This Week I Have Been Mostly….

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Another catch-up post? I know – this is a good thing. It means things have slowed down to the point, where I have some time to reflect on what I’ve been up to, rather than just go with it!

I have been LOVING this warmer weather. I really do feel like we’ve gone straight from Winter to Summer, leaving Spring behind. I also love thunder storms, and we’ve had a few corkers! I’m enjoying seeing all the plants coming up in my garden – so many different colours and shapes popping up out of nowhere – I have no idea what any of it is!

I’ve been busy planning things for my upcoming holiday to Florida, in September. We’ve booked in some really fun things, lots of places to eat, and my shopping list is well under way. We’re there for two weeks this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ve already filled each day!

I’ve also got my Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party costume sorted, for this year. Even though this isn’t a Disney World holiday (same as last year) we’re still going into the Magic Kingdom park for one evening, for the Halloween party.

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Can you guess who I’m going as? Hmm….

Aside from this, I’m still really enjoying my calligraphy course, and have started doing a few mini projects. I’m not pressurising myself to get them done in a certain time frame or in a certain way. I’m letting them happen organically, which works well for me.

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They mainly happen to be Disney themed, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone really….

I’ve also been adding art to my office walls. Again, I want this to happen organically, and we visited Homesense recently, and their selection of framed art was really great. We ended up getting three pictures for my office, and two for around the house. I happen to have chosen all illustrated pieces for my office, and these two look great on my wall.

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Lastly, I’ll just mention that the jewellery making masterclass I attended with the MK Bloggers group earlier in the year, was featured in the events supplement of Blogosphere Magazine this quarter. It was fun to see my face in print!

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So that’s it for now. I have a week off coming up, and some fun things planned for that, and stay tuned for more recipes too. Are you enjoying seeing my 2018 food challenge recipes each week? Let me know what your favourite recipes have been so far – I’d love to know!

Until next time….

Food Challenge Recipe 18: Sweet & Sticky Tomato and Onion Bake

You’ll probably have noticed an unintentional theme in my last month or so’s recipes. I mostly eat vegetarian food, and a lot of it focusses on tomato and basil maybe with potato thrown in there.

I’m lactose intolerant so can’t eat dairy and my husband has Crohn’s meaning there are a few things that have to be omitted from his diet, including red meat. We never ate a lot of that anyway, so that wasn’t a problem, but I thought it worth mentioning, just in case you wondered why I rarely include meaty or cheesy recipes!

This week’s recipe is one I found whilst scooting through recipe books on Amazon. I don’t know if you’re aware, but sometimes they publish full recipes in the image section of the recipe book. I use this to gauge whether I think I’ll like what’s included. But on this occasion I liked a recipe so much, I screenshotted it, and that’s what this week’s recipe turned out to be! I’m rubbish so I can’t remember the name of the book. I’ve looked but I can’t find it. If I do I’ll update this post!

Anyway, this recipe was for 4 people but I cut it down by half and it was the perfect amount for 2.

You start off with preparing 250g of baby onions. I couldn’t find baby onions so I used the same amount of small shallots.

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To prepare them, you pop them into a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Then after about a minute, I pulled them out one by one with a slotted spoon and peeled the skins off. They just slipped right off! I’ve never prepared an onion in this way so I learned a new skill, and found it quite therapeutic!

I’d turned the oven to fan 190c already and lined a roasting tray with foil (for easier clean-up!) In hindsight I think, for my oven, 170c would have been a bit better.

I tumbled the peeled onions into the tray and then added 375g of cherry tomatoes and 375g of halved new potatoes.

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Then I drizzled about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil over the top and added salt and pepper, and gave it all a good mix.

This then went into the oven for an hour. You’ve got to stir it all around every 15 minutes to make sure the tomato juices get all up in every nook and cranny.

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After the hour was up, I added 200g drained and rinsed cannellini beans and a handful of fresh basil leaves and mixed it all together.

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At this point I turned the oven down to 170c as you can see the onions are already quite charred. Everything went back into the oven for 15 minutes more, and then it was served!

The recipe states to ‘make sure not to miss a drop of those juices’. There weren’t any juices in my pan, so I really believe the temperature of the oven had been too hot!

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Everything was cooked well, and you can still see the tomatoes have some moisture but if there had been some more moisture in the pan I think the beans would have been slightly more tender.

