Improv dinner

Well, this should be
easy. All foods are fair-game for dinner time, and we have plenty time to cook
– so simples. Right?

After the first few
nights of creative, vegetarian inspired food (with meat added) the ideas began
to run out. Hit a bad time at work and
was too tired to think about food. Very unlike me. The veg drawer of the fridge was running low,
but I still had a stash of ‘banned’ foods in the larder “in case of
emergency”. I started to crave the
old food, like lamb meatballs and salad with hummus and salad, stuffed into pitta
breads. That wouldn’t be so bad, right? Just a couple of pitta breads and some
hummus; I could give it up again tomorrow. And it’s got salad and meat so can’t hurt…. so I did, and then it did hurt and I didn’t do it again – for a while 🙁

Rule # 1: Be prepared

If buying meat, try
to put a bit aside in the freezer. Not stock-piling here, just a dinner worth
of sausages, chicken, white fish fillets and pork chops. Worst case scenario, you have sausages
with leftover salad for dinner. Not bad if you ask me. If you have leftover
stews or bolognaise sauce, freeze the spare (no need to over-eat, or bin it). Handy even if only a small portion.

Eating real food
means eating fresh food. You know, the stuff that has a limited life and won’t
survive in the back of a cupboard for 12 months. It goes off. You have to use
it while it’s good.

Sometimes that’s
great – goody! Avocado for dinner and it’s not even an anniversary!! (comment only really applies to bBits, who still
consider avo’s to be a bit of an exotic treat

Prepare to be
flexible with your planned menu, so if that pumpkin has gone so far beyond ripe
that even the compost bin flinches, then dinner is not cancelled. Likewise, I’ve been caught out by substitutions in the veg box delivery. I’d planned a
meal around 1 particular item, so when that was swapped for something entirely
different my plan was scuppered. No problem.

  • Adapt the recipe to use
    something else. Recipes are not set in stone – they are just a suggestion. Exception to this is baking – deviate and you are likely to fail! 🙂
  • Or as i did, if there is no
    suitable substitute, skip to tomorrow night’s dinner. Had to to do this last night as the mango I had intended to use was good for banging in nails, but that’s about it. Buys a bit of time
    to come up with an alternative and as the week goes on, I tend to
    accumulate bits of extra leftovers anyway so can come up with an entire
    new dinner. Sort of like the original format of ReadySteadyCook, where
    they has to put all the stuff from the bag together to make a meal – not
    the new version where they make several different meals, each using 1 item
    from the bag and add a ton of extra stuff from a larder that must be the
    size of Narnia. “So, you have a chicken a banana and an egg? great, then I’ll
    be making chicken tikka masala, a banana split and baking a cake using the

Rule #2: Have a few
options up your sleeve

Sometimes you’ll spot something you’d
forgotten was there but doesn’t have a place in tonight’s dinner. I’ll add a
few more later but 2 options here

  • Add it as an extra course. Have heard of people making chilled cucumber soup, or mini-gazpacho with
    well-ripened veg as an amuse-bouche. Nice little extra, and effectively
    something for nothing, as long as you don’t need to go and buy extra
    ingredients of course.
  • Prepare and freeze. as I found the other night – what the heck am I going to do with a bunch of wilting rhubarb between now and
    tomorrow!? Old go-to option was simple – rhubarb crumble and custard! Now that isn’t
    an option. Thought about giving it to someone I was seeing at the weekend,
    but it would be super-floppy by then and, frankly, a bit of a crap gift. Then I remembered seeing a savoury recipe with rhubarb on a Jamie Oliver
    programme. Savoury would at least mean no sugar – worth a look. Thanks to
    the interweb I now have a tub of hot and sour rhubarb marinade for pork in
    my freezer – not sure how well it’ll freeze but it was headed for the
    compost anyway so no harm done.

