a bit of relaxation (yeah, I do actually find that sort of thing therapeutic!). This tasted so wholesome, comforting and filling without having to cook up any meat. You could so easily make this fully vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and if you use 80g of each vegetable, it can also make up 4 of your 5-a-day. Add whichever veg you fancy – it’s also great with roasted sweet potato.

Squash risotto recipes

As a bit of a warning, though, you’ll need about half an hour and a great deal of patience to make this dish. Once the liquid hits the rice, you’ll need to constantly stir it until it’s ready. Be prepared! I forgot about this part when I thought I’d be able to get a batch of mince pies ready for the oven at the same time!

How to make risotto
You will need:

Half an onion or a few shallots

1 clove garlic

Dash white wine or vermouth (optional but delightful; essential on a Friday evening)

80g carnaroli rice (or however much you care to pour in by eye – who has time for scales?!)

Chicken stock (a good cube dissolved in hot water and standing by or fresh if you’d like – I have a stock recipe coming soon)

A few florets of broccoli

Half a small butternut squash

Olive oil

A cupful of peas

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper

How to cook butternut squash

1. Pre-heat your oven to 200c, line a baking tray with tin foil and get ready to roast. Carefully cut the squash in half from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. If you need a hand with how to tackle one of these beasts for the first time, there’s a quick rundown in my squash soup recipe. Once you’ve done that, place one half of the squash on the tray, sprinkle on the chilli and cumin, season and drizzle with oil, then shove it in the oven.

Chop the onion and garlic
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

Making a risotto baseI
3. Drizzle a little oil into a medium saucepan and place on a medium to high heat. Chuck in the onion and garlic and allow to soften, stirring every now and then.

Carnaroli rice recipes
4. Tip the rice into the saucepan to join the rice and stir around for about 30 seconds or so, until you hear the rice start to crackle and pop, then pour in the wine.

Winter risotto recipes

5. Cook out the wine until the saucepan is nearly dry. Now comes the stock. This needs to be added a ladleful at a time, cooked out whilst stirring the rice, then repeated. This process will take 20-30 minutes – risotto is traditionally served al dente, but I would recommend tasting it before serving up because home cooking is all about what you like. The stirring process is really important because it helps the starch to be released from each grain of rice, and it’s the starch which will give you a really creamy, unctuous risotto.

Why do you have to constantly stir risotto

6. About 5 minutes from the end, cut up the broccoli into fine florets and boil it up in salted water. When the rice is ready, add the broccoli to the saucepan, then stir in the frozen peas. A couple of minutes in the risotto should be enough to defrost and cook them.

Vegetable rice recipes
7. Check the squash. It should take 20-30 minutes to cook as well. It should be tender throughout and browning on the edges.

Easy squash recipes

8. Chop up the squash into chunks. You can remove the skin before or after cooking, but, like many vegetables, a lot of the nutrients the squash offers are in the skin, plus it turns sort of sticky and marshmallowy when roasted. So yes, you definitely can eat the skin on a butternut squash!

Can you eat the skin of a butternut squash

9. Serve up the rice and add the squash chunks on top so they stay crispy on the edges. Then enjoy! If you want this to be extra creamy, you could stir in a tablespoon of crême fraiche before serving, or even grate some Parmesan over the top, however that would seriously bump up the calories, and of course remove the dish’s vegan and vegetarian credentials, but the world is your rice bowl.

Roasted butternut squash risotto
I’d love to hear about your favourite risotto and your favourite way to prepare and eat butternut squash.

Teriyaki Pork

 Let’s clear something up before we start. I stir fry a lot. I know, I started this blog to help me keep out of my food rut, but there’s just something about a stir fry. In fact, there’s a lot about a stir fry. They’re quick, easy, light, healthy, packed with freshness and flavour and so so versatile. Provided you like a couple if types of vegetable, know how to cook a variety of meats/fish/tofu (I suppose, but why would you?!) you could probably whip up a different stir fry every day and still enjoy it. In fact, one of my colleagues eats chicken stir fry every night, though that’s a very different situation and the sauce comes out of a sachet.   

