Green chicken noodle salad

Stir-fries are a staple student food that I’ve never quite got on board with. Baked beans – yes, basically every Saturday lunch all my life, keep going with that cheese on top please. Pasta – doesn’t matter if we are talking carbonara, pesto, mac and cheese, two minute tortellini, I’m in. Chicken nuggets on the way home from a night out – best part of the night. But stir fries are not a regular part of my repertoire. I’d never even made one until last summer and whilst it was surprisingly tasty, they’re still not part of my regular cooking patterns. Hence why I was slightly stumped when I got major cravings for noodles last week with no idea what to do with them.

I feel like it would be quite a stretch to call this a stir fry, but it certainly satisfied my noodle cravings. I’ll hold my hands up and say this is extremely simple – acting both to solve my craving and to use up some bits and bobs in my fridge. At first I found it a little bland, but then found myself eating a vast bowl of it and requiring high levels of self-restraint not to tuck into the portion I’d saved for the next day. It’s essentially a dish I would usually make with couscous but the noodles made a welcome change and made it a heartier dish. Maybe now I’ll work my way up to a proper stir fry. Baby steps.

Green chicken noodle salad
Serves 2

  • 400g fresh egg noodles
  • 1 chicken breast, roasted
  • 2 spring onions
  • small bunch of mint
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • ½ lime, zest and juice

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a frying pan. Tip in the noodles and stir until warmed through. Meanwhile, finely slice the spring onions and mint, and dice the cucumber. Mix the olive oil and lime zest and juice.

Add all the ingredients to the warm noodles. Season very generously with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Parma ham wrapped chicken, spinach lentils, roasted tomatoes

My cooking at university tends to be largely one pot meals – casseroles, salads, pasta bakes. The sort of food you fill a bowl with and you are done. But as much as I enjoy the simplicity and minimal washing up of this style of cooking, every now and then a gal craves something fancier. Sometimes, the week just demands splurging on Parma ham in Waitrose and the posh vine tomatoes in Sainsbury’s and treating yourself (and no one else) to a proper dinner. The sort of food that looks like it came from one of those restaurant menus where all the dishes are just a list of ingredients. It’s still simple, but it is the sort of multi-element food that requires a proper plate and sitting at a table (or desk) instead of sofa (or bed). Who says cooking for one has to be boring?

Parma ham wrapped chicken, spinach lentils, roasted tomatoes
This makes enough for two, but the second chicken breast and half of the lentils work just as well reheated a few days later for when you next need a proper meal. Recipe adapted from here.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 slices of parma ham
  • 1 packet of vine tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 250g sachet of ready-cooked lentils
  • handful of baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 190’C. Wrap each chicken breast in a slice of Parma ham, placing the join of ham on the base of the chicken. Place on a lined baking tray, alongside two branches of tomatoes. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, finely dice the onion and cook in a saucepan on a gentle heat in a large glug of oil until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Crush the garlic, add to the saucepan and cook out for 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and a further glug of olive oil to loosen the mixture. Stir for a few minutes to heat the lentils through. Tip in the handful of baby spinach and stir until just wilted.

To serve, spoon the spinach lentils on to a plate. Top with slices of the chicken breast, and add a vine of roasted tomatoes. Eat, enjoy, and bask in your classiness.

Rhubarb, orange and almond cake

I look forward to rhubarb season every year. There is something so cheery about getting through the grey bleakness of January with a little help from these long bright pink stems, quite unlike anything else in season at this time of year. Those long stems may look a little bit ridiculous poking out of my bag as I walk through Cambridge, squeezed in amongst my dissertation draft and books on the Enlightenment, but it’s worth it for this cake.

I initially really wanted to make a rhubarb galette with my stash, but as I’ve cooked a lot with pastry in the last week or so I have put this on hold for now. After searching through my rhubarb recipes and discounting elaborate tarts, delicate jellies and creams I settled on this cake – thinking that a generous slice warm from the oven, with a big dollop of crème fraiche alongside it, would be the perfect change from the baking trays of shortbread and cookies my oven has been churning out so far this term. Even my chocolate-dedicated friends enjoyed this and I didn’t face the predicament of having this languishing in a tin for days (admittedly not that miserable a prospect) as it was all gone in two days between three of us.

