Archive | April, 2013

SPICING UP MY LIFE with a *pinch* of frugal-ness, a *drop* of creativity and a *spoonful* of patience!

22 Apr


Recently I have started hoarding spices! As my repertoire has grown over the last year and I have been writing this blog, I have started to acquire a large range of spices. I started to find that buying them in little glass pots (the ones you get in the supermarket) was actually costing me a lot of money and I felt that I was paying more for the glass than I was for the spices. I had a shop around and found a little supermarket in Shoreditch, London where I could get any spice I wanted in a bag for about 89p and I got a lot more spice for my money. There are lots and lots of places that do these bags of spices, so you will definitely be able to get hold of them.

The only issue I had then was that the spice bags were falling over and if this happened after I had snipped the corner off then they would fall over and spill all over my cupboard… cue removing all cupboard items and cleaning. This did not make me happy. I therefore started collecting jars from my friends, house-mates and at work colleagues and within a few weeks I had enough to house my spices. The next issue was that I now could not tell the cinnamon from the five spice from the cumin; without getting all 3 out and having a good sniff. ISSUE. I kept worrying my carrot cakes would be flavoured with cumin and that my curries would be all about cinnamon. So, I decided to get a little bit creative and make tags for my spice jars. Here is what you need:

  • Jars – any size and shape
  • Spices in bags
  • Ribbon
  • Coloured Paper
  • Black pens
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Time & patience

Now you have everything ready, you can get started and get crafty. So, cut out little tag shapes, rectangular at one end, the other end finishing with a point. Then punch a hole in the end where the point is and write the name of your spice neatly on the tag. Now thread some fine ribbon through the hole and tie around the top of your jar. DONE!

It really is that simple. I think they look great, so I placed them around my garden and photographed them as they just looked so rustic and pretty. Now whenever I go to my cupboard I smile as I made those, but also as I know what spice I am getting!


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*MEATBALLS* … inspired by MASTERCHEF, made by ME. Simples.

21 Apr

meatballs 8

I have been away for a little while, doing ‘life admin’, which I agree is absolutely no fun at all, but it has to be done.  I have however continued to bake/cook at every opportunity and have made a range of things which I will share with you over the next few weeks.  Whilst I have been away I have however been watching one of my favourite TV shows… Masterchef.

Masterchef has been back on our TV screens (hoorah!) and I have been avidly watching the new series – is it me or has there been a few dodgy hopefuls?  It left me thinking ‘surely I am better than those people, who don’t even know the difference between pork and lamb?‘… Hummm.  Not too impressed, I must say!

Anyway, I often watch Masterchef and think ‘I would love to make that, if only I could afford XXX ingredients’.  I never can and always think it’s a little unobtainable for me, though I do enjoy viewing the show.  However, this week all was different.  John Torode made meatballs… what!?  Simple, easy and something I liked and could easily get all the ingredients for.  I was inspired.

So, here is what I did and how I did it.  John – they may not be as good as yours, but God loves a trier!


COOKING TIME: 15 minutes

MAKES: 40 meatballs (serve 4 per person)

COST:  The meatballs will cost approx. 80p per portion to make and the sauce and pasta will add another 68p to this.  Overall the dish will cost £1.48.


For the meatballs…

  • 400g pork mince (£3.50)
  • 400g lean beef mince (£4)
  • 1 onion (33p)
  • 2 English breakfast muffins (50p)
  • 6 tsp sage (50p)
  • Black pepper (to taste)

For the pasta & sauce… (serves 4 people)

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes (89p)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree (20p)
  • 1 tbsp heinz tomato ketchup (20p)
  • 1 onion (33p)
  • 1 tsp worcestershire sauce (5p)
  • 1 tsp black pepper (5p)
  • 240g wholemeal pasta (£1)


meatballs 1

Grate the English muffins, to make breadcrumbs.

Some people don’t use breadcrumbs and they make this dish with 100% meat, but I like the texture the breadcrumbs give the meatballs and so does John, so here we go!  If you have a blender then great, you can use this to make the breadcrumbs, so just break the English muffins up into small pieces but into the blender.  If you don’t have a blender (like me) you can use a cheese grater to get the same result… honestly!  (I prefer it to using a blender actually as I hate cleaning the blender!)  So, once you have your breadcrumbs place these to one side.

