recipe: the best Irish stew we have ever made (390 calories)

Hello sorry yes we haven’t died and to celebrate we’re posting an Irish stew recipe that we cobbled together in our pressure cooker.

Of course the real peril with posting an Irish stew recipe is that we’ll invariably get messages telling us that Irish stew shouldn’t have this, that or the other in it – and listen, we love feedback, but please do not be that person. We’re calling it an Irish stew because it’s a stew and it has Guinness in it and frankly, that’s enough for us. You ought to be grateful that I didn’t open this blog entry with some crass joke about the last time an Irish Stu filled my hole and left gravy around my gob, but thankfully we aren’t that type of crass blog.

Oh hi! Normally I’d use this little pink paragraph to extol the wonders of our newest cookbook DINNER TIME, walking you through some of the dinners available, telling you how good the food is. Well, not today. All I’m saying is that if you haven’t pre-ordered it, we’re going to tell Goomba and he will sit in his crate looking all mournful and sad like he’s in an RSPCA advert. How could you do that to him? Those big baleful brown eyes scanning the horizon for the postman bringing new toys as celebration for our book sales, but he never arrives. That Sarah McLachlan song ‘…in the aaaaarms of an angel’ song swells in the background as his little granny-lips quiver. Honestly, you’re a monster for even allowing it. You can put right your absolute shadiness by ordering it here 

Of course, when I said we haven’t died at the top of the post, the grim reality is that of course, we actually nearly have. I mean yes there may be a touch of hypochondriac melodrama on that sentence but here is how the last couple of weeks have unfolded. We returned back from Canada in a pressurised cylinder of 400 people’s farts, coughs and sneezes into a Heathrow airport so rammed and so busy that I physically cheated on my husband seven times just trying to squeeze past people in the queue for Pret a Manger. We then spent the flight back to Newcastle being lightly coated in a miasma of spittle and snot made worse by two sneezing children whose parents were taking a ‘hands off’ approach to parenting, leaving them free to clamber about the seats and coughing in people’s faces. See if that had been my mother I’d have been put in the overhead lockers, albeit not for any sort of punishment but because she’d have wanted to keep her precious cargo of 800 duty-free Lambert & Butler buckled in next to her in case of emergency.

Either way, I got properly ill. Not COVID, I tested, but just the sort of ill which demands you lie in bed wailing and scratching at your throat and falling asleep during Four in a Bed and waking up delirious in the middle of Question Time and wondering why the fuck Priti Patel is reviewing someone’s breakfast. Can you imagine Priti Patel running a B&B? She’d seal you in a windowless room, weld the door shut and spend the evening pushing fancy chocolates into her smirking gob whilst you scrabbled for oxygen. She’s John Kramer in a Karen Millen pencil dress.

Anyway, a few days later Paul started attention-seeking coughing and revealed that he had one-upped me (well holidays do always bring us closer) and had caught COVID. This meant pushing him into our bedroom, bringing the TV in so he had something to occupy himself with and me bringing him all manners of snack trays. However, a few days later, I caught it too, we reunited in the hallway as though we were Desmond and Penny from Lost – and that’s where we are now. Me in the middle of coughing and spluttering and feeling lousy – in particular is the fuzzy-headed brain thing I’ve got going on – Paul emerging from the other end of his COVID like Andy Dufresne popping out of the sewer pipe in The Shawshank Redemption. Luckily the pipe was just full of Covonia and not faeces.