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I served this with some (probably too many) green beans, which added some clean greenness to the meal.

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This was a very good meal. The onions were sticky and caramelised, the tomatoes had deepened in flavour and basted the rest of the meal. The beans, though a little dry, added a texture and savouryness to the dish, and the potatoes soaked in all the lovely flavours from the rest. The basil added a great hit of fresh herby green.

I had thought we might want to add some balsamic glaze to this meal, but it wasn’t necessary. A simple, fresh and relatively healthy dish – we’ll be making this again (with only a tweak in oven temperature!)

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I give this recipe 8.5/10

Food Challenge Recipe 13: Flapjacks!

The week I made these flapjacks it was my other half’s birthday and I had a week off. And he happened to request I made them – he loves flapjacks and I’d never made them before, but they looked pretty easy so I said yes!

For my American readers (you probably already know this, but….) flapjacks in the UK are not pancakes, but a baked sweet rolled oat-based square.

Happily, these flapjacks ended up being Vegan!

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I started with 175g of Vitalite (vegan sunflower spread) which I melted slowly on a low/medium heat.

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Then I added 175g of soft brown sugar, and 175ml of golden syrup.

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You’ve got to heat and stir this until all the sugar grains are dissolved.

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Then you take this off the heat and stir in 350g of porridge oats.

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I stirred half the oats in to coat and then the other half, just to ensure everything was coated properly.

I then pressed the mixture into a 20×20 cm pan which has been lined and greased, and pop into an oven at 150c for 25-30 mins.

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The top will be turning golden brown. I left the bake inside the tray until it was completely cool. At which point lifted the whole thing out using the sides of the paper, and I cut it into squares. I made about 16 squares.

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These flapjacks passed my husband’s taste test, and he even took some into work for his vegan workmates to enjoy! Being dairy-free I know what’s like to have to pass on all the goodies people bring into work, so it’s always nice to be able to say yes to a sweet treat now and then!

I give this recipe 10/10!

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Food Challenge Recipe 12: Butterbean, Chickpea & Butternut Squash Stew

Despite the weather becoming more spring-like, it’s still chilly, so for this week’s recipe I chose something that encompassed fresh produce and flavours but was still hearty and warming.

Enter the butterbean, chickpea and butternut squash stew! The actual title of this recipe was SPICY butterbean, chickpea and butternut squash stew, but for reasons you’ll understand shortly I was forced to adapt.

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You start with three humble ingredients, a small butternut squash, two red onions and a leek. The onions are wedged, leek sliced on a slant and the squash chopped into 2cm cubes.

This recipe is for 4 people so you need a bigger pot than I have, but alas I only learned this later on….

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The chopped veg goes into your pot with some warmed olive oil (1 tbsp) and 2 tsp of smoked paprika. These cooked down for about 10 minutes.

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I then added 1 tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice – this was meant to be chopped tomatoes with chilli but I couldn’t find it ANYWHERE – and 450ml of vegetable stock. This simmered for 15-20 mins. During this period, I tasted, seasoned and added 1 tsp of sugar (which wasn’t in the recipe) to offset the acidity from the tomatoes. I also added 1/2 tsp of mild chilli powder, but I think I could have added more. Next time!

I drained and rinsed 1 400g can of chickpeas and 1 of butterbeans.

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These were stirred into the pot along with what was meant to be 200g of fresh spinach, but this was when I realised my pot wasn’t big enough. So I added the leaves in stages until they wilted down, and managed to put most of it in before giving up!

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This simmered for about 10 minutes before serving!

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Despite needing a little more heat from the chilli, I really enjoyed this. The flavours from all the veg were present and fresh and the beans made for a comforting stew. I don’t think it needed the amount of spinach the recipe asked for, so it was probably a good thing that I didn’t add it all! And next time, I’ll use a bigger pot!!

Because this makes enough for 4, we have it again later this week, and I’m looking forward to it!

I give this recipe 7.5/10!

Food Challenge Recipe 11: Smoky Spanish Chicken, Patatas Bravas & Aioli

The last of my Gousto recipes, and this was the one I was least fussed about. I liked the idea of making the Patatas Bravas but I knew I’d be taking out some of the ingredients (parsley and coriander, due to personal preference) so I assumed it would lack a little something it was meant to have due to this. I was wrong.

