#TheMinecraftProject Introduction

My son is an absolute nut over Minecraft. And I mean obsessed. He watched You Tube videos for hours on end of people playing the game and showing cheats, mods, and walk throughs. I feel like I know Dan TDM (The Diamond Minecart), Thinknoodles, and others like they live next door! He’s always playing on the game and has half the toys. So when I announced to him that we’d be moving house, he of course wanted his bedroom with a Minecraft theme.

Now for those of you reading this that may not have come across Minecraft before, it’s a computer game played in first person in which you build, mine, and create your own world. You can trade with villagers, fight zombies and skeletons, and even brew potions. It’s Medieval in its nature in that you grow your own food, smelt metals, and craft tools and weapons. It’s unique in its appearance in that everything is pixelated.

So I get online and have a look at stuff for his new bedroom. I’ll be honest with you here, stuff is limited in its availability and very expensive. Basic cushion covers – £8. Posters for the wall? Anything up to £20. The same for light shades and bedside lamps. £8 for a small wall canvas of a Minecraft face. Where there’s Minecraft there’s money to be made! Being a single mum on a very limited budget there is no way I could afford all of this. And, between you and me, the stuff that’s out there looks very cheap and one of my pet hates is stuff that looks cheaply made.

Now I’ve attempted decoupage in the past and it turned out really well. I’ve experience in using a paint brush and I’m a whizz at using a sewing machine to sew in straight lines! So I thought to myself; how hard could it really be? And I got to work. So this is the introduction, how I came about to start this really long, laborious process (some of this has taken ages to complete!), and what you can expect to see from me with hints and tips of how to get around the expense of a fully kitted out theme room.

Face canvasses

Cushion covers

Bedside table

Bookcase

Minecraft paper craft

Accessories

I will link to all the above as and when I write them so make sure to keep an eye out and follow, especially if you’re looking to redecorate in the near future! You can also search #TheMinecraftProject on Instagram to see pictures of my progress so far. I am also hoping to showcase the finished room with the help of a Vlog although that involves skills I have not yet acquired! If anybody has any tips on making these please get in touch.

My Love Affair With an Irish City

I first visited Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, when I was just 21 years old and even though I was with the most miserable company imaginable I had the best time.

I didn’t understand it. I went with the same miserable boyfriend to Spain on a holiday and refused to go back for eight years!

But Dublin was different.

I still remember one of the drivers of the big, red City Sightseeing buses singing Molly Malone on the way round and having a laugh at the expense of some tourists who didn’t speak English. I remember the statues dotted around the most beautiful park I’d ever seen, St. Stephen’s Green and the singers busking on Grafton Street. I walked so much for three days trying to take in everything and yet not realising at the time that there was so much more to Dublin than the small part I’d seen.

IMG_20160529_090120
I mean, seriously now, how beautiful is this? No filters, no posh cameras. Just a point and click with my S7!

Since my first trip over 10 years ago now I’ve been back what seems like a million times. It didn’t help that it was quicker and cheaper for me to travel to Dublin than to Liverpool or Manchester, especially when the £ was stronger so I’d go on day trips shopping, take my son to the zoo there, and stay overnight with friends.

The more I have visited the place for differing reasons the more I have realised that, for me, there is something very special about this city. Put simply, I am head over heels in love with it. I love the music, culture, and passion that is evident all over the city. Being there makes me smile, even after seeing a loss at Croke Park in the League final and getting soaked walking back into town I was stood at the bus stop yearning to come back before I’d even left.

There is much to do that can immerse you into the history, the passion, and the culture of this vibrant place and even after the millions of times I’ve been there I’ve still not done it all. Dublin is a city that needs not just to be seen but to be experienced.

Edit: I’m in the middle of drafting some blogs about different aspects of Dublin as a city. If there’s anything you feel you’d like to know about, or hear more about, please comment and I’ll include them in later posts.

Magical Morocco

Morocco: a country that lies on the Northern coast of Africa, just nine miles from the Gibraltar Strait. Renowned for its bustling medinas, fantastic scenery, and amazing food there is something there to delight all types of traveler.

