Food Challenge Recipe 20: One Pot Vegetarian Chilli Mac

This week’s recipe is another Mexican inspired one. I think this warmer weather has me thinking of hotter climates all over the world and all I want is spice and punchy flavour!

I found this recipe on Pinterest and I’ve tweaked it somewhat so that it tastes the way I like it. This recipe serves 3 people and is fairly filling. It required using some frozen chopped veg which I’d never used before, and tomato soup instead of passata to add depth.

I found a tomato and herb soup which didn’t have any dairy in, so I used this. It was 100ml less liquid than the recipe required so I made up the rest by adding to the required water volume.

Here’s what I did!

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I took 70g of frozen diced onion, 125g of sliced frozen mixed peppers and 4 medium mushrooms which had been diced, and soften them in a pan in some already warm olive oil. The recipe also called for 1/2 a mild chilli, diced. I can’t handle too much heat so I left this out.

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Once softened I added 120g of canned (rinsed) kidney beans, 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp mild chilli powder and 1/4 tsp of ground cumin. I also added salt and pepper (but not too much because this could be tweaked later on) I stirred this around and then added 400ml of tomato soup and 250ml of water.

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I mixed this up and then added 180g of dry macaroni. You can use whichever pasta you’d like, but I just so happened to have some macaroni in my cupboard. I brought this to a simmer and let it cook for 15 mins, stirring regularly.

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At about 5 minutes before the end of cooking, I tasted the liquid and decided it needed more salt and 1 tsp of sugar to break the acidity. I also decided it needed a bit more depth and asked Gary to choose a BBQ sauce from his vast collection. I needed one which wasn’t too sweet, was a little vinegary and with a bit of smoke. I added 1.5 tbsp (approx) of this, gave it a stir and the flavour was just right.

At 15 minutes, the macaroni wasn’t cooked yet so I gave it some more time, testing it in 5 minutes increments and adding a little boiling water if I felt it was getting to dry. This macaroni seems to always need 10 minutes more cooking time when cooking it within a one pot dish, so I was prepared for this, but your pasta might cook faster.

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When I was happy with the ‘bite’ of the pasta, it was time to serve!

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I served mine with some grated lactose-free mature cheddar, but it would be equally nice with snipped spring onions or herbs on top.

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This was a super quick and really easy, hearty meal to cook. It even tasted great when I had the leftovers for lunch during the week.

I think I’ll be making this again!

I give this recipe 8.5/10

Food Challenge Recipe 19: Fresh Orange Sorbet

When I started this challenge I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just making recipes for me, but also making recipes Gary would like and giving us both the opportunity to expand our cooking skills.

Orange sorbet has been one of his favourites since the 80’s when this was something you could get everywhere – it was the sorbet flavour of choice! But now you really can’t find it. More often than not it’ll be mango, raspberry or lemon sorbet, and if you do find orange, it’s usually blood orange which doesn’t taste the same.

This year we took the plunge and bought a very reasonably priced ice cream maker. The idea being he could make his sorbet and since I’m unable to eat standard dairy ice cream, I could also use it to try my hand at making dairy-free ice creams!

So to start we decided to give orange sorbet a try. There are a tonne of orange sorbet recipes, all differing, but being the same all at once. The amount of juice and sugar you need are the most common variants, but we found a recipe that looked fairly good and decided to go with that one.

To start with, you need to make sure that if you’re using an ice cream maker with a freezer bowl, you’ve put it in the freezer for the relevant amount of time ahead of beginning your recipe. Then you need to make a sugar syrup.

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You bring 1 cup of water (250ml) and 1/2 cup (125ml) sugar to the boil and then let it simmer low for 20 minutes.

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You can tell the syrup is done when the fluidity of the liquid is thicker than water and it lightly coats the back of a metal teaspoon.

Then you take it off the heat and let it cool. We took this opportunity to juice the oranges at this point, whilst the sugar syrup was cooling.

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We had a net of 7 oranges so we juiced them all. We needed 2 cups (500ml) of juice for this recipe, so after juicing all the oranges we had a small glass of juice left over to drink. Yummy!

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By this point, the syrup was room temperature, so we poured the juice into the syrup and gave it a quick whisk together.

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This then went into the fridge for an hour to chill. After the hour we took it out, assembled the ice cream maker and set it to work!

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This churned for 30 minutes, which may have been a bit too long, but we’re still learning.

What came out of the machine was more like a granita than a sorbet.

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But the taste was epic. Essentially this is frozen, sweetened orange juice. But it was incredible. So much so that the whole of the following day at work I was craving another bowl of the stuff!

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This was a good, fairly simple recipe to follow and the resulting flavours were really great. We need to try this again but churn the mixture for about 5 minutes less.

This will be great to try again in the heat of the summer, and I’m eager to try different flavours too!

