Shakshuka

Let’s talk about what makes brunch so great. Aside from half a tin of fruit cocktail in primary school (fighting with my sister over the cherries) and a brief flirtation with brain-food muesli during exams, my mornings tend to be noticeably absent of food. Breakfast, with its connotations of 7am alarms, mainlining coffee and choosing between the early bus or an extra slice of toast, has never been something I’ve quite mastered. Brunch, on the other hand, is something I can get on board with.

Shakshuka

Lazy Sunday brunches can take many forms. Debriefing with friends about all the gossip from the night before. Refusing to move from bed, reading the papers and cuddling a reluctant kitten. Planning an elaborate day of plans before abandoning them all in favour of Netflix. Whatever your Sunday style, all these options can benefit from the inclusion of a big bowl of shakshuka. My version is super simple, with the chorizo being the secret ingredient that adds depth and flavour to your sauce without having to simmer it for hours. The feta adds salty tang, the mint gives freshness and of course, no breakfast is complete without the perfect insta-worthy oozing egg yolk. Make this next weekend – you can thank me later.

Shakshuka

Serves 2

  • 1 onion
  • 250g chopped chorizo
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g feta
  • small bunch of mint, finely chopped

Finely chop the onion and fry in a frying pan over a medium heat in a generous glug of olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the chorizo and continue to cook until it goes crispy. Crush the garlic clove and add to the mixture and fry for a minute to cook out.

Add the tinned tomatoes and season generously with salt and pepper (you could also add a pinch of dried chilli flakes at this point if you like a bit of extra heat). Simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened slightly.

Make two wells in the tomato mixture and crack an egg into each one. Cover with a lid (or baking tray if your frying pan doesn’t have one) and leave for 3-5 minutes until the white is cooked through but the yolk is still soft.

Remove from the heat. Crumble over the feta and sprinkle with the mint. Enjoy!

Chicken, ham and sweetcorn chowder

This chowder could just as easily be called ‘A vehicle for all the vegetables you optimistically bought at the start of the week and now need to use up asap because they’re clogging up your fridge’. Not quite as straightforward as chowder but equally accurate. I smuggled a leek, half an onion, peas, a potato, sweetcorn and asparagus into this, and I’m sure if I’d had some carrots or broccoli knocking about they would have gone in as well.

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This recipe is a very similar premise to chicken fricassee which I make a lot, but bulking it out with a potato makes it a one pot meal that’s even easier. It’s the perfect hearty and filling dinner for this time of year, and although it requires a little bit more chopping and stirring than a lot of my meals, it also makes enough to last you several nights. I like to make this on a Friday to last me over the weekend, so that at the weekend I can focus guilt free on baking instead!

Chicken, pea and sweetcorn chowder

Serves 4

  • butter, for frying
  • 1 leek, halved and sliced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
  • 1tbsp plain flour
  • 350ml milk
  • 2 slices of ham
  • 175g tin sweetcorn
  • 100g peas
  • 25g chives, finely chopped

Fry the leek in the butter in a medium saucepan or Le Creuset dish until beginning to soften. Add the chicken and continue to cook for 5mins.

Add the potato and plain flour, and stir everything together to coat the mixture in the flour. Pour in the milk and season generously with salt and plenty of pepper. Cook for 10mins, stirring occasionally, until the potato is nearly cooked.

Add the ham, sweet corn, peas and any other rogue veg you need to use up! Cook for a final 5 minutes to heat the veg. Remove from the heat once the potato is cooked through. Stir through the chives and ladle into bowls to serve.

Tomato couscous ‘risotto’

Since moving out of home and becoming a student, I’ve had to master the art of cooking for one. My biggest problem with this is not necessarily having to eat the same meal for several days straight, but rather knowing what to do with all the bottom halves of packets I end up gathering. A meatball soup that uses half a packet of sausages, a salad that only needs a handful of rocket, the chocolate mousse that only used 1/3 of a tub of cream. I end up with quite the strange collection of recipe remnants in my fridge.

 Tomato risotto

I don’t have a freezer so I can’t double up on everything I make, and eventually I do get bored of having the same meal every day for a week. This essentially means that every time I buy something I need to make sure I have multiple uses for it, to prevent it languishing at the back of my mini fridge until the end of term. This faux ‘risotto’ became the ideal recipe for clearing out my fridge on a Sunday, making room for a new week of ingredients. I initially bought my tomatoes and bag of giant couscous for this salad, the cheese for this pie. Risotto is also well-known for the therapeutic nature of all that stirring. This one pot quick version cuts down on that and makes this a super quick dinner, with just enough stirring time to calm you down on a Monday morning after a particularly sexist two-hour lecture on beards in the Renaissance period. Yep.

