Honey & Soy Beef with Sesame Oil

A great flavour combination that makes for a super quick supper for a weeknight. The honey gives the dish a lovely sweetness that is offset by the saltiness of the soy. You can pack this stir-fry out with fabulous healthy vegetables, the more colourful the better, and you really don’t have to stick to the recipe, use up whatever you have lurking about in the fridge. It’s the colours in this dish that I love most, sure enough to brighten up any dinner table.
1 rump steak
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp runny honey
1 nest of egg noodles
½ red pepper, sliced
½ orange pepper, sliced
Handful of mange tout
Handful of baby corn, halved
Handful of coriander, freshly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ½ cm of ginger, minced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Slice the rump steak thinly and place in a bowl, add the sesame seeds, oil, soy and honey and allow to marinate whilst you prepare the vegetables.
Add a little oil to a wok, fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for 2-3 minutes, add the vegetables and stir fry for 4 minutes. Add the beef and marinade, allow to cook for a further 2 minutes (for rare beef, a little longer if desired).

Meanwhile boil the noodles, drain and add to the work. Stir well. Serve with freshly chopped coriander.

Fish vs Chicken – and a healthy curry recipe to boot

I’ve been eating an awful lot of fish lately; partly because I love it, but also because I’m trying to trim up a little. Heck, I even went running last night (for the first time in ages), and my poor legs are feeling it today. But it felt great, and I always find when I’m exercising I don’t want unhealthy food, perhaps it’s because I know how hard it is to run off a two finger Kit-Kat – that’s the equivalent of running a mile. Yep, that’s right a whole mile. However, as much as I strive to be good and eat the right foods, I’m never going to be able to stop eating curry, that’s a fact. So, how do I make curry healthy? Humm… this is certainly a difficult one, but a few swaps here and there all help to lessen the calories. This fish curry was absolutely sublime and so healthy; I’ll definitely be making it again, and again.

Whilst chicken may be higher in protein than most types of fish, the fat and calorie quantities speak for themselves. A typical portion of fish will contain half the calories of the same portion of chicken. I’ve done my research you see, the following comparison was taken from Two Foods, which is an amazing website I’ve recently discovered. The site allows you to compare the calorie, carb, fat and protein levels of two different foods, so making the right (healthy) choice is easy.

Another option would be to make a vegetable curry; there are so many wonderful vegetables that can transform a curry into an array of flavour and colours. Swap the fatty double cream for low fat natural yoghurt and avoid using butter or ghee. I know they are tasty, but they also make you fat and honestly you probably won’t even notice the difference.

Having decided that fish is the best way forward, I’ve since been experimenting with various fishy dishes and you can expect to see more over the coming weeks, as long as I don’t fall of the wagon and find myself gorging on pasta. It’s a possibility; I’m only human after all. 

Serves 2

1 small white fish fillet (cod or haddock), roughly chopped
Handful of peeled cooked prawns, frozen
200g chopped tomatoes
1 white onion, quartered
1 red pepper, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2cm piece of ginger, minced
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
150g natural yoghurt
400ml fish stock
Handful freshly shopped coriander to garnish

Toast the mustard seeds in an oil free pan for about 30 seconds. Set aside. Using one tablespoon of vegetable oil fry the onion and pepper pieces until soft, the onion should have some colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the garlic and ginger to the pan, with a little more oil, if required, cook until lightly coloured, then add the mustard seeds, chilli flakes, cumin, ground coriander, garam masala and turmeric. Allow the spices to cook until fragrant; do not allow them to burn or the curry will taste bitter.

Add the pepper, onions, chopped tomatoes and the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add one tablespoon of lemon juice and the fish and prawns and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes. Once the fish is cooked add the yoghurt and stir well. Serve immediately garnished with freshly chopped coriander. 


