Chicken and courgette tagliatelle

When cooking for oneself, it can be hard to decide what to do with meat. In my freezer, I have a plenitude of individual chicken breasts, pairs of sausages, and servings of minced beef, to be defrosted when required. But when I just want a quick meal for one, with meat, I feel as though there’s not a huge variety of choice. Sure, I could stir-fry some chicken or roast a few sausages easily; but I feel as though I’m beginning to exhaust my options.

So, I’ve been on the hunt for new ideas. I’ve made and frozen some meatballs to eat with any combination of other foodstuffs I fancy, and I’ve had a go at trying different seasonings on chicken, served with couscous and greens. But it is pasta, I find, that presents the ultimate fail-safe option for pairing with meat. Flicking through a cookbook, I discovered this recipe for chicken and courgette tagliatelle; as always, I chopped and changed a few things to suit what I had to hand.

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You’ll need:

  • one boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • half a courgette
  • a few handfuls of frozen peas
  • one garlic clove
  • half a red chilli
  • 1cm ginger
  • a handful of coriander, and parsley too, if you have it
  • 80g tagliatelle pasta
  • a few knobs of butter
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, then start finely chopping the garlic, chilli, and ginger; then mix them altogether. Slice the courgette thinly.

Lay a piece of tin foil in a baking tray, and dot a smallish space with butter, followed by  a sprinkling of the spice mix. Place the chicken breast onto this space, put on another layer of butter and spices, then wrap the foil up tightly into a parcel. Roast it in the oven for thirty minutes.

After about fifteen minutes, heat a few knobs of butter in a frying pan, and cook the courgettes until tender and slightly browned. I added the remaining spices to the pan about halfway through, along with most of the chopped coriander.

As the chicken reaches the point of being done, set a pan of water to boil, and cook the pasta – tagliatelle takes around seven to nine minutes. To boost the greens content here, feel free to throw in a few handfuls of frozen peas as the pasta approaches al dente.

Take the chicken out, and check that it’s cooked thoroughly, before cutting into bite-sized pieces. Drain the pasta and put it into a bowl; place the chicken and courgettes on top, with the rest of the herbs to garnish.

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I enjoyed this with a few black olives, a sprinkling of feta cheese, and plenty of salt and pepper. The second time round, the chicken was cooked to perfection – tender, and flavoured well with the spices. So, a no-fuss chicken recipe, easy to make, and satisfying to eat!

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Moroccan Chickpea Soup

Inevitably as a student, you’ll come home late from uni and have no motivation whatsoever to cook, only a dull hunger and the desire to eat immediately. When such emergencies arise, you have two options: order takeout, or pop your pre-prepared meal/leftovers in the microwave and put your feet up.

Twice this week I have come home past dinner-time, and very hungry. Having planned ahead, I had cooked extra portions of two separate meals earlier in the week: one was a chickpea soup, and the other a sausage, aubergine, & cannellini bean throw-together hot-pot affair. (The latter wasn’t particularly nice, so we’ll concentrate instead on the soup.)

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The recipe was from my trusted Sainsbury’s cookbook, Kitchen Know-How. To serve four (I halved it), you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 red pepper, roughly chopped (I used a whole one)
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper
  • 50g mixed seeds, toasted, to garnish
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander, to garnish

Start by heating the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the onions, garlic and carrots for a few minutes until softened.

Stir in the paprika and cumin, then cook for a further three minutes, until the cumin is smelling lovely and fragrant.

Add the red pepper, stock, canned tomatoes, and chickpeas. Season, then pop a lid on the pan and cook for thirty minutes, or until the pepper is tender. Toast the seeds lightly in a pan – I used pine nuts and sunflower seeds.

You have the option at this point to blend the soup – I didn’t, as I prefer a chunky soup (and I don’t have a blender, and I’d probably be too lazy to do so anyway).

Garnish with the parsley and seeds, and perhaps a little yoghurt. Eat with toasted bread.

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This soup divided easily into two meals, eaten with a couple of slices of toasted bread. I also crumbled over some feta cheese (my current favourite cheese. It’s deliciously salty, and compliments tomatoes perfectly.) Heated up in the microwave for a few minutes, it was bliss to my tired and hungry soul.