Finely dice the onion and then (using a tiny bit of olive oil) cook these until they are soft and golden.  Do not let them catch and burn, as this will make the meatballs taste burnt too.  Once the onions are soft add the sage and continue to cook, this will release the flavour from the sage.

Next add the breadcrumbs, to the onions and the sage.  I was also quite surprise when I watched John Torode do this, but as he explained, if you don’t do this (in effect toast the breadcrumbs) then they will give the meatballs an ‘uncooked’ texture i.e. soggy!  So cook the onions, sage and breadcrumbs until they everything is golden.  This will only take about 5 minutes. Again, be careful not to let them burn and keep stirring them in the pan.

Place the pork mince and the beef mince in a large bowl and break up a little.  To this add the onions, sage and breadcrumbs mixture (I added this straight away, if you want to let it cool a little this is fine too, its probably best unless you have asbestos hands!).  Add some black pepper to this too, this will just bring out the flavours.  Add as much as you like… some people don’t like pepper and I do believe that it is an acquired taste. Then mix together well until everything comes together and is evenly distributed.  Interestingly, if you just use pork mince for this recipe then the meatballs will be very dry.  Using the beef with the pork keeps the mixture moist and brings out the ‘meaty’ flavour.  I do agree though, it is a little odd having pork and beef in the same recipe… but hey ho, it tastes great!

The meatballs mixture is now ready to roll (so to speak).  So, you can roll them into small balls.  I like to have smaller meatballs so that they get fully coated in sauce, so make lots of smaller meatballs or fewer larger ones.  This bit is for you to decide!  You could even make mini-meatballs, so that they are about 1cm each… this is what I will be doing next time… just to mix things up a little.

meatballs 7

My meatballs… rolled and ready to be cooked and eaten!

Now it is time to cook the meatballs.  In a large pan (or frying pan) heat a little olive oil and then once this is smoking a little (not spitting) drop about 8 meatballs in (2 portions) and cook these for about 3 minutes, constantly moving them around so that they do not stick and are evenly cooked.  Once they are golden all over remove them from the pan and place to one side.  Repeat this with all the meatballs you want/require.

Now it is time to make the pasta and the sauce.  Make the tomato sauce first, so that this can reduce whilst you cook the pasta.  Dice the onion and then fry this in a little tiny bit of olive oil until it is golden.  To this add a tin of chopped tomatoes, the tomato puree and the tomato ketchup.  I know that this is a little bit of a cheat, but if you don’t use this, you will need to add a little bit of sugar so it’s just the same but more tomato-y.  (This is one of my friends little cheats and it works a treat!)  To this you can add the Worcestershire sauce and a little black pepper and then you sealed meatballs, leave this to reduce and also to allow the meatballs to cook through and take on the tomato sauce flavour.  Whilst this cooks we can make the pasta.

meatballs 4

The sauce with the sealed (not cooked) meatballs, happily reducing whilst my pasta cooks.

So, boil some water and pour into a pan.  The standard portion size is about 60g of raw pasta per person, so measure this out and then place into the boiling water.  Unless you have quick cook pasta, this will take about 10 – 12 minutes to cook… just the right amount of time for your sauce to come together and thicken.

Once everything is cooked… the sauce has reduced, the pasta is cooked and drained; place the pasta in with the meatballs and sauce and mix well.  Serve and ensure that everyone gets the same number of meatballs!  Its really important to ensure everything gets mixed together as otherwise you end up with dry pasta… and this is just not what the Italians would do.  So ensure all the pasta gets coated with the sauce before you serve.  Sprinkle with some parmesan (if you like, I do) and enjoy with a glass of red wine!  DELICIOUS.

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The final dish, with everything coated in the sauce served! DONE!


Saturday night, SALMON & chinese NOoDles delight… *THE GIRL(S) DONE GOOD*

7 Apr

ImageEver feel like you want a yummy dinner, wine and a night in with the girls?

I did this weekend. I couldn’t face donning my make-up, faffing with my hair curlers and tottering around in my heels…  So, we decided to stay in and invite a couple of friends over for dinner.

We started by hitting the recipe books, to create our masterpiece and came up with our own little salmon and noodle recipes ready for dinner… it was absolutely delicious and our experimenting paid off!

Here is what we did and how we kept the costs down.  The best Saturday night in I’ve had for a long time.  THANKS LADIES!


COOKING TIME: 12 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions

COST:  £1.17 per portion (maybe add another 30p per portion for all the other store cupboard ingredients.  This doesn’t include wine… but you can choose that based on your level of spare cash!)


