Homemade Taco Seasoning

Having just returned from an amazing holiday in South Africa, I was all refreshed and ready to blog my little heart out.  Typically my laptop decided it was also going to take a holiday and I have had to spend a week getting back into working order, hence this blog will be short, as most of today has been installing software rather than writing!

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(sorry couldn’t resist adding a holiday snap of my favourite animal! :D)

Anyhow, back to the point 🙂 Food challenge number 4 – not buying if I can make myself.  This whole challenge came up when I made the huge mistake of glancing at the ingredients list on the back of a packet of taco seasoning.  To be fair to the brand, the list was no where near as frightening as some, but I still raised an eyebrow at some of what was contained in what I had always assumed was simply a mix of herbs and spices!  In typical me fashion, the packet went back on the shelf and I stropped around the store muttering to myself that surely I could make something myself.  On my return home I was straight on the internet (having stowed the frozen and chilled goods of course), and found the perfect recipe on Rachelcooks.com.  I now only use this recipe and everyone that has tried it agrees it is just as, if not nicer, than the ready mixes you can buy.  It really is so easy, I am amazed that anyone every went to the bother of mass producing taco seasoning, but then I guess I bought it for years!

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Gather your ingredients: Chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, paprika, cumin, sea salt and black pepper. (Rachelcooks also uses red pepper but I leave this out as I don’t want the heat).

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Measure them into a suitable pot (for exact measures see link at the bottom)

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Now the tricky bit – close the lid and give it a good ol’ shake 🙂

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Finishing touches – label your pot!

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No honestly, that’s it.  It really is that simple!  I use about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mix to 500g of minced beef for tacos, and its lovely.

For full recipe please see here Homemade Taco Seasoning on Rachelcooks.com

As todays blog needed to be short the promised barm cakes recipe will now be next week!

Finally incase you were wondering where Maisie was… here she is, a little blurred as she was so excited we were home she wouldn’t stay still!

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Scone & Butter Pudding

I am permanently on a diet, have been for years, and have historically been dreadful at sticking to it.  I finally accepted that denying myself anything sweet was a sure fire way to ensure I failed.  Now I am managing to gradually lose weight by counting my calories from Monday – Saturday and allowing myself to indulge on Sunday.  Sunday tea is cake and pudding.  That’s it, cake and pudding.  Nothing savoury, nothing healthy just cake and pudding and I love it!  There is however a huge element of risk to me having cake and pudding available.  When it comes to my sweet tooth I have no willpower whatsoever, so I cannot have the yummy stuff easily available, it wouldn’t last a day and my diet would be over.  To get around this flaw in my character, when I do bake anything or have any cakey leftovers from dinner parties or bake club, I chop it into portions and store it in the freezer which lives in our garage.  Despite my need for cake, and my shameful lack of discipline when it comes to sugary goodness, the requirement to put on shoes, visit the spidery garage and then wait for my sinful treat to defrost is deterrent enough to ensure I do not binge on a whim!

As I say on the ‘About page’, I am not a brilliant cook, I like to think of myself as adorably haphazard! One day I can bake a cake that would impress Mary Berry, the following day it would have me kicked out of the Bake Off tent. However I hate throwing food away and over the years have got quite adept at freezing leftovers or failed bakes to utilise at a later date.  I may not always know what I am going to do with them, but I trust that inspiration will finally hit me, and it usually does.

Not long ago I had made a Paul Hollywood Apple Brioche, that I was rather disappointed with.  I froze the extras and it sat in the freezer for a couple of months.  When I had the horrifying crisis of no pudding portions left for my Sunday tea I decided to make some bread and butter pudding.  In a fit of inspiration I used the apple brioche and was rather impressed with the result.  When the brioche and butter pudding ran out I decided to use some malt loaf that I had been trying to avoid eating as it hadn’t baked in the middle.  Malt loaf and Butter pudding was a total win.  Sadly last week I ran out! Rooting around in the freezer I found a bag of scones left over from a fund raising event I had been involved in.  I wont eat a scone without jam and cream, and unless I am baking I don’t usually have cream in the house, so they had been sitting there ignored and unloved for a while. I decided they would be the next candidate to participate in my bread and butter pudding fetish.  Scone and butter pudding is born, and I have to say, served with some homemade vanilla ice cream was a quite delightful treat.  I admit its heavier than the brioche version, and I should probably have divided it into smaller portions, but hey its done now and I am sure I will cope 🙂

Scone and Butter Pudding (makes 10 rather big portions)

Take a pile of leftover scones, I had 16, and chop them into thin slices.  Lightly butter each slice and set to one side.  Keep the crumbs you generate whilst slicing, remember we don’t want anything to go to waste! (BTW, sorry about the lighting in this weeks images, I didn’t realise until it was too late that I had the camera on the wrong setting)!

