Thursday 22 October 2015

Use-it-all-up minestrone soup

My supermarket delivery comes tomorrow which means today was my clear-out-the-fridge day. I have a few recipes that help me use up my odds and ends - stir fries, risottos or casseroles are my classics. But as I didn't have any 'meaty' stuff like chicken or prawns in the fridge, today I decided to make a minestrone soup. Of course it you have some bacon that would taste great but it tastes just as good without. There's no formal recipe. Fry some onion and garlic, add a couple of chopped tomatoes, throw in whatever veggies you have at home - I used carrots, broccoli, courgette, celery and leek - add a small tin of beans (butter beans are great, but kidney beans work well too), a couple of handfuls of pasta or broken up spaghetti and a tablespoon of tomato purée. Give it a good stir and add some vegetable stock, a bouquet garni and some herbs (dry, fresh or frozen). Bring it to the boil and simmer for 15 mins. Serve with a crusty baguette. Or if you've got some bread going a bit stale (hard is fine but no mould please!) cut it up and fry it to make croutons. Perfect for a dark October evening. 


Friday 16 October 2015


I haven't had a ready meal in years.  They conjure up memories of my student days. The sound of a fork piercing the plastic, the ping of the microwave, the steam when you peel back the film...processed dinner in a black plastic container. Yum! Don't worry I know I'm exaggerating, things have improved a lot since the ready meals of the 90's and I'm not claiming to be completely virtuous by any means. I always have a pizza or a pie in the freezer and I use pre-prepared vegetables more often than I can justify. But still, it was with slight trepidation I entered the COOK shop the other day. 

I happened to stumble across a branch while I was out on one of my escapades with SG. My curiosity got the better of me. COOK claims to make 'home-cooked' ready meals, made in their kitchens in Kent and frozen within one hour of production. The range was amazing. Indian, Chinese, Italian, British, Thai, you name it. Starters, main course and desserts. Servings for one person, two people, families of four, dinner parties and a special childrens range with no added sugar or salt. There was definitely something for everybody. I had only intended to window shop but I couldn't resist. So last night we had pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce. I made the rice myself and I couldn't resist whipping up a side of garlic spinach, as a meal without veggies always feels incomplete to me. 

The end result was good but it also reminded me why I love to cook. By cooking yourself you can make dishes exactly the way you love them. COOK's Meatballs in a Rustic Tomato Sauce were perfectly good. The portion was generous for 2 people, the meatballs good quality and it really did feel home-cooked. But for me the sundried tomatoes made the sauce a bit too sweet and the large meatballs gave the dish a dense meaty taste. In my opinion smaller meatballs would have given a better sauce to meat ratio. But the fact it gave me a night off cooking made the compromises worthwhile. I may not buy this dish again but I will definitely be going back to COOK to try something else. In fact I have a one person portion of Chicken Pad Thai waiting in the freezer. All I need now is for N to make other plans...

Thursday 8 October 2015

Therapeutic Chocolate Tart

Saturday morning was stressful. Nothing serious of course, just the normal chaos you get when you have young children.  Toddler tantrums over clothes and colour of breakfast bowls are becoming the norm for me now but for some reason Saturday pushed me a little too far. CM and I ended up in a rut where we just spent the whole morning rubbing each other up the wrong way. I needed something to break the cycle and help me de-stress. I had to bake. I've never really thought about it before but there is something about cooking, in particular baking, which I find therapeutic. I think most people have something that helps them release the tension of the day and gives them time and space to clear their head. A fried mentioned this week that cleaning is her therapy, I think that's probably quite a common one. A more unusual one I heard recently was from someone who had bought a connect-the-dots book from an art gallery which allows you to recreate famous paintings. She said it helped her claer the muddle of thoughts in her head. I think this latest fad of colouring books for grown ups is along this same line. N's therapy is playing the drums (or playing really pointless computer games on his iPad)! So what is it about baking? For me it's the mindfulness of following a recipe and the precision involved with weighing and measuring. It reminds me of my A Level Chemistry, although I'm not sure I found that particularly therapeutic at the time! I also love that you can create something so beautiful and delicious from just basic raw ingredients. It gives me a real sense if achievement. But I don't have time to bake I hear you say.  Me neither, which is why I cheated and bought a ready made pastry case! But that's not baking then I hear you say. Who cares is my response to that. I got to a chance to organise my thoughts and eat a delicious desert. It's a win win! And to call a truce with CM I let her decorate it! 

Cheat's Chocolate Tart 
(Prep time 20 mins | setting time 2 hours) 

  • 300 ml double cream
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • A pinch of fine sea salt
  • 50 g unsalted butter - cubed
  • 200 g plain chocolate (50% cocoa) - broken into small pieces 
  • 50 ml milk
  • Waitrose sweet pastry case

  • Method

    - Put the cream, sugar and salt in a pan and bring to the boil. Remove as soon as the mixture starts to boils up.
    - Once off the heat, add the butter and chocolate and stir well until it is blended
    - Wait a few movements and then stir in the milk until it is shiny
    - Pour into the tart shell and leave at room temperature for 1 hour to set and then in the fridge for a further hour 
    - Top with fresh raspberries, chocolate sprinkles or anything that takes your fancy
    - Serve with cream or ice cream