Tomato couscous ‘risotto’

Serves 1

  • 100g giant couscous
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ onion, sliced finely
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bunch of basil, leaves picked
  • grated cheddar to serve

Tip all ingredients apart from the basil and cheese into a medium sized saucepan. Add 100ml of water, just enough to submerge all the ingredients. Place over a medium heat and bring to a strong simmer. Gradually the onion will soften, the tomatoes will begin to pop and the couscous will release lots of starch into the water to thicken the risotto.

After 5 minutes, stir regularly to prevent the couscous catching on the base of the saucepan. Test after 5 minutes – the couscous should be soft and al dente and the majority of the water should have evaporated, leaving you with a thick and creamy risotto.

Remove from the heat and stir through the basil. Ladle into bowls and top with the cheese.

Lemon chicken en papillote

Today my cooking has gone all French. Sadly this doesn’t include a quick trip on the Eurostar or a handsome Parisian, but simply the adoption of a cooking technique from across the channel.

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Cooking en papillote sounds rather fancy but in reality is the simplest cooking method ever and removes all washing up – ideal. At cookery school, the fear of getting salmonella from not properly washing up dishes with raw chicken on was drilled into us on an extremely regular basis, so any recipe that sidesteps that anxiety is always very welcome with me. Another reason I love the simplicity of this recipe – essentially chuck everything in a paper parcel and see it again in 15 mins – is that anything this quick and easy gives me no excuse not to eat healthily, particularly when paired with microwaveable brown rice, my new favourite cheat ingredient. Also, these individual parcels are ideal when you’re cooking for one, saving me from eating a chicken casserole for four days in a row. So there you have it – chicken en papillote. Bringing the atmosphere of a Provençal brasserie to a Cambridge college (ish). Who needs the Parisian?

Lemon chicken and asparagus en papillote

I realise that asparagus is horribly out of season (being healthy is proving an environmental ethical minefield – custard creams never have this issue) but I’m sure this would work equally well with green beans or tenderstem broccoli at other times of year. Equally, you could swap the chicken for salmon if you fancy.

Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • olive oil
  • dried thyme
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 pack of asparagus
  • 1 packet of microwaveable brown rice

Preheat the oven to 180’C.  Cut two large (30cmx30cm) squares of parchment. Place a chicken breast and half the asparagus in the middle of on one square. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of dried thyme. Lay three slices of lemon over the chicken breast.

Bring the edges of the paper up and scrunch together to seal the chicken and asparagus parcel – like a Cornish pasty. Repeat with the other chicken breast and remaining asparagus and lemon on the second paper square. Place both parcels on a baking tray and cook for 15minutes.

Two minutes before the chicken will be ready, pop your rice in the microwave. Remove the chicken parcels from the oven, place on plates with the rice and open at the table.

Courgetti, feta, pine nuts

I know the last thing the internet needs is another courgetti recipe. I resisted making and trying this for a long time, determined to stay away from the clean eating craze and thinking a bowl of sliced courgettes really couldn’t taste that good. But here’s the thing…it really can!

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The trick to fab tasting courgetti is to make it fried in plenty of butter and topped with a generous amount of cheese. That way there’s no denying that this dinner is healthy, quick, requires minimal ingredients and is still delicious! At uni I don’t have a garlic crusher let alone a spiralizer, but even when slicing the courgettes into strips by hand this still comes together under 15 minutes (and in just one pan). Whilst the butter and cheese are great, I think that the key to the recipe is the garlic – it perks everything up, swaps some of that healthy courgette flavour for some garlic bread scented deliciousness and transforms the whole dish. I wasn’t sure I even liked courgettes before this and now I can happily eat bowl after bowl – it’s a winner!

Courgetti, feta, pine nuts

Serves 1

  • 1 courgette
  • butter for frying
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • scattering of pine nuts
  • 50g feta, crumbled

Slice the courgettes lengthways, then cut each length into thin ribbons. Heat a splash of olive oil and large knob of butter in a frying pan.

Add the courgettes and fry over a medium heat. They will take a while to get going but gradually will soften, become more transparent and start to caramelise just a little on the bottom. If you’ve spiralised them this will only take 1-2 minutes, if you’ve cut them by hand it will take 5-8.

When the courgettes are nearly entirely cooked through, add the garlic and cook out for 1-2minutes. Move the courgettes to the side of the pan. In the space, fry the pine nuts until golden. Scatter over the feta and stir everything together. Tip into a bowl to serve and feel smug about your healthy dinner!