This recipe starts with cubed potatoes, oiled up (I used sunflower spray) and salt and peppered, then popped into the oven for 25-30 mins.

I also sliced up a red and yellow pepper and a red onion, drizzled these with olive oil and some salt and these went into the oven for 20 minutes.

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Next I dissolved 1 tbsp of tomato paste into 200ml of boiled water and a sprinkle of chilli flakes. I diced a tomato and popped this into a pan with warmed oil in, added a pinch of salt and sugar, for about 4 minutes over a medium heat. The tomato had started to break down and at this point I added the liquid I had just made. This boiled down for another 4 minutes.

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I then took a large chicken breast, which I had cut into 4 equal goujons and dredged these into 2 tsp of smoked paprika, 1 tsp sugar and a pinch of salt, all mixed up.

Then I pan-fried the chicken in a pan which had a little warmed oil in. This took about 5 minutes on each side.

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I combined a chopped garlic clove with 135ml of mayo, 1 tsp of water and a pinch of salt in a bowl, creating an aioli.

At this point everything was ready to be put together!

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As much as it’s not crazy photogenic, this was delicious. The tomato sauce and mayo was layered on top of the potatoes. This was the star of the show. The chicken was moist and delicious and the roasted veg was full of fresh flavour.

I’ll be making this again – plates were clean by the end and bellies were happy!

8.5/10 for this recipe!

Food Challenge Recipe 10: Cowboy Bean Bowl & Crispy Tortillas

I bloody love cooking home-made beans. I have an awesome recipe for Boston Baked beans that are topped with dumplings (for some reason) but it’s delicious and I know that beans are totally yummy when they’re home-made. Not knocking Heinz’s beans – those are dope and my love for them make it evident that I’m British through and through.

The recipe I cooked for today’s post is very simple and involve ingredients I’ve never used and techniques I’ve never tried before. It’s another Gousto recipe, and as I’ve said before, I paid for this box myself, and this isn’t sponsored, I just wanted to try it out!

This one starts with cutting tortillas into halves, drizzling oil on top and sprinkling with a little salt. These are put into the oven for 15 minutes and then left to crisp and dry up. And I gotta tell you, I’ll be doing this again. The result is delicious and inspired, and the smell the kitchen has whilst these are cooking is amazing. Forget freshly baked bread, THIS is the smell you want if you’re showing prospective buyers around your home.

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Next I sliced up one red pepper and diced a garlic clove into teeny tiny bits. The peppers were popped into some warmed oil over a medium heat with a little salty for about 3 minutes.

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Then I dissolved a vegetable stock cube (I was provided with Knorr cubes, and I really like them. They seem a lot better than the OXO I’m used to) into 250ml boiled water, 2 tbsp tomato paste and 20g chipotle paste (which was amazing) along with a large pinch of sugar. I drained 1 can of cannellini beans and one of kidney beans and gave them a good rinse.

I added 1 tsp of smoked paprika and the chopped garlic to the peppers and cooked them for a minute. Then added the beans and coated them in all the spices.

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Next I added the spicy stock I’d made up, some salt and pepper, and cooked for 7 minutes until the sauce had reduced a little.

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At this point, I had to mash some of the beans down, which helped to add a bit of thickness to the pot, and then left them for 2 or 3 minutes. Then I checked the seasoning and the beans were ready!

They were served with a little grated cheese, some plain yogurt and some spring onion – and of course the crispy tortillas!

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I kind of expected this to be a little spicier than it was. There was just some warmth and a bunch of smokiness. It was delicious though – and very sufficient in the portion size. Especially with all the tortilla crisps to go with it.

I can see me making this again, and I need to buy me some chipotle paste to chuck into everything, because that stuff’s the bomb!

I give this recipe 8.5/10

Food Challenge Recipe 9: Chicken & Red Pesto Mayo Ciabatta Burger

This week’s recipe involved me going slightly out of my comfort zone when it came to cooking the chicken.

When I cook with chicken I always assume I’m going to kill myself or whoever I’m feeding. I’m convinced I’m going to leave raw chicken all over my kitchen (I blame an anti-bacterial spray advert from when I was a kid) and as a result I use gloves and anti bac the kitchen A LOT when I cook it!

I always bake my chicken, because I know I can put it in the oven for a certain time, it’ll be cooked when it comes out and there’s as little touching of the actual meat as I can get away with.

