Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recipe: Halloween Pumpkin and Vampire Chilli Soup

Yes, spooky Halloween is upon us! Seems to me that us Brits make much more of a bigger deal of Halloween now than when I was little- with all this "trick or treat" stuff. Suppose it's just one big part of the Americanisation of the UK, we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving next- you watch!! Any way, as well as girls dressing up as "slutty devils" and slutty zombies" (and, well, "slutty" anything really), carving faces into pumpkins are a tradition of "Hallows Eve". It is believed that this tradition started off in Ireland, to represent naughty goblins that came out and caused mischief on Halloween. The name "Jack-o-lantern" originates from another term for "will-o-the-wisp", which were mischievous floating glowing spirits that floated around the bogs and marshes of Scotland. If you can't find a Halloween pumpkin (or can't be bothered to prepare it!) use butternut squash instead, it has a very similar flavour and is easier to peel.

Halloween Pumpkin and Vampire Chilli Soup (serves 5)
1 large Halloween pumpkin, seeded, peeled and diced (you should get about 1kg of prepared pumpkin. If you don’t have enough, top it up to 1kg with carrots!)
50g butter
2 white onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 vampire chillies (or normal red chillies), seeded and diced
1.1 litre chicken stock
2 bay leaves
½ tsp mixed herbs
200ml skimmed milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Chilli flakes for garnish (if desired)

1. Fry the onion, garlic and chillies in the butter for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stock, bay leaves and mixed herbs, and cook on a medium heat, covered, for about 1 hour- or until the pumpkin is soft.
2. Add the milk, blend, season to taste, and serve piping hot- with some sprinkled chilli flakes for garnish if you like it out!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Chicken

Whole Chicken- Battery £2.50 per kg  (Free range is about £3 per kg)
Skinless Chicken Breasts- £9.23 per kg (Free Range)
Skinless Boneless Chicken Thighs- £7.61 per kg (Free Range)

The chicken is a domesticated bird, and is one of the most common and widespread domestic animals in the world. It is the most populous species of bird in the world. They are omnivorous, living on We keep them for their meat and of course for their eggs as well. Despite how yummy chickens are, chicken’s weren’t firstly domesticated for their meat- sadly the first domesticated chickens were bred for “Cock fighting” in India. From India, chickens were imported to America, Africa, Europe and the rest of Asia and Africa-chickens are mentioned in ancient Greece and Egypt as early as the 5th century BC. The Egyptians were fascinated by chickens, describing them as “birds who give birth every day”.

There are hundreds of different chicken breeds. They are classified based on size, feather colour, “comb” type (the funny bit on the top of the heads), skin colour, number of toes, amount of feathers, egg colour and place of origin. Some breeds are also preferred for their eggs, or preferred for their meat. The most popular chicken breeds in the UK are separated into “heavy breeds”- larger birds that do not lay as many eggs, and also get “broody”, so are more often used in meat farming. These include such breeds as light Sussex, rhode island red and Plymouth Rock. Heavy breeds also often lay brown eggs. Light breeds are often quite colourful birds, yet normally lay light coloured or white eggs, and are normally smaller than heavy breeds. These include varieties such as the white leghorn, Ancona and Minorca.

When it comes to the chicken in our shops, you may have seen “Corn fed chicken”- this chicken has a brighter yellow skin, as it has been fed primarily on corn/maize. This is a bit of a posh myth really, as despite it being much more pricey corn-fed chicken has been found to not taste much different at all to normal chicken, and normal chickens are fed a mixture of maize/wheat anyway.

A “poussin”, which you may have seen in the shops, is basically just a baby chicken.

Should we be going free range? Yeah, I think so. I understand this is a “cheap food factfile”, but the conditions they keep battery farmed chickens in seem quite cruel to me. Theres not too much of a price difference either. I don’t think we have to go organic, but free-range will do nicely. Battery farmed chickens have much shorted lives than normal chickens- normal chickens are slaughtered after 1-2 years of life. Battery chickens, known as “broiler” chickens, through the use of chemicals/steroids and things, are fattened up and slaughtered after only 6 weeks of life!!  And their bones are often not very well formed and they tend to be “fat” birds, but fairly malnourished. If you are roasting a whole chicken, you will definitely be able to tell the difference between a battery farmed bird and a free range one- because a lot of the flavour of a good roast chicken come from big healthy bones in the bird. With breast meat, it’s harder to know if something is battery farmed/free range because of the blander flavour of this cut. Anyway, ethical rant over!!

Here is a list of the “cuts” of chicken, for your interest: Breast (whole, sliced into “breast steaks”,  wings, drumsticks (the chicken’s “shins”), thighs, legs, “Supreme” (breast of chicken with the wing attached), Oysters (2 small round pieces of dark meat on the back, considered a delicacy), chicken mini fillets (small mini fillets, attached to the back of chicken breasts, which are also sold separately in packs). A “Spatchcocked” chicken is a chicken that has been cut down the back and flattened out, usually in order to be cooked quicker. A “Butterflied” chicken breast is a breast that has been cut down the middle and opened out (sometimes flattened out for dishes, sometimes stuffed and/or rolled for cooking).

Health Benefits
Chicken (particularly if consumed without the skin) is one of the leanest meats you can eat, so are a fantastic low fat source of protein. Chicken also has a high ratio of polyunsaturated fat- to saturated fat (unlike red meats such as pork and beef, which depending on cut have fairly high saturated fat contents). There are no carbohydrates or sugars in chicken, so it is suitable for those on a low carbohydrate diet such as Atkins or South Beach. It is also a very good source of Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Selenium. Chicken also contain essential amino acids, including a high level of “tryptophan”, which is an amino acid connected to improving serotonin levels in the brain (aka: eating chicken makes you happy!!).

