#ThriftyOrganic three-course family meal

Organic September Collage

If you are a bit of a foodie and/or follow any social media here in the UK, you’re probably more than aware that this month has been dubbed #OrganicSeptember. Everyone’s being encouraged to celebrate all things organic. The message is that by making a small change to your everyday shopping, we can make a big difference: swapping to organic food has huge benefits for people, animal welfare and the environment.


While most of us will agree that organic produce is better for our environment, better for animal welfare and, well, just a more natural approach, isn’t it hideously expensive to shop organic? I try to buy organic wherever I can, particularly fruit and vegetables. For instance I have a weekly organic veg box delivered by Riverford – although I tend to do this less during late summer and early autumn when we tend to have a glut of veggies in our own garden. But I doubt I could afford to go totally organic.

Or could I? Continue reading

Jewelled Persian rice with pomegranates, walnuts & parsley

jewelled persian rice3

Don’t you just love pomegranate seeds? I reckon you could scatter a handful on practically any old dish and it would be transformed into something quite magical. Or is that just me?

It’s clear to see why the beautiful pomegranate is one of the possible contenders for the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. I’d have been tempted.

This Persian jewelled rice however is as far removed from just any old dish as you can get. It’s a wonderfully light and fragrant taste of the Middle East, incredibly easy to prepare and looks a million dollars. Or should that be rial?

As well as pomegranate, it features juicy dried cranberries, walnuts, orange zest, flat leaf parsley and is flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, saffron and garlic. This fluffy, fruity, delicately spiced rice makes a perfect light lunch served just as it is or as a delicious accompaniment to meat or fish. I also plan to take some on our next summer picnic. Continue reading

Chicken satay with peanut sauce and coconut rice

Satay Collage

It’s typical, isn’t it? I finally get around to posting a summer barbecue recipe and all of a sudden the gorgeous weather disappears, the grey clouds gather and  a deluge of rain descends from the heavens. Blinking typical.

What else can you expect when it’s Glastonbury Festival? Even if it weren’t all over Twitter, radio and TV, we’d know it was Glasto time just by the sheer number of helicopters flying over our house taking the VIPs to the festival down the road in Pilton. We always give them a wave as we wonder who might be on board…

But I am ever the optimist and I’m sure the days of balmy sunshine will return to us soon. And this chicken satay is a dish we’ll making again on the barbie.

chicken satay

This was one of my favourite dishes when I went to Malaysia and Singapore as a child to stay with my Mum’s family. I thought the hawker stalls were just so exciting and loved the way the sticky rice came wrapped up in banana leaves. I can’t clam my version is at all authentic I’m afraid, and it isn’t easy to come by banana leaves in the middle of Somerset. It is ruddy tasty though, and I could easily polish off a whole bowlful of that peanut sauce on its own.

The chicken satay is packed full of spice and while it’s fine to mince the marinade ingredients in a food processor, I rather like doing it with a pestle and mortar to work out some of those pent-up tensions. It’s best to marinate the chicken overnight or at least for three to four hours.

Chicken satay with peanut sauce and coconut rice

Serves 4

For the satay chicken

500g chicken breasts, skinned
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and white part finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground coriander
demerara sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
½ chilli, deseeded and chopped
a little sunflower oil for brushing

For the peanut sauce

2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
½ tsp ground ginger
5 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp dark soy sauce
250ml coconut cream
50ml water

For the chicken satay

Slice the chicken into thin strips and place in a bowl.

Crush together the onion, garlic,  lemongrass and ground spices in a using a pestle and mortar (or in a food processor) to create a rough paste. Add a little salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Stir in the fish sauce and chilli. Pour the paste onto to the chicken and mix well with your hands to thoroughly coat.

Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or at least three to four hours.

Soak 16 bamboo skewers in water for around 30 minutes to stop them from burning on the barbecue later.

Carefully thread the marinated chicken onto the skewers.

When you are ready to cook, brush a little sunflower oil onto each satay skewer and then gently lay them onto the barbecue grill. (Or of course you can do this under the grill or in a griddle pan.)

Grill the chicken for about five minutes, turning frequently, until it has cooked through.

For the peanut sauce

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion, chilli and garlic for a few minutes until the onions are soft.

Add the ground ginger and peanut butter giving it all a good stir until the peanut butter starts to melt down. It should start to melt. Then add the tamarind paste and soy sauce and stir again. Next goes in the coconut cream and water. Cook and keep stirring for a few more minutes until everything is well incorporated.

