“Save with Jamie”

Save with Jamie

Apologies for spatchcocking the book like this, but the back cover is so pretty it had to be in the picture. And the design throughout the book is just gorgeous – colourful, energetic and somehow both contemporary and ’50s diner-esque.

Back in March I decided that it was really time to stop buying cookbooks and start using the ones I already had. And I am so glad that I did, as it has been a real success thus far. (The “using the books I already had” bit, not the moratorium on buying new books. I’m about to crack and buy “Simply Nigella”, as the library will probably want their copy back at some point.)

So, in March I aimed to cook a recipe a week from “Save with Jamie”, and it was actually very easy to cook almost twice that.

As the cover promises, the aim of the book is to help people shop smart, cook clever and waste less. The Shop Smart section is written with a lightness of touch, and neither pontificates nor alienates readers with different budgets or experience of being savvy. Two nuggets (of information, not chicken) that I took away were that mushrooms can be frozen and that fresh herbs keep longer if you trim the stalks and then wrap them in damp kitchen paper. Useful to know.

The real gold, though, is in the recipes themselves.

Each section apart from Veg starts with a “mothership” recipe for a roast, and is followed by 7 or so recipes using the leftovers and then others to be cooked from scratch. I did some of each – verdicts below:

From scratch

  • Hit ‘n’ run traybaked chicken (pictured below) – absolutely delicious, and so easy to make. Chickeny, bell peppery, balsamicy goodness. I’m not sure how well this would freeze, but it would taste amazing cold as a posh picnic dish. (Yes, to me anything that requires cutlery at a picnic is posh.)
  • Pukka yellow curry – this was fine, but not jump off the plate exciting, although that could well be because the sauce never thickened as it was meant to, which was very likely my fault.
  • Mince & onion pie with cream cheese pastry – this was a revelation. The first mouthful tasted like pleasant comfort food. Then the heat from the cayenne and the creaminess of the pastry started to come through and made for something pretty magical.


  • Roast chicken and sweet pea risotto – tasty, and definitely inexpensive, although it took longer than the given 16 minutes for the rice to absorb the stock. (Which did not come as a surprise – risottos are renowned for being rather long-winded. A tasty alternative to risotto that doesn’t require constant stirring is this scrumptious chicken orzo recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.)
  • Beef rendang – enjoyable rather than life changing, but certainly extra points for being completely different from the original roast.
  • Punchy crunchy lamb noodle salad – making myself cook from the book meant that I had to be open to making things that I wouldn’t usually, and this lamb dish was a prime example of the benefits reaped from that approach. I was happily surprised at how well it was received, as this isn’t really a salad family. This recipe also contains a glorious example of the ebullient nature of Jamie Oliver’s writing – “lovely crisp slivers of leftover roast lamb, paired with lamb’s two best mates, Mr Mint and Mr Chilli”.
  • Quick Chinese Wrap – these were really good, genuinely quick, and again not the sort of thing I’d normally make. A great alternative to chicken sandwiches for lunch.

And there are many, many other recipes just waiting to be tried. This book celebrates nourishing food, full of flavour and variety that can be cooked midweek. And it is a joy.

Hit 'n' run traybaked chicken

Hit ‘n’ run traybaked chicken. Yum.




Cross stitch starter kit


I have loved cross stitch for – eek – twenty-five years, and so was really excited to put together a little starter kit for our gorgeous niece’s sixth birthday.

I put in the following:

  • 8 shades of stranded cotton;
  • 14 count Aida. (This is a woven mesh fabric where the “count” indicates how many squares there are per inch. I’d planned to get 11 count, as sewing with this gives good big cross stitches, but the store I went to didn’t stock it, and I’m sure our nimble-fingered niece will be fine with the slightly more delicate 14 count);
  • needles;
  • cards for mounting and presenting the finished pieces;
  • a little zippered bag to keep the cotton and needles in;
  • a few simple patterns gleaned from Pinterest and laminated (including a lovely ballerina one, not in the picture above, picking up the ballet theme in the bag fabric).

For the bag, I used the 6 inch pattern and tutorial at Peggy Sew, and the fabric was from Hobbycraft (£8/metre, but only a little is needed).

I’ll definitely make more of the bags, and next time will try using interfacing or looking for a thinner fleece for the lining than the one I used, as it came out a little bulky.

It was a straightforward project, thanks to the very clear and well illustrated tutorial, and the only difficulty was of my own making. I was feeling particularly smug about the zip seeming to go in well, only to realise that I’d sewed right down the middle of it. There followed an anxious few minutes of unpicking and seeing if I’d broken any teeth, but I was lucky. I still need a lot of practice with zips, but at least I’m no longer terrified of them. Or at least, not so terrified.