Ham and cheese puff pie

What is it about melted cheese that just makes any food ten times better? Baked beans. Steaming hot jacket potatoes. Mammoth bowls of pasta. Oozing toasted sandwiches. Cheese + carbs = heaven. Today, I’m doing cheese + pastry. And surprise surprise, it’s a winner.

A ham and cheese bagel is my lunch pretty much every single day during term time. It’s super quick, requires no thought and minimal shopping so I can save my efforts for interesting dinners at the end of the day when my dissertation concentration has faded. This pie simply takes those qualities and wraps them up in flaky, buttery pastry to make the ultimate comfort food for cold and dark January days.

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Mini versions of this would be adorable and perfect for lunch time portioning, but I quite liked the generous indulgence of just making one big one. My recipe is adapted from here and I’ve adapted it a little bit to suit my shopping and make it even simpler by making this a three ingredient recipe. My top tip? Be over generous with the cheese, a little extra never hurts!

Ham and cheese puff pastry pie

Serves 4

  • 1 package of ready rolled puff pastry (375g)
  • 4 slices of ham
  • 150g cheddar
  • milk, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Lay out the puff pastry square and cut it in half down the short length, to give you two rectangles.

Place one rectangle on a lined baking tray. Lay the ham on the pastry, leaving a 1cm border round the edge and overlapping if necessary. Grate the cheese over the ham.

Brush milk round the edge of the pastry, and lay the second half on top. Seal the edges with a fork, and score the top of the pie any way you like with the tip of a knife to decorate. Brush with milk. Bake for 15-20 minutes until puffed, golden and crisp.

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Giant couscous, roasted tomato and goats cheese salad

I am not the biggest salad eater. During term time, nearly anything else will appeal more than a bowl of leaves after a long day of revision. Simple, quick and cheap though salads may be, several hours of reading about 18th century Renaissance cabinets leaves me craving comfort food and a treat instead. Nevertheless, this year the healthy eating kick that sweeps the country every January seems to have finally affected me and I began to think about what simple, healthy but still really delicious meals I could incorporate into my meal rotation.

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My other concern with salads is making sure that they are filling enough that I don’t defeat the whole point by following it up with far too many Hobnobs afterwards. This recipe, bulked out with couscous and a sensible amount of cheese, means that this is not a problem. I adapted this recipe from a Waitrose version that used farro and roasted kale instead – my baby steps with healthy eating means I’m not in love with kale just yet. Nowhere in Cambridge seems to sell farro, hence the giant couscous which provides a similar texture and bite. Finally, my initial plan was to roast the onion and tomato for 10-15 minutes – until I walked into my kitchen and discovered the ‘Out of Order’ sign on my oven door. I still think roasting them would be delicious but this method actually makes it even quicker and simpler – my ideal lunch.

Giant couscous, roasted tomato and goats cheese salad

Serves 2

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, quartered – or a handful of halved cherry tomatoes
  • dried oregano
  • 125g giant couscous
  • 100g rocket
  • 100g goats cheese, crumbled

Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until beginning to soften and caramelise, stirring regularly to prevent it catching. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for a further 5-8 minutes until the tomatoes are also caramelising and releasing their juices.

Meanwhile, cook the couscous in boiling salted water for 6-8minutes until al dente.

Drain the couscous and tip into the frying pan. Stir all together so that the couscous gets coated with the tomato juices and olive oil. Stir through the rocket. Pile into bowls and top with crumbled goats cheese and a final drizzle of olive oil.

Chocolate Orange Dipped Shortbread

The start of term is always a blank canvas for my kitchen cupboards. Whilst the odd tin of tomatoes and packet of microwaveable rice stayed in my lockable storage over Christmas, on the whole my cupboards were bare when I returned this week. This is largely positive – starting afresh means I can make anything, the fridge is clean and there is nothing lurking forgotten at the back. However, it also means that my first few food shops are pretty hefty as I try to rebuild stocks to enable me to actually cook regularly. This means when it came to baking this week, I wanted to find something that required buying as little as possible (so that I don’t fill up my cupboards with ingredients I will only use once) yet would still go down well with my friends.

DSC_0206 Bakes being popular with my friends are vital to save me eating 24 shortbread fingers myself, and luckily these went down extremely well. With flour and sugar already in the cupboard, all I needed was butter, an orange and a bar of chocolate and I was ready to get started. The process of making these was quite therapeutic – cutting out the neat rectangles, pronging them all with a fork, dipping and drizzling each one with chocolate. They are the epitome of simple but effective – the perfect bake to ease me back into baking in Cambridge.