This recipe entailed pan frying chicken and I wasn’t too thrilled, but I knew I would give it a go. People cook raw chicken every day, so it can’t be that hard can it?

This recipe is served with home-made chips, which I serve quite regularly at home. I use sunflower spray rather than oil because it works just fine, and is healthier, therefore happier on the stomach. That’s something I’ve noticed with these Gousto recipes – there’s a lot of oil, a lot of sugar and a lot of salt added. Much more than I would ever add in my usual day-to-day cooking. Anyhow, back to the recipe!

I was provided with one large chicken breast, which I had to butterfly in order to produce two thinner breast portions. I managed this okay, but one was thicker than the other. I had to then sprinkle 1 tbsp of dried oregano over the chicken portions and add a pinch of salt.

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These were pan-fried in a little oil for 5 minutes on each side (I obviously obsessed over making sure these were cooked all the way through).

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To make a pesto mayo I mixed 22g of sundried tomato pesto with 15ml of mayo. Then mixed 22g of pesto with a drizzle of olive oil and this made a dressing for my rocket leaves.

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I was provided with 2 ciabatta rolls (though I’m not sure whether it was really ciabatta because it didn’t seem like it was).

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These were popped into the oven for 3 minutes and then removed, sliced in half and some of the pesto mayo spread on the bottom of each roll. A little rocket was placed on top of that, and then one of the chicken breasts.

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This was served with the home-made chips and the rest of the rocket, which was drizzled with the pesto dressing.

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The chicken was lovely and moist, tasted lovely with the oregano on top and the pesto dressing was tasty.

That being said, I would have liked something other than pesto to put on the rocket, since it was already on the burger. It made everything taste very samey and I like a bit of variation.

We both enjoyed this meal, and I think I would try it again – certainly preparing the chicken in the way I did this time around. It was good quality chicken, which helped.

I give this recipe 7/10

Food Challenge Recipe 8: Potato Topped Chicken, Mustard & Kale Pie

This week’s recipe came to me via Gousto. We decided to give Gousto, the recipe box, a go during my recent week off, so the next 4 recipes were all made that week. I decided it wasn’t fair, or practical, to expect that I would have the time (or inclination) to cook a new recipe every week. And as this is my challenge, I’ve decided this will be 52 new recipes in a year rather than forcing myself to achieve one a week.

Anyhow, this week I’m sharing the first of the 4 Gousto recipes I chose. (And before you wonder, I chose the box and paid for it myself. This isn’t sponsored, I just decided to try it!)

So, this recipe, as you’ll have gathered from the title, is a potato topped chicken pie. This does have dairy in it, so I took some lactase pills when I ate it. My stomach didn’t like it a few hours later, but it did enjoy it during. Anyhow, to the recipe!

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I collected my ingredients and my recipe card and got started.

I dissolved a chicken stock cube into 150ml boiled water, then whisked dijon mustard (1bsp), cream cheese (100g) and cornflour (1 tbsp) – I whisked these in separately so that it didn’t go lumpy.

I added shredded kale (120g) and diced chicken breast (250g) into an ovenproof dish with some salt and pepper and tossed everything together.

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I grated some cheese (40g) and 300g of potatoes, which I squeezed the moisture out of and mixed the two together with a glug of olive oil and some salt.

I then topped the chicken and kale with this and popped it into the oven for 30 minutes.

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When it came out of the oven, it was nice and sizzling.

 

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I have to say, that for such few ingredients this was super tasty. I’d have liked the cheese that went on top with the potato to have been a little stronger, but should I make this again I’ll use extra mature cheddar. I enjoyed the mustard flavour running through the chicken and kale, and having thought I didn’t like kale, I was pleasantly surprised!

I also wasn’t sure this would fill two people based on the few ingredients, but was very happy with the portion size!

I’m tempted to make this again, with a few tweaks and a switch of the cream cheese to a dairy-free version.

I give this recipe 8.5/10!

Food Challenge Recipe 7: Red Cabbage

I’m a huge fan of vegetables, and red cabbage is one I rarely eat. At Christmas time I love to visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park because I can get spiced red cabbage as a side to one of the dishes they serve at the Oktoberfest tent.