Marrakech is a mere three and a half hour flight from the UK and is surprisingly cheap to fly to. I bagged return flights from Liverpool with Ryanair for just £146; excellent value considering I was flying during the Whitsun school holidays and at the start of Ramadan.

A word of the warning before I continue though: Marrakech can get seriously hot and humid and will easily reach the 40’s even in May. I spent one night there and struggled to sleep. I would recommend if you wanted to visit somewhere inland that you book something during the winter months.

I stayed in Essaouira which is a coastal town famous for both its water sports and, more recently, being the setting for Daenerys and her dragons in Game of Thrones. That being said this place also has plenty more to offer than just waves and dragons.

The walled part of the town, which is also home to the Medina, is definitely worth a visit. It is listed as UNESCO World Heritage site owing to its 18th century European architecture and is a jewel of Essaouira. If you’re interested in reading up on the history, more information can be found on UNESCO’s site here.

Medina
Part of the walls to the Medina

Game of Thrones was filmed in part of the Medina although unfortunately this was closed off whilst we were there for building work. I am informed that there are tours that will take you round when it is open to the public though I can’t recommend any here, unfortunately.

The Medina is also home to the local market where you can indeed grab a bargain or six! Bartering skills will come in useful as most places won’t expect you to take the first price they offer. This is where I bought my Tagine and my spices, things of beauty that are now a staple with a lot of my cooking, like my Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry or Moroccan Meatballs.

18879533_1445821865717076_5875374278626508800_n(1)

There are also many bars, cafes and restaurants all serving excellent quality, local food at really good prices. **TOP TIP** the more you venture off the main street, the less you’ll pay for food and drinks and the better the quality of food and service. I prefer to go down the little side streets in search of a bargain as it feels like an adventure and who doesn’t love a bit of adventure!?

hammam.jpg

Down the little side streets you’ll find plenty of Moroccan Spas, also known as Hammams. I had the pleasure of a head and shoulders massage at Azur, situated within the walls and off the main roads. As spas go this one was up there with the best and it comes very much recommended. A big plus of this one was their roof terrace where they take you to wait for treatments. Take their offer of the mint tea too – you won’t be disappointed!Hammam Terrace

While in Essaouira I stayed in the Riad Zahra. It’s located just back from the beach and about a 20 minute walk from the Medina. I stayed for six nights and would recommend this Riad to anyone staying in Essaouira. During my time there I was made to feel very welcome and all staff were so helpful with many different queries that I had. From posting a letter for me, to cooking a meat tagine when fish was on the menu. What’s more the staff were good with all of their guests and it’s why I would also recommend this Riad to all guest types; couples, older guests, and families including those with younger children.

Riad Zahra
Restaurant and Bar in Riad Zahra

 

With regards to it’s amenities the Riad Zahra had a good wifi signal around the hotel and their restaurant served a range of meals throughout the day and evening. The pool wasn’t heated and so was a little cold but I did visit as it was coming into the warmer season and so I’d imagine a pool heater isn’t really necessary in summer. The rooms don’t have air conditioning but given that Essaouira is on the coast and cooler, it is not needed. I found I had six very restful nights’ sleep even with the window shut. The room is cleaned each morning and leave fresh towels and you are given mini soaps and body wash on arrival.

As I work in travel I have a pretty long list of places I’d like to visit and Morocco was never really up there with some of the more popular locations around the world. I suppose with having a closed currency it fell off my radar. My visit to Essaouira was my first time venturing out of Europe and I’m finding it hard to figure out why there are not more people exploring this gem of a place. It’s definitely got me wanting to go back and explore other regions in Morocco.

Moroccan Meatballs

I have to say, with a certain level of pride, that this is one of my go-to meals that I’ve honed down to a tee. The boss thing about this recipe is that you can switch up so many of the ingredients to make the dish Italian, Spanish, Swedish or filled with cheese American stylee!

