New years resolutions.

As far as new years resolutions go, my history hasn’t been great. I loose weight in January, and manage to put it back on in the first week of Feb. The beginning of the year is much like the beginning of most weeks or indeed days for me. “I will be healthier, i will get out and exercise and i will cut down on drinking”, she says Monday morning as she rises from her bed. Home made biscuits at coffee break? Stretch my legs at lunch and accompany someone to the shop and accidentaly buy a packet of beef Hoola Hoops to accompany my salad? Oh and i just need one ingredient for dinner on the way home, well while im here may as well grab a bottle of wine, ive got the whole week to be good! While strive to be good, i think my new years resolution should be more realistic and achievable. Something that won’t be foiled by that nice bottle of Sauvignon blanc being on offer… I resolve to only do the washing up twice a day. Typically i can get through 4-6 bowls of washing per day and i say no more! Once when i get in from work, and once in the evening after dinner and lunches have been made. Its a bit lame? Some of us need to aim for the top of the stairs before moving on to the stars.

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Bread, a simple and versatile recipe

Bread is something I used to find scary, I used to swiftly flick past the bread and pastry sections in recipe books, it takes too long, uses too many ingredients and is too hard. Then one day a friend and his partner was coming over for dinner. Obsessed with appearing as though I am a domestic goddess I decided to try baking some rolls to go with the meal. I found a recipe, discovered it consisted of 5 ingredients, one of which came out of a tap. I tried the recipe tentatively, and have never looked back. I now bake bread at least once a week, normally on a day when I have had a stressful time at work. Not only is it free from any preservatives or additives, it actually tastes better than shop bought bread, and one very simple recipe can be adapted for any number of uses. One bag of flour (1.5k) costs around £1.50 add in the yeast and other bits i estimate it costs around 80p a time to make a loaf of bread. Making bread is easy, but still impressive, want to win over any guest to your house? Ensure that you have put some bread in to bake 15 minutes before they arrive, they will think that you have spent the entire day slaving away, and only you will know the wonderful truth.

If you like this blog then please follow me on twitter @woodenrambles, you will get notifications of new posts and maybe a bit of a natter about The Bake Off!

500g Flour (can do 50/50 strong bread making flour/plain flour. Can do all strong bread making flour.)
7g fast action yeast
350ml warm water
Table spoon of salt
Tablespoon of oil.


  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Smush around with your hands until the dough is sticky but combined
  • Turn out on to a floured surface.
  • Knead for between 10 and 15 minutes until the dough Is soft, smooth and stretchy, it should no longer be sticky. When you start kneading the dough will most likely gam your hands together, and you wont believe that it will eventually look like bread dough. Keep going, and it will get there. I often do this by a window so I can watch the world go by as I knead. If you use brown flour, this has less gluten than white flour, and so will remain sticky for longer, I advise if using brown adding only 300ml if water to begin with, check the consistency, and add the remaining 50ml if the dough appears dry.

(How to knead. Kneading is the motion of pulling dough up and in to a ball using your finger tips, and then pushing away and flattening the dough with the heel of your hand, look for videos on youtube if unsure.)

  • Once smooth and soft, place the dough in to a well oiled large bowl, cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place (airing cupboard, on top of a warm oven, by a radiator) for 1 hour until the it has doubled in size. Make a cup of tea, have a biscuit and watch come dine with me, this is how I usually fill the hour!
  • After an hour, remove the tea towel, form a fist with your hand and punch the dough until it is back to its original size.
  • Shape the dough either by hand in to round rolls, roll in to a sausage and tie in a knot for knotted rolls, place in a loaf tin, make micky mouse head, whatever you want! Leave on a floured tray cover with a cloth once more and allow to rise again for an hour. I normally make dinner during this hour, and once doubled in size again stick in to an oven at 180 for 20 mins if small rolls, 40 mins if a large loaf. Once out of the oven cover with a cloth again to prevent drying out, and leave to cool.

Other uses for this dough

This dough can also be used for flat breads and pizza dough. After the first rising simply shape using a well floured rolling pin. For a pizza top with your favourite toppings and bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven (180). For a flat bread, shape and then lay the bread in to a hot dry frying pan, cook on one side until golden and blistered, flip and cook this side. Serve as a wrap, or as quick and easy garlic bread (just drizzle over some garlic oil and hey presto!)

After the first rise this dough can also be frozen, defrosted and used any way you like. Once you get your confidence up you can try all sorts. I love to add olives to the dough after the first rise, you could also add sundried tomatoes, parmesan, herbs, anything you like. My absolute favourite thing to do though is poppy seed knots. Just tie long sausages of the dough in to a knot, brush over some egg or milk, and sprinkle on poppy seeds.


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Baked meatballs and Tomato sauce.

Another easy and relatively healthy mid-week meal. This recipe pretty much looks like you would expect, the main difference being thathe meatballs are baked in the oven rather than being browned in a frying pan. While some flavour may be lost due to the lack of browning of the meat, this meal is still a winner, and you loose a few cals by not frying. It also means less mess for me, and less chance of being burnt by spitting oil. While the balls are in the oven and the sauce is cooking it also means that I can watch come dine with me/tidy/relax after work. I like to add courgette and spinach to the tomato sauce, not only is it hidden vegetables (kids-fussy other halves) it also can help to bulk the sauce out if you only want to use half of the meat for example Cooking is about compromises, especially in the week.

As with most of my recipes this will easily serve 4- 2 good sized portions for dinner, and 2 smaller sized portions for lunch the next day.




