Easy cooking

Cornflake cakes

cornflake cakes

Someone once told me that when you reach 40 your musical tastes stagnate. You no longer consumer new music but rather spend the rest of your life buying records that you wish you’d bought earlier in your life.

Well this seems to have happened to me with regards to recipes. I keep cooking the same old things and seem unable to get excited by anything new. I can often be found scrolling aimlessly through recipes online admiring the pretty photos but failing to find anything that I actually want to eat. If anything they seem to curb my appetite. I find myself looking longingly at the toaster and the egg cupboard.

I am still cooking, it’s just that right now I seem to be keeping to my current repertoire a good percentage of which is now on this blog. I am definitely its biggest user and that’s really why I keep it going. My collection of courgette recipes has certainly proved useful with our current glut. I’m always on the lookout for more but just not ones involving pickled samphire, or freekeh!

Now here’s a recipe for something I definitely do want to eat. I’ve turned 40 and I may now be heading backwards, but seriously, who can resist the lure of a good old fashioned cornflake cake. Made simply with cocoa powder, butter and golden syrup.

I used to make these in the school summer holidays as a child and now I encourage my children to do the same. I’ve never actually made these from a ‘real’ recipe it was more a case of approximation in our house but I’ve now made an effort to attempt to write it down (for future generations – if anyone is still cooking by then!).

Cornflake Cakes

Makes 18 (using muffin size cases)

  • 150g butter
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 200g of cornflakes (any brand will do or use rice krispies if you prefer)

Take a saucepan and measure in the butter, golden syrup and cocoa powder. Heat gently until all the ingredients have melted and stir with a wooden spoon until the cocoa powder has no lumps and you have a nice smooth mixture.

In a large mixing bowl measure out the cornflakes. Pour over the chocolate mixture and stir well until every last bit of cornflake is coated in chocolate.

Take a muffin tin and line with muffin cases. Fill each case with the cornflake mixture pressing down well with the back of the spoon to compact a little.

Put in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

PS. I hope to get my experimental, forward-looking self back soon. I have been writing this blog for nearly four years now and I have a feeling I’ve been here before? My local library in Beeston has reopened with a stunning array of cookbooks which will hopefully inspire me.


Pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint

pork lime cashews

I was rather mean about Nigel Slater in a recent blog post and it’s been bothering me. Being horrible doesn’t sit well with me – I was just trying (and failing) to be clever and cutting like many journalists (forgetting that I am not clever, or indeed a journalist). So I’m sorry Nigel, as I constantly remind my children, how someone looks should never be important.

And my view that Nigel is a really good food writer was strengthened recently when I picked up his recipe book ‘Real Food’ in a charity shop. It was written 16 years ago and it’s brilliant. A no nonsense cookbook, full of straightforward recipes with big flavours – just the sort of food I like. It also includes several Nigella recipes (from the time before she was on the telly).

I’ve tried a few recipes but so far this ‘pork with cashews, lime and mint’ is my favourite. It’s punchy, refreshing and just perfect for a Sunday evening when you’ve drunk a little too much over the weekend. If you like powerful flavours and a feeling that you’ve in some way cleansed your body then you should definitely give this dish a go.

Nigel Slater’s pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint (in my own words)

Serves 2

  • 400g of pork fillet (trim off as much fat as possible, then cut into 1/2 inch thick medallions and cut these into thin strips)
  • 5 tablespoons of groundnut oil
  • 90g of cashew nuts (finely chopped with a knife or roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • a 4cm knob of ginger, finely shredded
  • 4 small red chillies, finely chopped, (or I use 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
  • The zest and juice of 3 limes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • a handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • a handful of basil leaves, torn

Pour three tablespoons of oil into a really hot wok and stir fry the pork for three or four minutes, keeping the heat high and stirring from time to time so that it browns nicely. Tip the meat into a bowl along with any juices.

Return the wok to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for a minute, stirring constantly so that they don’t stick or burn.

Then add the nuts and stir fry for another minute.

Add the meat back to the pan, along with any juices and stir in the lime zest and juice and fish sauce. Fry for a couple of minutes and then stir in the herbs.

Serve with plain rice.

Stir fried chicken with ketchup

chicken and ketchup 2

For those of you who read my last post and dismissed it out of hand because of the ridiculously long list of ingredients, I bring you another chicken and rice dish with very few.

I know that stir frying with ketchup does sound a bit odd but I promise you that it works and the taste/effort ratio is very good. My husband (who hates ketchup and gave me an evil look when I told him what was for dinner) was extremely surprised by how tasty it was. In essence it’s a cheat’s version of sweet and sour chicken and it apparently has the same Manchurian origins.

This Mark Bittman recipe is from the Cooking section of the NY Times online which is fast becoming my favourite lunchtime read. I’ve converted the cup measurements to grams, and added my usually ramblings (in brackets), but have changed little else about the recipe.