Sunday evening tote bag

Tote bag

I’ve just this moment finished making this reversible tote bag, using some of the Ikea Rosali fabric I bought recently. It’s a birthday present for a friend’s lovely daughter, who is about to turn eleven. Will an eleven year old like it? I really hope so, but have no idea. I worked on the principle that I liked pretty things when I was eleven and that bags are always useful, particularly since the 5p plastic carrier bag charge was introduced in England last autumn. Although that may not be something that teenagers are particularly worried about. Oh dear, now I’m doubting myself. Ah well, fortunately she’s much too polite to tell me if she never uses it.

Anyway, I used a tote bag that I have as a guide for the measurements, and cut out an 86 x 38 cm rectangle of each fabric. I folded the flowered fabric in half horizontally, stitched right sides together down the edges*, then mitred the corners. (As the fold makes the bottom of the bag, I pressed it well, to make it easier to match it up with the seam.) I wanted a decent sized base to the bag, so made the line of stitching at each corner 8 cm. Then I folded over the top of the bag by about 2 cm and pressed it, and did the whole thing all over again with the spotted fabric.

*at this point, I think I should have pressed the seams flat. I did later, but think earlier on might have worked better.

For the handles (4 strips of 76 x 4 cm) I used the top-stitched method from the tutorial I followed when making the children’s reversible bags last week. This way of making straps/handles was a revelation. Previously I’d have sewn them wrong sides together and then turned them out, which I loathe as it always takes me a ridiculously long time.

I kept it really simple by using a very small seam allowance when sewing the two pieces of each handle together, then folding each long edge into the middle and pressing, then folding over again and top stitching each long edge. This resulted in handles that were just less than 2 cm wide. Having learnt my lesson from last time, I also made them from just one of the fabrics, rather than both, as slightly wobbly cutting out/matching of edges shows much less this way.

Then all there remained to do was turn one of the bags the right way out (in this case the flowered one), put the other one inside it so that they were now wrong sides together, position the ends of the handles inside the two layers (again using my own tote bag as a guide), pin and top stitch round the whole edge.

Towards the end, I realised that this was quite possibly the first time I had made something on the spot for someone else. I’ve sewn presents before, but they have been labours of love, requiring much planning and often a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears. This, on the other hand, had been a straightforward and enjoyable alternative to buying a present in a shop. Finally, my hobby was useful! And – because it was late and hopped up on tea I was beginning to wax lyrical – I felt that I was becoming the person I had always wanted to be.

And then the light bulb on my sewing machine went. C’est la vie.


Quick supper – feta, basil and tomato tart


Do not fear, I am not advocating teeny tiny meals. This is just half a portion as a whole one wouldn’t fit on the plate.

This recipe (more like assembly instructions really) isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but it was quick, tasty and – always immensely gratifying – used up the half pack of puff pastry that was just about to go out of date.

For two good-sized adult portions you’ll need the following:

  • 250g puff pastry
  • c. 4 tsp pesto
  • c. 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 sundried tomatoes, cut into small strips
  • c. 75g feta
  • small handful of fresh basil leaves
  • olive oil


  • preheat the oven to 180 degrees fan
  • lightly flour the work surface and roll out the pastry to quite thin (to use the technical term), then cut in half lengthwise
  • score round the outside of each pastry rectangle, about a centimetre from the edge, making sure not to go all the way through it
  • spread the pesto over the pastry, up to the scored line
  • spread out the halved cherry tomatoes and sundried tomatoes inside the scored line, then crumble over the feta
  • finish with some basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil
  • bake for c. 15 minutes

We had ours with green beans and rocket with vinaigrette, and pretty good it was too.

Mass production

Bags 1

It was the spring fair today at the little one’s preschool and I made these reversible bags for them to sell. (Apologies for the quality of the picture above. I’m not even sure how it’s possible to blur just one side of a photo.)


I used this wonderful tutorial by Grandma’s Chalkboard for Make It & Love It, and the bags were a pleasure to make. I got to try out some of the fabrics that I bought last week, and also to use up some of my stash .

The tutorial is really clear and well illustrated, and the only problems I had were of my own making. My inability to sew a straight line resulted in such a curved first effort at a strap that it had to be abandoned, and I nearly wept when I realised that I had cut out the hearts and flowers fabric with the pattern pointing down, and so didn’t have enough to make a second bag with it. I went to bed genuinely sad for the Plan B gingham bag – I didn’t want it to feel like the ugly duckling of the four. (By this time I was very tired and possibly, just possibly, a little irrational.) But things were brighter in the morning when I remembered my first rule of sewing – everything looks better with a ribbon, even a slightly skew-whiff one.

Bags 3

I don’t know how much the bags raised for pre-school – hopefully something.

I’ll definitely be making more of these, perhaps with slightly thicker cottons next time. But first I need to practise those fiendish straight lines.