I give this recipe 8/10

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

Dinner at ENEKO Basque Kitchen & Bar

I consider myself something of a foodie. I have fairly high standards, and though I have some dietary stipulations with regards to what my body can and can’t tolerate, when I eat I want to eat great quality and interesting food.

I watch Masterchef every year. As a kid I would watch the Lloyd Grossman format of Masterchef and my whole family was convinced I would apply for the children’s version but never actually did. They still always thought I’d be a chef when I grew up.

Clearly that never happened. I think the kitchens are too hot and stressful, and I don’t enjoy being told what to do. Nevertheless, I still cook and I love to watch cooking shows to pick up tips and inspiration. And I LOVE to eat.

This year one of the first professional kitchen challenges was at ENEKO in Covent Garden. A Basque kitchen and grill that brought the flavours of traditional Spanish cooking to London and in a unique and original way. Bringing in the elements of fine dining, but still offering an accessible menu, I was totally impressed when I visited their website.

Down to some freakish fluke, our Sky box recorded that episode of Masterchef from BBC Wales HD an hour earlier than it was being shown to the rest of the country and so when we tuned in 10 minutes after the start and saw the restaurant, we were able to view the site and book a table before the site was bombarded with hits from the rest of the country. It must have been fate since an hour later we couldn’t get onto the site any more!

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We arrived at the location, positioned just opposite the Lyceum Theatre which is currently showing the Lion King. The weather that day had been glorious so people were on the streets outside the pubs and bars soaking in the last of the day’s sunshine before heading into the theatre.

We entered the restaurant and were greeted by the lovely maître d’ who took us to our table. Down the stairs and into a small but not too small dining area, with some cosy booths and floor tables all with candles. The lighting was dim but not too dark and it created a cosy but airy atmosphere. It was light enough to see your food and menu but dark enough to feel intimate.

From our table you could see into the kitchen and view the pass, which Gary and I both find fascinating.

Our waiter was really friendly, and explained the new menu, which had a ‘tapas’ feel based on small and larger plates. The idea is to order little bits to share, and go for differing sizes plates dependent on how hungry you are.

He took our drinks order. Having noticed only wines on the menu, and since I don’t really drink, I asked him what non-alcoholic beverages they had. I was told they could make any cocktail I wished to a non-alcoholic recipe and he asked what I wanted. I asked for something with an elderflower base and was told he would ask the bar to make me something up. The resulting drink was elderflower with soda and I think a hint of lemon. So refreshing and just what I wanted.

To eat, Gary decided he wanted two of the smaller plates and a side, and I went for one larger plate and a side.

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In the picture above you can see left at the back is Gary’s beetroot tartare, with soufflé potato and barbecue sauce. And on the right is his Traditional Talo. This was crispy corn talo (like tortilla chips), heritage tomatoes and basil emulsion. This also had other sauces and caviar type beads on with edible greens and flowers. I wish I knew exactly what was on it but the overall flavour was incredible. At the front is my tempura hake with red pepper sauce and a parsley emulsion.

We also ordered mashed potato which came with an apple compote, and grilled tenderstem broccoli which was topped with toasted hazelnuts.

So, what did we think of our mains?

The beetroot tartare was so unique. I only tasted a little and a little of the sauce. Being tartare it was cold, and the beetroot was finely chopped. The flavour was fresh and not overpowering. The sauce was powerful and also fresh – not too sweet but packed a punch.

The Talo was incredible. The fresh flavours of the tomato was brought out by the various sauces and vinegars.

My hake was incredible. The fish was light but meaty and so flavourful and the tempura was light and crisp. The pepper sauce was almost like a gravy underneath and I wish I knew how they made it! I detest parsley but actually liked it on this!

Gary was in love with the mash – it was so smooth and buttery, and though I would never usually consider paring apple compote with mash, when you did, it really cut through the creaminess and added another dimension.

My broccoli was lovely, but didn’t need the nuts on top. Still the whole thing was well-rounded, and I think we chose our menu rather well!

Then onto dessert.

We both decided to go for Apple Cake which came with cider sorbet.

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Less of a cake, and more what I’d describe as the fruit from a tarte tatin but without the pastry, this ‘cake’ was really delicious. Fine layers of apple were topped with a creme brulee type layer of sugar that had been torched to a cracking, sticky, burnt sugar lid. Topped with an incredible cider sorbet and then some very very thin caramel apple crisps. Along side was a cream inside fine green apple twists and around the edge was an INCREDIBLE green apple sauce. I could have eaten a whole bowl of that green apple goo.

Such an amazing end to the meal. This dish wasn’t too heavy, or sweet. It was very balanced and wonderful to eat!

Throughout the meal, the staff were aware of everything going on, attentive but not overbearing. Checking everyone had water, being aware of when people had finished eating, holding the door open for the bathroom when people enquired where it was (the bathrooms had the most incredible waterfall taps in the sinks!)

We were both beyond impressed. It was clear these people know how to invent dishes, cook them and host an amazing restaurant. I’m going to be keeping an eye on their menu as they tweak and add things, because I’m very interested in returning and tasting more.