Mark Bittman’s stir fried chicken with ketchup

Serves 2-4

  • 680g of boneless chicken, which is roughly three breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks (Mark uses dark meat but I prefer whiter meat for quick cooking)
  • About 60g of flour, plus more as needed
  • 4 tablespoons of neutral oil like groundnut
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of slivered garlic (roughly 6 large cloves)
  • ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 225g ketchup (I used my favourite Polish Pudliszki ketchup – which they sell in Tesco)

First, toss the chicken with flour so that it’s lightly dusted. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick frying pan and turn the heat to high. When the oil smokes, add your chopped chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (For this amount of chicken with a 23 cm based frying pan I needed to cook the chicken in two batches to avoid over-crowding the pan).

When the chicken browns on one side, toss it over and cook until just about done (for me this was 5 minutes). Remove to a plate (and cook the second batch of chicken with an another 1 tablespoon of oil). Turn off the heat and let the pan cool for a moment.

Add the remaining oil to pan (2 tablespoons) and turn the heat to medium high. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper and cook (for about a minute until the garlic browns slightly, stirring all the time so that it doesn’t burn).

Add the ketchup and stir. Cook until the ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly (this took me 3 minutes, if in doubt have a taste, if the sauce still tastes like ketchup then keep cooking, when it’s ready it will taste completely different – caramelised and sweet with just a hint of sour).

Return the chicken to the pan and stir to coat with sauce. Serve with rice (I used my usual Delia method with the addition of two star anise – for the recipe see my post ‘Nice Rice’).

A little rant and a really good pasta dish with salami, fennel and tomatoes

spaghetti with salami and fennel 2

‘Happy Days with the Naked Chef’ has to be the world’s most annoying cook book. It sums up everything I hate about the cult of the TV chef. It screams “look at me, don’t you wish you were me?” Look, here’s me and my misses all loved up, and look here are all my cool mates. It is also condescending in the extreme. It tells you how to make a fish finger sandwich for goodness sake, and then, just to be super annoying, it finishes with diet tips under the heading ‘You are what you eat’.

Having said all this, I do think that Jamie Oliver writes some good everyday recipes and this one is just brilliant. It’s also the reason why ‘Happy Days’ has been saved from the charity shop pile on several occasions – despite my husband’s objections (he just can’t stand the way Jamie’s smug photo on the spine follows him around the kitchen).

When I see fresh fennel in the greengrocers I immediately dream of this dish and unusually for a tomato based pasta dish it doesn’t require any cheese on top so it’s great if you’re cooking for someone who’s dairy intolerant.

Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti with salami, fennel and tomatoes

Serves 4

  • Olive oil
  • 140g of salami, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, lightly cracked in a pestle and mortar or with a knife
  • 1 bulb of fennel, finely sliced
  • 2 tins of plum tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 455g dried spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 slice of stale bread

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the salami, sliced garlic and fennel seeds and cook for about a minute until the oil starts to run out of the salami and it begins to crisp.

Add the sliced fennel and cook for another 5 minutes or so until the fennel begins to soften. Now add the tinned tomatoes, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for 25 minutes without a lid until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook your pasta in boiling salted until just soft.

While the pasta is cooking and the sauce is simmering make the crunchy breadcrumbs (Jamie calls these pangritata).

Take a thick slice of  bread (white or brown both work well and you can even use the crust end if that’s all you have). Chop the bread into small cubes with a knife or you can make coarse breadcrumbs with a food processor.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a small frying pan over a highish heat and fry the breadcrumbs until they are golden. If you like you can also add a sprig of rosemary to the pan to flavour the oil and the breadcrumbs (you will need to discard this at the end).

When the pasta is done toss it with the tomato sauce and sprinkle the crunchy breadcrumbs on top.

Marble muffins

marbled muffins 2

When my daughter Elizabeth first started pre-school I agreed to bake something for the summer fayre cake sale. Eager to impress I turned up with a giant chocolate cake from Nigella’s ‘Feast’ cookbook smugly confident that it would sell well and make a marvellous contribution to the fundraising effort. I had visions of it being cut up into slices each selling for at least 50p thus making a reasonable amount for the school…and was there also some sort of golden badge involved for my efforts and envious glances from other parents!!!

Instead though, I just had to watch aghast as they slapped on a £2 price tag FOR THE WHOLE DAMN CAKE…I couldn’t believe my eyes. Stupidly I had also presented it on a pretty wooden chopping board which got sold with the cake and was never returned.

The ingredients had cost me at least £5 so in the end the only winners were Tesco and whoever it was that bought the cake for a ridiculously low price and stole my lovely chopping board. I left wishing I’d just given the school a fiver and saved the effort.

