Saturday 23 January 2016

Prep. Ahead Family Meals – Sticky Chicken Thighs

This make ahead meal is a Jamie classic onepot from his Jamie at Home book. It’s very simple, but also very tasty and perfect to make ahead, pop in a bag and tip into a roasting tin when you want it.
Buy boneless skin-on chicken thighs if you can and cut into three strips. Bag up separately from the rest of the ingredients. Buy a range of different coloured tomatoes and plunge into boiling water for a few minutes til the skins peels away easily. Put these into your freezer bag. Boil some new potatoes until just tender, drain, the squash slightly til your hear and feel the skin on one side split. Add these to the bag. Pop in salt and pepper, a few strands of fresh oregano (dried will do), a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and a large splash of red wine vinegar. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator.
sticky chicken
On your chosen night, lightly fry off the chicken, skin side down to get a bit of colour. It doesn’t need to be cooked through. Tip that, and the bag of tomatoes and potatoes into a hot roasting tin along with any liquid left in the bag. If it looks a bit dry, another glug of oil and vinegar should do the trick. Depending on how large your pieces of thigh were, roast at 180 for between 25 and 45 minutes. Serve with something green – a bag of spinach is quick, easy and nutritious!

Thursday 21 January 2016

Prep. Ahead Family Meals–Tortilla Pizzas

This is another really easy one and great way to use up any leftover veg. I planned this specialfially as we had half a pack of tortillas left from the week before’s Spicy Fajita Wraps, so didn’t add them to the shopping list this week. It’s definitely a money saver planning ahead.
For the tomato pizza topping, I heated a carton of value passata along with a splodge of tomato puree, a splash of red wine, pepper, dried herbs, crushed garlic and a pinch of sugar to take the acid away from the tomatoes. Leave this to simmer on the hob for between 20 and 40 minutes until it begins to thicken. Store in a sealed tub or jar. You can freeze this too if you wanted to make a bigger batch. As for the toppings, choose your favourites. We were lucky enough to have a lovely chorizo brought back from Spain for us (much more useful than a straw donkey!) and as a family, we seem to enjoy the salty flavours of this combined with pineapple – very American I know! I also sliced red peppers and mushrooms. Once all the ingredients are prepped, seal into a bag and refridgerate. You could also grate cheese, or pull apart Mozzerella at this stage too, but I’d bag it separately. It’s as easy to simply grate the cheese from the packet on the night in question.
I was lucky enough to have been sent an Oxo Goodgrips Simple Mandoline Slicer (£40) last year and have been using it intermittently ever since, especially when everything needs to be cut to the same thickness, but when there’s lots of prep. to be done, it really comes in handy. I use it on both hard and soft vegetables and also the chorizo – it’s so hard to use a knife to chop chorizo thinly, but the mandoline has several thickness settings, so is perfect. It also has a lock facility with the blade closed so you won’t have any nasty accidents when washing up! The good grips rubber does its job of holding the mandoline in place on the surface too. So while I wouldn’t use it to chop everything, it certainly has its place and makes life easier when getting ahead!
On the night, simply add your tomato paste to your pizzas, top, grate cheese over and put onto a hot baking tray into a hot oven for a few minutes. Keep checking on it: you don’t want to burn the edges. Oh, and open that can of pinapple pieces too!20160114_174400
I’ll continue to post my weekly meal planner recipes for the next week or so, to get you started (!), then just update an odd new one every now and then. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the post if you have any questions or comments about the posts, or any requests for meals!
Disclaimer: Although I was sent products to try, all views and opinions are entirely my own, truthful and honest.

