Monday, 24 February 2014

A Vini & Bal's competition...and how to pretend that you made a kick-ass aromatic soup

This week over in The Cooking Corner, I'm showing you how to impress all your friends by lying to them.  We will be tarting up a Vini & Bal's curry sauce by hoying a couple of other ingredients into it and turning it into soup.  This is a useful sort of recipe for a dinner party as it means that you can bez on with the wine nice and early instead of wasting precious time cooking.

Here's what you'll need for two portions:

* 1 tub of Vini & Bal's Shahi sauce.  This one is quite creamy and mild, so great for curry wimps.
* tin of coconut cream.  Because you can never have too much cream going on.
* soy sauce
* a lime.  I'll be honest, I found my lime at the bottom of the fridge underneath something squishy and unidentifiable.  The lime wasn't looking too hot.  If I'm struck down with a dodgy tummy later, it'll definitely be the lime's fault.


Empty the Shahi sauce into a pan and heat.  Add some water.  Yes, "some".  How much you add depends on how thick you like your soup to be.  Now, you could leave it at that at this point - the sauce, heated up with a bit of water to thin it makes a perfectly delicious soup as it is.  However, as we're aiming for deception here, I chose to add a few ingredients, as everybody knows that something totally counts as home cooked if you've added at least 2 ingredients yourself.  Granted, this is on the same dodgy ground as "it's not infidelity if it happens in a different county", but you're going to have to get on board with me here.

Squeeze in the lime to taste.  It's not complicated: if you like things extra limey, squeeze in the lot. If you don't, just a little bit will do.  Then dollop in some coconut cream.  You've guessed it - use as much as you like.  I was then slightly controversial and added a few drops of soy sauce.  I'm pretty sure than Vini & Bal are shaking their fists at the computer screen right now, but I like soy sauce in a curry and it's my blog, so there.

When everything is hot, pour into bowls and add a little more coconut cream.  I think it would be good to serve this soup with naan bread instead of the traditional crusty bread rolls.  But what do I know?  I ate mine with a crumpet because I have all the finesse a bog brush.

Competition: Win a Vini & Bal's Goody Bag

Who fancies trying some of these legendary curry sauces for themselves?  I have one goody bag to give away and all you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway Win competitions at

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Style Advice for a 4 Year Old (by my husband)

I have never given much of a crap what Rory wears.  My rules have been few and far between and have mainly consisted of as few Disney characters as possible, as few Rubbish Little Bears as possible and as little in the way of 'trendy' hair and clothing as possible because the obsession with how we all look drives me up the effing wall and I wanted him to remain entirely indifferent to how he looks and what he wears for as long as possible.  It's been bobbly hand-me-downs and handmade PJ bottoms a-go-go here for years, interspersed with the odd pair of Boden trousers because you can wash them to buggery and they won't fall apart.  All the better for getting covered in mud in.

However.  He is now four and a half and at school, and is showing the slightest bit of interest in choosing his own clothes.  I always said that when he was genuinely interested, he could look however he wanted (as long as it didn't involve any bloody Disney characters or Rubbish Bears, obviously.  I have my limits).  Worryingly, he is turning to my husband for style advice.  I say 'worryingly' because Richard is known throughout Cheshire for his commitment to awful shirts, the most recent of which is turquoise and has cheetahs all over it.  This is the sort of horrific character trait that slowly reveals itself to you if you get engaged to a man that you've only known for a few months.  Be warned, ladies.

Richard modelling his Christmas Shirt. No, he did not get any that night.

So here, for the education of small boys far and wide are Mr J's top fashion tips:

1. "Never wear one colour from head to toe.  Unless it's black.  Then you look like a ninja and that can only ever be a good thing."  This was after Rory attempted to team a pair of grey tracksuit bottoms with a grey long sleeved top.  "YOU LOOK LIKE A GIANT SLUG" shouted Richard.  "GO AND GET CHANGED IMMEDIATELY."  Wise advice.

2. "You can never have too many pairs of snakeskin shoes. In fact, the pairing of snakeskin shoes and a cowboy shirt is a classic."  This nicely demonstrates the scale of the problem that I live with every day.  I should have had fair warning of this when he begged to carry a 'pimp stick' as part of his wedding outfit.  Needless to say, there was a ban on marital pimp sticks.

Yes, I married him. Pimp stick optional.

3. "Only ever wear one cool item at a time.  This includes hair.  Otherwise you are trying too hard.  For example, son, your new Nirvana top must be worn with a neat side parting and generic jeans.  Quiffed up hair can only be worn with a basic t-shirt or shirt.  In fact, for best effect, team a quiff with glasses for Proclaimers Geek Chic.  It shows personality.  The Ladies like a bit of personality."
The Proclaimers look.  Note that Lightning McQueen made an appearance despite my best efforts, the little red git.

