Weekend Cook Fest 2

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Lemon roasted chicken, chicken risotto, chicken soup



  • 5 lb/2.5kg chicken (largest one you can find)
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 lemons
  • Herbs
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • Bundle fresh or dried herbs
  • Bay leaf
  • Swede
  • 1 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 oz grated parmesan
  • 7 oz risotto rice
  • Swede
  • 1 oz vermicelli or stellini pasta.


Technique and organisation:


STEP 1 – Roasted lemon chicken

Take a normal roasting chicken, put a peeled onion in thecavity along with a lemon cut into quarters, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top, rub softened butter on the breast, and sprinkle with dried herbs (preferably lemon thyme) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast according to weight (20 minutes a pound plus 20 minutes in a hot oven), until the bones easily come away from the body and the juices run clear or straw-coloured. Serve for Sunday lunch.


STEP 2 – Chicken stock

After lunch, take all the remaining chicken off the bone, including the little patches underneath, and reserve the meat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with 3 pints water, a chopped carrot, some chopped celery, some fresh or dried herbs and a bay leaf tied in a little bundle, and a peeled onion cut into quarters. Seasin with salt and pepper. Boil this up for about an hour to make a stock, skimming any foam as necessary. When it starts to taste good, strain, cool and put into the fridge (it also freezes well, incidentally). You need at least two pints (1 litre) stock for the following two recipes.


STEP 3 – Chicken risotto

To make the risotto, an hour before you would like to eat it, soak a 1 oz packet of porcini mushrooms in water according to the instructions on the packet. When the mushrooms are soft, strain and reserve the liquor. Then fry 7 oz of risotto rice in a large, deep frying pan in a little sunflower oil, until the rice is glistening and coated. Pour in a mixture of 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 mushroom liquor little by little, allowing each bit to be absorbed before adding more. In total you should have added 1-1.5 pints liquid. Once the rice is cooked, and all the  liquid has been absorbed, toss in about 4oz of chicken pieces, the chopped porcini mushrooms, and about 2oz grated parmesan. You can also add a handful or two of frozen peas if you like, and a slug of white wine. Heat through thoroughly and then serve immediately.


STEP 4  – Chicken soup

For the chicken soup, just before you would like to eat it once again, finely chop an onion and fry in a little olive oil until transparent. Add 3 sliced carrots, 2-3 sliced celery sticks, and some small cubes of swede, and some crushed garlic to taste, and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then add 2 pints of chicken stock and any remaining cooked chicken pieces you have to hand (if there’s none left, just use vegetables). Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the pasta, wait until the pasta is soft to the bite, and then serve immediately.  You can puree the soup with a hand blender for a more sophisticated presentation.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Dinners for the home – Week 4

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Baked white fish with boiled potatoes, fresh parsley sauce and green beans

Fruit salad and cream


Home-made burgers with baked potatoes, sour cream and chives.

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Gammon steaks with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Greek yoghurt with honey


Vegetable stew with hidden eggs


Microwaved chocolate cake


Pork stir fry with rice noodles

Mango fool


Chile con carne with rice

Banana split yoghurts


Roast beef with horseradish sauce, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots and peas


Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five tinned foods that punch above their weight

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I’ve been nosying around my winter survival cupboard today to see what needs topping up, and I am about to make a big trip to the cash and carry to stock up on tins. Interestingly enough, a lot of tinned foods have more vitamins in them than fresh food that things that have been lying around your kitchen for a week or so.  Here are some great additions to a store cupboard that I will be bringing home later.

Tinned tomatoes – these come in different forms but particularly useful are the ones with garlic and herbs already in the mix. Passata in large jars can go onto home made pizza bases with a big of grated cheese and some salami for a Saturday treat.

Pulses – try different kinds such as lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, butter beans, mixed spicy beans and canneloni beans. Great with mince, in salads, to bulk out a bolognaise or shepherd’s pie, or to make an instant vegetarian chili.

Stone fruits – cherries, plums and mirabelles make great crumbles and pies, can be served with cream or yoghurt for a quick dessert, and can even be added to smoothies or put on top of muesli.

Exotic fruits – pineapple, lychees, mangos are all wonderful to have around, and give you the makings of a very sophisticated winter fruit salad, but look for tins which state they are in their own juices rather than in syrup.

