Autumnal Colours & Pretty Eating

Colour is a massive part of making a meal not only look delicious, but also knowing that it is seriously good for you. A well known, and very simple method of getting more vitamins and goodness into your food is the more colours on your plate, the better. So it’s got to be a sure thing that the most colourful season of the year brings forth some of the most nutrient filled produce! Think about it, in the Autumn we get all those gorgeous colours in the leaves, in a multitude of shades of orange, yellow, green, with some wonderful splashes of red and purple thrown in for good measure. And it occured to me this morning on the drive to work, seeing all these glorious colours brightening up an otherwise dull and cloudy day, that these colours match almost exactly the hues of the fantastic seasonal produce we get this time of year! Bright yellow squashes, brilliant orange pumpkins, lush green courgettes, and not forgetting the stunning variety of beetroot we are treated to, especially the vibrant purples and pinks!
What got me thinking about seasonal produce this year, was not only the wonderful colours of the trees, but also the ‘Our Growing Edge‘ project, headed up by Genie of BunnyEatsDesign. This is a really wonderful blog hosting and sharing platform, where each month has an idea or a theme for bloggers to try new things and then write about, which is then hosted on a different blogger’s site each month – this month’s hosted by Kerene from The Dream Baker.
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One of the suggestions for October was to start thinking about cooking with seasonal produce, and this got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to do for a while; find my local greengrocers and start making the most of Great British goods! It seems like a no brainer to me really, not only are you helping local farmers and reducing the miles travelled by your food before it makes it to your mouth, but you’ve instantly got guaranteed variety throughout the yearas you follow what is in season, as opposed to sticking with the same safe options. I’m always up for learning new things!
Unfortunately this month I wasn’t able to make it to a greengrocers – there just aren’t any in our immediate vicinity, but I have scouted one out for when we move into a new area in a couple of weeks, which I’m really looking forward to checking out properly 🙂 I still wanted to make sure I got some seasonality into our meals, and we’ve all got to start somewhere, right? So I opted for a really lovely looking butternut squash to be paired with some gnocchi, goat’s cheese and spinach, and some bright and beautiful beetroot for a beef curry with a real difference.
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I’ll be honest, we weren’t blown away by the Butternut Squash & Gnocchi meal – more due to the lack of flavours in the meal itself than anything wrong with the squash. That was probably the most flavoursome bit! I think the textures in the meal were all a bit too similar; the soft roasted squash, the wilted spinach and the heavy gnocchi coated with the goat’s cheese made it all a little bit – claggy. That along with the lack of other flavours in the meal… maybe some sage would have saved it, but it is unfortunately one I won’t be making again. Luckily I have plenty of other squash recipes in the pipeline – just not much left of the season!
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The Beef and Beetroot Curry however… that really was just sublime. This was a whole afternoon job, so I set it aside for a Sunday afternoon where I could really take my time and enjoy the long process. What with the cooking and peeling of the beetroot, the making of the curry paste and the hours baking in the oven… I can tell you from the incredible smells floating through the house we were well and truly ready for this by the time it was ready! The whole seeds which make up part of the paste became so aromatic and toasty as the curry cooked, and the sweetness of the beetroot with the deep savoury notes in the beef really made us both impatient to start eating! Slow cooked meals like this are also great, as you don’t have to shell out on expensive bits of meat, as the chunks of beef cook slowly in the curry paste and stock, becoming more and more tender as the hours tick by.
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The best part about all of this is that I still have some squash and beetroot leftover! So I get to try out a whole set of new recipes next week – I think a beetroot risotto might be calling out to me…
Lotsa Love! Abbie x

Black and White Brownies Double Batch Sunday!

Firstly – I want to say thank you to Molly for reminding and encouraging me to get posting again, and that it’s ok that I haven’t for ages ;p

So, Double Batch Sunday makes it sound like a thing – it really isn’t, unless of course we’re talking a double helping of Small Batch coffee in Brighton. But that’s a different matter entirely – what’s happened here, is that my Black and White Brownies, in both chocolate and batter, are apparently soooo good that I have been required to make 2 batches to take to work with us tomorrow – as me and Dave work in the same place, I think it would have caused a revolt if my department got brownies and his didn’t and vice versa.