Pour the peanut sauce into a bowl and serve warm alongside the chicken and rice.

For the coconut rice

400ml coconut milk
½ tsp ground ginger
salt to taste
1 bay leaf
1 lemongrass stalk
200g long grain rice

Place the coconut milk, ground ginger, salt, bay leaf, lemongrass stalk, and rice in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Stir together and cover with a lid. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Continue to simmer very gently for around 20 minutes, until the rice is tender and has absorbed all the coconut milk. If it dries out before the rice is done, add a little water. When it’s cooked, fish out the bay leaf and lemongrass stalk – you don’t want anyone chowing down on either of those.

chicken satay

Serve the rice by packing it into a small, very lightly oiled bowl and turning it out onto a plate alongside the barbecued chicken satay and individual bowls of peanut sauce. I like to add a simple dressed salad to the plate too. Now that is properly finger-licking good.

spice trail badge square

As the spice mix for the chicken satay features cumin, I am entering it into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, where of course the theme this month is cumin.


I’m also entering it into June’s Family Foodies, hosted this month by Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme is Barbecues, Picnics and Outdoor Eating and I think these chicken satay fit the bill perfectly.


Chicken soup with rice

I started writing this post about a week ago. Then it got put on hold as life, or rather death, got in the way.

Normally I wouldn’t write about very personal things on this blog; it’s a food blog after all, and people come here for food. But it just felt wrong to publish a new post without marking or acknowledging in some way the passing of my mother-in-law Judith who taught me so much about food.

Judith died last Wednesday and will leave a huge hole in our family in so many ways. She’s the one who taught me the trick to Aga rice, and showed me how easy it is to make soup – I recall the revelatory feeling when during one of our family holidays in France she took one look at what I thought was a sad collection of leftover vegetables and transformed them, with the ease which comes from family cooking for many years, into a truly delicious soup. So this is what proper cooking is really about, I remember thinking.

After my first Sunday lunch at Judith’s house, meat and two veg were never the same again. It is from eating well at Judith’s table that my own values around food developed – the importance of eating as a family, buying the best ingredients you can afford and eating seasonal and locally produced or reared produce whenever you can.

The last time I saw Judith in hospital I told her about having just seen Claudia Roden at the Bath Literature Festival. I was as excited as a school girl. Of course, it turned out that Judith and her husband Tom are actually old friends of hers. I wasn’t surprised.

There is so much more to tell you about Judith. Her family, her career, her art, her love of the countryside and of walking. But this isn’t the right place for a eulogy, people come here to hear about food. So here is the post I started last week.

* * *

chicken soup with rice

There’s been a fair bit of illness in our house in recent months. The girls still have stubborn coughs they can’t shake off. It’s easy to tell when my daughters are genuinely unwell, as they normally have such insatiable appetites, my oldest daughter Jessie in particular. When they say they’re not hungry, you know something’s wrong.

This chicken soup with rice though was one of the few things that did go down well with both girls. My aunt shared some of her tips with me for feeding poorly babies over on Facebook and her suggestion of adding soy sauce and fish sauce to a simple chicken broth provided just the savoury combination of flavours to appeal to wonky tastebuds.

It might also have helped that Jessie has been on at me for ages to make chicken soup with rice. One of our favourite albums to play on car journeys is Really Rosie, Carole King’s brilliant soundtrack from 1975 for an animated short film based on stories by Maurice Sendak, including the fantastic The Sign on Rosie’s Door. There are so many great tracks on this album from the alphabet song Alligators All Around and the counting tune One Was Johnny to the deliciously comical cautionary tale of Pierre, a little boy who finally learns to care when he is eaten by a lion.

Not surprisingly, with our family fascination with food, Chicken Soup with Rice, a song to teach the months of the year, is the one we all love most.

Catchy, hey?

Ideal for using up Sunday lunch leftovers, this simple soup can be made in a matter of minutes from cold roast chicken and homemade stock. And if you don’t have homemade stock, use a really good quality chicken stock cube.

chicken soup with rice

Chicken soup with rice

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower oil
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
150g basmati rice
1.5 litres chicken stock
½ tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp fish sauce
120g cooked chicken, shredded
2 handfuls frozen peas

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the spring onions for a couple of minutes to soften.

Stir in the rice and cover with the chicken stock. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and shredded chicken and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until the rice is soft.