Hot & Sour Prawn Noodle Soup

You know those really old Asian cookery books with the ancient faded photographs that make every recipe look unappetising? Well this recipe is form on of those. I know those pictures can be really off putting, but I often find that old recipe books are the best for fool proof flavoursome dishes and this one is no different. There is something nostalgic about an old recipe book. I often wonder who’s cooked from it and how long it’s been around. But, hopefully my photograph looks a little more appetising. 
I made this dish yonks ago with my fiend Emily and I’ve been pestering her for the recipe ever since because it was so delicious and simple. Emily is also a keen cook, so we love nothing more than a midweek get together for cooking up a tasty meal, obviously washed down with a nice wine or, in this case, Thai beer.
This delicately light noodle soup would make the perfect Thai starter or lunch, although we made it for dinner; it’s actually more filling than you might imagine. It’s a myriad of flavours, from the sour element of lime leaves and oyster sauce to the hot of the chilli and fish sauce; it really packs a punch. The soup has a wonderful aroma when cooking; sure to make everyone hungry and the six chillies certainly give it a spicy edge, which I love. It would make for brilliant diet food as it’s ridiculously low in calories but packed with flavour, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.

Serves 4
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 shallots, grated
2.5cm piece of ginger, thinly sliced
4-5 small red chillies, finely chopped
1.5 litres chicken stock
3 kaffier lime leaves, sliced
10cm piece of lemon grass, chopped
225g rice vermicelli noodles
20 large peeled prawns
6 tbsp fish sauce
6 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp palm or brown sugar
16 mushrooms, sliced
Coriander leaves, to garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan, then stir-fry the garlic, shallots, ginger and chilli for about 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock, add the lime leaves and lemon grass and bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak the rice vermicelli for 3 minutes, rinse, drain and divide equally among four bowls. Add the prawns, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and mushrooms to the soup, and then simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Pour the soup into the bowls and sprinkle with coriander leaves. Serve immediately. 


Chilli & Garlic Prawns

A super simple supper that’s packed with flavour and goodness; what’s not to love? The simplicity is what I adore about this quick mid-week meal. It’s also something that is immensely healthy; with not a carb in sight it’s a good recipe to help you achieve that bikini bod. Unfortunately for me, I’m a little late, I’ve been on my holidays and never did establish that super trim tummy in time… but it’s never too late to try. I’ve pledged to get back into my running shoes next week, after a whole year off! God help me, I’ll regret all that paella I ate on holiday. However, all is not lost, with a few more meals like this one in the bag I’ll get there in no time.
Prawns are really the key here, because they have such a low calorie count, 100g of prawns has 105 calories, compared with 164 calories for half of a small chicken breast. Yes, I said half. If you are really not a lover of fish/ shellfish, why not try Quorn style chicken pieces, you can have 100g for just 89 calories. The trick is in creating a recipe that is stacked with flavour, but still manages to be low in calories and fat content. By skipping the noodles you’re saving around 200 calories, and trust me, with a recipe this delicious, packed with enough vibrant vegetables, you’ll hardly even miss them.
So, how do we create a tasty stir fry base? Simple, place your prawns into a dish, cover with the oils, soy, chopped chilli, garlic and basil. Refrigerate and allow the flavours to mingle for as long as possible, I suggest an hour or so, but if you’re in a hurry 15 minutes should suffice. You can add any stir fry vegetables to this recipe, the more colourful the better. I opted for sweet peppers and mange tout purely because it’s what I had in the house, but baby corn and spring onion would also be great flavours in this recipe. Be wary of using red onion, it would over power the delicate flavour of the prawns. Adding a large handful or bean sprouts would also be a nice addition.
8-10 shelled raw prawns
Handful of mange tout
2 spring onions
3 baby sweet peppers (red, orange and yellow)
½ large red chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
Marinate the prawns (as above). Meanwhile finely chop the peppers and spring onions, add these to a hot wok with a little oil. Once softened add the mange tout and the prawns and spoon in half of the marinade. Cook only until the prawns are pink and cooked through. This will only take a few minutes. I add the mange tout in at the end because i like it crisp to bite.

Season with freshly ground black pepper, easy on the salt, the soy will make the dish salty enough. 

How to save money at the supermarket and be a savvy shopper

It’s about time we all banished our inner snob and got stuck into the reduced section.