If you want to see whether their food is something you’ll enjoy, visit their website and take a look at their menu. I found Eneko to be accessible both for food and atmosphere, and had a truly lovely evening there. We’ll be back!

Food Challenge Recipe 16: The Ultimate Veggie Burrito

For about a week before I made this recipe, I wanted to eat it. I pulled the bulk of the method from this recipe, and adapted it to my skill set and for the kind of flavours I like.

I love carbs and this recipe includes rice, potatoes and tortilla wraps, as well as beans and peppers. It was love at first sight! Burritos aren’t really a thing in the UK and I can’t say I had much to compare this to, but it was easy and delicious, and though my burrito wrapping needs some practice, I don’t mind eating one with a knife and fork until I’ve perfected that part!

Also, this part of the recipe (the filling) feeds 8 people, and I made that much so I would have leftovers for my lunches in the week.

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I started with 3 tablespoons of garlic infused oil in my largest pan, and popped a diced onion and 3 peppers, also diced.

Once these had cooked down a little and softened, I added 3 peeled and diced potatoes, 1 can of rinsed black beans, 500ml of vegetable stock, 85g of double concentrate tomato puree, 1 tsp of ground cumin and 1 tsp of smokey chipotle paste (add more or less dependent on your tastes and how hot the paste you have is). I then seasoned to taste once this was all mixed together.

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I brought this to the boil and then let it simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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You need to make sure, after this time, that the potatoes are fork tender, so if they’re not keep them simmering until they are.

When the filling was nearing the end of its cooking time, I started on the rice. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t cook rice, so I like to use the microwave rice packs. They’re so easy and the rice is perfect, so why not! I microwaved one pack according to the packet, and then heaped in 3 large spoonfuls of salsa from a jar. I mixed this together lightly, and presto the rice was done!

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By this point the filling was cooked, the liquid had boiled down nicely, and I tasted for seasoning and everything tasted good!

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To put this together, I laid a tortilla down, popped a thick line of filling down the middle, and then some rice to one side and some grated cheese to the other.

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My condiment of choice for these type of flavours is ketchup, but you choose whatever you want or no sauce at all. Guacamole would be lovely too. I added mayonnaise and ketchup and then tried to roll my burrito….

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I decided to leave my second one ‘open’ since my first collapsed so much, and I definitely ate this was a knife and fork. But either way, it was delicious!

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Despite the first one collapsing, the flavours were all wonderful and it was all very filling. Gary and I both agreed we could have managed one and a half instead of the two we ate!

This was a definite success, and I’ll be making this again!

I give this recipe 10/10!

Food Challenge Recipe 15: Baked Cheesy Gnocchi

I’d planned to try my hand at making fresh gnocchi a few weeks back, but when I got around to it the recipe I’d picked was clearly wrong and all the others I’d seen took way too long to make for the dinner I had planned.

When I saw this week’s recipe I really wanted to give it a go, but didn’t have the time (or inclination) to make the gnocchi myself, so I just bought the packets from the fresh pasta section of the supermarket. Much easier!

This is another vegetarian recipe, and can be made lactose/dairy free dependent on the choice of cheese you make. The original recipe was meant to use mozzarella but I didn’t want any dairy in my dish, and I don’t like the texture of mozzarella anyhow.

I tweaked this recipe in some parts, but loved the fact that I was making tomato sauce from scratch because that’s something I’ve never done before. I’d like to do it again and tweak it some more, maybe add some different herbs in. This recipe makes enough for 4/5 so we had leftovers for another meal in the week.

Here goes!:

I started by finely chopping 1 red onion and roughly chopping 6 large ripe tomatoes.

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I sweated down the onion in 2 tbsp of garlic olive oil. I didn’t add the garlic cloves that the recipe asked for (4!) and used garlic infused oil instead, which I much preferred and had the desired effect.

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The I added the tomatoes and cooked them down until they started to break down.

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Once they’d started to break down, I added 1/2 cup of passata, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp of sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

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I then let this simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

When this was nearing the end of its time cooking, I put the fan oven on to 200c and cooked the gnocchi according to the packet.

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See the little blighters floating to the top!

Once everything was cooked, I tasted the sauce to check it was seasoned correctly, removed the bay leaves and stirred in a handful of torn basil leaves.

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And then I stirred in the cooked gnocchi.

Then I topped it with grated cheese and popped it into the oven.

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After 10 minutes the cheese was bubbling and melted!

I topped it with some more fresh basil and it was ready to serve.

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Although not very photogenic, this meal was delicious! The gnocchi was soft and fluffy and the sauce was really deep with flavour. The cheese had managed to melt down into the gnocchi and added a little salt to the flavour too.

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I was really impressed with this dish and will definitely be making it again – and definitely be making the sauce again to try with other things!

I give this recipe 9.5/10

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