Rhubarb, orange and almond cake

  • 170g soft butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • zest 2 oranges
  • 150g almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 stick of rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line the base of a 21cm tin with greaseproof paper.

Slice the rhubarb into lengths around 7cm long. Cut each one into quarters lengthways to create thinner batons. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the eggs, beating well in between the addition of each egg. Add the orange zest and dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated.

Scrape the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Top with the rhubarb sticks in a clock pattern. Bake for 30-35 mins until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Ultimate Sausage Rolls

What is it about train stations and sausage rolls? I’ve been travelling between London and Cambridge a fair bit this week and every station I’ve passed through has been filled with the scent of freshly baked (or at least reheated) sausage rolls and pasties. Each time I was tempted, but I held out knowing that homemade would be far better.

When I pulled a tray of these out of my college oven, that familiar pastry aroma was back. This was swiftly followed by a girl who shares my kitchen commenting, ‘that’s a lot for one person’… clearly not understanding the joy of batch baking! One of these reheated in the oven, with a spoonful of baked beans and pile of steamed broccoli is going to my dinner for the next few days and I am more than okay with that. Sausage rolls are so simple to make that a few easy touches can elevate them to the position of ‘ultimate’. Nigella seeds sprinkled on top add a touch of extra interest, using all-butter pastry ensures the best flakiness, interesting sausages will add more flavour than plain sausage meat with no extra effort from you. Trust me, these take 15 minutes to bake and will be far better than any station imitation.

Ultimate sausage rolls

Makes 4

  • 6 sausages (I used caramelised red onion ones)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 onion
  • 300g ready rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sprinkling of nigella seeds

Preheat the oven to 200’C.

Use scissors to unpeel the sausages from their skins. Tip all the sausage meat into a bowl. Core and finely chop the apple – there is no need to peel it. Finely dice the onion. Add these to the sausage meat and mix everything together.

Unroll the puff pastry. Lay the sausage mixture down the centre of the pastry length ways. Lift the pastry around the meat and pinch together the join. Flip the long sausage roll over so this seam is on the base. Cut the roll into four and place on a lined baking sheet.

Brush each sausage roll with the beaten egg and top with a sprinkling of nigella seeds. Use a sharp knife to score three lines across the top of each one. Bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is risen, golden and crisp.

Roast cod, potato and tomato traybake

I’m bad at getting fish into my diet. A grilled fillet of salmon here and there or a few M&S melting middle fishcakes during exam term are about as much as I tend to get through. Even the cod I bought for this dish had to wait frozen for a few days before I was inspired enough to use it. Now I’ve made this though, I’m hoping cod might be a more regular feature of my shopping basket.

I think one of my fears of cooking fish at university comes out of sharing a kitchen with 10 other girls – I don’t want to be the college equivalent of the colleague who smokes out the office with a reheated fish lunch. However, the upside of this danger for me is the pure ease and speed of cooking fish – quicker than my meat staples of chicken and sausages. Plus, when you pair it with plenty of garlic and fresh lemon, any potential fish aromas are easily disguised. This one tray, two stage dish takes a while in the oven to ensure gorgeously caramelised roast potatoes, but requires very little actual prep for you. I love a whole meal coming together as one, saving me having to think about getting different elements ready. Whip this tray out the oven and voila – dinner is served.

Roast cod, potato and tomato traybake

Serves 2 – adapted from here

  • 1 large potato
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 fillets of cod
  • sprinkling of dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Peel the potato and slice into wedges – halving any super thick ones to ensure they will all cook through. Peel the onion and chop into quarters. Tip the potato and onion into a large lipped baking tray. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss everything together. Smash the garlic cloves and add to the tray. Roast for 25 minutes.

Quarter the tomatoes and the lemon. After 25 minutes, add these to the tray with the potatoes. Lay the cod fillets on top of the potatoes and sprinkle with the dried oregano and more seasoning. Roast for a further 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Serve and enjoy – squeezing the roasted lemon over the fish.