Monday 18 January 2016

Prep. Ahead Family Meals–Beef Bourguignon

As far as prep. ahead meals go, slow cooker or one pot ones are the ultimate. Absolutely nothing needs doing on the night itself, unless you want to add mash / rice, etc. I must say, I simply cannot cook rice (it needs too much attention) so I’ve taken to buying those microwave packets. They always seem to be on offer and I try to choose the whole grain, brown or wild rice packets which have ‘green’ indicators for salt etc. I’ve also taken to cheating with mash, buying it frozen since it’s simply potatoes and butter. That way, even if you want to pimp your stew, it’s a case of throwing something into the microwave.
Now on to the bourguignon. It’s a really easy one. You’ll need small round shallots, a small onion, button mushrooms, pancetta or streaky bacon, red wine and stewing or braising beef. Peel the shallots, wipe the mushrooms and chop the onion and pop into the freezer bag. Chop the steak, coat in flour and add that too. Sprinkle in some seasoning to your taste, I just used pepper, some dried mediterranean herbs, and a bay leaf or two. I always find meat cooked in alcohol alone a little bitter, so tend to add a large dollop of redcurrant jelly too. Now pour in red wine, enough to cover the ingredients, and seal the bag. I then put this into a bowl in the fridge so if it leaked, I’d still be able to rescue the juices! You could always use tubs /  tupperware etc. instead of plastic freezer bags, but freezer bags do lie nicely flat if you’re going to freeze them.
The great thing about this is that you tip the bag into the slow cooker, or a lidded casserole into a low oven, in the morning and when you return home from work, it’s ready to eat. I shoved some broccoli and mash into the microwave and served. Really really easy, especially when you’ve done all the hard work (like peeling shallots) in advance. A treat to come home to!

Sunday 17 January 2016

Prep. Ahead Family Meals - Homemade McDonalds!

It seems that each year I *need* to buy a new attachment for the KitchenAid and, after watching Jamie and Jimmy on Friday nights, wanted to try to make my own saltless sausages. I did succeed using the usual food processor, but the blade isn’t overly sharp and it was difficult to break down the fat in the cuts of meat needed for sausages. Therefore, I ordered a food grinder attachment and the fun began! Keep an eye out for a vlog detailing how to use it to make these!


I bought free-range chicken breasts and proceeded to feed them through the grinder. It worked a treat! I added pepper to the mix, and bagged up. This was the only prep. that really needed doing for this meal since I don’t like cutting potatoes up ahead of time in case they go brown. If you don’t have a grinder, you can use the processor, especially for chicken breasts, or leave the breast whole and just flatten it slightly by putting it in a freezer bag and battering with a rolling pin!

On the night I took the chicken mince out and shaped it: chicken nuggets for F and chicken burgers for us, then coated everything in breadcrumbs mixed with lemon zest and pepper. (I didn’t need egg and flour to help the coating stick as minced chicken is very sticky anyway!) These are something you can easily make ahead and keep a store of in the freezer as I do. Stale baguettes work especially well. I put lumps of mine into the coffee grinder then leave out to dry out a bit before popping into a tub and freezing. To get colour on your McDonalds, you’re best frying off slightly on a hot heat first, before putting in the oven at about 180 degrees to complete cooking. The nuggets took 10-15 mins and the burgers 20ish. I cut the seeded burger buns and toasted them slightly too. I chopped potatoes and sweet potatoes on the night and put them with a little olive oil into a hot oven. Once cooked, top the bread with iceberg lettuce and mayo then the burger.


It’s always more fun if you make little bags for the nuggets and chips for the little ones, so I just folded some greaseproof baking paper and used masking tape to tape up the sides.





This meal was a definite hit. F even said “Thank you for making this mum. I really love it!” We healthied ours up a bit with sweet potato chips and salad but since there was no salt at all and mainly oven baked, it was a fun and healthy treat!

Saturday 16 January 2016

Jamie Oliver’s Steamed Buns! (with crispy duck)

I made this recipe for the first time around a year ago when the KitchenAid was shiny and new…think the recipe must have been on TV at the time and the buns looked perfect to serve crispy duck. I made the mistake of not posting it, however, and searched for it online ever since. Well, a year later, I found it, and made them again.

duck breadYou can find the recipe here for the buns – I added yeast to the warm water and left it for a few minutes then added that and everything else to the KitchenAid and let it do its work for ten mins. Leave to double in size before knocking back and rolling into balls. The recipe makes 40 (!) so I halved it…we ate around 7 on the night and had another 7ish leftover, which I freezed. Simply re-steam to use again once defrosted.


I don’t have a bamboo steamer so had to improvise and make my own. I half filled a frying pan with hot water and placed a wire cooling rack on top. Cover the rack with greasproof paper or baking parchment and pop your rolled and folded buns on top. Cover with a wok or another simliar sized pan upsidedown. Try to resist the temptation to peek for at least 10 minutes if you can! I worried that this batch would be like stones, but the steam did its job and they were light and fluffy.