I made a batch in the summer, for one of Dave’s colleagues birthday, and whilst I proportioned the single batch in a 70:30 split for Dave’s larger team and my smaller team, it became quickly apparent that this was no where enough for either! I had marriage proposals coming in from all directions, requests and demands that I make these brownies a regular occurrence, and people even offering to pay for the ingredients if I would just make more! Though I would be happy to make brownies for a special occasion upon request, I couldn’t possibly ask for money on something I’d only be doing for fun some time in the future.

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So, as we’ve had the whole week off (sheer bliss!) I decided to set the entire of Sunday aside so that I could make two batches of brownies. Unfortunately this did mean I had to make them one after the other, as I only have one square cake tin, and I don’t trust my oven as far as I could throw it to cook two separate things evenly. It does mean though, that we were both able to set aside the whole day and relax, not doing much at all (although this method did create a shedload of washing up, a by product I kind of forgot about :s) Luckily I have had a ‘helping’ hand now and then throughout the day 😉

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These brownies are actually really easy to make, it’s a really good and simple mix, even with the addition of the cheesecake marble topping, and the dark and white chocolate flavours are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a really gooey, sticky mixture without being too dense, and the cheesecake mixture on the top gives it a real difference and lightness in both flavour and texture.

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Check out the BBC Good Food Recipe here!

And Molly, I promise I’ll make up a batch some time soon and bring some over for you 🙂

Lotsa Love! Abbie x

Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi – Rest Easy Comfort Food

I know I’ve said it time and time again, but I really am discovering more and more recently how massively important cooking and food is to my life. That must seem like a completely redundant statement from someone writing their own food blog, but I do think there is a difference between being enjoying cooking and it truly being your passion. I have so many friends who say the do like cooking, but at the end of a long and stressful day’s work the last thing they want to do is labour in the kitchen for another hour or so. Me however, if I’m stressed or upset or even feeling a bit unwell, the kitchen is the first place I go to. I find cooking and following a recipe so soothing and relaxing, and exciting to watch as it all comes together and turns out into something really tasty!

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One of my all time favourite meals to make, is actually one of the simplest and quickest! I’ve been wanting to share this with you all for ages – this Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi is so perfect for so many reasons. As it is so quick and simple, it’s a brilliant thing to make if you’re in a rush to head back out again, but the best thing with simple recipes is that the small amount of ingredients really can take centre stage. Gnocchi is just the best thing ever, and with the mozzarella it makes this a wonderfully homely, comforting meal. Add to that the cherry tomatoes and chorizo for a bit of freshness a punchy flavour, you just can’t go wrong with this meal.

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Chorizo & Mozzarella Gnocchi – Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 chorizo ring, finely diced

500g pack gnocchi

125g cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 ball mozzarella, finely diced/shredded

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Method

  1. Add the diced chorizo to a hot frying pan, dry frying until the oils are released and they start to crisp up
  2. Tip in the gnocchi, frying in the chorizo oil until they crisp slightly on the outside, and soften slightly in texture
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, stirring into the chorizo and gnocchi just to warm through
  4. Follow with the balsamic vinegar and basil, stirring to combine all the flavours
  5. Quickly scatter the mozzarella and give a final gentle stir to mix through, careful to not let the mozzarella melt too much in the pan. Serve immediately.

I hope you all enjoy this quick and easy meal as much as we do, it is certainly a firm favourite in our household!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Recipe Recommendations

I was out for lunch with hubby and a group of friends today (Wagamamas – Chicken Teriyaki Donburi ;p Oh the kimchi!) and I had one of those really lovely moments where my friends asked for my advice on something foodie related 🙂 It sounds silly, but it’s a really great feeling that your friends know your ‘speciality’ as it were, and value your opinion in that area enough to ask real questions about it, not just chat because it’s something you’re interested in.

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The friends in question are a married couple, and I mentioned something me and Dave were having for dinner later in the week, so they asked if I followed recipes with my cooking, and what books/sources did I use. They’d gotten into a bit of a rut meal wise, cooking the same old things time and time again, so they were after a little inspiration as to where to find new recipes to mix things up a little. As someone who suffers from exactly the opposite problem – always eager to try new recipes so that I forget to come back to the good ones again – I was happy to oblige!

