Weekday dinners can spell a few things in my house. Firstly, panic. Followed by seemingly endless amounts of time spent with my head in the fridge, resorting to sending my Dad over the road to the Co-op, losing him for approximately 45 minutes, only to return with six reduced Cornish pasties, a near out of date packet of prawns and, no doubt, a cremated rotisserie chicken that despite only costing 50p, better resembles an extra from a Lord of the Rings film than anything even vaguely edible.
So, head goes back in the fridge (well, better there than in the oven I suppose..) before settling for something to do with minced beef that almost always emerges from the pot as some kind of variation on a Spaghetti Bolognese theme. Which I don’t mind in the slightest, don’t get me wrong; just as long as it doesn't come in a microwave-proof, plastic lidded container and, most importantly, doesn't contain any ingredients that bear even a passing resemblance to Black Beauty or any of his friends...
Oh yes, it is the unavoidable story of the moment, the words on every newsreader and local food activists lips; the Horse-meat Scandal has shocked and outraged the British public, sparking, hallelujah the kind of opportunity for a Food Revolution that Jamie Oliver would do naked cartwheels through organic lettuce fields for. Wow. What an image. Sorry, must focus; what was I talking about again?
Ah yes; as ‘holding your horses’ became a phrase more apt to carrying a plateful of Ikea meatballs, and the equine invasion of the frozen food aisle got more airtime than misbehaving MPs or even Katie Price, the real shocker for many a foodie, definitely including myself, was the amount of people for whom a frozen lasagne is actually a regular fixture on the dinner table, and not just when the oven is broken. Whether it is because people feel that they don’t have the time or money to make a meal from scratch, or simply, and this really gets my goat (or pony, as the case may be..) can’t be bothered to try, I can’t help hoping that this scandal might give our attitudes to the food we put into our bodies, the shakeup it needs, and not just by changing the meaning of being so hungry you could ‘eat a horse’.
Jokes aside, and there are many, the fact that people can’t make a good, healthy meal using fresh, healthy ingredients, therefore knowing exactly what they are eating, makes me, well, just a little bit sad. I can understand lacking the funds to create a Michelin starred meal every night, but it really doesn’t take much to avoid resorting to zapping a plastic container of, let’s be honest, god knows what in the microwave. I have had my fair share of budget dinners, living the £5 a week student dream for four spectacular, wine fuelled but, all in all, pretty well fed years. And although spag-bol made a rather starring appearance, it definitely taught me that eating on the cheap doesn’t have to mean opening endless packets of Supernoodles, and certainly doesn’t have to carry the risk of knocking out any of next year’s Grand National hopefuls.
Yes, in between discovering how to make a Cheeky Vimto and (unsuccessfully) trying to iron a skirt using hair straighteners, I became a dab hand at knocking out a dinner for pennies; just taking a little bit of effort and some sneaky supermarket choices to make something really good for a lot less than you would expect.
And this sticky and sweet sesame chicken, with tangy fennel and apple slaw, topped off with spicy paprika wedges, is exactly what I am talking about. Delicious, satisfying and won’t require either a mortgage or hours in the kitchen, I promise. Swap chicken breasts for thighs, use seasonal (and beautiful) cabbage and apples, ramp up the flavours using a few store cupboard essentials and you will have a delicious dinner in no time than your hungry housemates will be chomping at the bit (the last horse joke, I swear..) to delve in to.
Marinated in a punchy honey and sesame seed sauce, spiced delicately with paprika, garlic and thyme, balanced with a sharp slaw dressed with yoghurt, lemon and mustard and topped off with spicy potato wedges, this is one of my all time favourite midweek dinners. It blows the famous, secret-recipe bargain bucket completely out of the drive-thru window on every possible level; this really is finger lickin’ good. And I promise I won’t keep any of the ingredients up my sleeve like a certain white haired Colonel...
Sticky Sesame Chicken thighs
6 chicken thighs (skin on and bone in is best, ans cheapest!)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp whiskey (leave this out if you are on a tight budget)
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
2 tsp mustard
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, before adding the chicken thighs, covering and leaving to marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
Remove the thighs from the marinade and put the chicken into an ovenproof dish. Bake, covered with tinfoil, for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, reduce the remaining marinade in a saucepan until thick and sticky.
When the thighs have been cooking for half an hour, pour over the sticky sauce and bake,m uncovered for a further 20 minutes, or until sticky and brown.
Serve with the slaw and wedges (below), and some charred corn on the cob.
Fennel and Apple Slaw
½ bulb fennel, finely sliced
½ small red cabbage, finely sliged
1 apple, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 red onion, finely sliced
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1tsp Dijon mustard
Juice 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Combine all the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Easy-peasy.
Paprika Potato Wedges
5 potatoes, cut into wedges
1 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
Arrange the potatoes and garlic in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over a few glugs of olive oil, the paprika and season. Bake for about 1 hour, turning at regular intervals, until golden and crispy.