Nutritional Information (per 100g, roast chicken meat and skin)
Calories- 300kcal
Protein- 25.9g (52% of RDA!)
Fat- 21g
(of which saturates)-  6g
Niacin (Vitamin B3)- 6.7mg (34% RDA)
Selenium- 22.5mcg (32% RDA)

The biggest producers of chicken in the world are the United states of America (with the four biggest poultry companies in the world being in the US), followed by China and Germany. Whilst America and China export their chicken to a lot of other countries, in Germany 90% of the chickens produced are consumed within that country.

Interesting Chicken Facts
The term “rooster” is an American word, with the European official term for a male chicken over 12 months being “cock”. Female chickens over a year old are hens, whilst younger ones are generally called “pullets”- although in the egg industry, the chicken stops being called a “pullet” once it has started laying eggs, at around 16-20 weeks of age.

There are a couple of islands off the coast of New Zealand called the “Hen and Chicken” islands. Despite being named this, the islands do not have chickens on them, nor have anything to do with chickens- they believe they are called this based on a deviation of an old name for a star constellation!!

Most chickens live from 5-10 years, but the oldest chicken that ever lived, in Alabama, known as “Matilda”, lived to a ripe old age of 16!

Ways we like them
Every country loves chicken, so I will just mention a few basics in this one:

Chicken soup is a popular dish all over the world, and is often cooked in different ways. The English/Americans enjoy creamy blended chicken soups (normally cooked with milk or cream). The Jewish cook chicken soup, also known as “Jewish penicillin” (for it’s healing properties) which normally includes chicken, vegetables, broth and dumplings of some sort. The Chinese and Japanese eat a lot of chicken noodle soups also, the Japanese often call these “ramens”, due to the addition of a clear broth and thin noodles. The indian soup “mulligatawny”, despite often including beef in English recipes, traditionally was a spiced thin broth with chicken, ground pepper and turmeric.

Chicken is a popular “flavour” for many food items- anything from crisps, to instant noodles, to packeted soups/instant rice dishes.

Chicken stock is made by boiling the carcase of a chicken in water, usually with the addition of vegetables (celery/carrots/garlic/onions) and herbs (parsley/ bay leaves/ thyme). Stock cubes are made through the concentration and dehydration of this strained carcase liquid. A sign of a good homemade chicken stock is the concentration of gelatine within the stock once it has chilled.

Chicken can be frozen or brined in order to increase shelf life.

Britain- we love our roast chicken, often as part of a traditional “Sunday lunch” meal. This will include a roasted whole chicken, gravy, roasted potatoes, vegetables, stuffing- and then traditionally served with “bread sauce” (a white savoury sauce made with bread and milk). Chicken is also a very popular ingredient in casseroles. The Chicken Tikka Massala, a popular dish served in Indian restaurants, was invented in Scotland, and is supposedly our country’s favourite national dish! Chicken and mushroom, chicken and ham and chicken and leek pies are popular pie flavours in the UK.

Russia- The chicken “kiev” is a Russian/Ukranian dish, invented in Kiev in Ukraine. However, the Russians believe they may have invented the dish first, in Moscow. It is a chicken breast that has been carefully sliced, stuffed with garlic butter, breaded and then baked. It should be made carefully so the garlic butter does not leak out during the cooking process. This is a very popular ready meal in the UK.

America- I have never been to a KFC, but I have heard it is delicious. Southern fried chicken is a very famous American dish from the Deep South, which is chicken (traditionally on the bone), coated in seasoned flour, dipped in a type of “batter”, and deep fried. “Buffalo” wings are very popular in America, which are deep fried and coated in a spicy cayenne/vinegar sauce, and usually served with ranch or blue cheese dips. They are called “buffalo” because they were invented in Buffalo, New York. Chicken nuggets are a popular dish that is available world-wide, made very popular by Macdonalds (“McNuggets”!).  Chicken burgers are also a very popular fast food option. A “Cordon Bleu” dish is meat wrapped around cheese/ a cheese filling, which is then breaded and then pan-fried. Chicken cordon bleu is very popular, and should not be confused with the cookery school of the same name, as this dish was invented in New York.

France- Firstly, there is the very famous “Coq Au Vin”, traditionally an old rooster is jointed into 8 pieces, and slow cooked with red wine, shallots, bacon, and little mushrooms. Chicken chasseur is a similar dish to coq au vin, except it often contains tomato. The French also live to use the chicken livers, to make chicken liver pate/parfait, which is very popular in the United Kingdom as well- normally consumed as a starter to a meal, with thinly sliced toast. Chiicken chasseur is a sautéed chicken dish usually in a creamy white wine sauce.

Italy- Chicken “Parmigiana” is a dish of breaded chicken cutlets, layered with aubergine, tomato sauce, a generous topping of parmesan and baked in the oven. It is one of Americas most popular dishes consumed in Italian restaurants. Chicken “Cacciatore”, which means “Hunters Chicken” , is a popular dish in the North of Italy, and is essentially a chicken, tomato and bacon casserole (often cooked with whole legs of chicken).

China- Chicken is popular stir-fried in numerous dishes, popular ones include kung po chicken (which is a spicy dish with peanuts, vegetables and plenty of chilli), chicken chow mein (chicken fried with noodles, onions and beansprouts)and sweet and sour chicken (chicken with pineapple in a tangy sweet and sour sauce). The Chinese and many other Asian countries, consume the head and feet of the chicken as delicacies (in fact my local authentic Chinese restaurants serve chicken feet dim sum!).

Chicken is a popular ingredient in Thai curries, such as Thai Green or Thai red curries. Chicken Satay- usually chargrilled marinated strips of chicken served with a spicy peanut sauce, is also very popular in Thailand.