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My top source for recipes has got to be BBC Good Food – be it searching for a particular ingredient within a recipe on their website, flicking through Instagram for some gorgeous looking meals or reading through the latest Good Food magazine, the odds are that if I’m cooking it, it’s from BBC Good Food. Not only are the recipes almost always top quality, we very rarely have a duff meal, but the instructions are simple to follow, it’s so handy having everything online so I can look ingredients up whilst I’m out and about, and sharing is really easy as well, from saving the recipes to my Good Food account, to messaging a friend a recommended recipe – like one of my all time favourites, Chicken Biryani.

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The variety is of course vast – the cuisine to the difficulty, as well as showcasing a wide range of chefs alongside the Good Food Editors. Both the website and the magazine always have really interesting articles about things like local produce, the low down on all the different uses for a certain ingredient, as well as focusing on seasonality and being very health conscious. that being said, there is always room for some extremely decadent and not so healthy options as well, including my now famous Black and White Brownies that went down a storm at work this week! I had marriage proposals and everything! ;p So with a track record like that, it’s no wonder that BBC Good Food is my go to recipe source.

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I do still love my collection of cookbooks though – which I hope to expand exponentially over the next few years once we’ve moved and I’ve got some proper storage space back! I’ve got a couple of folders of recipes from home, as well as ye olde faithful 30 Minute Reader’s Digest Cookbook which saw me through my leap from mum-taught cooking to developing my cooking skills for myself. The best thing about this is the pictures for each recipe – as you will see that is an essential part of what makes a good cookbook for me – and the heavily broken down step-by-step instructions. Nothing is left to the imagination, which is so great for a learning cook. It is already well loved and a little sticky on certain recipes, but I will certainly be hanging on to this for a very long time indeed.

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Other noteworthy books in my collection include those of Nadia G – chef and comedienne, the star of Bitchin Kitchen. I learned a lot of kitchen tricks from Nadia G, mesmerised by her incredible Italian-Canadian accent, bizarre kitchen decor and phenomenal outfits. She takes a lot of her cooking from her Italian roots, then throws in some weird and wacky twists just for the hell of it, which pretty much always turn out to taste perfection. She is absolutely mental in the best possible way, and her shows (and books) are absolutely hilarious, if not for the faint hearted. It’s a slight shame from a cooking fan point of view that she is focusing more on her passion for music right now, which isn’t my cup of tea, but all the best to her and kudos for doing what she wants. Regardless, for some really great recipes that will make anyone enjoy cooking that bit more just for the entertainment value, give Bitchin Kitchen a go, along with her two cookbooks.

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Whilst I love all kinds of cuisines, both eating and cooking, the foundation of my cooking is firmly seated in Italian cuisine. These were the kind of meals we ate a lot of at home, pasta being super easy for my mum to whip up a batch of for all kinds of occasions, and also a really great starting point for getting me to learn the skill of timings! As such, I love my Gino D’Acampo Gino’s Pasta recipe book as a go to for any time I want some authentic Italian pasta. The simplicity of Italian cooking is so wonderful, and yet the flavours it yields make it really something very special indeed.

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I also love my Nigella Lawson books – Nigella Express Nigellissima. Though Nigella is the first one to proclaim her cooking is by no means authentic Italian but inspired – it is still obviously firmly in the roots of pretty much anything she does and I love how she places the importance of the cooking on the end result, being able to enjoy the meal you’ve just cooked. If that means being a little lazy, a little self indulgent… then why the hell not? I am hoping to use a few of her recipes for Christmas this year – I love the idea of Romanesco used in place of broccoli for a truly festive vegetable side dish! And the turkey wrapped and stuffed with all sorts of Italian goodness… yum!!!

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A few newer additions to the collection include Deliciously Ella – a perfect book to have to hand for our low meat diet. If I’m struggling to find anything in any of my other books without meat, her vegan and gluten-free recipes are a great source of inspiration, and are all amazing in their own right anyway! The vegan bean chilli is absolutely incredible, as is the Mexican Quinoa bowl. Again, I’m learning so much from this book and way of eating, I find it all so fascinating and I think that’s a big part of why I enjoy it so much. I’ve always loved learning and discovering new things and ideas, and a lot of what I’m learning from Ella is transferable to other aspects of cooking, like using brown rice in other curry recipes, or quinoa as a complete alternative. Her vibrant and positive attitude is also completely infectious, and the book is totally beautiful in itself which is a massive draw for me.

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On that note, my most recent addition to the cookbook collection, is What Katie Ate at the Weekend. I saw this in Waterstones one day and knew I had to have it before I even opened it – the cover is so beautiful and enticing with its pretty and full to bursting table of food and gorgeous decorations! It’s no wonder the pictures are such an integral part of this cookbook, food photography being Katie’s first occupation, but she is a damn good cook to go along with it! We’ve had a few recipes from this so far, and they are all turning out beautifully 🙂 Again, the really well laid out instructions as well as the photos of each meal make it so easy to cast your eyes over the recipe and think, ‘Yep, I can do that!’

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I really do think it is so important to do your research and think carefully about what recipe books you are going to buy. In the same way that different people learn better from different teachers, not everyone will get on with every set of instructions they are given. Me for example, I cannot get on for the life of me with any of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. I don’t like the paragraph style instructions, where you have to scan and filter for the information you need for each aspect of the meal, and I find he uses too much of his own wording in the instructions for me to understand it clearly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that he has so much character and personality to put into his books and writing, I just prefer instructions to be clean, simple and basic. I also struggle (as I keep banging on about) with cookbooks with minimal photos, such as Gordon Ramsay and one of my Thomasina Miers books. I love the recipes I have tried from Mexican Food Made Simple – but there aren’t enough photos to encourage me to make many of the recipes as I’m flicking through, which is a shame. And, as if to prove my point – my Dad loves all of the above chefs and cooks from their books on a regular basis 🙂

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I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting this blog post to be that long! I haven’t even covered the massive enjoyment I get out of reading all my favourite food blogs, or scrolling through Pinterest, and I’ve still got plenty more cookbooks sitting there that I love and use regularly! But these are my favourites, and I hope I’ve given you enough tips to work out the books you can choose for yourselves, or some inspiration to give one of these a go 🙂

What books do you all use? Any unusual or hidden gems you can recommend?!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Summer Eating in Sicily

So I don’t know about the rest of you guys but this British Summer is really starting to get me down 😦 In all fairness, when the sun does shine we have been lucky enough to get some really gorgeous days out it, with some wonderful heat that we certainly haven’t had for a good few years. There have been a fair few of those days too – but the problem with this year’s weather is that it seems to be one or the other – glorious sunshine or depressing cold and rain. I actually wore my winter coat and a hat out to Brighton the other week, and I’ve been wearing my boots regularly to work.
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I suppose I can’t complain too much – the weather held out for the most important day of the summer being August 8th, my friend Emma’s seaside wedding on Worthing Pier. It was the most gorgeous day, with the perfect amount of gentle sea breeze, brilliant golden sunshine and stunning blue skies – you really couldn’t have asked for a better day. Incidentally, I also had my first try of baked Camembert at the reception, and considering my borderline phobia of creamy cheesy sauces, I was really pleasantly surprised! The salt and pepper croutons and the pesto crust gave it just enough texture and extra flavour to turn it into a dream instead of a nightmare ;p
But, I digress. Despite the perfection of that day, I am seriously starting to crave a good sunny holiday! My parents have recently come back from a tour around Serbia, Bosnia & Croatia – and were on the go constantly in nearly 40degree heat everyday! Some of the photos they came back with were stunning, it looks like a truly wonderful and interesting area and it has jumped high up on our list of places to visit. And of course the first thing we talked about was the food 😀 Apparently the national dish of Serbia was basically a mixed grill, there were wonderfully hearty stews with gnocchi at the base of the dish, it all sounded wonderful.
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I’ve been trying to think of ideas of places for us to visit next year – whilst it is all hypothetical at the moment as we have no idea what our finances are going to be like once we’ve settled into having a mortgage and proper bills to pay, but it’s good to get these ideas in the work ahead of shcedule! As well as needing somewhere sunny, but not so hot as to make it unbearable for Dave, I’ve been thinking about heading to a real foodie destination. As I’ve just mentioned, food tends to be some of the highlights of any trip we take, and we have our fondest memories in various restaurants, across the world, but I’d really like to go somewhere that is famed for its local dishes, with authentic and new things we won’t have had here in the UK.
Morocco has been very high on my list for a long time, but I recently came across an article on BBC Good Food recommending the must-try dishes of… Sicily. I’ve been to Rome before when I was younger (and not so adventurous with eating unfortunately) and I know it’s somewhere I want to get back to, but I hadn’t ever thought of Sicily. With the recommendations of arancini, the flavours of which change depending on whereabouts in the island you are, as well as foccacia style pizzas and a type of pesto typical to Sicily, it had instantly become somewhere I wanted to look into further.Due to it’s location at the tip of Italy’s ‘boot’ and being so close to Africa, the influences across the island are wide and varied, particularly in its food and architecture. This increased my intrigue further, as one part of the island even boasts a couscous dish, which you certainly wouldn’t expect from an Italian island.
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I also wanted to make sure that there would be enough things for us to see and do – as much as i would love to, we couldn’t spend the whole week eating and not doing anything else! We are absolutely useless at sitting still and doing nothing for any period of time, even if food is involved, so we definitely need a lot of culture and interesting places to visit around the experience of the cuisine. I started looking up Sicily in more detail, and the more I discovered the more it sounded like a perfect Abbie & Dave holiday. As mentioned, the cultural influences from all over the place give us so many things to look out for straight away, from Roman amphitheatres to medieval streets, intricate Moorish architechture and the stunning coast line which could be pulled right out of any ancient myth or legend.the only thing that seems to be missing so far is some kind of war time or military attraction, but Dave has a homing beacon for these kinds of things so I’m sure we’ll find something 😉
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It has to be said, my Pinterest board for Sicily is overflowing with stunning images of these gorgeous mediterranean streets, spectacular coastlines and amazing looking food – Sicily has made its way right to the top of the list for potential holiday next year. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to afford it with the mortgage!
Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Leftovers 2nd August

I’m pleased to say that this week’s shop I’ve started to revert back to my usual meal planning method. The past few weeks have been a little bit caution to the wind, as we found ourselves yet another month into the flat buying & moving process. We’re trying to see the best of the bad situation, it’s another month we’re able to save to increase our buffer for when we do have full bills and a mortgage to pay, but we’ve also decided that we deserve a few more treats here and there, like dinners out and not having such a strict budget for the weekly food shop.

That being said, it felt really good to get back into the swing of checking for leftovers and planning meals accordingly! We do hate wastage, and whilst its not like we’ve been throwing away loads the past few weeks, it’s just been nice to be a bit savvier about my cooking again, as well as getting excited about a few new recipes that I’m discovering and want to try out – loving Pinterest so much for that at the moment 😀

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The first of which being these incredible Raspberry Jam Oat Bars from a newly discovered blog Cooking Classy – so simple to make and absolutely delicious! A wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, working the ingredients through with your fingers, spreading the jam across the layers, and smelling the amazing aromas throughout the house as the mixture bakes to perfection! I’m so proud of how beautifully they turned out, as Dave said they look just like the photo, which is a testament to the recipe and photography skills of Jaclyn at Cooking Classy, that the gorgeous pictures on the website aren’t impossible to replicate at home. Looking forward to reading more from her!

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On to the rest of the week’s meals then – my leftovers were some fennel, some diced pancetta, a cucumber and some tinned tomatoes. I also wanted to make sure that we had a more veggie week than we have recently, so it was a perfect opportunity to try out a recipe that popped up on the BBC Good Food feed – Summer Vegetable Casserole. I love courgettes and aubergines, and I’m really starting to get into roasting vegetables now so I was really excited to give this one a go. The only substitution I’ve made, is my usual swapping out the new potatoes in the roasting tin for some pan-fried gnocchi added at the last minute along with the heated tinned tomatoes, to give the casserole a slight difference in texture – and I am a gnocchi-holic, so it was a no brainer really ;p

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The courgettes led me to find a nice and simple courgette and tomato pasta dish, which uses up the diced pancetta nicely too. I love the flavour combination of smokey pancetta with some gorgeous veg in a tomato sauce, along with my standard generous helping of parmesan of course 😉 The leftover fennel is perfect for a Warm Chickpea, Fennel and Pepper Salad – I absolutely love this meal because it is so light and refreshing with the crisp fennel, and so different! I’m really excited to use some pointy sweet peppers this week too; my sister in law used them a while ago and they were just divine – I’ve been meaning to pick some up for ages. They are more expensive, but I’m hoping the flavour difference will be so worth it!