Lemon Meltaway Cookies

When my sister and I started baking, everything we made was lemon flavoured. One of my earliest independent baking memories is of us making Lemon Meringue Pie to take to our Nana down in Eastbourne. There was one particularly memorable time we made it where I managed to get my hair caught in our electric whisk. Aside from attempting to sneak lemon into every bake, my other baking trait was that I primarily turned out biscuits. Of every shape, style, flavour and size – they were all I wanted to make. Now I’m at university, the most popular bakes with my friends are always chocolate based, but this weekend I wanted to recreate those early baking traits.

I always refuse to do any work on a Saturday – taking it as my one day each week to completely relax and temporarily forget about whatever Renaissance issue I’ve been tackling that week. Baking replaces reading as my top priority and the thought of whichever cookie, cake or pie I’ve chosen for the weekend ahead gets me through many a long library session midweek. This week, I fancied a break from chocolate and as I was considering a return to my lemon-obsessed ways, I thought may as well equally return to being a cookie fanatic. When I started baking I churned out many a tray of cookies, working my way through most of Rachel Allen’s back catalogue. Today’s inspiration came from Smitten Kitchen, who initially made a key lime version that I’ve had bookmarked for years. They were every bit as buttery, crumbly and moreish as I had anticipated – with the bonus of being a total cinch to make. The heavy icing sugar coating means they are not the best surreptitious library snack – but that just gives you an excuse to take a break.

Lemon Meltaway Cookies

Makes 18-20

  • 175g soft butter
  • 40g icing sugar, plus around 150g more to coat
  • 1 lemon, zested and ½ juiced
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 240g plain flour

Mix the butter and 40g icing sugar together until well combined. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice and stir to incorporate. Add the flour gradually, stirring well until it is all incorporated and smooth.

Tip the dough onto a sheet of baking paper and shape into a 30cm log. Roll up in the paper, twisting each end like a cracker. Place in the fridge for an hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Remove the dough log from the fridge and unwrap. Slice into 1cm rounds and place on two lined baking trays. Bake fro 15minutes until beginning to go golden round the edge.

Tip plenty of icing sugar into a small bowl. Toss the cookies gently, a few at a time, in the icing sugar to fully coat and place on a wire rack to cool.

Tomato, courgette and pesto tarts

I have a thing for puff pastry. Covering a creamy chicken pie, twisted into cheese straws, folded over fruit to make a freeform galette, twisted with cinnamon sugar into tightly swirled palmiers – I’ll take them all please. This recipe therefore marks my continued quest to incorporate pastry into my diet in a way that isn’t completely over indulgent and unhealthy.

These tarts are one of the simplest ways to get some flaky, buttery puff pastry into my diet whilst simultaneously getting some vegetables. It’s also really good for getting vegetables to stretch frugally far – just one courgette and three tomatoes make six tarts. These can either feed a crowd or, if you’re a student like me cooking for one, be stored in Tupperware and reheated for 5-10 minutes in the oven every day for a speedy hot lunch that isn’t a toasted bagel.

Tomato, courgette and pesto tarts

  • 1 package of ready rolled puff pastry
  • ½ tub of pesto
  • 1 courgette
  • 3 large tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 190’C. Unroll the pastry. Cut it in half horizontally, and into thirds vertically, giving you six even squares of pastry. Spread these out on two lined baking trays. Use a sharp knife to score a 1cm border around the edge of each square – do not cut all the way through.

Spread the pesto into the middle of each tart, right up to the border. Thinly slice the courgette and tomatoes. Lay over the pesto in alternating rows, creating whatever patterns you like.

Bake for 25 minutes, until the pastry is risen, golden, and crisp on the base.

Chorizo Naan Pizza

Naan pizzas used to be the ultimate treat when I was growing up. I don’t know where my Mum found the idea for this complete cultural hybrid of a dinner (update: we have Nigella to thank!), but I have vivid memories of pizza making sessions (although pizza decorating might be a more accurate description), especially when friends came round and everyone set up their own pizza stations. I hadn’t had a naan pizza in years until I made this but one bite and I was right back in my kitchen at home, getting uncharacteristically competitive over best design and mozzarella placement.