There’s not a huge amount wrong with that either, I suppose. I used to be a huge fan of the stir fry sauce sachet (and in fact still have a few lounging about in my cupboard – should probably check the use by) but they are packed with all sorts of E numbers and preservatives, not to mention calories, and really there’s nothing in them that’s terribly good for you. So once you’ve mastered frying up some chicken and vegetables and boiling up (or microwaving, I suppose; those microwave rice sachets are pretty good, albeit terrible value for money) some rice or noodles (preferably without cutting or burning yourself), you should definitely try to make your own sauce. Though to call it a sauce is actually a bit grand. As long as you can cook meat to the point that it’s safe to eat but still juicy, you don’t really need a sauce, you just need flavour. A sort of hot dressing, if you will. Trust me, it will taste so much fresher and more vibrant than a sachet. Plus it means that nice you have the ingredients in the house, you can throw something like this together whenever you need it for a quick home-cooked meal without necessarily having to shop. 

  

You will need:

1/2 onion

1/2 red pepper

1 medium carrot

A few florets of broccoli 

1 piece pork tenderloin (about 1/3 of a fillet)

1 clove garlic

1 3cm piece ginger 

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp honey

Dash groundnut oil 

  
1. Slice the onion, and pepper, peel and chop the carrot into small pieces. Chop the broccoli into little tiny trees, bearing in mind that the only cooking they’ll get is in the wok i.e. with no water. 

  
2. Grate the ginger and garlic into a bowl then add in the soy and honey. Stir it together and that’s your sauce made!

3. Thinly slice the pork, add to the marinade and set-aside to flavour and tenderise.  

4. Hear the oil in a wok and chuck in the onions and carrots. Allow them to start to cook down a little then add in the broccoli and peppers. Turn the heat down to medium. If you’re having noodles, get those ready to go on. Boil them for a few minutes in salted water, as per the packaging; I used soba noodles here. 

  
5. Use your spoon to hold back the pork while you pour the extra marinade into the vegetables, and stir. 

  
6. Set a medium frying pan on at a very high heat and add a dash of groundnut oil. Once the pan is screaming hot (but please don’t test this with your fingers) add in half of the pork. Sear on both sides, then remove and replace with the remaining pork slices.

  
7. Add the pork to the wok with the remaining marinade that’s left in the bowl, add in your cooked noodles, and heat everything through,making sure your pork is just cooked. 

  
Serve and enjoy!

This recipe can be repeated with chicken, turkey or beef, and is great with salmon if you bake it in the oven for 7 minutes instead of frying it. 

If you’re having rice though, put that on while you’re chopping your veg, especially if it’s brown rice!

  

Roasted Squash and Pepper Soup

Is it just me or is it starting to feel like winter is never going to end? It’s too cold. What I will say though is that whilst I’m getting bored of winter food already in some ways, it is the time of year when a steaming bowl of something will hit the spot like nothing else. Especially on a work day in a draughty old building when you’re having one of those days that makes you wish you were back in bed. 

 squash soup recipes 
I don’t know about you, but if a soup is good enough and hot enough, one spoonful will immediately revive me to the point of begging winter’s forgiveness for ever speaking badly of it. I’m not talking about those crazy Pinterest soups though; there’ll be no cheese or nachos in my soup pot. What a good soup can give you is a vibrant, hot bowl of bright goodness. It tastes like nourishment. And it can be so packed with flavour. With a little bit of time and a lot of love and patience, you can turn a small bag of groceries into somethings spectacular which can keep you in healthy, warming lunches all week.

 pepper recipes  

 You will need:

2 onions

1 leek

2 cloves garlic 

3 peppers, choose your poison (I bought a 3 pack of yellow, orange and red, but 3 red would do you just fine)

1 3cm piece ginger 

2 butternut squash (3 if they’re small)

1 sharp green apple (a bramley is perfect)

3 chicken stock cubes (or vegetable if you’re vegetarian) 