I first tried this recipe after buying some minced lamb at a reduced price and, using my old faithful, stumbled across this idea. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to this meal and this combo of spices. Firstly, even though cooking was still relatively new to me, I’d never seen cinnamon in a savoury dish before. And with mint and cumin (what even was cumin?) this was going to either be a massive hit or a horribly-tasting flop.

But I was intrigued. Something about this recipe made me want to waste my student bursary buying new spices. It was way out of my comfort zone, not least because I’d never encountered Moroccan cuisine before.

Fast forward eight years and tonight they’re taking the form of Albondigas or Spanish meatballs. So you can tell it went pretty well. Even better, when I was in Morocco recently I had meatballs out there and it was very similar to the one I make. So I can almost say that this is an authentic recipe too!

Versatility is something I love with a recipe and meatballs is one of the best for this. But today, I’ll tell you what goes into my Moroccan Meatballs.

Ingredients (for two people)

For the meatballs:

400g minced lamb

4tsp mint

1tsp cumin (this makes them averagely spicy)

2tsp cinammon

2 garlic cloves, minced

half an onion, finely diced.

For the sauce:

200ml chicken stock

400g chopped tomatoes

2tsp cumin

1tsp cinnamon

1tsp chilli powder

So we start with making the meatballs. Add all the ingredients into a bowl and form into balls. I find a lot of recipes like this use breadcrumbs and egg but I don’t feel it needs it. Fry the meatballs in batches until browned and then put to one side. You don’t even need oil for this as lamb mince will usually give off enough fat too. So if you’re following a macros diet these meatballs are an ideal meal giving a higher % of protein to fat and carbs. The sauce will increase the carb ratio though with the tomatoes.

That’s them done!

In the same pan add the cumin, cinnamon, and chilli powder to the meat juices and stir them into it for a few minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and when heated add in the meatballs. Leave to simmer for around 20 minutes and season to taste.

Moroccan Meatballs

I’ve said to use the frying pan but you can stick them in the slow cooker and leave them while you’re at work, or I use my tagine which works in a similar way to a slow cooker but just works a lot quicker! Once again, versatility is key and once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, add whatever you want or have in to make loads of different meals.

Crunchy Cornflake Chicken

So I have a confession to make. I’m a massive fan of that Feed Your Family for £20 page on Facebook. It is choc-full of recipes but that’s not why I love it. I feel like it’s a nice community to be part of. You ask questions and people share hints and tips. In fact, the page actively promotes this by asking questions anonymously on behalf of people, or by simply asking out on a post what people struggle with or, their most common one, what’s cooking?

I take a lot of the credit for teaching myself to cook. I’ve actively tried different things and watched and read so many recipe things that it’s almost hard not to know instinctively what is going to taste well together. But this page has taken my kitchen skills to a new level. It has taught me all about what freezes well, about batch cooking, hints and tips to save money such as making my own spice mixes. If you haven’t seen this page, I’d recommend giving them a follow. You can find their website here.

Anyway, I digress. But it is all relevant, I promise. So I had this huge box of cornflakes sat in my kitchen and, apart from cornflake bars, I had no idea what to do with them. Eating it as cereal was out of the question since soggy cornflakes make me heave! I’d bought them to make cornflake cakes for a bake sale and then didn’t use even half as many as I’d thought I would. Scrolling through Facebook I saw that Feed Your Family had asked if you had an ingredient that needed using and needed ideas on what to do with it so I told everyone about my lonely box of cornflakes. Unused and unloved.

Overwhelmingly, people suggested I use them in place of breadcrumbs. Especially with chicken.

I’ve made this twice now and both times as different meals and flavours and it seriously is just so easy to jazz up a piece of chicken. What’s more, because you’re making the chicken pieces bigger with the cornflakes, one chicken breast gives you a lot of crunchy chicken pieces. So it’s a good money saver or meal for when you’re close to the bottom of your freezer!

So how did I make it?

Time for confession number two: I’ve never stuck breadcrumbs on anything before so I did have to double-check that it was just an egg dunk followed by the crunchy dunk. Last thing I wanted to do was waste a perfectly good chicken breast!

Anyhow (I’m good at this digressing aren’t I!?)

