Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken

I love my slow cooker. It's amazing for batch cooking, economical to run and saves a lot of time when I'm busy. If I'm feeling super-organised, I can fill in with ingredients in the morning, leave it on low and then go off to work. Sometimes I leave it cooking overnight if it's something for the freezer, but then it's a bit strange to be woken by delicious dinner smells in the morning! I originally asked for a slow cooker as a birthday present, but I was a bit taken aback when I opened it and saw how enormous it was for my postage stamp-sized kitchen! Evidently, mum had asked the sales lady what size would be good and she sold her the largest one they had, which serves 6-8 people; not exactly suitable for someone living on their own. Still, it's excellent now I have a normal size kitchen and when I'm so keen on batch cooking. I use it a lot.

When I first starting using the slow cooker, it seemed to be just a lot of casserole recipes that I was making, and I wanted something a bit different. This Mexican-style slow cooked chicken recipe is really tasty and can be thrown together with things that you would probably have in your cupboard already. It has lots of Mexican flavour from the chilli and the cumin and it's a really substantial meal with the combination of the chicken and the kidney beans. What I really love about it though, is that it's just so versatile in terms of how you can eat it. We have eaten it lots of different ways- with rice, or over a jacket potato, in a wrap, or in the Old El Paso "Stand n Stuff" boat shaped tortillas. It freezes really well, so I often make a big batch for busy weeks. 


Once you try it,  I guarantee that it will go on your list of regular dinners!


If you are on Slimming World, this recipe is syn free.



The Improving Cook- Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Even when the weather is sunny and gorgeous, the temperature in my office is arctic until about 4pm. I'm not sure I can do another chilly day in my office with a cold lunch, so it got me thinking again about soups- best way to warm up! It's partly my own fault for clinging on to my summer wardrobe for so long.

One of my favourite soups first came to my attention when our wedding caterer suggested Curried Butternut Squash Soup for a starter.  We were totally wowed by it and there were clean plates from most of our wedding guests too. Our wedding was in February, so it was just the thing to warm everyone up! Since the wedding we have regularly made batches of curried butternut squash soup at home to see us through some of the cold days. It also freezes really well, so I can make big batches at one time. The flavour is sweet but with a kick and, like most soups, delicious with fresh crusty bread. Peeling and chopping the butternut squash is something of a workout, so I'm pretty sure I've earned crusty bread by the time I have made a batch of it!



If you are on Slimming World, swap the oil for cooking spray and this recipe will be syn free.


The Improving Cook- Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Spiced Apple Cobbler

At the weekend, my parents came to visit and my dad brought with him a haul of apples from his garden. I'm not a big apple eater, but I love cooking and baking with apples, especially this time of year. Apple crumble tastes like autumn to me, and any dessert that goes well with custard is a winner!
They visited my sister today and gave her a selection as well. She was wondering what to make with them, and I suggested apple cobbler as an alternative to crumble. So, this recipe is for her!

Cobbler is a fruit dessert which is topped with either a cake or scone-like covering. Rhubarb, apple, peach or fruit combinations all work really well. As I've got apples, apple it is. The ones I used were eating apples, but you would normally use cookers.


The Improving Cook- apple cobbler


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Salmon with Coconut Rice

We've had quite a lot of potatoes recently (thank you, home-made oven chips!), so last night I fancied something with rice. I love salmon, and usually I add a marinade or a spice coating to it. This time I decided to experiment with making coconut rice to get a bit more flavour into the rice, rather than the salmon, leaving the salmon to revel in it's own salmony loveliness! I added peas for colour plus the veggie factor, and it turned out very well. Lots of flavour from the lemongrass, garlic and coconut and an almost risotto-like consistency. I used shallots because their sweetness works so well with garlic and when you cut them in rounds, you get lovely long strings of shallot weaving their way through the rice. If you don't have any shallots, you'll be fine with a standard white onion.

We are on a a bit of a health kick at the moment, so I used brown rice and reduced fat coconut milk, but you don't have to!



Sunday, September 20, 2015

Warming Chicken Soup

Next week is apparently going to be cold, wet and possibly stormy. Excellent. Not really the week for sandwiches or salad at lunchtime then! Feeling cold and hungry at work is never productive for me. When the weather's like that, one of the main things that works for me is soup, because it's easy to make in bulk and have ready to hand when you need it.

I have a few favourite soups, most of them vegetable. I don't often go for a meaty soup. Today though, I made chicken soup as I had a chicken breast that needed using up. It's so good with crusty bread, but today we had it with multigrain bagels, just as nice! It's a very straight forward soup with a butter, onion, potato and carrot base. It's great for using up leftover chicken, but if you really fancied a bowl, you could cook some specially. It freezes well so you could make a big batch and freeze it for later too.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Home-made oven chips

I love chips. All kinds, with very few exceptions. Chunky chips, pub-style chips, skin on, skin off, curly fries, chip-shop chips, skinny chips, fast food chips and so on. If I was really pushed, I don't really like shoestring fries, but I wouldn't turn them down if they were put in front of me. I feel it's my duty as a Brit do do my part as far as chips go!

The only problem is, of course, that chips are not that great for you in abundance, especially the delicious traditionally deep fried kind that you get in fast food places and restaurants. Shame. The other problem is that we don't all have deep fat fryers in our kitchens like my mum had in my childhood, even if we wanted to cook them this way.


Usually, I have a bag of oven chips knocking around in my freezer for quick dinners. I tend to go for McCain Homefries, as they are a bit chunkier than most. Oven chips are fine, but they just don't give you the same yummy fix as "proper" chips. Recently, there was a day when we were feeling like we wanted a treat, but due to trying to lose weight, didn't want to go into full-on takeaway mode. I was feeling uninspired by oven chips and thought, it can't be that hard to make my own home-made oven chips?


It really wasn't, and once I had made home-made oven chips, I wished I had done it earlier! They really are tasty and not that much effort; no more than roast potatoes. All you need is potatoes and oil. That's it! 2 ingredients can't be bad.


The Improving Cook- Home-made oven chips

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quick Sausage Cassoulet

Making a real French cassoulet is a long process, but when you fancy it for dinner, you don't have the hours spare to make it. A quick cassoulet is possible I have discovered, after some experimentation, with sausages. Traditionally, French peasants used goose, partridge or mutton, but I tend not to have those hanging around in my freezer!

This quick sausage cassoulet recipe is inspired by a Weight Watchers one. I was searching around for something hearty to have for dinner, as there's nothing worse than eating what feels like "diet food" when you're trying to slim down. I was surprised to find that my husband loved it and declared it his favourite dinner. He has requested regularly since and I have continued to adapt and change it over time.


What I was pleased about, is that normally I avoid recipes that involve more than a couple of processes, too many pans etc, but with this one, I went for it and the result was totally worth it.



sausage cassoulet cooked in a casserole dish

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roasted Vegetable and Feta Giant Couscous Salad

I don't know about you, but I get very easily bored by my work lunches. I love sandwiches, but when you're on a weightloss programme, as I currently am, bread sucks up a lot of your daily allowances. So, I was looking for something different and discovered a salad pot in Sainsbury's that was spicy giant couscous with feta and chickpeas. So delicious! I had never had giant couscous before and I really liked it. I had it once a week for at least a term.

I wondered if I could make something similar for myself at home, so I started looking for the giant couscous in supermarkets.  It's sometimes called Israeli couscous and is quite different in appearance to ordinary couscous. It looks more like little spheres or pearls than grains. I found a couple of options: Merchant Gourmet make it and Sainsbury's also have an own brand version.

I did a bit of experimenting and there's a lot of different ways you can make lunch with it- definitely not boring! The bonus is that it's great for batch cooking and then having ready in containers in the fridge to take to work each day. I like the small square Sistema ones as they are the perfect size.

This version uses roasted vegetables (peppers and aubergine) mixed through giant couscous with some feta cheese and fresh coriander. Fresh, delicious and much more interesting than a sandwich!

Roasted Vegetable and Feta Couscous Salad in Sistema pots


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