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Speaking of the in-laws, my mother-in-law is coming round for dinner this week for her regular fix of my famous Arabian Beef (recipe to follow!), or spiced mince as she likes to call it 🙂 It’s really nice to have certain meals that close family or friends like so much that they just request it, I love making people happy with my cooking so I’m clearly doing a good job 🙂 That also covers the cucumber nicely, as the beef is served with diced cucumber, shredded lettuce and various dips, all in some toasted pitta breads. It’s such a social meal, which is also really important to me, as everyone just dives in to the serving bowls, and it creates a lovely sharing atmosphere around the table. Getting messy helps too ;p

I find it a great challenge to create my meal plans in this way, finding it encourage me to source my recipes from new places and try interesting new things I might not normally – but the savings on our weekly shop just from thinking about what ingredients you have and can be made to go that little bit further, are truly worth it that extra effort. I know I keep saying it, but hey, that’s the point of this blog right? :p

Lotsa Love, Abbie x

Leftovers 26th July

I’ve started noticing certain trends in my shopping now that I am paying extra attention and particularly documenting them here – there are certain things that I will buy more often than others, certain ingredients that lend themselves more to being used across a wide range of recipes throughout the week. And that really is the main focus of Leftovers for Lunch – I really think the best way to make the most of your ingredients is to make them spread out across as many meals as possible, whilst maintaining variety, so versatile ingredients are essential.

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One thing I buy time and time again, so much so that I’m not even sure I can count them as leftovers, is cherry tomatoes! I love the cute little red pops of awesomeness, full to bursting with flavour and (in my opinion) make pretty much any meal just the bit better. I prefer to use cherry tomatoes over anything else, as I mentioned before in my Chicken and Spinach Curry post – they are perfect as a sauce base, whether you really chop them up to make a proper thick sauce, or cook them till they start to blister and pop and use them as a light coating for pasta. They are perfect as a garnish, or as an integral part of a veggie meal or salad, I seriously cannot get enough of these little suckers!

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A perfect use of cherry tomatoes is in the quickest of quick and easy dishes – filled pasta with cherry tomatoes as a light sauce. It really livens up what would otherwise be quite a bland meal, and it barely takes 10 minutes all together – chop up the tomatoes and fry until you can burst them easily, and reduce the sauce down slightly, in the same time it takes to boil a pan of water and cook the filled pasta. Add the pasta to the cherry tomatoes for a few minutes with some parsley and parmesan, and you’re good to go.

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I also use them as a garnish for a meal I’ve been meaning to cook for a while now – Lemon Chicken & Garlic Pasta (I’ll post the recipe as soon as I can). This meal is the perfect mix of homely, heart warming cooking, with that light freshness just to bring it out of being too stodgy. The chicken is marinated with lemon, and the garlic is cooked with chicken stock to make a stunning gravy, and believe it or not served with pasta, parmesan and cherry tomatoes this is one of my favourite chicken pasta dishes. The flavour work so well together, and sometimes all you want it something really comforting and garlicky!

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Also on the menu for this week is a Fried Fish Curry with tomato sauce, Creamy Tomato Risotto and Lamb & Fennel Spaghetti. Only writing this now am I aware of what a tomato overload that might be – we’ll be orange before the week is out! While the fish curry is a new dish I’m looking forward to trying, the other two are old favourites. Though the risotto is about as simple as it gets, again it is really flavoursome because of the cherry tomatoes, with their sweet, tangy taste that I appear to be unhealthily obsessed with…

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Of course as with every ingredient, it is each to your own – Dave isn’t exactly a fan, though that is probably more due to over exposure than anything else ;p but I would seriously suggest swapping out whatever tomatoes you are used to cooking with in favour for cherry tomatoes at least once, just to give them a go for their flavour, even if you’re not a fan of the satisfying way they go pop!

Lotsa Love, Abbie x