Make your own tomato sauce

Tomato sauce ingredients

Red wine, onion, chopped tomatoes, garlic, tomato puree, stock + water to dilute, seasoning, corn flour if sauce needs thickening and olive oil for frying

I know it is easy to buy a jar of tomato sauce while you do your weekly food shopping but it is actually easier…. and so much cheaper …. to make your own…. if you have a freezer that is!

It does not take long to chop the ingredients. Have you read my tips on how to cut vegetable efficiently? Once cooked and cooled, you might want to quickly zap your sauce with a blender then divide and place in containers to suit the space in your freezer.

Tip: to defrost your sauce quickly, stand your plastic bag in hot water.

Uses: Topping for pizza, sauce for pasta, meatballs, spice it up for curry sauces, etc.. the list is endless.

 

 

Use leftover rice

close-up view of boiled riceThere is a lot of controversy around re-using leftover rice. The way I look at it is that people are not as careful handling rice as they are handling other sensitive food because they think: “But, it’s just rice!”.

Just make sure that any unused rice will be quickly cooled down and stored in the fridge for a couple of days. You can then reheat once for a hot meal or use cold in a salad.

Alternatively, leave it out for the birds. They won’t thank you but they will love it. :-)

 

Easy oven-baked chicken and vegetables

This is a fool-proof recipe. You can’t get it wrong because the oven does all the work for you. All you have to do is cut your veggies efficiently (!!) and do a little bit of mixing. And you are allowed to use your hands if they are clean, although it won’t bother me if they are not :-) .

Proportions? 1 tp mustard, 1 or 2 dollops of Worcester sauce and Soya sauce, 2-3 large tb of Greek yogurt, 1/2 chicken stock cube, 50 or 70ml olive oil.

Preheat oven at 180 degrees Celsuis. It takes about 1 hour to cook.

It looks a bit pale because I left the aluminium foil on for too long…

The good thing about this way of cooking is that it does not take you away from your guests. You only need to stir the mixture every 20 minutes or so to prevent the bits at the top from burning.

Serve with pasta, rice or even some nice crusty bread.

 

 

 

Stretch your chicken

When cooking, I like to save time and energy, which results in saving money. I will explain what I mean using an example: chicken.

When roasting chicken, your oven will be on for at least 1 1/2 hour. So, don’t just cook one small chicken but two large ones at the same time. Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge or freezer and eaten cold for your packed lunch in sandwiches or salads. They can also be eaten hot added to soups, curries or pies. And bones! don’t forget the bones as they will make great stock.

Now, what I like to do to stretch my chicken is Continue reading

Save your empty jars

three empty jam jars

Ready for jam making day

Save your jars throughout the year ready for the summer/autumn season when ingredients are cheap and plentiful, and in some cases, free! Mayonnaise, jam, anything in a glass jar, preferably with a safety widget (to ensure the jam will be vacuum sealed). I like the Bonne Maman jars myself because they look lovely and they are usually the ones I will give away first as gifts. Wash them and remove the labels as and when the jars get empty. Store at the back of a cupboard. Then, the day you make your jam, chutney or other preserve, you will not need to buy jam jars! All you have to do is give them another wash and sterilise them. Strawberries are cheap in the summer. Berries can be picked for free in the coutryside. I used to have a Victoria plum tree in my back garden, so every year I made a lot of jam. There is nothing more satisfying that eating your own home-made jam, knowing that it only cost the price of a few lemons and bags of sugar. Friends and family always enjoy free hand-outs… I mean, the fruit of your hard labour! ;-)

Widget in your sandwich

red sandwich box

A greener alternative to clingfilm

If your sandwich box is slightly too large and the filling falls out before you get to eat your sandwich, use a widget! A plastic clip or an old wine bottle cork strategically placed will hold your sandwiches in place (as well as get your colleagues puzzled about the purpose of the cork in your packed lunch). Or just be healthy and use a couple of small cherry tomatoes to keep them still. FYI, the red box you can see in the picture is actually a Cadbury Cream Egg box, which I have been using for a couple of years now. Great to hold sandwiches. Hopefully, as Easter is coming, you might be able to get yourself one too soon. It might be “free”, but you still need to pay for the chocolate eggs inside ;-)

Disaster cake

Broken cake served as pudding

Shtt! Your guests don't need to know about it!

Have you ever broken a cake into small pieces while unmoulding it because you forgot to lubricate the sides… or because you were just having a bad day? Well, don’t throw it away as it will taste just as good smashed up. Last week-end, this is what happened to my daugther…. yep! she was the one having a bad day, not me ;-)

So, she just placed her broken cake into ramequins, covered them up with icing and sprinkled with grated chocolate. It tasted awsome!

How to make vanilla sugar

Place a whole vanilla pod (slit the pod open along its length with a knife to increase flavour) inside a jar and fill with sugar. Wait a few days for the flavour to infuse. Top up with sugar as and when required, occasionally adding a new pod to the old one. You will no longer need to buy vanilla-flavoured sugar.

Vanilla pods in sugar jar

Vanilla pods inside jar

Tortilla wrap sandwiches

filling of tortilla wrap sandwich

Place filling on a line

The expiry date on my tortilla wraps is approaching, so I’d better start using them. If stored in your cupboard too long, they become dry and will rip easily. So, not good if you are having lunch next to your keyboard or your newly printed report! Continue reading

Prepare packed lunches quickly – How to cut vegetables

Keep thumb out of the way

This post was written to help you prepare packed lunches quickly and time is always of the essence but this will also be useful when preparing your meals of course.To cut and prepare vegetable efficiently, all you need is a chef’s knife and a smaller utility knife. Don’t cut one little piece at a time but try and gather as much of the vegetable as possible when doing your cuts. I will show you what I mean using pictures. As well as describing some personal cutting techniques, I have also included some tips which I hope you will find useful.

Carrots– if used in wraps and salads for a packed lunch, they are best grated. Otherwise, below is how I cut carrots into small cubes. Peel and cut the tips. Tap the tips of the carrots with your chef’s knife to align (I know, the picture was taken too early…. dough!).

Tap tips to align

If large, cut the carrot in half lengthwise pushing down the tip of the knife first. Use your other hand to help you guide and push the blade down.

Use other hand to help push blade down

Place both halves with their cut side on the board, for stability, and cut again in half (or cut more lengths if you want to end up with very small cubes). Tip: cut lengthwise in quarters leaving the tip untouched to help hold the lengths together.

Leave tip untouched to hold lengths together

Then, hold them tight with one hand, making sure your thumb is out of the way, place the knife at a slight angle and push forward and down as you cut through the lengths.

Keep thumb out of the way

You might need to start with fewer carrots until you get the hang of it.

Courgettes- You won’t be using them in your packed lunches of course but you still need to cut them for cooking. So, here is what I do. The quickest way to explain is using a picture. This is just one courgette, nicely cut in lengths to improve efficiency.

Cutting courgette efficiently

Align all ends and start cutting across

Garlic– don’t forget to remove the green sprout/germ before using your garlic otherwhise it makes the garlic hard to digest. I think it will also help reduce that garlic breath and it tastes bitter anyway. All you need to do is cut the garlic in  two, lengthwise and remove the germ with the point of your knife. Then chop finely.

Green sprout/germ from garlic

Discard the green sprout / germ

Leeks– Don’t use them in your packed lunch, red onions or spring onions would go better. In any case, watch out! You might think that your leek is clean but the chances are that there is a lot of mud hidden inside. So, put the tip of your knife right at the centre of the leek, starting at the roots and run the knife all the way to the green leaves. Try and stay right in the middle otherwise your knife will soon be cutting the chopping board away from the leek (you could turn the leek 90° and run the knife along the other edge of the leek to get even smaller cuts, but this gets really tricky).

Cutting right along centre

Then open up your leek and rinse under the tap to remove any mud. Given it a good shake to remove excess water. Next, cut off the green part of the leek. Tip: The green part and root of leeks are great to flavour home-made stock. Don’t remove the root just yet as it helps keep the leaves together when cutting. Next, cut across the length of the leek so as to get two halves. Then place the two halves next to each other and cut with your chef’s knife using a forward motion and starting at a slight angle. You can discard the root now.
Peppers– stand the pepper straight and, with a small knife, cut around the stem area to remove it.

Remove stem area

Then cut in half and remove the white bits and seeds inside. Cut the halves into thin lengths. Bring all the lengths together. Holding them together with your thumb folded out of the way (you can’t see my hand here because I was taking the picture, but you can in the section Carrots), put the knife at a slight angle and push forward and down as it cuts through the lengths.

Cutting cubes

Onions– use red onions in your packed lunches (although I used white ones in my pictures, the latter are best left for cooking). Use in small quantities to spice up and give some nice bright colour to your food but not too much, otherwise you will have an onion taste in your mouth all afternoon….:-). Cut the onion in half then, as the picture shows, make cuts across the half, holding top and bottom with the thumb and index of your other hand so that the onion does not lose its shape. Use the knife with the same forward motion.

Hold the onion steady with other hand

Then turn the onion at 90° and make similar cuts across the onion, using the other hand to hold the shape, taking care of your fingers as you reach the end.

Smaller spacing gives smaller cubes

Tip: Did you know that onion peel is great to flavour home-made stock?

Swede – this vegetable is really tricky to cut because of its hard flesh so be careful. In any case, you will never want to serve it raw. Use is cooked in soups or other dishes. Step-by-step instructions are shown below:

Tomatoes – keep the seeds if you are making a rice or pasta salad but you should remove (most of) them if used in sandwiches or wraps to keep them dry. Cut the tomato in half. Tip: hold both halves upside down over the sink or a plate and shake them once with your arm and wrists while squeezing to make the seeds fall off.

 

Packed lunches – Planning ahead

 

Sample of kitchen basics

Before being able to produce some great packed lunches, you need to be well equipped. A few useful equipment/utensils are required, and, as well as your weekly trip to the shops, your kitchen cupboard and freezer will also need to hold a few vital ingredients. Hopefully, if you read this post today (being Friday) and go shopping at the week-end, you will able to Continue reading

How to make varied packed lunches

Your packed lunches, microwavable or not, can be as varied as your evening meals. The trick in preparing packed lunch is to use the leftover meal from the night before (so make sure you cook more food than you actually need). Let’s see what I mean using pictures: (click pictures to enlarge)

Above is some leftover chicken casserole with fresh tagliatelle pasta. Continue reading

What to bring for lunch at work?

Healthy Packed Lunch

 

My husband is renowned at work for his packed lunches. He tells me that his colleagues are very envious as most of them bring the same boring sandwiches, day after day. The thing is, they are so easy to prepare, they require minimum effort and most of all, they are so much cheaper and tastier than anything else on the market. Continue reading