In India, chicken is called “Murgh”, and is used in a variety of different curries. Popular dishes include chicken korma (chicken in a sweet, creamy coconut based sauce) chicken Balti a medium spices chicken recipe traditionally served in a “Balti dish”), and chicken biryani (chicken fried with rice, garnished with egg and cucumber, and served with a curried vegetable sauce) . Chicken is often marinated in yoghurt and spices, and cooked in a tandoor oven- this dish (tandoori chicken, or chicken tikka) is very popular in Indian restaurants in the UK.

Africa- In Morocco, chicken is often added to tagines and stews instead of the traditional lamb. In Egypt, chicken is often marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil, and barbequed. “Piri Piri” chicken, which is kinda a South African/ Portugese invention, popularised by the restaurant chain Nando’s, is usually roasted or griddled chicken, marinated in a sauce made of the spicy piri piri chillies, lemon and garlic.

In Germany, chicken schnitzels (chicken coated in flour egg and breadcrumbs and fried) are very popular- this was a dish that traditionally should use veal, but chicken is a cheaper and ethically more sustainable meat to use.

One of Hungary’s most famous dishes, “Chicken Paprikash”, is traditionally made with chicken thighs, peppers, paprika, and sour cream.

In South America, chicken is often used for fajitas/ fillings in enchiladas, toppings for tostadas/tacos. Chicken with rice meals are a staple for south American cuisine as it is cheap. “Tortilla Soup”- a dish from Mexico, is chicken and vegetable soup, garnished with crushed tortilla chips.  

Certainly some of my favourite ways of eating chicken are mentioned in the above list. Chicken noodle soup would most likely be the meal I would choose as my last on this earth- whether it’s my home made “Get better in a bowl” chicken noodle soup (recipe on the blog), or some sort of Japanese ramen/udon chicken noodle soup. Roast chicken, with all the English trimmings, has again got to be one of my favourite meals- as long as there’s a good tasty gravy to go with it, otherwise it’s rubbish! My favourite parts of the chicken are the skin (specially when all crispy and roasted) and the oysters (just like in the film Amelie, love it). As some of you know, both my parents are vegetarian- but I asked them both if they went back to eating meat (they “converted” in their late teens so they never will go back to carnivorous life now, lol) what they would eat. Mum said chicken casserole, cooked with cream and white wine. Dad said his mum’s chicken salad- leftover roast chicken mixed with mayonnaise, sultanas and bananas (ewwwww…..)!!

Some of my own favourite created recipes with chicken over the years has got to be my Cider, mustard and red onion chicken (recipe on blog)- with creamy mash and buttered savoy cabbage. Also, my chicken fajitas with tomato and spring onion salad is a must. I recommend if you are meat eaters trying to get by on a cheap food budget (although I have realised fairly recently it is SO much cheaper to be a vegetarian!!), chicken is a very good way to go- but if you do, make the extra effort and buy/cook a whole chicken. Your bank balance will thank you later, trust me- a big whole chicken can be turned into several meals if used economically (I often make a roast dinner, leftover curry, leftover sandwiches, then leftover soup! Or if you are cooking for one, or for two (not a family)a good thing to do is to roast a whole large chicken, get all the meat off the bird, and then weigh up portions of the meat in bags and freeze it.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Recipe: Easy Jambalaya

Another recipe with these lovely vampire chillies! I've realised that the smaller ones are hotter, to my peril! A Jambalaya is a Creole (French settlers in the south of the US) dish, made with rice, meat, and vegetables. It is similar to a Spanish paella, but uses slightly different spices/ingredients. Apparently Jambalayas are becoming more popular on the ready meal circuit, so you may have tried one already. You always start off with what they call in creole cookery the "holy trinity"- which is onion, celery and green pepper- I used red pepper just because it was what I had in the house. Again, traditionally  big prawns or crayfish are added to jambalaya- but I am allergic so I don't. If you don't have any Cajun seasoning in the house, a mix of cumin, dried oregano and cayenne pepper will work just fine.

Easy Jambalaya (serves 3)
50g margarine
1 white onion, diced
1 celery stick, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, crushed finely
1 vampire chillies (or 1 normal red one) finely chopped
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch smoked paprika
180g long grain rice
1 tin chopped tomatoes
500ml chicken stock
4 cooked sausages, sliced thickly
120g cooked chicken (preferably dark meat)
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

1. In a large saucepan, fry the onions, celery, pepper, garlic and chilli in the margarine for 5 minutes. Add the Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and smoked paprika, and cook for a further 5 minutes.
2. Add the rice, stir for 1 minute, and add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Cook on a medium heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes.  Add the sausages and chicken, and cook for a further 10 minutes stirring often. Season to taste and serve!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Recipe: Italian Leftover Stew

I have been invited to be part of a taste panel for Riverford Organic fruit + veg company! Pretty cool ey? They are trying out a load of new crops on consumers, to decide whether they want to include them in their fruit/veg boxes. This is a sample of "Vampire chillies"- they are dark purple coloured chillies, fairly hot (around 14,000 on the scoville scale, which I would say is around the same heat level of red tabasco in my opinion). I've got a few interesting ideas for using these chillies, but this is what I decided to try out first. I often have leftovers from roast dinners, but normally not enough to turn into another "roast dinner portion"- like a handful of meat normally. This is great for using leftover roast chicken/sausages, and in fact, if you have leftover cooked potatoes, chuck them in the stew too. Sometimes I make this with leftover roast new potatoes- and when I do, I reduce the stock by about 200ml and the cooking time by half.
Italian Leftover Stew (serves 4)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 white onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 “vampire” chilli (or 1 normal red one), finely chopped
800ml chicken stock
1 tin chopped tomatoes
100g leftover roast chicken
2 leftover cooked sausages, diced
1 tsp mixed herbs
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (plus extra for garnish)
350g new potatoes, quartered
350g (about 2 medium) courgettes, diced
Salt, sugar and pepper to taste
1. Fry the onion, celery, garlic and chilli in the oil for 5 minutes in a large saucepan. Add all the other ingredients and cook on a medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the courgettes, and cook for a further 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste, and serve, garnished with fresh parsley.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cheap Food Fact-File: Potatoes