York Cocoa House

York, my term-time (and preferred) home, is famous for its history in chocolate. It’s where Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Rowntree have its roots, and where Betty’s Tearooms, the home of glorious afternoon tea, has been handcrafting chocolate for a hundred years. The Pizza Hut on Pavement is actually the place in which Joseph Rowntree Senior took on George Cadbury and Lewis Fry as apprentices, in 1858 (his son, Joseph Rowntree Junior, also went on to achieve renown as a chocolatier.)

With all this chocolate history, it’s a scandal that I haven’t properly indulged in any of the artisan chocolates made across the city. There’s Hotel Chocolat, Chocolate Heaven, Monk Chocolatiers, and York’s Chocolate Story. One step I have taken along this journey, and one box ticked off, is having visited York Cocoa House.

Opened in 2011, York Cocoa House celebrates the indulgence of chocolate in  a variety of forms: hot drinks, cakes, biscuits, and even savoury dishes. They sell hot chocolate powders, and a variety of sweets and truffles. Inside there is a chocolate making workshop, a chocolate library, and all their wares presented in a style which recalls and retains its heritage.

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My friends and I waited half an hour before we were able to be seated, such is the House’s popularity; but our appetites were kept satiated by complimentary truffles. I sampled one of blue cheese, braving where my friends would not – yet the mellowness of the cheese contrasted rather nicely with the smoothness of the chocolate. Who knew that cheesy chocolate could work?

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I decided it would be criminal to not order hot chocolate, although my belly rumbled for something more filling than cake. Respectively, we ordered a salted caramel slice; a chocolate stout cake; a Cocoa House bagel; chocolate tea; caramel hot chocolate; and a standard hot chocolate.

My chicken & pancetta bagel featured a chocolate pesto and chocolate dressing: neither tasted quite as strange as it ought to have done. On the contrast, the chocolate brought out the sweetness in the balsamic dressing, lovely with the roasted veg. Another savoury dish on the menu is a barbecue chicken quesadilla, with a chocolate smoky sauce – something I’m intrigued to try. The hot chocolate was just as I’d hoped it would be; smooth and sweetened to my ideal taste.

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My fellow diners kindly let me sample their own orders. The caramel slice was very rich, and my friend admitted to having previously taken one home to nibble at it gradually. The stout cake, similarly, was a great wodge of cake and decadent icing; I’ve never consumed stout, so I didn’t know what to expect; but the alcohol wasn’t overwhelming at all. Finally, the chocolate tea: a perfect compliment to the cake – light and delicately flavoured with cinnamon.
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Having eaten enough chocolate to set us up for the rest of the week (or afternoon), we departed, with the intention of returning very soon. If you’re in and about York, and want to get a taste of its chocolate heritage, the Cocoa House is definitely one to visit.

Cookbook ‘haul’

I’m excited to have in my possession three glossy new cookbooks: Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite by Gizzi Erskine, The Art of Eating Well by Hemsley and Hemsley, and Everyday Superfood by Jamie Oliver. Now that I’m back at uni, I want to cook meals which aren’t solely just throw-together, what-do-I-have-in-the-fridge affairs; to learn how to cook a bit better, I thought that investing in some good cookbooks would be an ideal place to start.

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The first of these acquisitions was Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite. For those who don’t know her, Gizzi Erskine is a British chef currently writing for The Sunday Times (amongst plenty of other things), which is how I came across her. She’s always impressed me with her style and her level of skill, and the scope of flavours she works with – everything from Italian to Korean. She’s also worth a follow on Instagram (@gizzierskine), if you’re a fan of pretty cats.

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It was with this book that I made a bit of a mistake, and one which I will bear in mind whenever I next buy a cookery book: make sure you flick through it before you make the decision to get it. Excited by her constant Instagram posts highlighting all its rave reviews (she wasn’t exactly going to include negative ones), I went ahead and placed my order without wondering whether I could put the book to good use. And, unfortunately, on the whole I’m quite disappointed with it.

In the book’s defense, there are some absolutely fantastic recipes – harissa prawns with cauliflower couscous and roasted vegetables; baked porridge; nachos with refried beans – which I definitely would like to give a try, when cooking for more people than just myself. The Asian flavours in the book are unfamiliar to me – take, for example, ‘pork belly bo ssam with souped ssam jam’ – but it’s good to be introduced to tastes you’d otherwise only come across in restaurants.