With my fingers burned I now stick to these rules when it comes to baking for school.

  1. Forget about showing off – you won’t win any brownie points and your smugness will just annoy the other parents anyway
  2. Make sure your ingredients don’t cost too much. Forget the finest dark chocolate money can buy and don’t bother with fancy icing or sprinkles. If there are economy versions of ingredients use those
  3. Keep a supply of ice cream, Celebrations and Roses tubs in your cupboard to put your cakes in – that way it’s not an issue if you don’t get them back

With these rules in mind, I offer you this recipe for marble muffins. They have reignited my benevolent nature and I no longer leave bake sales feeling bitter and twisted. They are really quick and easy to make, only a little light stirring is involved so you don’t have to get the electric mixer out, the ingredients are cheap (if you use ‘value’ lemon curd), and they don’t need any icing or decoration.

They also taste yummy so I cook these for our own consumption too (albeit with decent quality lemon curd).

PS. On a completely different note, I have to tell you about this blog http://dimlylitmealsforone.tumblr.com/. It’s really funny in a comedy-tragedy sort of way. I’ve definitely had evenings when I really can’t be bothered and my dismal efforts wouldn’t look out of place here.

Hugh FW’s lemon curd marble muffins (from River Cottage ‘everyday’)

Makes 12

Dry ingredients

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g caster sugar

Wet ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 125g plain yoghurt
  • 125ml milk
  • 75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 150g lemon curd

Preheat your oven to 170oC fan.

Put a dozen paper cases into a muffin tray.

Measure the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and sugar) into a large bowl and whisk to combine and add some air.

Measure the wet ingredients (egg, yoghurt, milk and butter) into a jug and stir with a fork to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir briefly and lightly with a large metal spoon until just about combined. If you over-mix at this stage then your muffins will be tough. You just want to stir enough so that there are no large lumps of flour.

Now add the lemon curd in about 6 dollops and give the mix another couple of stirs to distribute through the batter. Again, don’t over-mix otherwise you will just end up with lemon flavoured stodgy lumps.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases. I find that an ice cream scoop works well here, with one scoop being enough for each case.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

These are best served warm or on the day you bake them. However, if they don’t all get eaten (rare in our house) then you can refresh by heating each one in the microwave for about 10 seconds.

A chocolate version

For a chocolate version replace the lemon curd with 150g of Nutella, slightly warmed so it’s easier to spread through the mix. I’m not a great fan of this version but my children love them.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo


I don’t know about you but I always get terribly confused in the period between Christmas and New Year. Today I’ve got absolutely no idea what day of the week it is – all I know is that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow (but only because my friend just phoned to remind me of the party details). Football matches are on Thursdays and Sundays, not Saturdays as usual. Even the order of the day is a blur as we’re not eating proper meals at normal breakfast, lunch and dinner times but rather grazing throughout the day on bits of cheese, chocolate and other rubbish like small cold sausages. And then there’s the drinking, not as much as when we were childless, but at least a little every day and not just wine and beer but whisky, champagne, port and other headache inducing beverages. It’s sort of fun but then part of me (the grown up part) is desperate to get back to some sort of normality on January 2nd.

For those of you who are as disorientated as me, but who would like to eat at least one proper meal over the Christmas period, I offer you this delicious and terribly easy dish. It has the comfort factor of a risotto but with absolutely no stirring.

This is for my very good friends Claire and Ed who I fed well and then poisoned with Speaker Bercow’s whisky. I hope you are feeling better now.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

Serves 4

  • 3 large skinless chicken breasts cut into quarters
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 100g chorizo, cut into smallish chunks
  • ½ an onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • ½-1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 860ml chicken stock
  • 250g paella rice
  • 1 large tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Take the pieces of chicken and marinade with ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, half the juice of one lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few twists of the pepper mill. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle. I like to do this for at least an hour but if you’re in a rush then you could leave for less.

Heat the oven to 180oC fan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a broad shallow pan (mine is a cast iron and oven proof Le Creuset 26cm in diameter). When the oil is very hot add the chicken and brown on all sides. You don’t need to cook the chicken through but you do need to make sure that it is a nice golden colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the peppers and chorizo to the same pan and cook until the fat starts to run out of the chorizo and the peppers start to soften. Then add the onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Pour in the rice being careful to distribute it evenly around the pan. Then add the chicken pieces evenly over the top. At this stage the pan will be very full so be careful not to spill the stock as you transfer it to the oven. Cook uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve scatter with chopped parsley and the remaining lemon juice. Don’t miss out this part as it really elevates the dish.

Note: If you are feeling fancy and have access to nice fresh seafood (which is unfortunately difficult for us in Nottingham being about as far away from the sea as you can get) then you could add prawns, squid or mussels before putting in the oven.