Price per kg- 90p per kg (Old Potatoes)
Price per kg- 1.45 per kg (New Potatoes)

The potato is a starchy vegetable, in the “tuber” category. It is consumed cooked (in various ways) and not raw, due to containing toxins harmful to mammals in their raw state. It is believed that the first potatoes similar to what we consume today originated from Peru, around 7000-10,000 years ago. The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe after their conquest of the Inca empire. It is believed that the potato played a strong impact on population growth in Europe and Asia between 1700-1900. Because of the lack of different cultivars varieties post 1900, potatoes were very prone to diseases- with one of these diseases causing a crop failure in Ireland  causing mass starvation, known as the “Great Irish Potato Famine”.

There are over 5000 varieties of potato worldwide. In the UK, potatoes are very popular, and are often sold/described as “fluffy” or “good mashers” or based on recommendations on how particular varieties should be cooked.  “Fluffy” potatoes  (when cooked are fluffy in the middle)are good for baking, for roast potatoes and for chips and include varieties such as Maris Piper or King Edward. “Good mashers”, that when cooked have a nice smooth texture, to be made into soups, sauces and mashed potato, include varieties such as Desireee and Estima. A new potato variety renowned for it’s superior flavour and texture are “Jersey Royal” potatoes, available in Spring. Potatoes can have white, pale brown, pink or reddish skins. All potatoes are white/cream coloured within, with the exception of the recently cultivated and promoted “blue” or “purple” potato- which has purple skin/flesh, which goes kinda blue-ish once cooked. I’ve tried this variety, and to be honest I’m not all that impressed- it looks unusual, but isn’t all that flavoursome.

Health Benefits
Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates, that contain no fat. It contains numerous vitamins and minerals and natural phenols. Potatoes contain resistant starch, which have found to have similar benefits to fibre consumption, including protection against colon cancer and improving correct insulin release. The majority of vitamins and minerals in potatoes are found in the skin or just underneath the skin. The most nutritious way to consume potatoes are with the skin, and lightly cooked (e.g. Steamed new potatoes, baked potatoes).

Nutritional Information (per 100g, boiled new potatoes with skin)
Calories- 87kcal
Carbohydrates- 20g
(of which sugars)- 1g
Protein- 2g
Vitamin C- 22%

China is the biggest producer of potatoes, producing 88.4 million metric tonnes a year. This is followed by India and Russia.

Interesting Potato Facts
The reason why we use the nickname “spud” for potatoes, is based on a 19th century public health organisation known as “The Society for the Prevention of the Unwholesome Diet” tried to have potatoes banned from being imported and consumed in the UK.

Potatoes were the first “vegetable” (they’re a tuber I know, but whatever) in 1995 to be grown in Space! NASA was doing research on feeding astronauts on long distance voyages / feeding future space colonies through growing their own crops.

Ways we like them
Well, how don’t we like them! Basically every country loves potatoes, in different shapes and forms.  I’ll mention some countries favourite way of eating them!

As well as being consumed, potatoes can be used to make alcoholic beverages, and are often used to make vodka (I’m guessing this is why Russia produces so much? Lol).

Also, potato starch is used, particularly within the food industry, in order to thicken products/sauces, or as a stabilizer.

We do not eat potatoes raw, but we do sometimes eat them cold- crisps or “chips” and various other fried potato based snacks are popular worldwide.

Simple ways we like them include mashed potato (potato peeled, boiled, drained and then mashed- usually with milk/ butter/cream). The baked potato is very popular in the UK and America, where usually large potatoes are baked until soft on the inside, and the skin is crispy on the outside, and serves with various toppings. Boiled peeled potatoes are a common side dish, and peeled diced potatoes are popularly added to soups and stews.

In Britain, we love our chips! Fish and chips are very much considered a national dish. We also like potatoes layered on top of stews, which we call a “Hotpot”. Mash covered mince, baked, are popular national dishes- mash on top of minced beef is known as cottage pie, whilst mash on top of minced lamb is called shepherd’s pie. More recently the veggie version of this is called “shepherdess’s pie”.  We enjoy “roast potatoes” with our special meals and Sunday roasts- roast potatoes should be fluffy in the middle, and crispy on the outside- with many recommending that they should be roasted in duck or goose fat. Bubble and squeak is a traditional dish made with leftover potatoes, cabbage and sprouts, fried up, and served up with leftover cold cut roasted meats. In England, it is common to combine new potatoes with fresh mint. Leftover potato mash can also be fried up with onions, meat, chilli and herbs in order to make a “hash” (of which my friend Nick makes the best corned beef hash in the world!!).

“Colcannon” is a traditional Irish side dish, which is creamy mashed potato commonly mixed with cooked cabbage, parsley and bacon. Potato pancakes are also very popular in Ireland and Scotland.

The French love their potatoes, and often have their own names for potato dishes. Dauphinoise is a layered potato dish, cooked in the oven with cream, garlic, and often topped with cheese. Parmentier potatoes are oven roasted garlic-y peeled diced potatoes, normally garnished with potatoes. “Vichyssoise” (which some argue is an American invention, not French)  is a potato and leek soup, traditionally served cold.

The Italians make gnocchi, which is made and cooked like pasta, but are kinda little potato dumplings.

In south American cuisine, potatoes are very popular (considering that the largest number of varieties are grown there), and are added to classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado (beef, onions and tomatoes with fried potatoes and rice) and many sauces, stews and soups. In Ecuador, a dish called “lorco de papas”, a potato, squash and cheese soup, is very popular .

Bryndzove halusky is the national dish of Slovakia, and are kind of potato dumplings, mixed with various other ingredients depending on region.