When a friend received her Hello Fresh box at work, and had two lots of the recipe cards, she kindly allowed me to take a couple of the extra cards home – I think she saw the gluttony in my eyes when I saw one particular recipe.

It was for balsamic steak with wedges and red cabbage, and despite not eating steak at home, I was intrigued enough the try the recipe and switch the steak for chicken.

I won’t go into the chicken part of the recipe, because it’s incredibly un-photogenic (you’ll see) and the wedges were just wedges (with rosemary and they were delicious) but the real star here was that cabbage.

You start with half a small red cabbage, cut the stalk out and thinly slice. I didn’t slice mine nearly thinly enough, but we live and learn.

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I also sliced a small onion into half moons and this was thrown into a pot and cooked into a little oil over a medium heat. I cooked this until soft (about 5 minutes). I then added 1 tsp of mustard seeds and after about 30 seconds, when they started to pop, I added the cabbage.

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This was stirred together and then cooked down for about 5 minutes until soft (I think I could have cooked mine down for a little longer to be fair).

At this point I added 2 tbsp of white wine vinegar, a sprinkle of sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Then I popped on a lid and cooked for 5 minutes on a low heat. I then removed the lid and cooked uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Then it was ready to eat. This recipe was supposed to make enough for 2 people but it was easily enough for 4. I was eating it with every meal for the next couple of days! It was delicious though, so I didn’t mind.

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I warned you the chicken looked horrendous, but the rest was yummy. I glazed the chicken in the balsamic marinade for steak, but it didn’t really come through so it just tasted like plain chicken by the end!

I’ll give the recipe for the cabbage a 6/10 I need to cook less, chop it smaller and cook it longer next time!

Food Challenge Week 6: Ratatouille Linguine

The Disney reference in the title of this week’s dish was just a happy coincidence, I assure you. In fact I didn’t realise I had named a dish after two of the characters in the Pixar film Ratatouille until I was just about to start writing this post….. I’m obviously a little slow on the uptake.

So this week’s recipe is a variation on this recipe. I have changed it up a little, firstly because I tasted it and it needed tweaking and secondly because I don’t like spaghetti… Oh and also because the idea of nutritional yeast creeps me out – but this dish doesn’t need cheese (or any alternative) on top anyway. Who puts cheese on ratatouille??

I’ll preface this recipe with the fact that I don’t like either aubergine or courgette, but G-Man does so I thought I’d go with it.

When I begin a recipe, I always start off by preparing all the veg, chopping it up (as long as it won’t go bad before I get to use it) and measuring out anything I need to so I can be relaxed and chilled when I’m actually doing the cooking.

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I chopped up 1 small white onion, 1 small aubergine, courgette and a normal sized pepper. All into small chunks.

I don’t like to use garlic when I can avoid it because, as I’ve mentioned before, we don’t really enjoy the acridity garlic gives, in this household. So when I can, I’ll use garlic oil instead. I heated 1 tbsp of garlic olive oil in my deep frying pan and lightly browned the chopped veg.

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Then I added chopped tomatoes (400g can), water (480ml boiled), balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and then linguine for 2 people (which I snapped in half for easier cooking and eating!)

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I brought this to the boil and then letter it simmer for 13 minutes, lightly stirring occasionally (at 10 minutes test the pasta and then add on time in 1 minute increments until the pasta is cooked how you like, if it’s not al dente yet)

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The sauce will have thickened and it’ll all come together. Then taste and season. I added pepper, sea salt and a small teaspoon of sugar to help the tomatoes along. Stir, taste and continue to season until it’s perfect.

Take it off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp of chopped fresh basil.

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It’s a sloppy dish to eat, this one, so no white shirts to be worn during dinner!

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We started eating and felt like something was missing. It needed a flavour a little deeper, so G-Man suggested the Waitrose Balsamic Vinegar glaze we have in the cupboard. It’s very versatile and can be used hot or cold, so we drizzled some over top and WOW was he right. The glaze added just the right amount of sweetness and depth and really complemented the dish.

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Clean plates all round! This recipe actually made enough for 3 people, despite it being measured out for two, so I took the leftovers to work one day in the week, and it was just as good the second time around!

I think I’ll definitely be making this again, and it’ll be just as good in the Summer as it has been in the Winter.

Yum yum! 9.5/10 for this recipe even though I don’t usually like aubergine or courgette!