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Next take some dried fruit and sugar and mix together with a spoonful of cinnamon. I used sultanas and cranberries, but if I had managed to find the bag of dried cherries I am sure are hiding in my pantry somewhere I would have used them instead of the sultanas!

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Finally you need 2 tablespoons of demerara sugar, a small jar of jam (I’m using my homemade cherry and amaretto jam), 4 eggs and 700mls of skimmed milk.

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Get a large deep dish and lay a layer of scones butter side down.  Sprinkle over half of the sugar and fruit mixture then blob on half the jam.

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Cover the first layer with another layer of scones (butter side up), fruit and jam, and finish with a layer of scones. Beat the eggs and milk together and pour over the dish.  if it doesn’t all fit, don’t worry leave the excess on the side.  Sprinkle over 3/4 of the demerara  sugar and leave to stand for an hour.

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During this hour you can top up the liquid a little as the scones take up the moisture.  Also an ideal opportunity for the obligatory cuppa, and a lesson in the art of patience for Maisie.  Well if I have to wait for my pudding she can suffer with me!  Don’t worry, I didn’t make her wait the hour 🙂

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Once the hour is up, you have finished your tea and let the dog eat the treat, preheat the oven to 160c (fan), sprinkle over the remaining sugar and bake for 45-50 mins, or until golden brown and the custard has set.  Serve with vanilla ice cream for a truly sinful, diet breaking and comforting treat.

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I was quite pleased with this invention (not something I often say), and I imagine many types of cake could be used in this way.  I may starting hoping for bad bake days so I can see how many different versions of bread and butter pudding I can come up with.

Next week I will be making Paul Hollywood’s Barm Cakes for you.  Oh and final point, I did say last week that I would be blogging Mary Berry’s Cannoli Cake , however I had a very bad day and totally forgot to take pictures. It was almost a success and I have to say possibly my new most favourite cake, I will definitely be making it again in the near future and will blog it then.

(NO Nutritional info… its cheat day food after all)


Scone & Butter Pudding
Ingredients List
16 Scones
Butter for spreading
100g Cranberries
100g Sultanas
50g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Small jar of jam
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
4 eggs
700ml milk

Method
1 - Slice the scones into thin slices and lightly butter one side of 
each piece 
2 - Mix the sugar cinnamon and fruits together
3 - Beat the eggs and milk together
4 - Lay a third of the scones on the bottom of a large deep baking dish, 
butter side down
5 - Sprinkle over half the fruit mixture and blob on half the jam
6 - Lay another third of the scones, butter side up, and sprinkle over 
the remaining fruit and jam, and any crumbs
7 - Finish with a layer of the remaining scones.
8 - Pour over the milk and eggs and sprinkle on 3/4 of the Demerara 
sugar, leave any excess liquid to the side.
9 - Leave for an hour, topping up the liquid as the scones soak up the 
mixture
10 - Sprinkle on the remaining demerara sugar and place into an oven
preheated to 160c (fan) and bake for 45-50 mins or until golden brown
and the custard has set.

Homemade Granola

I have always been supremely lazy when it comes to breakfast. I know it is an important meal of the day, but apart from being totally useless before I have had 3 cups of tea, I don’t like many cereals. One thing I do enjoy is granola. It’s scrummy! However shop bought granola will normally contain a few ingredients that I do not particularly like (I am especially fussy about nuts). So I decided to make my own, as you do!
Out of interest I have done a comparison of the cost and nutritional information for my granola compared to 2 well-known brands (per 45g serving).

Brand Kcals Protein Fat Carbs Fibre Cost per serving
Mine 198 4.1 8 26.2 3.1 46p
Jordan’s 197 4.9 6.5 28.4 2.8 30p
Kellogg’s 215 3.1 9.5 28 2.1 35p

I don’t think I fared too badly. Yes I am more expensive, but to be fair I haven’t exactly shopped around for the best buys when it comes to the individual ingredients, and I know I could save more money if I bought in bulk. The cost isn’t really why I chose to do it myself, its far more about knowing exactly what is in the food and why. Just look at the ingredients lists on the brand boxes, it speaks for itself really. Besides, my 4th foodie challenge (see my about page) is not buying something if I can make it myself, and therein lies the point!

This recipe is adapted from the book ‘Gifts From The Kitchen’ by Annie Rigg, available on amazon…. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Kitchen-Irresistible-Homemade-Presents/dp/1856269388/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423498261&sr=1-1&keywords=gifts+from+the+kitchen

I make it very close to her actual recipe for the hubby, but as I don’t like half the ingredients I have adapted it quite a lot to suit me.

Homemade Granola

Firstly gather up your ingredients. I am using from top left to bottom right, Dried apricots, oats, dried cranberries, bran, honey, chopped cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower oil.