In Scandinavia, new potatoes are traditionally steamed, mixed with dill and served with Baltic herring.

A Swiss speciality is the rosti, which is a fried potato cake made of grated potato and onion.

“French fries” or fries are very popular in Belgium, France, and America (although because of France’s lack of involvement in the Iraq war, America now call these “Freedom Fries” ).

The Spanish have their Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with tomato sauce and mayonnaise) as well as their tortilla (not Mexican wraps! Like a frittata, made with eggs, loads of cooked potato, peppers and onions).

The canary islands have a cute sounding dish “wrinkly potatoes”! They are small potatoes, roasted in the over with sea salt until they become “wrinkly”, and served with a smooth pepper sauce called “mojo”.

America is big on their po-taters! Hash browns are triangular shaped fried potato cakes- similar to rosti’s, but a little more “mashed” and deep fried also. Jacket potatoes, with the flesh scooped out, and re-filled with sour cream, chives and bacon are popular in the US- this is a take on a typically French dish called “Arlie potatoes”.  “Latkes” are potato pancakes, eaten a lot traditionally by Jews in America, and often during religious days. The Acadian (French American settlers) “Poutine Rapee” is a boiled orb of mashed potato, with a stuffing of pork in the centre, whilst normal “Poutine” is fried potato served with cheese curds and gravy (these dishes are also very popular in Canada). Potato croquettes (again, French), or known as “tater tots” in America, are piped shapes of mashed potato deep fried.

In India, potato is called “aloo”, and is used in many curries, main courses and side dishes. Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) Sag aloo (potato and spinach curry) and Bombay aloo (a dry spiced potato side dish) are popular dishes in Indian Takeaways. A bread fried in butter (paratha) is stuffed with a mixture of mashed potato and either spiced veg or meat, and served alongside curries/dahls. A signature dish for many restaurants in India, as well as a popular street food- is the “masala dosa”- a very thin large long pancake, stuffed with a spiced mashed potato and green chilli mixture.

Although china produces the most potatoes, they do not consume many of them, with rice being their primary starch crop of choice. However, in Northern China where rice does not grow as well, a popular dish is “qīng jiāo tǔ dòu sī”- which is potatoes and green peppers stir fried with vinegar.

My favourite ways with them are again, similar to those mentioned above. A good creamy Dauphinoise potato dish (I like my version with a leeky/oniony layer in the middle) is hard to beat. The way I most often cook potatoes at the moment is roasting new potatoes actually- I just find it easier than peeling and boiling and mashing, or anything else. Just rubbing new potatoes in oil, spices, salt and pepper, and chucking in the oven until crispy and soft works really well, and you can tailor it to any dish depending on what herbs/spices you use. My mum’s potato curry (which I haven’t uploaded onto the blog yet but it is definitely on my to-do list!) is one of my favourite dishes, as is her Lebanese spiced roasted potatoes. I love my Mexican spiced potatoes and pepper recipe- garnished with fresh coriander and cheese- a rather unusual dish but lovely. Leek and potato soup is a delicious classic.

I do like a nice creamy mash, sometimes with a nice dollop of mustard in it. Although thinking back, when I recently made mashed new potatoes with yoghurt and chives (on the blog as a side dish for a delicious chilli), I remember thinking this was one of my favourite ways of eating potatoes. I love jacket potatoes with lots of butter, cheese and baked beans, very very comforting.

Now chips, chippy chips! I am very very fussy about my chips. If you have chips, then I think they should be SOGGY. Like proper chip-shop chips, they should be soft and mushy, and covered in vinegar. I like my fries curly, yum! And wedges, i love wedges with grated cheese and salsa and sour cream to dip in. I think my favourite flavour of crisps are salt and vinegar- salt and vinegar crisps are like THE best thing for a hangover too (not that I’m condoning the over-consumption of alcohol!!! Don’t get me in trouble now!).

If it had to be one potato dish, for the rest of my days, I think I would choose simple cheesy mustardy mashed potato, or perhaps my Aloo Matar  (potato and pea curry) recipe. Overall, potato is a great cheap ingredient, because it’s a good source of carbohydrate (so it fills you up!), helps to thicken sauces/soups/stews/casseroles without having to spend any money on other thickening agents, and can easily bulk up a dish if you don’t have many other spare ingredients to hand.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Competition: Epicure/ Creative Cooks Monthly Recipe Competition

Hey guys! Another recipe win, fantastic! This is a company that I have won with before actually, about 2 and a half years ago I won their monthly recipe competition, winning a selection of Joseph Joseph Cookware. This time, from the wonderful gourmet company Epicure and the fab recipe sharing website Creative Cooks, my recipe for Sausage and Squash Cassoulet has won recipe of the month for September.
My prize? A wonderful 5 piece selection of Circulon Steel cookware- 3 saucepans, a milk pan and a frying pan. Absolutely lovely! Thank you creative cooks and epicure, and keep up that great recipe sharing website!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recipe: Sticky Soy Chicken with Sweet Potato Mash

I cleared the co-op out of sweet potatoes with this recipe, lol! I love them you know, the flavour's fab, and whenever I eat them it ends up making me feel so healthy and full of energy. Bit of a cheats recipe this one- but it's a very good midweek meal. You can also peel/chop up the sweet potato, and marinade the chicken the night before- so all you have to do when you get in the next day is chuck the chicken in the oven, and boil the potatoes.