Salt and pepper

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp thyme 

1/2 tsp smoked paprika 

1/2 tsp mild chilli powder 

Dash Worcestershire sauce 

 roast for better flavour 
1. Preheat the oven to 200c and line 2 trays with foil. Peel and quarter the onions and core the peppers before cutting them in half. Place in one of the trays, along with the garlic, and drizzle with a little olive oil. 

 winter warming soup recipes 
2. Cut the squashes (squash, squashi?!) in half down the middle from top to bottom. Be careful; these can be tricky nuggets! I find it easiest to cut off the knobbly bit on the top first, stand them upright on a board and slice top to bottom with a chef’s knife. It’s hard to get the knife through to start with but once you get to the bulbous section it’ll be plain sailing. Scoop out the seeds and place them in the other tray, flesh facing up. Season and drizzle with oil then shove them in the oven too. Both trays will take around half an hour, but have a look at them after 20 minutes.

 winter squash recipes 

3. In the mean time, chop up the leek and add it to your soup pot with a little oil. Try to keep the heat relatively middling so they don’t brown, but hot enough to sauteé them. Grate in the ginger.

4. Remove the onions and peppers from the oven when the peppers are beautifully tender with dark brown skins. If the onions are still a little hard don’t worry too much, but you can put them back in the oven on their own if you’d prefer. 

 How to roast onions, garlic and peppers   
When cool enough to touch, chop the onions into smallish pieces (but don’t worry about them being too fine) and add these to the pot as you go. You should be able to squeeze the garlic out of its skin and into the pot. Cook the onions down a little more whilst you carry on to the next stages. 

Before chopping up the peppers, carefully remove their skins. If they’re cooked enough, this should be easy. Simply pint the skin at its darkest and it should tear and peel away really easily. Then chop up the pepper flesh and add it to the pot. 

Roasted butternut squash   6. When your squash looks sticky and tender, remove from the oven and chop into chunks. Leave the skin on as it will have turned marshmallow in the oven and will be liquidised later. Peel, core and chop the apple and add than too. Trust me on the apple. It sounds a bit “out there” but it really balances out the flavour, adding a little earth and a bit of sharpness. I made this soup last week without the apple and it just wasn’t the same. 

Give everything a good stir to get nice and hot. best ever butternut squash soup recipe  
7. Prepare your stock by dissolving it in hot water if you’re using cubes or just pour it in if you have liquid stock instead. Add a little seasoning and stick the lid on. Allow to simmer on a low to medium (just bubbling) heat for around 40 minutes. 

tasty soup recipes8. Liquidise in a blender or on a big bowl using a stick blender. You can do it in your stock pot if you want but mine is non-stick and I don’t want to risk scratching it so I always use a big metal mixing bowl to blend then pour it back into the stock pot to finish. 

  

 
9. Add the herbs, spices and Worcestershire sauce, allow to cook through and then taste. This is the tricky part where you need to work out whether it needs more salt, more spice or nothing at all. You have to trust your tastebuds here I’m afraid! 

And that’s your soup! Enjoy!
 

King Prawn Soba 

I’ve finally forayed into the wonder of Soba Noodles. These guys are gluten-free, if you’re into that sort of thing, because they’re made of buckwheat. Contrary to my first assumptions, they’re not flabby or grainy, or bad tasting. In fact they taste like ordinary egg noodles. They are pretty calorific, however, at 291kcal per suggested serving, but I used a third of the suggested serving to reduce the calorie count but found it to be plenty by the time you’ve added the other ingredients. Plus buckwheat has a low GI, meaning it breaks down more slowly than ordinary noodles would, and is therefore less likely to turn to fat.  

You will need:

Half an onion

Half a red pepper 

8 or 10 green beans 

A few florets of broccoli 

Handful of tiger prawns 

1 clove garlic

1cm fresh ginger 

1 tbsp dark soy sauce 

1 tsp mirin 

1 tsp honey 

1/2 tsp sriracha 

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1/2 tsp sesame oil 

Splash groundnut oil 

  
1. Chop up the lovely vegetables to your preference. I cut the green beans into thirds once they had been topped and tailed as well as keeping the broccoli pieces really small so that both of these could be cooked all the way through relatively quickly with the noodles. I chose to ribbon the carrots because I think this suits a noodle dish better but you can of course chop them however you like. 