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Throw all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix together

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Pop the honey and oil into a pan and warm gently until the honey is very runny – do not boil, then pour onto your dry ingredients

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Mix well and divide between 2 large lined baking sheets

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Pop in the oven on 160c (fan) for 5 minutes. This step gives you time to make a cuppa, although today Maisie wasn’t interested in quality time, as she was too busy sulking under her blanket following her bath this morning!

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After 5 mins take the pans out and mix the granola up. This stops it burning at the edges and ensures you get a good even bake. Put it back in the oven for another 4 mins, mix, 3 mins, mix, 3 mins, or until it is golden brown. That was it for me but as all ovens differ you need to judge when it’s ready. If you feel you are getting close do 2 minute intervals as it catches quickly and over baked granola is not filling friendly (as my dentist and I could prove if we needed to!)

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That’s it, easy peasy, and so easy to adapt to your own personal taste and in my humble opinion, and for that matter the hubby’s far far better than anything shop bought. For the full recipe of my version see below. For the original recipe you will need to buy Annie Rigg’s book 🙂

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Final point to note, there are obviously no preservatives in this, yet it keeps exceptionally well in an air tight container.  I make twice the quantity for the hubby and with all his travelling it lasts for months.

Ok that is it for this week.  Next week I am tackling Mary Berry’s Cannoli Cake Recipe for Bake Club!


Homemade Granola
Ingredients
200g Oats
25g Sesame Seeds
100g Sunflower seeds
100g Cashew Nuts
150g Dried Apricot
20g Wheat Bran
175g Clear Honey
30ml Sunflower Oil

Method
Mix all the dried ingredients together
Warm the honey and oil until the honey is very runny, do not boil
Pour the honey and oil into the dried ingredients and mix well
Divide between 2 lined baking sheets and bake on 160c fan for about 15 minutes,
or until golden brown.  Mix well at regular intervals to prevent it burning at the edges.

Healthy Vegetable Heavy Beef Lasagne

As my husband travels extensively I have many days and nights at home on my own.  In one way this is nice, the house stays tidy, everything stays in its place, and I don’t have to listen to Planet Rock from dawn till dusk! However apart from missing my other half, the other main side effect of his globe trotting is that I do not eat well in his absence.  I love cooking, I really do, but its just not the same when you are cooking for one (the kids have long since flown the nest), so I now rely on UFOs.

The UFO, or unidentified frozen object, has been around in my house for many years.  I have always been adverse to throwing food away, so any portion of dinner not served up would be thrown in the freezer for another day.  In those days I never saw the need to label anything, so the family would gather round the freezer on a UFO night, attempting to identify the contents of a pot and to decide whether or not they wanted to eat whatever it might be.  On one occasion we ended up defrosting 4 dishes and sharing out the spoils.  If memory serves me right, I think a curry, bolognaise, stew and something we never did work out what it was made it onto our plates.  It wasn’t the most pleasant meal we had ever had!  From that point on I started to label!

Over time the UFOs have evolved from simple leftovers used up on busy nights, to deliberate over catering to ensure I eat properly when hubby is away.  Unfortunately another issue raised its ugly head.  A dish I would normally eat with a salad, for example lasagne, was lovely as a UFO, but I would never go out of my way to buy a portion of salad to go with it.  So in an attempt to ensure I still got a good balanced meal I started throwing in piles of veg to the lasagne.  Hence my veg heavy lasagne was born.

Final point before I launch into the dish, if you read my ‘About’ page you will see I have a number of foodie challenges to deal with. Lasagne does not exactly meet the requirements of challenge 1. High protein, low carb for hubby, preferably not too high in calories or fat for me.  So with a couple of tweaks to the recipe I have made it as healthy as I can, and although far from a traditional lasagne, it is tasty and makes a superb UFO for those lonely evenings!

VEG HEAVY LASAGNE (serves 10)

Firstly take a huge pile of Veg.  I used 3 aubergines, 3 courgettes, 3 leeks, 4 peppers, 5 carrots 250g mushrooms, and a couple of random tomatoes I found in the fridge! In total there was just over 3kg of prepared veg.  It took a while to prepare, but I kept telling myself this saves me cooking on 9 other nights!

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Next the onerous task of prepping the aubergine, which is replacing the actual lasagne sheets in my.. umm.. lasagne! I used to degorge aubergine (salting it too draw out bitterness and moisture), but as it is now used mainly to stop the veg from soaking up too much fat, and I do not use any when prepping it, I don’t bother now.  Saves a pile of time.  So into my magic non stick pan ( I love this pan), goes as many slices of aubergine that I can fit at a time.  And an hour (yes an hour – 9 nights of not having to cook) later I have a plate of nicely dry fried aubergine.  Pop the aubergine to one side.