  1. Whisk an egg and in a separate bowl give the cornflakes a damn good bashing. The finer the crumb, the less crunchy it would be though leave the cornflakes too big and they won’t stick to the chicken. It’s about trial and error. Start big as you can always make the cornflakes finer.
  2. Cut the chicken into pieces and dip firstly into the egg and then into the cornflake bits. *As an add-on here, if you’re keeping the chicken pieces dry i.e. no sauce you may want to add some salt to the cornflakes*
  3. Arrange on a baking tray and stick it in a preheated oven to 200 degrees C for around 20 minutes, turning half way.

See! How easy is that!

As I said before, I’ve made these twice now on request from my six year old. So if he loves them I’m onto a winner! Tonight, I made these dry with some wedges and a sticky barbecue sauce for dipping. Last week I went Chinese and stuck them from the oven into a wok with a hot garlic sauce and served with noodles and stir fry veg.

I love meals that are so versatile and this one is hooking up to be a firm favourite with me and my son. Easy to make and different enough to not get bored of it. Let me know what you think and if you have any other recipes you’d use these in. And, most importantly, enjoy it!

Crunchy Cornflake Chicken
Cornflake Chicken with a sticky barbecue sauce.

My Perfect Roasties

For me, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a full Sunday Roast with all the trimmings on a cold Winters’ day. I think everyone will agree that their mum’s roast dinner is the best on the planet and I have memories of standing by the roasting dish picking out the crispiest ones with the brownest bottoms from the meat juices. The roasties are an implicit part of the dinner and so it’s important they’re done right.

So no pressure then…

Roast potatoes were the first thing I attempted after deciding I was going to shift my bum and teach myself to cook (if you’re interested, see the full story here). I found a recipe on my old faithful BBC Good Food that didn’t seem too long-winded or difficult and followed it to the letter. Whenever I find a recipe I’d like to try I always follow it precisely the first few times before experimenting and switching it up myself. I honestly couldn’t believe just how well they turned out. Perfection, almost!

Now I’m not going to go into a big debate about what potatoes work best here. Truth be told I’ve used all sorts of different varieties over the years depending on what’s in my cupboard from King Edwards to baking potatoes to new potatoes. Truth be told, my favourite way is to use new potatoes to make mini roasties. I think because they’re smaller they crisp up nicer and I do like the flavour of them roasted. Also, they’re done quicker. Ideal for a quick accompaniment to whip up after work and the school run.

So what do you need to make the perfect roasties?

Potatoes, oil/fat, and salt.

That’s it. That’s honestly all you need to make the best roast potatoes you’ve ever tasted (just don’t tell your mum!)

In total they take around an hour and 10 minutes from prep to plate so if you’re doing a roast dinner I usually time them to start about an hour and a half before you’re planning to serve up dinner. Just so you’re not rushing.

Method:

  1. Par-boil the potatoes. I put them in the cold water and leave it to warm up and then boil for 10 minutes before removing from the heat. Drain and leave to dry out for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile add the oil or fat to a roasting dish and put in a preheated oven. I heat to 200 degrees C.
  2. Give the potatoes a shake to loosen up some of the outside and create the crispy bits. You can also use a fork around the edges.
  3. Put the par-boiled potatoes into the dish and sprinkle salt over them. Then cover in the oil/fat.
  4. Turn roughly every 20 minutes. 15 for smaller varieties. They should only need turning twice and so should be cooked and nice and crispy after roughly an hour in the oven.

That’s it. That is literally how to make the most amazing crispy on the outside fluffy on the inside roast potatoes. How easy is that!?

Variations:

Instead of using just salt, use a mix of salt, spices, and herbs to create different tastes.

Cumin and chilli seeds make spicy ones. Ideal for summer garden parties with a cool dip or with spicy meals such as chilli or curries. You could also use chilli oil rather than a plain one.

Garlic salt is one of my favourite variations on the regular roast potato. It goes really well when making Patatas Bravas and other Mediterranean dishes.

Rosemary and potatoes go really well together. Some roast potato recipes instruct you to use it when making your every day ones but I find the taste too strong so only use rosemary when making a lamb roast dinner.

If you have any variations to the above I’d love to try them so please leave a comment or a link to your own recipe because I do love to try out new recipes. Also, if you try this out and it works please comment your feedback. I’m still new to all this recipe-writing so I’d appreciate it.

I Taught Myself to Cook, didn’t I!

 

I was never taught to cook growing up and so the internet was my friend when I found myself at University and wanting to try my hand at foods I’d never made before. Looking back now it’s almost hard to believe I arrived there with one sharp knife, a pan, a chopping board, and a tin opener! You can just imagine the amazing meals I was cooking up using just those! My boyfriend at the time took great pleasure in laughing at me because I’d never even diced a chicken breast before. Breaking up with him gave me the motivation to move from my comfort zone and try cooking proper meals. In a like “I’ll show him” kinda way because he was pretty mean about it!

Now don’t get me wrong this isn’t a dig at my family life growing up. I was one of four to a single mother and she simply didn’t have time to show us stuff like cooking when we were younger. Usually because if there was one of us with her, that meant all four of us were and it’s not ideal in a kitchen! Also, secretly, I’m not sure her cooking skills were practised. Though to this day I’ve never had a nicer roast dinner from anyone but my mum! Just I don’t think she was able to experiment with flavours and that. One of my brothers was really fussy with what he ate and, again, she just had no time.

Food Technology lessons in school weren’t brilliant. In fact they were pretty useless. We were taught how to make specific things. A rice salad. Pizza with a pre-cooked base. I think quiche was our most adventurous bake but then we were taught nothing about seasoning and spices. About nutrition or healthy eating. The teacher was more concerned with the washing up at the end of the lesson.

So, back to Uni life. I started off by buying some better equipment. A knife block (multiple sharp knives!), a pan set, a slow cooker, Pyrex dishes. Then the basic food store stuffs. Oils, spices, condiments. And then I had a go. I was using the BBC Good Food website (and still do to this day) and found a great recipe for roast potatoes. By great I mean that it worked and I still stick to the same recipe I found all them years ago today! I’ll write up my version and link to it here.

Now my roasties (Scouse slang for roast potatoes!) were something else. They even had their own rep in our halls of residence. I had to make them for every Christmas dinner we had and they won in a face off between mine and a friend’s roasties who insisted his were better. Since uni I’ve had so many compliments about them. Even my Nanna going back for more when usually she’s full after the smallest meal. She still gushes over my roast dinner to this day! The recipe has been added here.

C1LYPi1XUAA6N-O

I learned how to use the Good Food website properly. I’d search recipes using specific ingredients. From stuff I had never tried before such as couscous and polenta to every day staples like minced beef. I’d print them off and take them home and try them out on myself. Then, if I liked it, I would carefully write it up in my notebook. I still have that notebook kept amongst all my recipe books and still go back to some recipes in there. It even has the recipe for a basic Victoria sponge cake and homemade lemonade!

One of my favourite recipes that I found on Good Food and still use to this day is one for Moroccan Meatballs. Though it’s taken on several forms since I first followed the recipe, the one I’ve developed from it has been a hit whenever I’ve used it on anybody! If you’re interested, find the recipe for it here. It was the first recipe that taught me about the importance of using spices in cooking, something most people take for granted but a concept I’d never considered.

With my cooking I don’t stick to, or specialise in, just one cuisine. I love to experiment with different flavours and combinations to create meals that are healthy(ish), tasty, and away from the same old. Being a single mum means that I can quite easily get into the same routine of the same meals; especially since children can be your biggest critic! I like to travel and have visited a fair few places around Europe and it’s become quite the obsession to pick up books and spices wherever I go. A spice stall in Morocco has been a personal favourite of mine and I’m not sure what I’ll do when I run out of my spice mix for lamb tagines!

spice shopping

The picture above was taken in the Old Town in Rhodes Town and was a gold mine of different spice mixes for different dishes. I love my gyros mix though it is running pretty low now. But since I love travelling is it not just another excuse to go visit another of the Dodecanese islands…?

Expect a blog post once I return!