Food is probably my biggest expenditure, closely followed by shoes of course. And I only shop for myself. I dread to think what shopping for a family of 4 costs. The fact that I make everything from scratch inevitably means I end up spending more at the till. I was forced to think about this last week, I was craving healthy food after my holiday and fancied a chicken Caesar salad. Okay, so the Caesar dressing isn’t exactly healthy, but a salad is a salad right? Either way, making one from scratch actually proves to be fairly expensive, you have to buy the chicken, the salad, the parmesan, croutons and then the ingredients for the dressing, it all adds up and can be a lot more costly than you might imagine. In the salad section at the supermarket you can buy pre-packaged Caesar salads, containing everything from the chicken to the croutons with a price tag of £3, and they are fairly large portions, more than enough to fill me up at least. Obviously, if you are catering for more than 2 people it probably does work out cheaper to make it yourself. I prefer making things from scratch, but it’s good to remember that, sometimes, it’s not the cheapest option.
I got to thinking, I need to start saving some money on my grocery shop, and I think small changes are where the savings will lie. For instance, I’m a sucker for BOGOF deals, I mean, I don’t actually need 2 packs of sausages, but they are on offer, so I simply must buy them. That’s 16 sausages, for one person. I stand in my kitchen surrounded by a mass of food, all for me, and a till receipt as long as my arm, full of BOGOF and 2 for 1 deals. This is a habit that I really need to shake. The second small change we could probably all make is buying a lesser brand, because 9 times out of 10 the only thing lesser about it is the price, and perhaps the packaging. How often have you opted for the own label alternative because they didn’t have the product you wanted? And, you probably couldn’t tell the difference. So, the next time I find myself in the supermarket, I’m pledging to avoid unwanted offers and many of the brand name products I feel compelled to buy (she says whilst drinking a can of Red Bull and munching her way through a tube of Pringles – and the Pringles were BOGOF, seriously!).
Supermarkets are very good at getting us to invest in the brand name products, by sticking them on a special offer at the end of the aisle. And, what about those little receipts that tell you ‘your brand shop was £3.45 cheaper here’We’ve all had one of those. And it doesn’t stop there, my Clubcard statement arrived the other day, along with a whole host of money saving vouchers, great! Or not so, again I end up tempted into buying branded products that I don’t actually want or need, I’d never have put them in my basket unless I had a coupon. I’m not saying I don’t like a coupon, but they are only worth using when they are for a product you were going to buy anyway, for instance, toilet roll, washing powder, bread and milk. Next time you receive a stash of coupons, have a quick look, I’ll bet none of them are for staple items.
Its common sense, but I always realise after I’ve been shopping that I have bought too much (of the wrong thing). I think if you were to lay out all of your food shopping on the table when you return home you could sort it into two piles. The first being items you really neededto buy and the other being products that you bought, either as an impulse or just for the sheer hell of it. The second pile would definitely be the largest, and that’s just silly, not to mention a waste of money. I think we could all stand to be a little more frugal, so I’ve put together a list of 10 ways to save at the supermarket.

  1. Never shop when you are hungry – You will inevitably buy more
  2. Make a list, and stick to it – Sounds simple? Well, it’s not, but if you follow rule number 3 you’re more likely to.
  3. Create a weekly meal plan – This way you’ll know exactly what you need before you step foot in the supermarket. Let’s face it we’ve all come home with a can of chickpeas (thinking ‘oh that’s healthy’) and thought what am I going to make with these? Then they sit in the cupboard until they surpass their expiration date.
  4. Swap branded products for own brands – What’s so fine about ‘finest’ anyway, the packaging?
  5. Don’t be tempted by special offers – Unless it is actually something you need to, or were planning to buy anyway. Remember – do I really need 16 sausages?!
  6. Look high and low – Studies have found that supermarkets heavily invest in creating foolproof marketing tactics, such as placing more expensive items at adult eye level and products that are aimed at children will be found within their reach.   
  7. Don’t need toiletries this week? – Avoid that aisle all together; the chances are, if you walk down it you’ll buy something. Remember that supermarkets are very clever at laying out their stores in such a way that means you’ll often have to walk from one end of the store to the other for your staple products, meaning you inevitably spend more.
  8. Leave the kids at home – I know this isn’t always practical, but I really think it could save you money. You’ll wiz straight past that horsey ride outside, and have a trolley free from sweets and items you’ve only bought to keep them quiet/ happy.
  9. Avoid the last minute purchase – supermarkets are great at this, stacking expensive ‘impulse buy’ items by the till. If you stand there long enough you’ll end up with at least one of them in your basket.
  10. Check the reduced section – It’s about time we all banished our inner snob and got stuck into the reduced section. You’ll probably find a few items you were going to buy at full price. Okay, so they are nearing their expiry date, but you’ve got a freezer haven’t you?