Have lots of dinner
ideas to share -but you’ll have to wait for those 🙂

Sunday dinner for one

After an early start, and lovely day out shopping and lunching with a friend, it was time to come home and deal with Sunday evening chores. Boo! Laundry, dishes and dinner. Normally i love nothing more than spending time slaving over a hot stove but, as it’s just me on my lonesome, there doesn’t seem much point. Then I remembered I’d got lamb from the farm shop specially, and the leftovers were destined for my lunchbox today, so I pulled myself together and got cracking.

Roast multi-coloured carrots dressed with pomegranate molasses [tastes like vimto] and sesame seeds, s+p roast lamb, baba ganoush and greek yogurt.

Not bad. Would have been nicer hotter, but got a bit side tracked hanging up laundry.Probably just as well i was on my own; garlic in the baba ganoush was pretty strong 🙂  Fortunately not included in the lunch reincarnation: frisée lettuce, slivers of radish, cherry toms, pesto and yogurt dressing. Well, it’s more interesting than a tuna baguette 🙂

roast carrots, lamb and baba ganoush

Ooops, forgot about the 3rd task – dishes. Oh well, tonight is a no-cook dinner so plenty of time for that later.


As much as one needs to be frugal with the food one has spent a large amount of money on, I also like to be frugal with my time. Getting the most out of my time spent on shopping trips, running errands and time in the kitchen. For that reason I tend to get ahead by doing little extra things which will save me time and effort when I’m at my laziest (i.e. any time in the morning before 9am). Small tasks which can be done while a pot is simmering, but don’t actually feel like extra effort.

Making stock (or bone broth) in the pressure cooker is a great one. Unlike making in a big pot, there’s no need to skim off scum, or watch that it doesn’t boil over. Also, the cooking is done in about 30 mins, and 15 mins to cool/ release pressure, so the messy tasks are done while you’re still in ‘cooking’ mode and not 4 hours+ later when you’ve sat down with a bottle of vino watching TV, and now really can’t be arsed to deal with a heavy pot of hot, greasy stuff – animal fat is a bugger to clean up, and the pot and lid is normally caked with burned bits of scum (might just be the way I do it!). I’ve found that using the pressure cooker you get a clearer stock and the result is more consistent, probably because you use less water as it all stays in the pot, so less need for straining and reducing to get the desired colour and flavour. I also like to think that the pressurised container, kept sealed after cooking, is quite a sterile environment so I don’t mind leaving it outside (unopened) overnight if I have left it a bit late to cool and freeze batches. Will share my method another time.

Back to the topic. So last night I made zoodles (zucchini- noodles) to have with some leftover ragu. I make these all the time now, and it’s a better alternative to the spaghetti squash recommended by a lot of the US blogs – when was the last time you saw spaghetti squash in a UK supermarket?? Simply take a firm courgette (or a zucchini if you prefer) and julienne it with a speed peeler. Some people suggest steaming them, or zapping it in the microwave, to heat up but I prefer them just raw, with a hot sauce poured over. Keeps a nice texture and saves washing up another pot. I do stirfry them if I’m using them to replace egg noodles – treat them gently, like fresh egg noodles, and they take on a nice bit of colour and flavour. Not too long tho, or they just go soggy as the water is driven out.

You can buy these tools in most kitchen shops now; Kuhn Rikon make a pretty sturdy looking version. It’s just a variation on the y-shaped speed peelers. Mine was part of a set gifted to me by my Mother in law in SA (thanks Ma!) and tbh, when I first got it I was a bit sceptical about how much we’d use it. I assumed it would just make a mushy mess, but this thing is razor sharp – as I have found when (stoopidly) peeling things into my palm or washing the dishes. Back to the zoodles. So, nifty gadget and impressive looking veg. Only problem is that you end up with funny shaped bits of courgette left.

Rather than compost them, I chop it into equal-sized pieces and store in a little tub. Conveniently 1 courgette gives me enough zoodles for 1 dinner, and the left over bits are enough for a frittata for 1 🙂 The result is a rather tasty breakie, with no knives required in the morning. Just toss the veg into the pan, TV chef style and add eggs. Voila!