Add the frozen peas, bring back to a simmer and cook for a couple more minutes. Serve with love.

chicken soup with rice

This is such a quick and easy dish to prepare, I’m entering it into this month’s Family Foodies challenge which I host with Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme this month is Fab Fast Food.


A store cupboard supper: baked rice with spinach, cannellini beans and eggs

baked rice3 web

We all have times when we need to rustle up an easy dinner using basic, store cupboard ingredients.

You’ve been up against it at work and haven’t had time to get to the shops. It’s the end of the month and money is tight. Whatever the reason, it’s useful to have a go-to dish or two up your sleeve.

My usual store cupboard recipes tend to feature cheap ingredients like pasta, beans, pulses and whatever I find in the freezer. I make sure I always have a few bags of vegetables in the freezer for times like these. Frozen veg is just as good as the fresh stuff in certain dishes, and cheap as chips too.

Rice makes a regular appearance too. I ate a lot of rice as a little girl. For a while my mother only worked part-time while she also studied for her MA, and there wasn’t a lot to spend on food. So rice became a staple, mainly due perhaps to my mum’s Chinese roots, quite often served with just soy sauce or, if we were lucky, some stir-fried vegetables on the side.

You’d think that might put me off rice but instead it is one of my favourite foods. When I am feeling low or poorly, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a simple bowl of rice with soy sauce or perhaps some chicken stock to make a very simple rice broth.

This baked rice recipe is ever so slightly more elaborate but a real winner when it comes to store cupboard cookery. The addition of eggs turns it into a proper comfort dish.Anything topped by an egg with a runny yolk gets my vote.

baked rice with eggs

It’s a very versatile and forgiving dish too. That’s the whole point of store cupboard recipes. Instead of spinach, why not throw in a few handfuls of frozen peas or sweetcorn? Instead of cannellini beans, try kidney beans or maybe a tin of tuna.

Baked rice with spinach, cannellini beans and eggs

Feeds 4

1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
200g basmati rice
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
400ml vegetable stock
1 x 400g can cannellini beans
100g frozen spinach
salt and pepper
4 large free range eggs

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized heavy bottomed casserole and gently cook the onion until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, before adding the rice. Stir it all together and cook gently for another minute.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, stock, cannellini beans and a little salt and pepper. Give it all a good stir and then place chunks of frozen spinach, nestling it in amongst the rice and beans.

Cover the casserole with a lid and bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until the rice is tender. Remove the lid and, using the back of spoon, make four slight dips in the rice. Break the eggs into these wells and return the oven for another five minutes or so, until the whites are cooked but the yolks are beautifully runny.

Serve at once.

This recipe was first published in my Eat the Season column in the Wells Journal on 6 March 2014.

baked rice2 web

family-foodiesAs my baked rice is very easy to make and cooks in around half an hour, I’m entering it into this month’s Fab Fast Food challenge for Family Foodies, an event I run with Louisa at Eat Your Veg and it just happens to be my turn to host.

speedy-suppers-veg-impI am also sharing this dish with Speedy Suppers, a new blog event for 30 minute meals launched by Sarah at Dinner With Crayons and Katie at Feeding Boys. I’m really rather excited about this new challenge – I just know it’s going to prove such a useful resource.

Baked sea bass with ginger, garlic & chilli and miso rice

sea bass

When you read my blog posts, it’s probably easy to assume I spend most of my life in the kitchen. While it’s true that at the weekend I can generally be found at the stove and do make a bit more of an effort with our meals, most of my family’s food is a pretty speedy, simple affair.

I am a working mum and most days I don’t have time to cook anything too complicated, so I am trying to build up a trusty list of staples I can rustle up in half an hour.

I realise Jamie Oliver can cook up a meal in just 15 minutes but, unless it’s beans on toast or pesto from a jar stirred into pasta (and there is nothing wrong with either of those), I find it practically impossible to cook anything quite that quickly.

Although that’s probably because, unlike Jamie, it’s impossible for me to give the dinner my undivided attention. There’s usually one of the children asking for help with their homework, or the cat demanding to be fed, or my husband wanting to know if I’ve seen his glasses/wallet/keys (delete as appropriate). You get the picture.

sea bass

This is one of those meals I can cook up in about 30 minutes. Baking fish in foil makes for an incredibly quick dinner and, by throwing in heaps of garlic, ginger and seasonings, it’s incredibly tasty too. Sea bass is perfect with these strong Oriental flavours.