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Using the same pan (although I strongly advise you let it cool a little first), chuck in the leeks and cook gently until softened.  Next add 3 cloves of crushed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add 1.5kg of lean mince beef and brown off.  Pop the meat and leek mixture into a very large pan.

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Oh please let me introduce you to the garlic dish, its super.  No more trying to get all the bits out of the garlic press, just rub the garlic bulb over the little spikes on the dish and you get perfectly mushed garlic with very little effort.  I picked mine up at one of the BBC Good Food shows, but you can find them online quite easily.

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Throw the remaining veg (except the mushrooms and tomato if you found any hiding in your fridge) into the magic non stick pan and cook for about 10 mins, or until slightly softened, then add them and the mushrooms to the meat in the large pan.

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Finally I added 2 cartons of passata, 2 cartons of chopped tomatoes (plus my random tomatoes from the fridge), 500ml of beef stock and 250ml of red wine.  Season with salt and pepper 5 tbsp. Worcester sauce, 3 tsp oregano, 2 tsp parsley, thyme and spicey Italian seasoning, 1 tsp paprika and 3 bay leaves and leave to cook for a good few hours.

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Time for a cuppa and some quality time with Maisie!  Meet Maisie, my 2 year old lab.

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Right, batteries recharged so now it was time to make the white sauce.  Not easy to make this healthier but using lighter spreadable butter, reduced fat cheese, skimmed milk and 0% fat Greek Yoghurt, its as healthy as I am going to get it. Melt the butter and mix in the flour, cook gently until it turns the colour of sand.

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Gradually add the milk, mixing well between each addition.  This is a good work out for your arms, and if you want to avoid lumps you need to persevere.  It will come together as long as you don’t add too much milk at a time.

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Once all the milk is added bring to the boil.  Make sure you keep stirring, it would be a shame to get to this point lump free only to slacken off now and have to rely on your blender to smooth off the sauce.  Once its boiling remove from the heat stir in the grated cheese and finally the yoghurt and mix well.

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Now the fun bit.  Fish out the bay leaves from your cauldron of meat! Then take a large deep dish and layer up your meat, aubergine and sauce.  I got two layers of each in and have to admit I did end up with a couple portions of meat that wouldn’t fit in the dish.  Never mind, I now have a bolognaise sauce UFO which I can add to some pasta one evening.

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Finally a little grated cheese. and a sprinkle of paprika (I really like paprika) and into the oven on 180c for 30-40 mins or until well browned.  That’s it.  Veg heavy lasagne, a meal on its own, or if you want to be really good, just as nice with a side of salad.

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You should accept if you decide to give this a go that without the sheets of lasagne it will not come out of the pan as a perfect slice!  Slicing the aubergine long ways would have given it more structure, but it doesn’t bother me so I didn’t bother.  Also make sure you taste as you season and spice.  I like this version, but it may be too seasoned or not seasoned enough for you.  The bolognaise sauce is cooking for long enough that you can adjust the seasonings a number of times if need be.  Remember its easy to add, not possible to take away!

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The Nutritional info (based on My Fitness Pal) is per serving

449 Kcal, 14g fat, 31g Carbs, 47g protien


Healthy Vegetable Heavy lasagne 
Ingredients List
3 Aubergines
3 Courgettes
4 Peppers
5 Carrots
3 leeks
2 tomatoes
250g Mushrooms
3 Cloves of Garlic
1500g Lean Minced Beef
2 x 500g Passata
2 x 390g Chopped Tomatoes
500ml Beef Stock
250ml Red Wine
Salt & Pepper
5 tbsp. Worcester Sauce
3 tsp Oregano
2 tsp Parsley, Thyme, Spicy Italian Seasoning
1 tsp paprika
3 bay leaves
800ml skimmed milk
80g plain flour
80g lighter spreadable butter
300g 0% fat Greek Yoghurt

Directions
1 - Prep the veg
2 - Dry fry the aubergine until golden brown, then place to one side
3 - Dry fry the leeks gently until soft, then add the crushed garlic and 
cook for a couple more minutes.  Then add the mince and brown off.  
Transfer the leek and meat to a large pan.
4 - Dry fry the remaining veg until softened and then add them and the 
mushrooms to the meat.
5 - Pour in the passata, tomatoes, wine and stock, season to taste, 
bring to the boil and leave to cook for a couple of hours or until the 
liquid has reduced a lot. Fish out bay leaves.
6 - Melt the butter and stir in the flour, cook until a sandy colour.  
Gradually add the milk, stirring well between each addition until all 
the milk has been fully incorporated.  Bring to the boil, stirring
constantly, then remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and yoghurt
and season with salt and pepper.
7 - Take a large deep dish and layer meat, aubergine and sauce finishing
with a sauce layer.  Sprinkle a little grated cheese and paprika on the 
top.
8 - Bake at 180c for 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling.