live better

Rounding off the Challenge

So, despite the fact that I did in fact continue the challenge, completed said challenge and took photos along the way, I never did write up the posts. Or anything else for here for that matter. So much for starting a good habit.

And well, for a while there life got a bit frantic, and then it had been too long and then well it got frantic again. However, life is not frantic right now. Life is quite mellow at the moment, I’ve a new job, in a new town and cooking has gone back to being a fun process rather than stress relief disguised as nutrition. I am resolved, I’m getting back into this, no backing out, I’ve told my flatmates – mockery will be forthcoming if I continue taking photos of my food and doing nothing with them.

Therefore, in order to move forward, I need to finish off the loose ends from the previous challenge.

Friday, Day 4 (and 6!)- Ramen
Ramen Ingredients
Leeks, mushrooms, cooked chicken, packet of ramen noodles.
Veg and ChickenNoodles
Veggies softened and chicken heated/Noodles bubbling gleefully.
Finished portion of Ramen, this unexpectedly made tons of food so I actually had enough left over to reconstitute on Sunday when I came home late from the station and needed something quick and hot and filling to eat.

Saturday, Day 5 – Thai Green Tofu Curry
On the Saturday I made Thai Curry and forgot to photograph it, but I made it again later in the month and remembered to bring the camera that time.
Thai Green Curry Ingredients
noodles, tofu, green beans, broccoli, pak choi, coconut milk and curry paste
sizzling tofuSteaming Pak Choi
Tofu sizzling in the paste/pak choi steaming away while the rest of the veg simmers below
Finished Curry
Et voila, the finished curry.

Monday, Day 7 – Risotto
Alright, so on Monday I wasn’t actually in the house for dinner so didn’t actually make anything, but to round off the challenge, here’s another process I photographed.
Rissotto Ingredients
Mushrooms, red pepper, pancetta, arborio rice and stock cubes. Normally there would actually be a glass of red wine in the stock for this, but as I was doing it in the spirit of the challenge and we didn’t have any in the house, there’s no red wine in this risotto.

Just Keep Stirring!Crispy Pancetta
wine or no wine in the stock, the important thing is to just keep stirring! / that and crispy pancetta
Finished Risotto
I don’t remember what I actually ate on the Monday, but it’s a fairly safe bet I’d rather have eaten this.

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Wednesday – Days 2 & 3

Wednesday night continued the plan of keep it simple with a pasta and sauce dish. I had half a pepper from the night before, along with the remains of the packets of green beans and mushrooms that needed used up. Also unearthed in the fridge was an unexpected full tub of cream cheese, an entirely expected third of a carton of passata (a fridge/cupboard staple in our house, it amuses me inordinately that its considered a ‘foodie’ ingredient when I tend to buy the Tesco value version) and some cooked chicken.
Jar of pasta, cooked chicken, cream cheese, chopped pepper, mushrooms and greenbeans

I thought, seeing that I was writing up this recipe that I would actually measure out the pasta on the scales, instead of just counting out handfuls (2 per person) of pasta as I usually do. Amusingly it turns out that, at least when it comes to pasta bows, 2oz pasta per person does in fact equal two handfuls. Bow pasta on the other hand turns out to expand massively so we could have lived with a bit less, but once that became clear I just upped the veg and chicken I was adding to the sauce and made enough for an extra portion for the following day – success! (I have college on a Thursday night so quick and easy dinner is ideal, thus I try to make extra of whatever I’m making on a Wednesday night so that I’ve got dinner for the following day)
Dried oragano
We’ve got an absolute ton of dried herbs and spices in the house, so I’m trying to use them up, so some dried oregano went in the pasta water (in place of salt of which I’m trying to use less) and some dried basil went in the sauce. I used to have a basil plant in the kitchen, which was just amazing for cooking with, I should get another of those once the better weather comes around.

The sauce itself is my cheating tomato sauce, I start with some mushrooms and sauté them until they’re nice and soft, and chuck in about half a teaspoon/a clove of chopped Garlic. (Speaking of food waste, I love cooking with Garlic but I never used to be able to use it all up before it sprouted, then we discovered ‘lazy garlic’ which is jars of pre-chopped garlic in a little vinegar to preserve it so now we use twice as much garlic and waste far less of it too. I’m sure you could do it yourself in a jar at home but its one of my absolute favourite convenience ingredients.) Then I added the pepper and give that a wee stir-fry, before adding the passata – between a third and half a carton depending on how many portions I’m making of it. Simmer that away for a few minutes and then reduce the heat and add the cream cheese – about a third of the tub usually, but more to taste or if it needs using up, as I often make this dish as a ‘what have we got in fridge?’ meal. Stir gently until fully blended, add seasoning (in this case ground basil) to taste and then add the cooked meat if using, simmer gently until meat is heated through or pasta is finished cooking and combine!
Pots simmering
This sauce actually has its origins in tomato and mascarpone sauce. I kept seeing it as these ‘fresh’ cook in sauces, so I read the ingredients one day and realised that I could make it myself cheaper with passata and mascarpone cheese. I did that a few times, and it was nice but I find mascarpone to be a bit bland, a bit too creamy and not cheesy enough in flavour really, so I tried substituting the mascarpone for cream cheese one day, liked it better and well its considerably cheaper as I’ve often got cream chees in for sandwiches anyway. I sometimes make it with ricotta if we happen to have some left, which is the tastiest option I find. A large proportion of my ‘experimentation’ in the kitchen is borne of looking in the fridge discovering that we don’t have x thing that I need for the recipe but we do have y similar item, shrugging and going ‘eh, we’ll try it’. It doesn’t always work but it works more often than not.

Finally, during my epic food shop the previous week I’d picked up one of those cheese and tomato over flat bread things, so that got stuck in the oven and served up with it. Quick, easy tea, using up loads of stuff we had kicking about in the fridge.
Finished product

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Tuesday – Day 1

Tuesday night was the first of my pre-planned meals – in the sense that I’d bought tortilla wraps with the intent to use up the half-carton of sour cream in the fridge, in full knowledge that there would be assorted veg and cheese in the fridge and some form of frozen dead animal in the freezer. I love fajitas. I don’t imagine for a moment that I make them remotely ‘authentically’ – for a start I always make them with packet spice mix, currently its actually taco mix I have open – but they’re fun to make and fun to eat and tasty.
Pre-prepped VegLots of Cheese
Normally I make them with chicken, mushrooms and red or yellow pepper, with a generous helping of whatever cheese is in the fridge.
Turkey MarinadingTurkey Sizzling Away
Tuesday’s mystery frozen meat was turkey so that got marinated in spice and oil while some slightly sad looking green beans (there was an entire crate of them ridiculously reduced when I was last food shopping) were refreshed by a wee top and tail and a par boil before being added to the frying pan with the rest of the veg. I’ve never put green beans in fajitas before, but they really work, I don’t know why I’d never thought to do that before, as beans of all kinds are a big part of Mexican food, it had just never occurred to me previously.
Everything sizzling away
I forgot to take a photo of the finished item as we like build your own food with Mexican food, so everything was piled through to the dining room table so everyone can get as much or as little as they prefer. Only waste from this one was the scabby ends of the beans and the pepper stalk and seeds that went in the compost. There was still half a pepper – put in a box in the fridge for pasta later in the week – and 2 wraps left in the packet – to be recycled as either sandwiches or burritos if I’m feeling adventurous.

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