What’s more, the foil parcels allow me to cater for different family tastes. My youngest daughter is only five and isn’t keen on chilli, so I wrap her fillet separately and leave out the chilli. My husband can’t actually eat fish, so I wrap a chicken breast instead for him, although I do have to cook it for an extra five minutes.

Cooked in instant miso soup, the rice has a wonderfully savoury, umami flavour and I could happily eat bowlfuls of this rice on its own.

sea bass

Baked sea bass with ginger, garlic & chilli and miso rice

Serves 4

2 tsp sesame oil
4 sea bass fillets
fat, thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 red chilli, finely sliced
4 radishes, trimmed and finely sliced
5 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 tbsp light soy sauce
large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped (leaves and stalks), plus extra for garnish
miso soup paste
250g Basmati rice

Preheat oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Tear off sheets of foil, large enough to encase your fillets. You can bake them altogether in one parcel or individually, depending on whether everyone is happy with all the ingredients – I’m thinking mainly about children and chillies here.

Drizzle a little sesame oil onto the foil before placing the fish on it, skin side down.

Pull up the sides of the foil around the fish and toss in the ginger, garlic, chilli, radish and spring onion. Pour in the fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce and finally sprinkle with the fresh coriander.

Close up the foil parcel tightly and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Cook your rice in your usual way, but instead of using plain water, make up a cup of miso soup according to the packet instructions, and cook the rice in this.

Serve the fish on the rice and don’t forget to pour over all that lovely sauce left behind in the foil. Garnish with more chopped coriander.

sea bass in foil

badge CollageFab Fast Food is the theme for Family Foodies in March. Family Foodies is a challenge I co-host with Louisa at Eat Your Veg and this month it is my turn to host. This baked sea bass is one of my favourites for a speedy supper, but I’m keen to see your ideas so I can have a few more tried-and-tested dishes up my sleeve.

The theme for Four Seasons Food this month, hosted by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Anneli at Delicieux, is Something Fishy, and so I’m entering my baked sea bass into that challenge too, and as sea bass is in season right now I’ve just got to enter it into Ren Behan‘s Simple and in Season food blog event.

Finally, as this dish features a good amount of fresh ginger I’m also entering it into The Spice Trail, hosted by me, as the spice in question this month just happens to be ginger.

Beef broth with rice and vegetables

beef broth

While we all love to experiment in the kitchen, every cook has their favourite ingredients they use again and again in their meals. My usual suspects include garlic, chilli sauce, cream cheese and that Great British favourite, Worcestershire sauce.

I love the way Worcestershire sauce gives a comfortingly rich yet suitably spicy note to all your family staples. It makes a regular appearance in our cottage pies, casseroles and Bolognese sauces. But this is the first time I’ve tried it in a broth and it didn’t disappoint. Together with the soy sauce and beef stock, it creates a gorgeous, deeply meaty broth, just perfect with the tender slices of beef steak, crunchy vegetables and soft rice.

beef broth

This dish was a winner with all the family, although I suspect my husband felt it would benefit from the addition of a little sliced chilli, but then he thinks that about most things I serve up. And it also tasted very good the next day when I heated up a pot in the office microwave for my lunch.

Beef broth with rice and vegetables

1 large sirloin or rump steak
vegetable oil
black pepper
1 litre beef stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce, and a little more for frying the steak
1 tbsp light soy sauce
4 spring onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin batons
half a butternut squash, peeled and cut into thin batons
120g basmati rice, rinsed
large bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Heat a large frying pan. Brush the steak with a little vegetable oil and season with black pepper. Fry over a high heat for around 3 minutes on each side, shaking over a few drops of Worcestershire sauce as it cooks. Leave to rest on a warm plate.

Pour the stock into a large saucepan and heat. Add 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and one of soy sauce, and throw in the spring onions, garlic, carrot, butternut squash and rice. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook gently for around 10 minutes.

Divide the broth between 4 bowls. Thinly slice the steak and place on top of the broth.  Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

beef broth

If you’d like some more ideas on how to use Worcestershire sauce in your cookery, you should take a look at Lea & Perrins’ YouTube channel. They have created a series of recipe videos with British YouTubers Sorted Food, bringing all kinds of twists to classic family dishes, such as spaghetti Bolognese and cheese on toast.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lea & Perrins.