  
2. Next, grate the ginger and garlic, and add the groundnut oil to a wok or large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Chuck in the onions and peppers and allow them to start to soften, and put the beans and broccoli in a saucepan of boiling salted water to let them start cooking Then add the ginger, garlic and carrots to the wok, turning the heat down a little to avoid burning.

  
3. Mix up the various sauces, including the honey and sesame oil, in a bowl. If you’re using ready-cooked prawns like I did, chuck the prawns into the marinade at this stage, then pour and excess into the wok.

  
4. If you’re using raw prawns, add all of the sauce at this stage without marinating the prawns.

    
5. Add the noodles to the boiling water alongside the vegetables and allow to boil for around 4 minutes, until just cooked, then drain. If your prawns are raw, add them to the wok at this stage, as cooking both sides before chucking in the noodles. If the prawns are already cooked, you mute till make sure they are properly reheated without them turning rubbery. Add to the wok, and then add the noodles and any remaining sauce. 

 

6. Make sure everything is nice and hot, sprinkle on the sesame seeds and serve.  
  
I’d love to hear any recipes you may have for soba noodles as I’ll definitely be having them again!

Baked Trout with Garlic Vegetables

This is a massively smile recipe but massively delicious. You know that way when something is unexpectedly delicious? That’s this. Trust me. Let the produce talk to you.   
  You will need:

1 trout fillet 

Salt and pepper

1/2 tsp lemon juice

A few leaves of fresh parsley to garnish

Your choice of fresh vegetables (or even frozen, I guess!) I used baby carrots, tenderstem broccoli and green beans.

2 tsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

 
  1. Trim and debone your trout. Sometimes it’s supposed to be boneless then you run your finger along it and you can feel tiny spiny bones. I’m a girl who has nails, so I just dig them out myself, pulling against the grain, but you could always use a clean pair of tweezers if you don’t have deboners. (Ha..deboners!). 
  2. Place it on a piece of foil on a baking tray, then season, drizzle on the lemon juice and add some fresh parsley. Wrap up in the foil and pop in the oven at 180C for about 7 minutes, until it is just cooked, flaking and delicate.  
  3. Meanwhile, put the veg on to boil in salted water for about 5 minutes. Chop up the garlic and heat gently in the oil.  
  4. When the veg is cooked, drain and allow the water to steam off. Then toss in the garlic oil. Serve with the trout. Trust me. It’s a simple thing, but it’s night and day.  
  

Warm Sesame Salmon Salad

There are some evenings you just need something light and healthy for supper. The problem with salad is that it can often be dull and uninspiring, but adding in different textures and flavours can really elevate a salad to something much more filling and luxurious, without necessarily adding carbs. This protein- packed warm salad is a perfect example. 

  
You will need: 

A handful of lettuce

1 medium carrot 

1/2 large red pepper

Chopped cucumber, a piece about 3 inches is a good starting point 

Any other vegetables you love to add to a salad! I know I’m not normal but I can’t deal with raw tomatoes, so feel free to add them liberally if that’s your bag…

1 egg, soft boiled (I aim for 4 minutes on a rolling boil, then immediately cool in cold water before peeling and slicing)

  
1 salmon fillet 

1 clove garlic, grated

1 knob ginger, grated

1 tsp honey 

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp shaohsing rice wine vinegar

1 tsp chilli sauce or sriracha 

Couple of drops sesame oil

Couple of drops lemon juice

1 heaped tsp sesame seeds 

 
1. Prepare the marinade by mixing together the wet ingredients, including the garlic and ginger. 

2. Set the salmon in a piece of foil and drench in the marinade. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or so.

  
3 Preheat the oven to 180c and prepare the vegetables and boiled egg, if you haven’t already done so, adding the cooled egg slices to the salad and getting some really beautiful colours! Now you’re getting excited about that salad!

  
4. Just before putting the salmon in the oven, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top, and bring the sides of he foil in towards the salmon so it’s in a little foil basket. This will help to prevent the marinade burning. 