Fish – Sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna and even shrimps are all great for sandwiches, pasta dishes, fish pie, salads and little toasts to have as a nibble with a glass of wine.

Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dinners for the home – Week 2

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The second week of my economy menu plans, linked to the Week 2 shopping list and dessert recipes.







Spaghetti bolognaise

Banana split yoghurts


Cottage pie


Mango fool



Mashed potatoes


Onion gravy

Fruit salad and single cream or yoghurt


Turkey stir fry and rice

Yoghurt with blueberry jam and elderflower cordial


Baked trout, herring or mackerel with boiled new potatoes and green beans

Rice pudding


Lamb curry and rice

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Roast chicken with roast potatoes, green beans and broccoli

Fruit crumble and custard

Fruit salad and single cream

Image: Catherine Hadler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Healthy diets, the 1910 way.

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As you have probably read on other pages of this blog, my starting point for investigations into housekeeping practices and their effect on family wellbeing started with a series of home management books produced for schools in 1910, written by Wilena Hitching (previously a headmistress and school inspector). These books were designed to give a thorough, almost scientific introduction to the study of housekeeping to girls between the ages of about 11-14, with a view to preparing them for lives as wives and mothers. While some of the advice she gave sounds dated today, most of it has surprisingly significant relevance for men and women a hundred years later, particularly in times of financial constraint. My focus today will be what Miss Hitching considered to be a healthy diet for families, viewed through a 21st century lens.

Breakfast options (served at 8am)


Bread crusts soaked in warm milk

Brown bread and butter and an egg


Smoked Finnan haddock

Hot milk for children

Cocoa for adults

Most of these are high in fibre and protein, with very little sugar evident and comparatively little fat (with the exception of the bacon). This is clearly an idealised diet – Miss Hitching does permit the drinking of tea and coffee, but regards it as somewhat stimulating and less preferable than cocoa.

Luncheon (which took place mid-morning, around 10.30 am, and was really for children)

Hot milk and a biscuit

Brown bread and butter and a banana

Dinner options (which took place in the middle of the day, around 1pm). A good housekeeper would prepare a two or three course meal, depending on the weather and the type of work family members were engaging in.

Pea soup

Lentil soup

Haricot soup

Roast meats, leftovers minced or served in shepherd’s pie (for example)

Chops or steaks


Poached fish



Savoury Yorkshire pudding (served alongside roast meats or before the meal with gravy as a kind of appetiser)

Savoury or sweet suet puddings, such as steak and kidney pudding or jam roly poly (but not both in the same meal!)

Macaroni or rice pudding

Stewed fruit and custard

These are high protein meals, comparatively high in saturated fat, but the amount of sugar used in the desserts is comparatively low – a teaspoon of sugar here, a little bit of jam there. There is ample use of fruit, vegetables and pulses, simply prepared, meaning the meals are comparatively high in fibre as well.

Tea (served mid-afternoon, around 4pm; again, mainly aimed at children)

Bread and butter

Watercress, lettuce or radishes

Stewed fruit (apples, rhubarb, prunes, etc)

Once again, this is a high fibre meal with more fruit and vegetables, designed to maximise satiety (feeling of fullness). Watercress is packed full of vitamins, iron and other minerals, representing a kind of Edwardian superfood.

Supper (served before bed, around 7pm) – one or more of the following might be served.

Bread and butter or bread and dripping

Hot milk


Boiled onions

Cream crackers, butter and cheese

Simple fare, and perhaps less extensive that in modern times for the time of day. This is presumably because the bulk of the calories needed was taken in during breakfast and lunch, and the family had had the opportunity to gather together for a hot meal during the middle of the day as well. The need to give the stomach a rest from meat overnight is emphasised in Miss Hitching’s book.

I look at all this food, and wonder whether personally I could plough my way through all of this every day, even taking out the ‘luncheon’ and ‘tea’ on the basis of not being a growing child. It is also intriguing to wonder what might happen to the body, were we to start eating like this regularly. Given that the calorific intake is probably higher than we are used to today, would we end up fatter? Or would the simple nature of the food allow our bodies to process the fats and sugars more effectively than we tend to now, leading to fewer metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity. I think I have an inkling as to the answer, when I think about rationing that was to come thirty years later during World War II, which involved a diet not too far removed from what we are seeing in this 1910 list, albeit with less meat. This led to an improvement in the nation’s health, so perhaps the answers to the obesity epidemic lie in what our grandmothers already knew about choosing food for the family?