4. "We can co-ordinate but never match.  We can both wear Converse trainers, but never the same colour and style.  Check shirts must never ever be in the same colours and must be accessorised differently.  Remember The Great Festival Faux Pas of 2012 when all three of us ended up wearing navy and white stripes and let that be a lesson to you.  Sartorial nightmare."  To be fair, I still cringe when I remember the matching blue and white stripe incident.

The Disgrace boys demonstrate how to do 'coordinating but not matching'

5. "Hawaiian shirts are very now."

Seriously now, that kind of statement can only lead to this sort of atrocity.

6. "Don't show anyone your pants, however cool they are.  Even if they're really brilliant Superhero ones, they are not for showing people.  You can describe your pants in vivid detail, but never get them out."  Modesty.  Very important.

7. "And never - and I'm very serious about this - NEVER do triple denim."
Especially when it's teamed with a Movember moustache.  November 2011: A dry month for Mr J. And, yes, that's a Zammo 'Just Say No' keyring. 

I hope that's cleared up any style quandaries for you all.  I'll leave you with a final picture of Richard sporting his current favourite shirt - the one that's got me praying to God that summer will never come - and one of Rory having picked his own outfit for the school disco.  Rock on, boys.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Cooking with Vini & Bal's: Sweet Potato & Roasted Pepper Mirchi

It's fair to say that I'm not known for my excellence in food blogging (Exhibit A.  Exhibit B).  I am slapdash in the extreme in the kitchen and my photography is no better.  But I do love a curry; the more authentic the better, so when Vini & Bal's approached me to see if I'd like to try out their range of rustic Indian curry sauces, I was only too pleased to give them a go.  After all, they combine two of my favourite things (curry and laziness), so I knew that you lot would love them as much as I do.

Quick bit of info before we get started:  Vini & Bal's are a range of award winning, fresh curry sauces, invented by a husband and wife team who brought their home cooking to the market because they were frustrated with the poor quality, artificial flavouring and preservative packed jars of curry sauce that are available in the UK.  All four sauces in the range are vegetarian and gluten free with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and are very versatile, being used as marinades, cook-in sauces, soups and toppings.

Here I am, ready to cook and posing cheesily with their packaging.  Albeit back to front because I'm incapable of taking a selfie with the camera the right way around.

I decided to use the Fiery Mirchi sauce for this recipe because I'm bad-ass (you might wish to use the Jeera instead if you're less hardcore), and I teamed it with sweet potato and roasted peppers because it was the only stuff left in the fridge I felt that the sweetness would counteract the heat of the Mirchi nicely.


Tub of Vini & Bal's Fiery Mirchi sauce.
Sweet potato: some.
Whatever peppers you've got mouldering away at the back of the fridge.
Bit of onion.
Cooking oil spray.

1. Get out all your ingredients and admire.

2. Chop the peppers and onion.  Peel and chop the sweet potato into bite sized pieces.  You don't have to put everything into separate Emma Bridgewater dishes at this point, but if you do, you are clearly winning at life.

3. Put the peppers on a baking tray, spray with oil and put in a medium oven to roast while you wang on with the curry.

4. Sweat the onions in a little oil for 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato and the sauce (apart from a couple of tablespoons full which you're going to save in the fridge because I'm going to show you a seriously slack and filthy way to use this up later on this month).  Chuck in a cup of water or so, cover the pan and wander off to do something else for 20 minutes while the sweet potato softens and the sauce reduces.  I cleaned the bathroom in a bizarre fit of conscientiousness, but you don't have to resort to such an extreme activity.

5. Stroll back into the kitchen, take the peppers out of the oven and stir into the curry.  You might need to leave the pan uncovered so the sauce can reduce some more, or you might not.

6. Serve with rice.

Absolutely delicious and so easy.  Almost zero effort required and it tastes just as good as anything from the takeaway but much healthier.  The Mirchi was too hot for Rich, but that was OK with me because I got to put his portion in the fridge.  If there's one thing better than a curry, it's cold curry the next day.  I'm eating it right now.  Yes, I know that it's only 10am.  Yes, I'm aware that I am properly disgusting.

Give Vini & Bal's a go and let me know how you get on.  Their sauces are currently available at Ocado, Sainsbury's and Booths.  I'm just off to Twitter to try and prod Waitrose into stocking them in store because they're my local supermarket.  I'll be back with a couple more Vini & Bal's recipes throughout the month so keep your eyes peeled for more inspiration.