Saturday brunch

With the hubby away, and some spare time on my hands, I got started early on 70-462 prepping my Saturday brunch. (should have been breakfast but got distracted by checking what’s new on the inter web). Last night I took some frozen spinach and put it in ramekins to defrost overnight

Then, in the morning, I squeezed out all the water (bit messy with the chopped frozen spinach as the bits got everywhere, so think I’ll use fresh next time and wilt it just before I need it). Put a small knob of butter on the spinach, seasoned with S+P, topped each with 2 eggs and about a tablespoon of double cream. Found a bit of hard cheddar in the fridge so grated some on top.

And finally, baked in the oven @ 180c for about 15 mins until golden and bubbling.

Baked eggs

Served with a teaspoon – yummy. Could have baked a little less, so the eggs would have been 70-463 runnier, but I like the golden cheese – needs work.

Comfort food

It’s been a bit of a stressful day. My hubby is away for work, on another continent, and has fallen seriously ill. Fortunately, private travel insurance meant he was dealt with quickly and hospital bills weren’t an issue. All this worry has left me exhausted and I’m in need a bit of comfort. No wine left in the house. Tempted to swing by Waitrose for a pizza – maybe dough and cheese will make it better?

An initial sweep of the leftovers has identified frozen spicy chicken wings, some soft goat’s cheese, unripe peaches (prob shouldn’t leave those in the fridge) and an avocado that has finally ripened. Did have Thai chicken curry scheduled but not sure I can be bothered with that now; and just realised that the leftover coconut milk I’d saved for it has not gone off 🙁 sod it.

Right, in that case I’ll go for chicken thighs sautéed with onion and some of the fresh mushrooms which arrived in this morning’s veg box, and I have no idea what I’ll use them for. Splash of dry sherry, touch of Dijon mustard, and a little cream and tarragon to finish. Smidge of garlic would have been nice but yummy anyway – like chicken pie without the pastry! Hug in a bowl.


Now, here’s the
tough one. If I can’t have toast or that fortified wholegrain cereal I’ve been
told for years I must eat, or else, and I don’t have time to cook breakfast
every morning what am I supposed to eat?

On some of the blogs I’ve followed they suggest eating dinner for breakfast (I know the other way round is brinner, so is this deckfast?). This doesn’t really appeal to me as I tend to use a lot of chili and garlic in
my dinners, and first thing in the morning it’s a bit much. Plus, I’m not a
morning person so on school-days I prefer to get my full duvet time then grab
breakie and go. Solution to this has been preparing a big tub of fruit salad
twice a week, and serving with double cream or a few dollops of full-fat greek
yogurt. This happily sees me through to about 1pm when I have my lunch. Who’d
have thunk it?

If I’ve got an early
start and have to drive somewhere (so bowl of fruit and spoon not a great idea)
then a few cooked sausages and chunks of cheese, or muffin sized frittatas all
make good padkos 🙂

On the weekends,
away from the daily-grind, I like a big breakfast. Going out for brunch used to
be a nice treat but the vast majority of menu items are with bread, which isn’t
surprising given the tradition of fresh baked goods in the morning, and even the
yoghurt tends to come with sweetened granola. There are a few, gold-star
exceptions – but I’ll come to those later.

Instead, at home,
we’ll knock-up soft-boiled eggs with asparagus spears, scrambles with wilted
greens (like chard or beetroot tops) mixed-in, full english, parsnip rostis or
shredded sweet potato topped with ham and poached eggs, all take a little more
time but worth the effort.

Back and Paleo-Lite

I decided to restart writing this blog, I took a look at what I’d
started out with some 4 years ago, and it struck me how much has
changed since then both in my life and in my eating habits. 

always considered that the food we ate as ‘healthy’ (while not being
raw-vegan-organic-Eton educated etc.) but looking at my scrappy
notebooks of shopping lists and menus, I think we were in denial!