  
6. Bake in the oven for around 8 minutes, or until just cooked, then remove from the oven and flake with a fork. Add to the top of the salad, pouring out any excess marinade as a sort of warm dressing, and enjoy!

  

Harissa Roast Chicken

OK, ok I make a lot of roast chicken! There are a few reasons for this though! 1. It’s more economical than buying breasts and thighs separately 2. It’s the best way to get a lot of flavour in with a minimum of effort 3. Well, it’s roast chicken and I’m British and 4. I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately, particularly for work lunches and cold roast chicken is a great way to get some relatively lean protein in without filling your life with dull flavours.

  
This one is really simple, especially if your supermarket prints recommended cooking times on its packaging!

You will need:

1 medium to large whole chicken 

1 pot Greek yoghurt – I think this one was about 150ml but I used the surplus to make a dressing. Probably about 100 ml would be enough

4 tsp rose Harissa. I had a jar of this in the fridge, but you can buy it in the speciality foods section in Tesco, or fresher from your local deli 

4 cloves garlic

1 knob ginger

Salt and pepper

1 onion

1 lemon 

  
1. Mix about 100 ml of the yoghurt with the Harissa. Grate in 2 cloves of garlic and all the ginger. Season, mix and spread all over the chicken. Allow this to stand outside the fridge for around 30 mins.

  
2. Preheat the oven to 200C fan, and make sure your shelves are nice and low so there is plenty of room.

3. Cut the onion into sixths and the lemon into quarters. 

5. Line a large baking tray and add on the onion segments, remaining garlic and half of the lemon. Stuff the other half of the lemon inside the chicken’s cavity. 

  
6. Put the chicken in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to about 180C. Roast for about 20-30 minutes then cover with foil, and turn the tray.

7. Turn the tray again about half an hour from the end. This one cooked in 1 hour 55. Remove from the oven and rest. You can check it’s cooked with a temperature probe or check the juices are running clear when you stab the thickest part of the thigh with a scewer if you’re nervous that you might not have cooked it through.

  
8. Allow to cool then carve. I actually removed one of the breasts about half an hour after removing from the oven, as I had it warm with vegetables for supper. Once picked, it still gave me a good dinner plateful of meat. 

Vegetable Samosas

These are a bit cheaty, and a bit naughty, but the cheat sort of helps to stop them being entirely bad for you, if that makes sense, because it means using filo pastry instead of dense, floury, eggy pastry. 

  
You could of course use whichever vegetables you like best, but I picked potatoes, peas, onions and carrots because they are sort of traditional. In the same way, you can use whichever seasonings and spices you prefer. 

You will need, to make about 10:

1 onion

2 carrots

8 or 9 new potatoes or 2-3 larger potatoes

1 cup frozen peas

2 cloves garlic

Small knob of ginger 

Filo pastry

Medium knob of butter

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric 

1 tsp chilli powder

Salt and pepper 

You can make the filling in advance if you’d like, but you are dealing with vegetables so don’t let them sit for too long. I made the filling at around 2pm and allowed it to cool, starting the wrapping process at around 7pm. 

1. Slice the onions.

  
2. Peel and finely dice the carrots. Boil under just cooked. Then drain and set aside. 

  
3. Peel the new potatoes and boil them until just cooked. Drain and allow to cool, then cut into smallish dice.

  
4. Heat some groundnut oil in a pan. Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium to low. Cook out until translucent then add the ginger and garlic. Once those have cooked out, tip in the carrots and stir. 

5. Add in all of the spices and season well. 

  
6. Stir in and allow to h at through for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and repeat the stirring and cooking process. 

  
7. At the very last minute, add the frozen peas and stir until just thawed. The residual heat will continue to cook them. Set aside to cool.

8. If you’ve ever worked with filo pastry before, you’ll know to try to avoid a hot and dry environment, that you need to work quickly and that you need to keep moisture in. You could try laying it out on a damp tea towel, but as long as it isn’t too hot in the roo , the melted butter should keep it pliable.  Melt the butter then lay out the filo. Take a pastry brush and use it to lightly butter the first sheet all over, then cut in half – scissors work best for this. It’ll be much easier to work with and provide you with a neater finish if you use a whole sheet, but I was trying to keep the calories low.