This isn’t so much an exact recipe as an idea, a way of eating pizza that if you haven’t discovered yet then you need to try asap. There is something about the nigella seeds in the naan, the way the edges go extra crunchy but the middle stays doughy, the novelty of just eating it all at once rather than slicing it up that makes this so enjoyable. I added some chorizo to my super simplified pizza sauce for some extra heat (and just to add some Spanish flavour into the Italian-Indian meal) but, as with any pizza, this is endlessly versatile to whatever you usually put on your favourite pizza/Dominos order.

Chorizo Naan Pizza

Makes 2 pizzas

  • 1 onion
  • 250g diced cooking chorizo
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 2 plain naan breads
  • 1 ball of mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Finely dice the onion and sweat in a generous glug of olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the chorizo and fry for a few more minutes to cook through. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, season generously with salt and pepper, and simmer gently to reduce and thicken.

While the sauce simmers, place the naan on a baking tray and cook for 5-10minutes until beginning to go crispy. Slice the mozzarella.

Remove the naan from the oven and spread with the thickened sauce. Top with mozzarella and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until the mozzarella is melted. Enjoy!

Apple crumble

Apple crumble is pure nostalgia. The world could do with a little comfort food right now, and crumble is the dish to do this. For my family, crumble is what we miss whenever any of us go away. Whether it is me at university, my Dad for work, my sister since she’s moved out or my Mum going travelling – I think crumble symbolises home for all of us.

Whether we’re going fancy with an amaretti laced plum version, or simple like this, you just can’t really go wrong with crumble. Tinned fruit work equally well if you’re in a pinch, but for my version I went as classic as you can get because I had some apples languishing in my cupboard that were beginning to get a bit tired and in desperate need of a covering of sugar and cream. I had such good intentions to share this, but somehow it was all gone within 24 hours…

Apple crumble

  • 75g plain flour
  • 20g brown sugar
  • 20g caster sugar, plus 1tbsp
  • 50g butter
  • 3 small apples

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Mix the flour and sugars (saving the extra 1tbsp of caster sugar) together. Cut the butter into small cubes, and rub it into the flour and sugar mixture until fully incorporated and sandy textured. I like to go a tiny bit further to get some larger chunks as well.

Peel, core and chop the apples into 2cm dice. Tip into the crumble dish and scatter with the reserved tbsp. of caster sugar. Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top.

Bake for 20-25mins until the crumble is golden and crisp. Serve with custard or extra thick double cream.

Macaroni Cheese

Sometimes I feel like my life is going to be one long mission to find the ultimate macaroni cheese. For a long time my favourite one was found at Mishkins, even when I went in spring and they’d added a whole load of veg into the mix. After Mishkins sadly closed down, my best ever mac was replaced by The Mac Factory‘s chorizo studded creation in Camden. I loved this one so much that I got them to come and serve it at a Cambridge ball for 2000 people when I was organising the catering. My Mum, tired of my sister and I raving about this, replicated it for us at home and her version with added tomatoes became my favourite. My point is that whilst my favourite mac and cheese is always changing, the love for the dish itself remains pretty constant.

But these were all versions that other people made for me, and I wanted to try making it for myself. Hunting down my dream recipe provided the perfect procrastination for a week until I finally bit the bullet and tried a variation of Jamie Oliver’s ‘killer mac and cheese’. I’m not saying my search for ‘the one’ is over as it’s not yet up there with The Mac Factory fabulousness, but I’m definitely getting closer. For me, I think the key is actually not baking the mac and cheese for very long – if at all. The joy for me is the saucy, melting, stretchy goodness that I find can quickly turn stodgy and dense if grilled for too long. My pet peeve in life is also crispy pasta – I can’t bear it. But of course, if that crackly top is king for you, feel free to leave this under the grill a while longer. ‘The one’ is different for everybody.

Macaroni Cheese

Serves 2

  • 15g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1tbsp flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 150g macaroni
  • 100g cheddar, grated

Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly bubbling water, until just before al dente – with a little bite left in it.

Meanwhile, fry the garlic in the butter until fragrant. Add the flour and cook out for one minute. Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Return to the heat and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and add all the cheese, stirring until melted. Season generously with lots of pepper.

Drain the pasta and tip into the sauce. Now – which way are you going to go? Either now tip into a bowl and dig in, or tip into a baking dish, grate over a little extra cheese and grill until its how you desire – 5-10 minutes for a crisp cheesy topping.