Spanish Supermarkets and Paella

Like me, do you often wonder why our supermarkets can’t be as marvellous as those throughout the rest of Europe? I’m mainly referring to Spain, having spent the past week in Majorca I’ve inevitably come home with a few foodie treats in tow. That said, we stayed in an apartment so were lucky enough to be able to cook for ourselves a few evenings. So, with typical Spanish ingredients in abundance, paella was a must, and we were lucky enough to find some amazingly fresh shellfish at a very good price, which brings me to the next question. Why is everything in Spain so reasonably priced, yet we pay a small fortune for a handful of tiny prawns? I snapped up ten of the largest prawns you’ve ever seen for less than a €1, seriously.

Perhaps it’s the excitement of discovering new ingredients, the vastness of the aisles or the sheer quantity of different types of bread, cheese and meats. Whatever it is, there really is something quite special about stepping out of the midday heat into the cool wonderland of produce to be discovered in a foreign supermarket.

I even like the approach to Spanish cooking; everything is so much more laid back. Take tapas for example, having a selection of different colourful dishes, rather than one large plate of stodgy shepherd’s pie is so much more exciting. Don’t get me wrong I’m partial to a shepherd’s pie as much as the next person, but I can’t help but revel in the idea of such relaxed food as tapas. I’ve a feeling I’ll be making aioli and spreading it thickly on bread for the next few weeks… washed down with a good Rioja of course.

I’ve included a link to the homemade paella recipe we used here, which was actually a Antony Worrall Thompson recipe from the BBC Good Food website. And, I’ve thrown a couple of holiday snaps in for good measure…