Sticky Soy Chicken with Sweet Potato Mash (serves 4)

4 large chicken breasts (or 8 small ones!)
1 x 180g Amoy Sticky Glaze Chinese Barbeque
100ml cider
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 tsp lee kum kee light soy sauce
1 tbsp lee kum kee char siu sauce
¼ tsp hot chilli powder
Plenty of black pepper

2kg sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
Soy sauce and black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the glaze, cider, oil, ginger, soy sauce, chilli powder and seasoning in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts, coat in the mixture, and marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
2. Put the chicken and the marinade in an oven dish and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, boil the sweet potatoes until soft. Drain and mash the sweet potato, seasoning to taste with the soy sauce and black pepper to taste.
3. Remove the chicken from the oven, and serve with the sweet potato mash, with the sweet sticky sauce spooned on top!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Recipe: Pork and Apple Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

There's no real way of making this dish look very pretty, but it's delicious, healthy, and very cheap to make. For young children (and fussy boyfriends....) its certainly a very good way of getting fruit into their diets. Pork mince is at £2 for 500g at the co-op at the moment too (which I get for £1.80 because of sexy student discount!), the apple was from my mums garden, so this meal cost me practically nothing! The Braai spice mix was a present from my boyfriend's mum- very unusual stuff. Secretive too, its ingredients are listed as "salt, spices, spice extracts, flavour enhancers, plant oils, wheat proteins, permitted colours, sugar". But as mentioned in the recipe, from tasting it, I reckon substituting it with Worcestershire sauce, celery salt and cumin will give you a similar flavour.

Pork and Apple Meatballs, with tomato sauce (serves 3)
500g pork mince
½ white onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
1 apple, cored and finely diced
40g breadcrumbs
½ tsp Worchester Braai Spice Mix (Or use ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce, ¼ tsp celery salt, pinch cumin)
Generous amount salt and pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 beef stock cube
1 tbsp chilli jam
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the mince, onion, celery, apple, breadcrumbs, spices and seasoning well. Coat a large roasting dish with the vegetable oil (this is to stop the meatballs from sticking). Roll the mince mixture into 18 meatballs (around 45/50g per meatball).
2. Put the tray in the oven and cook the meatballs for 30 minutes. If the meatballs are not browned enough, chuck them under the grill for a few minutes to colour a bit.
3. Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, stock, chilli jam, and seasoning in a pan and heat up until all ingredients are well combined. If you are having this with rice or pasta, put this on the boil now.
4. Serve the meatballs and sauce with some chopped fresh parsley on top, with some rice, pasta or mash if desired.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Recipe: Chinese Roast Chicken Hoisin Wraps

Mmmmm! This dish was SO popular with the boyfriend and it just turned out so delicious, really happy with it. Bit experimental, but I like challenging myself. This is a take on the traditional crispy duck with pancakes that you get at Chinese restaurants. Basically, I've used chicken instead of duck (cheaper!), sautéed cabbage and onions instead of cucumber/spring onions, and tortilla wraps instead of pancakes. Like an Asian/Mexican fusion! And roasting the chicken like this creates such a tasty moist bird! I think I will continue to roast chickens like this, even if I'm not making this particular dish. I used Sharwoods hoisin sauce, but go ahead and use your favourite brand, or even have a go at making your own if you have time.

Chinese Roast Chicken Hoisin Wraps (serves 4)

The chicken
1 medium chicken (about 1.5kg)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped (or crushed) ginger
¼ tsp toasted sesame oil
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Plenty of black pepper
400ml water

The accompaniments
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, sliced
½ green cabbage, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
I jar Hoisin sauce (I use Sharwoods)
8 soft tortilla wraps

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the chicken in a roasting tray. Mix together (I do this thoroughly in a jar!) the vegetable oil, wine, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, cayenne pepper and black pepper until well combined. Pour over the chicken and rub in, to make sure the chicken is coated in the sauce.
2. Pour the water into the roasting dish, and put in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, basting with the juices every 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, put the chicken on a plate (reserve the roasting liquid for another dish if desired) and allow to rest for 15 minutes, before getting all the meat off it.
3. Meanwhile, sauté the cabbage and onion in the vegetable oil on a high heat for 20 minutes, stirring often. Season to taste and set aside. Put the tortilla wraps, wrapped in tin foil, in the oven for 5 minutes, to warm up.
4. Serve the roast chicken, tortilla wraps, caramelised cabbage and hoisin sauce together on the table, ready for people to dig in and fill their own wraps!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Peppers

Price per kg- £3.50 (roughly- around 90p per pepper)

The “pepper”, known as the sweet pepper in the UK/Ireland, the “Bell pepper” in  America, and capsicum in India, Australia and New Zealand, is a sweet fleshed fruit originating from Central and South America.  It was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, who named it the “pepper”, despite the fact it has no relation to the black and white “peppercorns” that were already very popular in Europe by then.

Peppers come in various colours, including green, yellow, orange, red, brown, white and purple. The most commonly consumed colours of pepper in the UK are red and green. Usually, peppers are green/ purple in the early stages of ripening- with the exception of a variety known as “Permagreen”, which has been cultivated to be green at all stages of ripening. Green peppers are known to be more bitter, whilst red peppers are usually the sweetest variety. Some red peppers are simply ripened green peppers, or can actually be a completely different variety of capsicum. I have noticed in the shops in the UK the “Ramiro”, which are very sweet, long, pointed peppers- normally red, but have seen yellow and orange ones popping up too. I wouldn’t use Ramiro peppers in cooking, they are so sweet and juicy (and more expensive than normal peppers) so I would normally chuck them in a salad. Another variety in the shops now is the “pardon pepper”, a small Spanish green variety of pepper that is quite bitter- it is traditionally chargrilled/ roasted until the skins are black but the flesh is soft, and sprinkled with salt, which is a popular tapas dish. I’m not sure whether it is more of a chilli rather than a pepper- most are mild, but apparently 1 in every 100 is hot- having consumed so many of them I would agree with that ratio. Another variety which is gaining in popularity is the “seedless pepper”, normally very small, in orange and yellow colours, and as the same suggests, are peppers without seeds. They are also very pricey. I honestly don’t know why people bother with these, they taste the same as normal peppers, and I don’t know anyone so lazy that they can’t be bothered to scrape a few seeds out of a pepper.