we ate a fair amount of variety, almost every dinner was
mashed potato,
bread. Then there’s the unaccounted for M&S sarnies (someone may
have had 2 at a time – ahem) while out on a shopping trip. The crisps
and dip with a few beers before dinner. The nachos in the bar,
because we were being good and not ordering burgers and chips.
Crumpets with jam or marmite, because I needed them 😉 

decided to give Paleo a go at my husband’s suggestion, partly for
health reasons (he’s a bit of a running fanatic) and due to the
research we’d read about the effects of sugar and wheat on the body.
Having both suffered some minor, and major, symptoms it seemed worth
a go. Plus, being given the green-light to eat meat & fat – where
do I sign up?!


are you on a diet?

you’re on the gluten-free thing, then?

you get bored eating meat and vegetables every day?

it’s Atkins 1.2

you eat then?


heard these things a few times since I changed my eating habits last
year. I’ve also realised how little some people know or understand
about the food they eat everyday – my favourite; you don’t eat pasta?
Have couscous instead, that’s really good for you! 


let’s address a few of these. 

someone who has always been fairly-slim, and moderately active with a
snobbery about commercial junk-food, I’ve never gone over a UK size
10-12 and I didn’t set out to lose weight.  So I was surprised
when I suddenly fitted into a size 8 – most of this was due to losing
inches off my bust, so actual weight loss was only about 5kg. The
biggest difference for me was the extra energy I felt and
stabilization of my hunger – no more 3pm dash to the vending machine
for a Double-Decker hit. No more hangry (hungry / angry) episodes at
the weekends. 


I do avoid gluten, but I also don’t eat the ‘gluten-free’ food
substitutes such as tapioca, rice and corn, and I don’t eat sugar or
starchy legumes either (easy to spot – they look and behave like

seem to be a lot more restaurants now who serve you meals without
sides as standard now, which makes things easier. Plus it’s a lot
more interesting for me to eat steak with beautifully wilted spinach
and dressed green beans than the standard ‘chips’.


can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than grazing over a
stack of food-porn and cooking up a storm. I thought cutting out
processed food would be easy enough, as we’ve never been ones for
ready meals and I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I was surprised at
just how much processed carb-based food we were eating by way of
rice, pasta and bread. A bacon sarnie on the weekend for brunch,
fajitas for dinner, the occasional pizza, antipasti with ciabatta to
mop up sauces….. I digress. At first, I was unsure how I could make
a whole week of menus, let alone a month’s worth, without repeats and
the dreaded oh, so it’s carrots and peas again. So I dug into my
stash of food magazines and trusted recipe sites for inspiration –
even then, so many were only half a meal with the final line:
with crusty bread

or the bigger cop-out:
with seasonal veg

what veg? cooked how?

Bing’ing and checking dozens of ‘Paleo’ food blogs, I found a couple
I liked. There are a lot of food-nazis out there who want to jump all
over bloggers for daring to include a teaspoonful of sauce that has a
wheat or soy derivative in the ingredients, or <

> include cheese, and I ain’t got time for that. Paleo-friendly
versions of things like fish sauce or soy sauce are available in some
parts of the U.S. and at specialist stores, but elsewhere we don’t
always have that choice.  Given the choice between a smidge of
wheat, or no Asian food – I’ll take my chances. To (badly) quote Voltaire
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. 

no, I don’t get bored. I feel like I’ve entered a whole new world of
food and have never been more excited by cooking. Looking back at my
old menus, we were eating pasta at least twice a week, and sometimes
bread twice a day – surely you’d get bored with that?! 


isn’t a ‘diet’ – it’s a lifestyle choice, like being vegetarian or
vegan.  Broadly speaking, Paleo (or Primal) diets include meat,
fish, fruits, and vegetables. It can be high or low carb. Atkins can
have processed grains and sugar. As long as it’s low-carb, that’s
what matters. 

main focus for me is to eat good quality food, and to enjoy it. I
don’t want franken-foods and, having cut them out from my diet,
I’ve seen what wheat and sugar do to my body and mood if I
reintroduce them. 