  
9. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the vegetable mixture into the corner of one of your sheets and push into a sort of triangle shape. Then push your finger against the longest edge and flip over so that the pointe corner folds inwards.

  
20. Fold the edge in, then continue to fold and wrap the best you can. I admit that these didn’t turn out as nearly as I’d planned, but they were light and delicious so I’ll take that as a win! There are various tutorials on how to do this online, such as by forming a cone first then filling it, but I’m not that dexterous! Importantly, though, always remember to butter any piece you fold over so that it adheres well. 

  
21. Repeat until you have used up all the filling. Then quickly pack, seal and refrigerate any leftover filo. 

  
22. Preheat the oven to about 200C and line some baking trays with foil. Butter the samosas all over, on both sides, and place on the trays. Put in the oven and bake until nice and brown. This could take some time so be patient, and remember to flip over to brown the other side. 

  
23. Serve immediately with salad or vegetables and something to dip into, like chilli sauce, mango chutney or a spiced yoghurt. Once cook, you can refrigerate or freeze, and they are even better reheated the next day!

  

Beef and Mushroom Stir Fry

When I was in Morrisons last weekend, I spotted some oyster mushrooms and couldn’t possibly have left without buying some. They are expensive though so use sparingly! I also bought some quick fry sandwich steak (3 pieces for £3.30 which made two meals for one greedy person). I also used some of my usual stock vegetables and some tender stem broccoli, as it was only 89p for a change. 

  
There are quite a few ingredients in this guy, such as mirin and rice wine, but you can pick them up relatively inexpensively in most supermarkets or Chinese supermarkets, abs once you have them in your cupboard they’ll help you out with a multitude of other oriental recipes (and by that time they’ll feel like they are free flavour). So, there might be a  bit of an outlet but just go for it….

You will need (to feed 1) (although you can use whichever vegetables and protein you like):

1tbsp mirin

1 tbsp shaohsing rice wine

1 tbsp honey

2 tbsp light soy sauce 

1 clove garlic, grated

1 tbsp ginger, grated

Dash sesame oil

Splash groundnut oil for frying with

Half white onion

Half red pepper

Small carrot

4 florets of tenderstem broccoli

Handful of oyster (or other) mushrooms

Strips of your favourite stir fry beef, I used 1 1/2 quick fry steaks 

Rice or noodles to serve 

  
1. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Grate the ginger and garlic. 

  
2. Add the ginger and wet ingredients into a bowl and mix together. This part can be done in advance if you like, but it doesn’t take long. 

  
3. Slice the beef into strips and place in the marinade. This should be done at least 10 minutes before you plan to fry the beef which, incidentally, should also be out of the fridge for 20 minutes or so before you plan to cook it.

  
4. Heat a large pan or wok on a high heat and add the oil. Chuck in the onions and allow them to start to break down a little. Although I like my carrots to be crunchy and fresh, I prefer onions and peppers to be a relatively softened, and I can’t deal with raw broccoli! The cooking times are entirely customisable to your vegetable crispness preferences. 

5. Once the onions have started to soften, turn the heat down to medium and add in the peppers, carrots and garlic, stirring occasionally so that nothing burns, then add the broccoli and allow all of those to simmer. 

  
6. Once the vegetables have almost reached your desired level of cookedness, push them to the side, turn up the heat and add another splash of oil. If you’re having dried noodles, they should be ready to go on by now too as they will only take a few minutes and will be reheated in the pan. 

7. Add the beef strips, a few at a time, trying not to introduce too much of the marinade to the pan. This will only lead to the beef boiling, which will leave it chewy. When just cooked on one side, turn onto the other and add the mushrooms to the vegetable side. Stir everything together.

  
8. Add the noodles and the marinade and stir through until everything is hot and combined, being careful not to overdo the beef. 

 Serve and enjoy!