Serve the buns with whatever you fancy. Jamie does pork, I prefer duck. I used two Gressingham Duck legs (but could have done with three – I didn’t realised how much F would adore them) and rubbed them with star anise and 5-spice the night before. Then left sealed in a freezer bag ready to put into the oven for 90 minutes the next night. In fact, this was one of my first ‘Prep. Ahead’ meals whereby I try to get all the ingredients chopped and ready a few days beforehand so I have nothing to do on the night! Now, I knew I had the buns to do, but they were an on/off thing all day really! I servied with Hoi Sin, cucumber and spring onion. And to add a healthy kick, Jamie’s Jiggy Jiggy greens from his 15 minute Seared Tuna recipe.

jiggy greens

I’m sorry there are no pictures of the finished article: we ate them too quickly! But I’m making them again next week so if I remember, I’ll take some then and add to this post!


Friday 15 January 2016

Family Meal Planning & Prep. Ahead tricks…


So, it’s a new year and I’m sure many new challenges await us all. One of mine this year has been how to make healthy meals from scratch after being at work all day, especially now that I’m pregnant. I really just hadn’t been bothered in the weeks before Christmas and, due to this, food has been wasted, thrown out, and meals have been fairly rubbish! With this in mind, and inspired by @domesticjules, I bought myself a meal planner – I always feel nice stationery helps in these situations! Around the same time, I also wondered how I could save myself having to get out the knife, chopping board, several pans, etc. every night when I got home. My way around it is to have one massive prep. session for the week ahead, easy if you know what you’re eating and have shopped for just those ingredients.

And so I began…first with the meal planner. I wanted a balance of one-pot/slow cooker meals that simply needed tipping into the cooker or a roasting tin and leaving til they were cooked, lighter meals with minimal extra prep. such as tortilla pizzas where you’d just need to grate cheese, add salad, etc. and meals where you still might need to do a little cooking, such as making mash, boiling veg. or rice. With this combination, some nights you’ll have nothing to do which will balance with the few evenings you only have a little to do! Plan these meals for the days you know you can be home a little earlier or you’ve had an easier day!


Once the meals are planned, go into the kitchen and make a list of all ingredients you need. Consider if you could substitute things for store cupboard / freezer ingredients you already have, e.g. mashed potato for rice. Here’s the tricky bit – do not add anything else to the list!

Go shopping and stick to the list. Make sure you hunt around for the longest use-by dates on all ingredients. Things like spinach, although they say they’ll only last until tomorrow, will often keep in the fridge for a few days longer. Meat, however, might not. Not to worry though, as most of the Prep. Ahead bags you’re going to make can be split into meat and veg. and the meat popped into the freezer and combined on the day, or, pop the whole bag of ‘meal’ into the freezer as long as there’s nothing in it that doesn’t cope well with being frozen!

Now for the prep. Because you're doing it all in one go, you'll find there’s less washing up, but a lot more ‘mess’! You’ll also save loads of time. All you need to do is chop veg and meat and pop into a suitably sized freezer bag. If you’re using things that don’t need chopping, like sausages, simply open the packet and put into the bag. Don’t forget the herbs, spices, seasoning too. I even added the wine to my Beef Bourguignon bag! If your meat and veg. are being cooked together, as a one-pot dish, then store in one bag. If you are cooking them separately, I suggest using separate bags (or leaving the meat in it’s original packaging if it doesn’t need marinating). Check you know those use-by dates for the meat and label each bag accordingly, then seal and store in the fridge, or even the freezer, just remember to get them out and defrost in fridge overnight. Remember not to refreeze previously frozen meat. I don’t tend to add peeled potatoes to the bags, unless covered with stock/wine, as they tend to go brown, nor pasta/rice. So I’d suggest leaving your carbs to cook on the night itself.

bags ready_thumb[3]

It’s really simple – plan, buy only what you need, chop, prep. and bag up. Then cook! It’s a homemade version of the expensive ‘tray bake’ type things you can buy in the supermarkets, or indeed, ready meals.

At the end of each week, you'll know what things you have leftover and can plan to use them next week. For example, I had 4 tortillas left over from making wraps in Week 1, so planned to use them as pizza bases in Week 2, using things I already have in different ways. This makes next week's shopping bill even less. The bill for my second week was only £28, which included braising steak and four free range chicken breasts. 

Now, what to put on the menu for next week?

Labels: meal, planning, freezer, meals, prep., ahead, ready made, homemade, make ahead, tray, bakes, healthy, tea, family, easy, quick, dinner, #prepahead

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