Health Benefits
Peppers are high in antioxidants, and also an interesting  fact  is Red peppers contains 9 times the amount of the antioxidant carotene than other peppers. Peppers are low in calories, contain no fat, and 80g counts towards one of your 5 a day. Peppers and also very high in Vitamin A and C.

Nutritional Information (per 100g- raw red pepper)
Calories- 31kcal
Carbohydrates- 6g
(of which sugars)- 4g
Protein- 1g
Vitamin A- 3131IU (63% RDA)
Vitamin C- 128mg (213% RDA!!)

The biggest producer of peppers are China, producing over 14,000,000 tons a year. China is followed by Mexico and Indonesia.

Interesting Pepper facts
The bell or sweet pepper is the only member of the capsicum family to not have any reading on the “scoville” scale, a scale of the “spiciness of food”, as they do not contain a chemical called “capsacin”, which is the chemical in chillies/peppers that give the effect of heat!

Green bell peppers are the most popular variety of pepper consumed in the USA.

It is best to eat peppers as ripe as possible- the riper the pepper (eg dark red or vibrant red peppers) the higher the vitamin a and c content.

Ways we like them
Peppers are used all over the world, and are a fantastically tasty fruit to use in savoury dishes.

A very popular dish in Mexico and the USA are “Fajitas”- traditionally steak, white onions, and peppers of mixed colours, chargrilled, and served with wraps and several other accompaniments (soured cream, guacamole, salsa).

Peppers can be hollowed out and stuffed, with various mixtures- a popular mix includes ground meat (usually beef), vegetables and rice.

Since some people do not like the texture of the skins of peppers, peppers can be chargrilled whole, until the skin is blackened, and then the skin is easily removed, leaving cooked sweet peppers without the skins. These can be bought in jars, stored in olive oil or vinegar, in the world section of supermarkets.

In Italy, there is a popular dish known as “Piedmont peppers”. These are red peppers, stuffed with tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and anchovies, then roasted in the oven. There is also another dish called “pepperonata”, which is a lightly stewed mixture of red and yellow peppers, with garlic, onions, herbs (normally oregano and basil) and tomatoes , normally served as a side dish or a topping.

I have mentioned the Spanish pardon peppers earlier, the Spanish also like serving roasted red peppers cold, topped with diced garlic, sherry vinegar and olive oil (as a tapas dish). Peppers are also a common main ingredient and garnish in “Gazpacho”- a Spanish chilled vegetable soup.

In Chinese cuisine, peppers are commonly used- with green bell peppers being the preferred variety. A well known-chinese dish is “Chicken (or beef) with green peppers and black bean sauce”.

Various colours of peppers are often used in Thai cuisine, when in season, and are often an ingredient added to Thai Curries.

In India, peppers are used in many curry dishes, ones that are particularly well known to us include the Jalfrezi, and the Karahi. In the UK a “bhuna” is often described to include peppers, but it traditionally shouldn’t!  (should just have lots of fresh tomato in it).

There is a middle eastern dish known as “Shahshuka”, which is eggs poached in a tomato, onion and pepper mixture. It is very popular in Egypt and can be seen being cooked by many street vendors.

 In Europe, “tomato and red pepper” is a very popular flavour combination for soups.

I really like peppers, and I think I pretty much love every variety actually. My mum (and Nigella actually) dislike green peppers, stating that they are too bitter. I understand where they are coming from, but I think if green peppers are cooked properly- either roasted and added to dishes, or stir fried in Asian cuisine, then they can be just as delicious as the other colours. I also like mixing very finely diced green peppers with seeded tomatoes, fresh coriander, green chilli, and lime, to make an authentic zingy Mexican salsa!

One of my first ever recipes that I created, and something I still make today, is “couscous and feta stuffed peppers” (recipe of which is on the blog)- roasted peppers, stuffed with fluffy couscous, with loads of fresh basil/basil oil and fresh salty feta- yum!  I also love those chargrilled red peppers in jars- I know they are really expensive but if im treating myself I will buy them. Nice toppings for salads, nice in sandwiches, and I like to put them in pies and tarts too.  Whenever I make a chilli con carne (or a chilli “non” carne, with Quorn for the parents)  I like to add red and yellow peppers- it adds a sweetness to the chilli and the different colours makes it look pretty. Peppers also make a really nice dip- just roast a couple of diced red peppers in olive oil, let them cool, and then blend with some good olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, a little bit of tomato passata and some spices (cumin works well) and you have a delicious dip for toasted pitta breads!

I think the cheapest and easiest way to use peppers in the average weekly meal is to stuff them, because you can mix up a load of old random ingredients from things you have in the cupboard/fridge, and then chuck them into pepper halves that you’ve preroasted in the oven for a bit (to soften up). Put the mix back in the oven to warm up (and if you have any cheese, chuck that on top of the stuffed peppers as well!!) and  bobs your uncle. Stuff the peppers with a mix ideally including a type of starchy food (rice, pasta or couscous) and meat, beans or quorn, and then you’ve got a fully balanced meal (Your carbs, your protein, and 1 of your 5 a day) without having to bother to make any side dishes or anything.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Recipe: Chicken and Parsnip Casserole

Parsnips! I love em! Lovely and wintery, sweet and comforting. Maple syrup, like honey, goes very well with root vegetables, and the mix of mustard, parsnip and chicken gives an incredibly warming delicious flavour to this slightly posh casserole. I reccomend using a medium sized casserole, because I actually made this in my small oreange le creuset casserole, and it only JUST fit- i mean it was kinda bubbling over the sides which was a little bit messier than I wanted dinner to be! Feel free to use diced chicken breasts if you prefer- i might do that in the future to be honest. Despite the fact i LOVE thighs/legs on birds (think its more moist and flavourful than the breast), have only just realised my boyfriend has a weird thing about chicken on the bone. Some people have some funny food phobias dont they!!

Chicken and Parsnip Casserole (serves 3)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 chicken thighs (skin on and with the bone in)
Salt and pepper
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped up
4 parsnips, peeled and diced
600ml beef stock
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp plain flour, mixed with water.
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the olive oil on a high heat in a medium sized casserole. Season the chicken thighs both sides with salt and pepper, and fry in the casserole for 2/3 minutes each side, to brown. Remove and set aside.
2. In the same casserole, fry the onion, garlic and rosemary for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the parsnips and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add all the other ingredients (except the reserved chicken), and cook for a further 10 minutes on a high heat).
3. Add the chicken thighs to the casserole, cover, and put in the oven for 1 hour and a half, checking every half an hour and stirring. Season to taste and serve!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Olive Oil

Olive Oil
Price per kg- £3.50 per litre

Not only used in cooking, olive oil (the fat that comes from pressing olives) is used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and soaps. Olive trees originate from Greece, and olives have been harvested since 8000BC. It is believed the first time olive trees were properly cultivated (rather than growing wild) was on the Greek island of Crete- and the first traces of olive oil were believed to made by the Minoan culture there in 3500BC. Olive oil was an important commodity, and using it was seen as  sign of wealth, so the ancient Egyptians imported large amounts of olive oil from Syria and Crete. Olive oil was a main staple of ancient Greek and Roman cookery. Olive oil was used by the Romans as a form of cleanser- the olive oil would be rubbed onto the skin at the public baths, and scraped off with a specific implement- taking away the dirt from the skin/ dead skin cells with the oil.

There are numerous types of olive oil, made from different varieties of olive from separate countries, this includes such varieties as picual, hojiblanca and arbequina. Different olives produce different flavours within the olive oil, with some olive oils chosen for having a lighter or heavier flavour, for use in different dishes. In the UK however, we are mostly aware of the main types as being “olive oil” and “extra virgin olive oil”.

Extra virgin olive oil, more expensive than normal olive oil, is olive oil that has been created through physical means, and has not undergone any chemical treatment. It’s acidity should be less than 0.8%, and it should be judged as having superior taste. “Normal” olive oil is usually a mix of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, is generally less than 2% acidity, and is judged to not have a very strong flavour.  

There is no such thing as a “second press”  of virgin oil, the term “first pressing” is just stating that it was processed in a press, rather than other methods of oil extraction- this is often misconstrued by consumers.

Health Benefits
The health benefits of olive oil are numerous and highly promoted- I am sure many of you will have heard of olive oil being good for your heart! Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, and polyphenols, which protects against coronary heart disease/ high cholesterol. Olive oil has been proven to help with improving skin conditions, such as acne and dermatitis. It is high in antioxidants.  It is also a very good source of the fat soluble vitamins E and K. For those on low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins or South Beach, olive oil contains no carbohydrates or sugars, or protein for that matter.

Nutritional Information (per 100g)
Calories- 884kcal
Fat- 100g
(of which saturates)- 14g
Vitamin E- 14.3mg (72% RDA)
Vitamin K- 60.2mcg (75% RDA)

The biggest producers of olive oil (by a long-shot, almost triple the amount of any other countries!) are Spain. The two other largest producers are Italy and Greece. The Greek’s are by far the largest consumers of olive oil, with the average person consuming on average 26 litres of olive oil per year!!

Interesting Olive oil facts
The higher the temperature olive oil is heated to, the more likely flavour will be destroyed. This is the reason why extra virgin olive oil is used mostly for salad dressings, and not used in cooking.

Olive oil can be treated like wine- with such a variety of different flavours, certain olive oils may go better with particular dishes (some are more fruity, some are more sharp etc.). It is believed that people that like a lot of tannins in their red wine, will prefer the flavour of a more bitter olive oil.

Olive oil is used heavily in a number of religions, often symbolising strength or healing. Traditionally, the 7 torch “menorah” used for the Jewish Hanukkah celebration should use olive oil as burners, not candles. Olive oil lamps are still often used in catholic and orthodox churches, and traditionally olive oil should be used in baptisms in order to bless and strengthen those who are about to be baptised. The consumption of olive oil is generally banned during lent. In Islam, the olive tree, and consuming olive oil, is considered to be sacred, as the prophet Muhammad stated “consume olive oil and anoint it upon your bodies since it is of the blessed tree”.

Ways we like them
Of course, all over Europe, and particularly the Mediterranean countries, olive oil is used for a variety of dishes, and in Greece, Spain and Italy are used as the primary fat in which to cook with.

My favourite recipe that use olive oil as a sort of "main" or "prime" ingredient is good old pesto! Whether it's traditional fresh basil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts- or whether you want to try something more alternative (like my coriander and feta pesto, or my wild garlic pesto- check the recipes out on my blog) it always uses uggins of olive oil! Extra virgin olive oil, although expensive, i like to use as a garnish really- drizzled over salads or pasta dishes to give it a fresh zingy flavour.

Aoili is a good one too- it's a spanish garlic mayonaise, which you make with egg yolks, loads of garlic, and olive oil, blended in gradually so the mayo doesn't split. Nice garlicky Aioli with some spiced wedges- bliss!!

As well as using normal olive oil for cooking, I often make cheap salad dressings using olive oil, for my packed lunches. I generally mix 1 tbsp olive oil, with 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (I get a massive catering size bottle that normally lasts me a year, and very cheap), 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp sugar, and plenty of salt and pepper. Works every time, and works with most dishes.

Generally, OK, i know, other oils are cheaper- with myself finding vegetable oil being the cheapest- but there are a lot of health benefits connected with olive oil, so if you are in the position to afford it, give it a go!