DSC_0211Of course, these are completely versatile to suit whatever you have in your cupboards should they be more bountiful than mine. Swap the orange for a lime and dip in white chocolate and desiccated coconut for a tropical feel. Replace some of the flour with ground almonds and dip in toasted crushed nuts. Use cocoa powder in the dough for a triple chocolate treat. Instead of a white chocolate drizzle, sprinkle with freeze dried raspberries, chopped candied peel or hundreds and thousands. The opportunities are endless!

Chocolate Orange Dipped Shortbread

  • 55g caster sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • 125g butter
  • 180g plain flour
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50g white chocolate

Zest the orange into the sugar and stir to release the oils (and maximise your orange flavour).

Add the butter and beat together until soft. Stir in the flour to form a dough.

Roll out to 1/2cm thick. If you want a rectangle, trim the edges of dough to form one large square and divide it neatly before rerolling the scraps. Otherwise, cut into whatever shape you desire. Place on a lined baking tray and chill in the fridge for 20minutes.

Bake at 180’C for 15-20 minutes and then cool completely. Break the chocolate into chunks and melt in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. Dip each cooled biscuit a third into the chocolate, and place back on the lined tray. Melt the white chocolate as before, and drizzle over each chocolate dipped end.

Tomato Meatball Soup

Just before I moved to Cambridge, two and a half long years ago now, multiple people warned me about ‘those east winds’. Relatives advised that I’d got used to raised London temperatures I was repeatedly asked if I owned a hat and enough warm jumpers.. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was heading to university in the Outer Hebrides as opposed to a mere two hour drive from South London.

tomato meatball soup

However, this is this the first term that has perhaps deserved those warnings. In case you hadn’t noticed, its January and its freezing. While Cambridge may still be lacking in snow, its doing its best with a steady stream of days where the temperature never breaks 3’C. And with weather like that, you need food like this.

tomato meatball soup

This soup has become one of my staple term time dishes. It is exactly what this weather calls for – it is hearty and comforting, yet doesn’t require any of the long slow cooking which is the hallmark of so many delicious winter stews but completely impractical when cooking on a college hob that turns off every 7 minutes for health and safety. It’s also handily versatile to suit however much time you have and whatever ingredients you need to use up – it can be made thicker and used as a pasta sauce, you can hide vegetables in it to fool yourself into getting your 5 a day, you can add chorizo for extra flavour or leave out the cream to make it lighter. Only one rule stays: eat this curled up in your cosiest cardigan, Netflix on, windows tightly closed and heating turned up.

Tomato Meatball Soup

Serves 2 generously

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 4 sausages
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • dried oregano
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 80ml double cream
  • handful of rocket

Heat a generous splash of oil in a medium saucepan. Add the finely chopped onion, and sweat for 5-10minutes on a medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

Use a sharp knife to remove each sausage from its skin, and divide each one into 4-5 meatballs. Add to the onions and turn up to a medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes until beginning to colour, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped tomatoes. Put your stock cube in the empty tin and fill with boiling water, then tip into the saucepan. Add a generous shake of dried oregfano. Simmer for around 10minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly.

Stir in the cream and heat to warm through. Ladle into bowls and top with a handful of rocket. Curl up and enjoy!

 

 

Quick crème fraiche new potato salad

FullSizeRender (3)The perk of having to spend so much time in libraries in Cambridge is that they look as pretty as this. For the last eight weeks of exam term, I can tell you that Newnham library was definitely not this empty. It was crammed with students of all subjects and years, at pretty much any time of day or night.

During that time, I don’t think cooking was at the top of many people’s to-do list, but for me, the knowledge of a delicious dinner was often the motivation I needed to get me through an afternoon studying proto-industrialisation or the Norman Conquest.

As much as I sometimes think I could survive on pasta alone, this potato salad and salmon quickly became a staple for me. Microwaving salmon may sound strange but it is by far the fastest and simplest way to cook salmon, perfect for those like me whose student kitchens are seriously lacking. The creamy potato salad may slightly counteract the healthiness of the salmon, but it is so worth it!

Quick Creme Fraiche Potato Salad and Salmon

  • a handful of new potatoes
  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 2tbsps creme fraiche
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • small handful of chives

Halve the new potatoes and boil for 15 minutes until just cooked.

A couple of minutes before the potatoes are ready, place the salmon fillet on a plate, season generously with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and cover with another upturned plate. Microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds, until pink and translucent.

Drain the potatoes and tip into a small bowl. Add the creme fraiche, olive oil, half the lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper. Mix everything together and taste – adding more lemon juice for sharpness or salt to bring out the flavours. Snip the chives finely over the potatoes and stir again to combine. Serve with the salmon and some peas.

salmon and potato salad