eat everything! Meat with fat, fish and vegetables with full fat
dairy products (in moderation, not due to the fat  content but because lactose
is a sugar) and fruit (again, in moderation due to fructose). Eating
real food is satisfying in flavour, texture and nutrition. It does
take a little longer to prepare than an oven ready meal, but actual
cooking time is  often less and I tend to make more than 1 meal at
a time anyway while I’ve got something to use up and the oven is on.
The fact that most meals are prepared from scratch, and can’t be
eaten without a fork, means food is savoured and not just troughed –
think how easy it is to eat a hamburger. I could eat 2 without even
noticing, and I’d still be hungry after. I don’t count calories, but
for those who do: 250 calories * 2 = 500 calories. That’s about the
same as a salad with goat’s cheese. NAUGHTY!  It’s about choices.  I’d
rather have option B and not be hungry after (and not have a bloated
stomach or insulin spike soon followed by the crash).
Obviously, you’ll have spotted the price difference there, but this
is a meal we’re talking about here; something you do 3 times a day,
putting food into your body. By not going for the leanest, prime-cuts
of meat, you also cut the price significantly. By eating consciously,
there is less need to snack because you
you’ve had a meal, and protein + fat = satisfied.

for what exactly we eat; well I’ll be updating you on that soon 🙂  

Bambi didn’t die in vain

Saw this and reminded me of a lush recipe for venison.  It’s a ragu to serve with pasta, but I split the batch and served half with creamy parmesan mash and green veg. Serves 4.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in an oven proof casserole and add 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stick and a clove of garlic all finely sliced. Cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Toss 500g boned venison shoulder or leg (diced) in 2 tbsp seasoned flour. Add another tbsp oil to the pot and brown the meat in batches. Set the meat aside with the veg.

Deglaze the pan with 100ml red wine then return the veg and meat to the pot with 200ml stock or water, 2 anchovy fillets, 1 tbsp tomato puree and 2 fresh sage leaves (or 1 bay leaf). Bring to the boil then cover and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 – hours at 160c/ Gas 3, stirring once or twice during cooking. The meat should shred easily with a fork but, if serving with the mashed potatoes, don’t break up the meat too much.

Menu w/c 28th Feb



  • Moroccan chicken with fruity couscous
  • Pumpkin & ricotta ravioli with sage and roast chestnut sauce
  • Chicken karahi with roti
  • Lasagne
  • Grilled trout with steamed vegetables
  • Chicken Caesar salad
  • Spicy carrot muffins
  • Banana & chocolate chip muffins


Just what the doctor ordered…

Well, after being struck down with the lurgy since Xmas (everyone’s doing it Daaarling) it’s time i got back to this blogging thing. The road to recovery has of course been assisted by lots of healing food, and a few OTC meds. With limited taste buds, there was a lot of garlic and chilli going into my dishes but it seemed to do the trick.

Thai prawn laksa – not 100% accurate rendition but basically thinly sliced thumb sized piece of ginger, a fat clove of garlic, 1 chilli (inc. seeds if you like it hot) and coriander stalks from a small bunch sweated in a pan with a little oil to just take the sting out of the garlic. Add the solids from a can of coconut milk (should be about half the can – if not, top up with some of the ‘water’) and bring up to a simmer. Add raw prawns (thawed if frozen) and a handful of frozen peas or other green bean-like legume. Sir and bring back to a simmer. When the prawns turn opaque they’ll be done. Taste seasoning – add a good pinch of salt and sugar. If it’s got a bit too thick you can add more of the coconut milk. Squeeze the juice of half a lime into the pan.

To serve, pour over cooked egg or rice noodles and pop a wedge of lime on top to add as desired. Sprinkle over some chopped coriander leaves if you got them for that ‘I-care’ effect. You should have a steaming bowl of noodle and prawn with a bit of broth left at the bottom to shlurp up at the end.

Can use chicken instead if you prefer, very thinly sliced. It’ll take a bit longer to cook through than the prawns but if you cut it nice and thin you’ll be able to see when it’s changed colour (about 10 minutes). Or used cooked chicken and heat thoroughly in the coconut soup. In either case, let it come up to a simmer BEFORE adding the peas to the pan. The quantity of ginger, garlic and chilli and be adjusted to your preference so the about amounts are just a guideline to get started.