Homemade Gnocchi with Tomato, Sausage and Fennel Seed Ragù

I was rather excited to be given the most beautifully illustrated recipe book a week or so ago; The Italian Cookery Course by Katie Caldesi. My friend Karly had no use for it and knew just who would appreciate it, me! Giving me a new recipe book to ponder over is like giving a child a very, very exciting toy to play with. So I set about carefully studying many recipes from the book, which is so wonderfully put together, the colourful pages and awe inspiring food photography was enough to keep me captivated by the book for quite some time. The problem is, I inevitably end up with a whole list of recipes to add to my ever growing list of ‘things I want to cook’. I’m sure I’ll get round to them all one day.
It’s important to note that this is far more than just a recipe book, this wonderfully penned bible of Italian cookery features techniques and master classes with beautifully colourful step-by-step photographs for many authentic Italian recipes and techniques. Have you always wanted to make pasta yourself, or quite fancied your hand at baking a Focaccia? It’s all here in this wonderful book. And I’ve a feeling I’ll be making many more of the recipes very soon indeed.
I’ve been meaning to have a go at making potato gnocchi for a while, although I realised this was something that would have to wait until I had a free weekend to really get stuck into it. Luckily, as I’m now off work until mid June, time is exactly what I have. Having said that, I really must set aside some time to pack for my holiday on Tuesday; did I mention I’m off to Majorca?
Having set aside practically the whole afternoon to make my gnocchi and an authentic Italian ragù, I came to realise that it really wasn’t as lengthy a process as I’d initially thought. If I’d realised quite how simple it would be I’d have made it ages ago. 3 basic ingredients, 30 minutes or so and you have yourself homemade potato gnocchi, it really was a pleasure to make too. There is something quite satisfying about having made something you’d normally buy in a packet, and honestly its worlds apart from the dried up versions you buy in the supermarket. You can make your gnocchi ahead of time and freeze them; they  keep for up to 3 months. Alternatively, you can make them a day ahead and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to use them.  
A couple of things that Katie mentions about making gnocchi, the first is that there is nothing more comforting, and I’d definitely agree. The second is that you should opt for potatoes that are not too waxy, and I can see why, the drier the better, something like Maris Piper or King Edward work wonderfully.
The sauce I chose to accompany my gnocchi (tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù) was mainly chosen because I already had most of the ingredients, and it called for red wine – what’s not to like? The inclusion of fennel seeds apparently makes the sauce typically Tuscan and it works perfectly with gnocchi.
If you’ve never attempted making gnocchi, but often buy it from the supermarket, I really encourage you to have a go at making it yourself; not only is far superior in taste and texture, it’s ridiculously cheap to make.  Next time I’m going to make a large batch and freeze it for weeknight meals. The gnocchi takes about 2-3 minutes to cook, and a couple more minutes from frozen.
There are a few more recipes from the book I’m going to try out very soon, such as honey and pistachio crusted salmon with parsnip mash (an unusual combination, and not one you’d think of as Italian) and I also quite like the sound of the Prosecco and peach jelly. I’m sure my friends will be fans of that one too. Not that I’m implying in any way that my friends a sloshes like me 😉
Serves 4

Gnocchi di patate – Potato Gnocchi

1kg potatoes (King Edward or Maris Piper), unpeeled
150g ‘00’ or pasta flour (you can also use very strong white flour)
1 egg
Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water until very tender – this could take a while, depending on their size. Drain and peel them while they are still hot, either by holding them in one hand on a folk or with a cloth, and peeling the skin with a knife in the other hand. (This might seem odd, but cooking the potatoes in their skin gives them so much more flavour and stops the water from penetrating the potato).
Pass the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer into a bowl. If you do not have a ricer mashing them will suffice. Stir in the egg using a wooden spoon and season. Add the flour to form a soft, pliable dough.
Flour the work surface, turn out the dough, kneed the ingredients together, adding a little more flour if the dough is sticking to your hands or work surface. The more flour you add at this point the heavier the dough will be, so only add more flour if it’s very sticky.
Roll out the dough into long sausages and chop between 2cm and 4cm in length. Store the gnocchi on a well floured surface whilst you make the rest. You can them roll them over the tines of a folk for texture or make an indentation in the top with your finger – this means more sauce will stick to them – or you could simply leave them pillow shaped and plain.
Set the gnocchi aside while you make the sauce (see below). Then come back to the next step.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the gnocchi, you might want to do this in two batches. They cook so quickly that the first batch won’t have a chance to go cold. They are cooked when they bob back up to the surface – this takes about 2-3 minutes. Drain well and toss with the sauce (recipe below).

Gnocchi al pomodoro, salsiccia e semi di finocchio – Tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù with Gnocchi

6 lean best-quality pork sausages
6 tbsp olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
125ml red wine
400g Italian tinned plum tomatoes
3 heaped tbsp tomato purée
25g finely grated Parmesan
Homemade gnocchi (as above)
Remove the sausages from their casings and chop up the meat to break it up.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the garlic and salt and pepper. Fry for about 2 minutes, until the garlic becomes light gold. Then add the onion and fry for a few minutes, until translucent. Stir in the fennel seeds and bay leaves. Put the meat into the pan and fry for 6-7 minutes, or until cooked through. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat into mince and stop it sticking. If the sausages release a lot of fat, pour it away, although a little won’t hurt.
Add the wine and allow to reduce for a couple of minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée and stir well. Leave the ragù to simmer for 10 minutes while you cook the gnocchi (according to the instructions above).

When the gnocchi are cooked, drain and toss into the ragù, serve with a scattering of torn basil and finely grated Parmesan.