For the salmon marinade…

  • 4 salmon fillets (£6.67 – in a 3 for £10 offer)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp soya sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp chinese 5 spice

For the noodles…

  • 300g brown rice vermicelli noodles (£1.50)
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp chinese 5 spice

Serve with…

  • 1/2 bag spinach (50p)
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp pomegrate (75p)
  • 1 lemon (30p)

… and wine…

We served this with a cheeky bottle of ‘Gavi di Gavi’ which is my absolutely favourite white wine and it went beautifully with our Salmon and Noodle creation… I can verify this as it slipped down nicely!  I am not a wine buff (not at all), but I know a little about wine, having worked in a fab wine bar in London and Gavi di Gavi is a beautifully crisp Italian wine.  I like it because its delicate, lemon flavour is extremely fresh and refreshing – I think this is why it complimented our dinner so well as we had hints of lemon and pomegranate (fruity notes).  Just delicious!


First my housemate Leanne marinaded the salmon in the olive oil, soya sauce, honey and spices and popped this in the fridge for an hour.  Then she wrapped the salmon fillets in a tin foil parcels (2 fillets per parcel) and baked them in the oven for 12 minutes.

Whilst the salmon cooked I prepared the brown rice noodles (I used brown rice noodles to add a little extra fibre and goodness to the dish – I did share this little fact with my dinner guests in typical ‘Gemma’ style).  I soaked the noodles in a large bowl of boiling water for 10 minutes.  Whilst these soaked, I heated the sesame oil, honey, soya sauce and spices in a small pan.  Then I drained the now cooked/soaked noodles and tossed them in the pan with the seasoning.  Once they were coated and re-heated through I served the noodles.

Meanwhile Leanne wilted the spinach leaves.  She rinsed them first, then poured boiling water over them, whilst they sat in a colander.  These were then placed in a large pan whilst 1/2 a lemon was squeezed onto them and 1 tsp of nutmeg sprinkled on top.  Leanne gently stired these together and heated them just slightly.  These were then served onto the plate, the tbsp of pomegrate seeds was sprinked on the top and then the now cooked Salmon was carefully sat on top of the spinach and pomegranate.

The whole meal was served with a small wedge of lemon and a glass of our delicious Gavi di Gavi.

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This is our finished result… presentation is everything! How to impress your dinner guests by Gemma & Leanne…

So, next week when you don’t fancy going out, don’t.  Stay in, download my recipe and get creative.  You could even add some herbs/spices of your own or maybe use lime instead of lemon and see what happens.  ENJOY!

WASTE not, WANT not… Lets make magic with our HOT CROSS BUNS!

3 Apr

20130402-211433.jpgMy mummy always taught me ‘waste not, want not’.  So, I didn’t and generally I don’t.  I make sure I eat everything that is on my dinner plate and if I have leftovers they make fabulous little lunches for the week.

I got home from work this evening, hoping to freeze my hot cross buns and was a little disappointed to find some of them were really quite stale (and I was running out of freezer room), so I had a new idea.  I decided to make them into dessert.  A bread and butter pudding style dessert.  Here we go!


COOKING TIME:  30 minutes

MAKES: 2 portions


  • 2 stale hot cross buns
  • 4 tsp of raisins/cranberries/sultanas
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 fl oz of semi skimmed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence


20130402-211340.jpgTake a oven proof dish and your 2 hot cross buns and break the hot cross buns up, into lots of smaller pieces (about 1cm to 2cm), you don’t want this pudding to be neat and even.  The more rustic the better.


To the broken up hot cross buns add your dried fruits.  Make sure this is scattered well and poked in all the little holes!


Finally you can make the custard.  So, in a bowl place the 2 egg yolks (only, no egg white) and then your sugar and vanilla – mix these together well.  Place the milk in a pan and heat gently until it comes to the boil.  Once the milk has boiled, pour this into the bowl with the egg, sugar and vanilla and whisk constantly.  Once the mixture has combined pour this back into the pan and heat gently.  Stir constantly and after 5 – 6 minutes you will have custard!

Pour the custard over the broken up, hot cross bun and the raisins and then bake this in the oven on 180 degrees / gas mark 5 for 30 minutes – or until golden in colour.

You can eat this straight away – whilst it’s hot.  But you really should share it with at least one other person!