But then there are many recipes here beyond the feasible scope of my budget, and just impractical in terms of feeding a family: take, for example, braised veal tail with saffron risotto and bone marrow gremolata. And the black velvet cake, which looks oh-so mouthwateringly delicious, almost pushed me to tears with its extravagance; to soften the impact of asking for a bottle of champagne for the icing, Gizzi remarks casually that “It’s indulgent reducing a bottle of champagne down to syrup, so feel free to use Cava or prosecco.” But as simmering down a bottle of bubbly would never, ever, feel ‘free’ to me, it’s clear that perhaps I’m not the target audience of this book.

So, overall, I’d say that Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite is an ambitious cookbook. It’s perfect if you’re looking to put together a posh dinner party, and have the money and resources available to obtain pricier cuts of meat and hard-to-find ingredients. This is restaurant food, and the styling and photography in the book would not be out of place on an up-market restaurant menu. But if, like me, you’re looking for recipes which are practical and affordable as well as tasty and nutritious, then give this is a miss. With my limited student budget, there is little in here that I could attempt, and not much more that I could cook at home for my family. I would love to give the recipes a try, but I’d have to consider whether it would be worth investing in some of the more niche ingredients in the long term – would I be using rice vinegar regularly? Cupboards cluttered with ageing bottles and jars is never going to be a good thing.

Moving on to the next book, Hemsley and Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well. They’re two sisters who, according to the inside cover, have been the ‘behind-the-scenes go-to food service for celebrities and those in the health, beauty and wellness industry since 2010.’ Which explains the general style of the book – fashionable ‘superfood’ ingredients and healthier alternatives. There’s a lot of quinoa, buckwheat, and courgetti, and not a single pasta recipe to be found. But that is by no means a bad thing: I’d like to try out different things in contrast to the basics of pasta, rice, oats etc, although I wouldn’t completely phase out the latter for the former unless I had good reason to; bread is perfectly fine with me.

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This book is full of interesting breakfasts, mains, sides and treats you can dip in and out of. The Malaysian lentil curry looks great, as does the smoky baked beans and the kale ceasar salad. There are fresh ideas and old favourites, and a wide variety to try. If you like smoothies, there’s a great chapter on them. And the book features lots of information on how to eat healthily, and a useful guide to ‘superfoods’ and the like. A good buy if you’re creative and enjoy healthy cooking.

Last but certainly not least, I bought Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Superfood – and I am quite in love with it. I was attracted to the whole ethos behind it: cooking nutritionally balanced meals 80% of the time, and giving yourself some leeway for the remaining 20%. The book focuses on enjoying and celebrating food, and developing a better overall approach to eating well.

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It’s absolutely packed full of recipes which are nutritious, healthy, and doable. You can fit these in to a busy lifestyle. The book’s split into breakfasts, lunch, dinner, and snacks & drinks; for example, you can find a spinach, tomato, and parmesan omelette for breakfast, a grilled corn and quinoa salad for lunch, golden salmon steaks for dinner, and homemade nut butters in sides. The back of the book is very informative, containing all sorts of info on the basics of food and more: including why we need protein, carbs, fats etc, and how our sleep patterns work. It opened my eyes to the fact that I know little about the science behind what I eat, and has inspired me to start reading up on it a little more.

On a brief tangent – the clashes between the nutrition advice Hemsley and Hemsley gave, and that given by Jamie Oliver, threw me into fits of confusion. H+H extol the virtues of coconut oil; Jamie Oliver questions all this, pointing out that it’s the most highly saturated fat on the planet. Who am I supposed to believe?! I’m more inclined to Oliver – all of his recipes have been broken down into calories, fat etc, and there is a note from a nutritionalist at the end. But it just made me consider whether consumers are perhaps occasionally misled; we sometimes believe what we’re told about food quite blindly, as the majority of us don’t have background training in the science of nutrition.

To sum up this excessively long blog post; do buy Everyday Superfood if you want good, tasty, healthy food! Even if just want to improve how you cook a little, it’s worth its price tag. I can personally vouch for the protein porridge. Hemlsey and Hemsley’s book is in no doubt fashionable, and there’s plenty of use to be had of it; and Gizzi Erskine’s looks and sounds great, but is sadly out of my reach.