Is fat good for us? An historical view of Denmark’s new ‘fat tax’.

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I was interested to read recently that Denmark has introduced a ‘fat tax’ on food. The question is whether this is likely to achieve the desired outcome of reducing obesity? You can read a related report here:


This was of particular interest as I’ve been ploughing through cookbooks and home economics books from the early part of the 20th century over the last year for this blog, and working out the costs and calories involved in these diets, heavy as they were in saturated fat and meat. There are some striking points of comparison to be made.

Most of us simple could not afford to eat as much meat as the average working family put away a hundred years ago (you’d end up spending £70-£80 a week on meat and fish alone for a family of four), and we could not afford to home grow as much produce as many families did – we rely on mass produced fruit and vegetables which works out a lot cheaper, but which are probably lower in nutritional values. The calorific values of our great-grandparents’ diets were much greater than ours, as the meals had a heavy emphasis on animal fats like suet, lard, whole milk, and carbohydrates.

However despite all this eating, people’s average weights were lower, and the only reason for this as far as I can see is the amount of walking they did, and the absence of TV, which meant they engaged in a lot more low level exercise throughout the day instead of slumping on the sofa for hours on end like many of us do. There was less snacking and use of processed foods as well, which may have meant that individual blood sugar and leptin levels may have been controlled differently by people’s bodies. Added to this, previous generations were also shorter on average, and children matured later, probably because of illness in early childhood, and in some cases a poor quality diet deficient in calcium and other vital minerals in the case of deprived households.

Bearing all this in mind, taxing fat seems pointless – it would surely make more sense to focus on increasing engagement in low level exercise for the whole population. However taxing things actively raises money for governments, which makes me suspicious about the motives here, given there is no evidence that just avoiding fat makes you slim (which it doesn’t – if only it were that simple!) Another vested interest might be the food industry, which processes foods to make them low fat, but potentially at the cost of some nutritional values.

Do comment on this blog post if you have views on Denmark’s new policy.

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Having a delicious weekend

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To maximise your relaxation time this weekend, make sure you have done your food shopping by 12 noon Saturday at the latest. Even better if you can book a delivery now for first thing tomorrow, or have it done in person by close of play tonight. Treat yourself by stocking up your cupboards and fridge with healthy things you like eating, rather than the boring run of the mill things you eat every week anyway.

While the weather seems to be good today, we have a good few days of light rain ahead of us, so think about making a light summer soup for lunch tomorrow, for example plum tomato and basil, followed by a cheeseboard and an artisanal bread or a ciabatta, preferably home made if you enjoy that sort of thing.

For dinner, grilling a bit of lamb and serving home made potato salad with Jersey royal potatoes and a few designer leaves makes cooking easy. Perhaps follow it with some English strawberries with freshly squeezed orange juice and a little black pepper ground over the top.

For Sunday brunch you might want to make up some pancake batter and using a decent non-stick pan, make crepes for the family topped with lemon and sugar or melted leftover Easter egg if you have some to hand (mix a bit of double cream in to the melted chocolate to make a smoother, more delicious sauce).  If you prefer to concentrate on Sunday lunch as the focus of the day, think about serving roast chicken (organic free range ones seemed to be half price in Waitrose this week, and a real bargain) with green beans, carrot batons and boiled Jersey potatoes tossed in butter and fresh mint from the garden or window box. Dessert could be a lemon meringue pie if you have lemons left over from earlier in the day, or if you have older kids or are child free, affogato is an excellent simple dessert. For this, pour a measure of espresso coffee over a scoop over the most perfect scoop of quality vanilla ice cream and serve in a tea cup or cocktail glass.

Sunday supper can be a few cold cuts – the best ham you can afford, leftover chicken and a bit of Italian or French salami, with tomato and red onion salad, leftover potato salad from the day before, and Gem lettuce and cucumber (ridge cucumber gives a slightly better flavour although it’s a little more expensive). You can cook a rice pudding with selection of dried fruits (plump sultanas, apricots, dates) at lunchtime while you are doing the chicken, and then chill to eat Spanish style after supper that evening.

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net