  • Sharp knife
  • Chopping board
  • Grater
  • Mixing bowl
  • Saucepan
  • Baking tray/dish
  • Wooden spoon

Ingredients tomato sauce

  • 2 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • 20g freshly grated parmesan (more if to be used as a garnish)
  • Corgette (optional)
  • Spinach (optional)
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves

Ingredients Baked meatballs

  • 125g lean pork mince
  • 125g lean beef mince
  • 1 onion
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Method tomato sauce

  • Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery.
  • Soften the vegetables in the 2 teaspoons of oil slowly. Add a small pinch of salt to help soften the vegetables without too much browning
  • Finely chop the garlic
  • Once softened (10 minutes) add the tablespoon of tomato puree and the 2 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook for 3 minutes to remove the rawness
  • Add in the dried herbs and chilli flakes
  • Tip In the 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • If you like, at this stage you can also add a couple of dashes of Worcester sauce, and a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar.
  • Stir through 20g of grated parmesan
  • Season to taste, tomatoes can be acidic, so if you need to don’t be scared to add some brown sugar, a teaspoon at a time, tasting inbetween (or if you are classy like me, chuck in a few sugar cubes!)
  • Leave to simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.
  • If you want to add the courgette to help bulk out the sauce add it diced fairly small with around 20 minutes cooking time left.
  • Crack on with the meatballs!


Method- meatballs

  • Grate onion and add all of pulp and any liquid to a mixing bowl
  • Add the pork and beef mince to the onion mix
  • Season with 1tsp of salt and 2 tsps pepper
  • Mix well with hands until combined
  • Shape in to small balls-roughly 8-16 depending on how you want them.
  • Place on to a baking sheet, and cook at 200oC-gas mark 6 for between 20-40 minutes depending on size. Cut one open to check it is cooked through before removing from the oven.


Method Serving

If you are going to serve these with pasta, or cous cous, have this ready for 10 minutes after the meatballs come out of the oven.

  • Chop the fresh basil and stir through the tomato sauce
  • Add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce and stir gently to not break the balls.
  • Cook in the sauce for between 5-10 minutes.
  • If adding the spinach add it with 5 minutes cooking time left (I like to roughly chop the leaves before I add them, but by all means leave them whole).
  • Serve the meatballs and sauce with pasta, or cous cous, or with roasted veg.
  • Top with some freshly grated parmesan and a sprig of basil.


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Lemon, garlic and herb chicken with roasted vegetable and feta cous cous.

This meal takes around 45 minutes to prep and cook. I love it mid week as it all goes in the oven at the same temperature, and cous cous is so quick and easy. The methods have been laid out in real time as I make the dish. You will notice that I don’t use any oil in either the chicken or the vegetables, I am trying to reduce the amount that I use. If you want to add oil to the vegetables feel free, the chicken cooks in the liquid from the lemon so really doesn’t need it.

The amount of cous cous I have stated below will make enough for 4 portions. I usually cook for 2 in the evening, so by cooking 2 extra chicken breasts you will have enough for lunch the next day! Hope you enjoy.


  • Sharp knife
  • Chopping board
  • Glass dish
  • Mixing bowl
  • Metal spoon
  • Baking tray

Ingredients –Chicken

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Ingredients- cous cous

  • 200g dried cous cous
  • 1teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried cumin
  • Half of a vegetable stock cube
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Vegetables to roast-your choice, I went with
    • 2 courgette
    • 1 red pepper
    • 1 orange pepper
    • 1 red onion
    • 3 large tomatoes diced
    • 100g diced feta cheese.

Method Chicken

  • Combine the zest of 1 lemon and the juice of 2 lemons in a glass dish along with all of the herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  • Flatten the chicken breasts slightly with a rolling pin (or if you are like me, with a clean wine bottle!)
  • Place the chicken breasts in the juice, herb and garlic mixture, making sure to cover well.
  • Leave to one side.


Method roasted vegetables

  • Preheat the oven to 200oC-Gas mark 6
  • Chop the vegetables in to small chunks-you want to be able to eat with a fork, so minimal cutting post cook!
  • Put all of the vegetables-apart from the tomatoes in to a baking tray along with the salt and pepper (cooking the tomatoes for 30 minutes will cause them to turn to mush)
  • Put on a high tray in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables after 15 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes of cooking, remove from the oven and add the diced tomatoes (this way they retain flavour and texture)
  • Leave to cool while you cook the cous cous-you don’t want to add the piping hot vegetables to the cous cous, you just want them to be warm.


Method chicken.

  • When you turn the veg after their first 15 minutes in the oven put the chicken in on a middle shelf
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes

Method Cous cous

  • Once the vegetables have been removed from the oven, combine the dried cous cous with all of the spices, stock, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.
  • Cover with 400ml boiling water from the kettle.
  • Cover the bowl in cling film and leave for 5 minutes to cook
  • Once cooked stir through the slightly cooled roasted veg.

Method serving

  • Place the roasted vegetable cous cous on a plate and scatter the diced feta on top
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and serve 1 chicken breast per portion
  • Use the cooking juices to keep the chicken moist, and if you like to dress the cous cous with a lemony zing.
  • Optionally serve a mixed leaf salad on the side



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My minds back garden

croatia 033I live on a housing estate in the south of England, my house backs on to a small green, that is mainly used by old ladies as a place for their dogs to relieve themselves on. My mind backs on to this.

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