So the good news: as someone who had convinced himself he would die the second he got COVID, I don’t feel half as bad as I thought. It’s been more knackering having to keep on top of my health anxiety and reassure myself that my tonsils aren’t about to go septic or my sinuses aren’t going to jam up like someone squirted expanding foam up there or that my cough isn’t one hack away from needing to be put on an iron lung. COVID, so far, feels like a bad cold – and make me thankful indeed for two things: I gave up smoking seven weeks ago and I had my vaccines and booster. Now some people – usually those with a degree from the University of Life (i.e. as dense as a Boxing Day dump) on their profiles – may leap to say that the vaccines and boosters do not work given both Paul and I caught COVID in the end. It ought to go without saying that this is bollocks: the vaccine lowers the chances of serious complications and touch wood, that’s very true. The first time Paul had COVID was dreadful – partly because I couldn’t see him, partly because he was a perfect sphere – whereas this time around he’s just been a sniffly-snotty mess. That’s as good a reason as you should need if you’re still sitting on the fence a year later. Think of your poor bum!

So, assuming this COVID doesn’t turn into something terrible, we are at least back in the country and cooking again, with all the blog entries that entails. Which is nice. To that end, shall we cut to the chase and sort out this best ever Irish stew? But of course.

Irish stew

How about that bowl of Irish stew to put hair on your gebs?

Irish stew

Lovely lovely Irish stew ingredients!

Irish stew

Chuck all the ingredients in for this Irish stew and you’re laughing

best ever lamb Irish stew

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

Now we've used an Instant Pot for this because we're fancy and it saves farting about with the hob, but this will do just fine cooked in a heavy-duty iron pot for a few hours. We've portioned it up as four large servings at around 390 calories a time - we usually just have ours in a bowl but feel free to serve it with whatever.

As ever, calories are approximate and do rather depend on your mix of vegetables and what have you.

Finally, see the note on lamb!

Ingredients

  • 400g lamb - we used chopped lamb neck which you can get from most butchers - it's a dirt cheap bit of meat too so won't break the bank
  • two large onions
  • one teaspoon of minced garlic
  • one teaspoon of tomato puree
  • about 400g of chopped carrot
  • 300g of chopped celery
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 400g new potatoes, halved
  • 330ml bottle of Guinness
  • 400ml of beef stock
  • pinch of dried chives, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper

Instructions

  • slice the onions into fine half-moon slices and then:
    • if using an Instant Pot, select saute and fry them gently until golden, adding the garlic and thyme a minute or two before everything is done
    • if on the hob, well, same as above, but on the hob
  • tip all of the other ingredients into the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook on low for about 30 minutes, making sure the valve is set to seal - once done, allow to vent pressure and serve
  • if making it on the hob, put everything into the pan and allow to bubble away on a medium heat for at least a couple of hours until everything has thickened
  • serve with whatever you like

Notes

Recipe

  • lamb neck is cheap and tasty, but if you're not a fan, swap out for diced beef
  • if Guinness isn't up your street, just use more beef stock
  • the recipe freezes very well indeed

Books

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because my head is full of cotton wool and leaking out of my ears

Courses stew

Cuisine lamb

 

A hyena’s belly is never full.

J

recipe: super simple beef and broccoli (300 calories)

Come for the beef and broccoli, stay for the stories. And there’s a sock to wipe up the first bit of that sentence, you filthy cow. Fans of my rotation will note that this should be a retrorecipe post but the thing is, my Fanny has been shut away for a few days and I haven’t had time to slap it out and give it an airing. The retro recipes will be back, we promise, as they’re as much fun to write as they are to cook, but for now, just a recipe reacharound to tide you over.

As of today, our new cookbook DINNER TIME is at the printers getting turned into hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s a super exciting point of the process for us – we can’t change what has gone in: the i’s are dotted, the t’s are delicious. Now begins the two months or so where we spend it fretting that you’ll all hate it and send us angry letters or we’ve made some massive faux-pas that’ll set our windows put through and Paul crying on a ten minute long apology video. But fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. Of course, to alleviate our imposter syndrome, feel free to buy the book and make us feel more secure about putting down a deposit on a holiday. You can order it here 

 The good news is my arm is better and I can go back to typing one handed purely in incognito mode as opposed to having to wince my way through doing blog entries. I’m sure I used to laugh off such aches and pains (after spending four hours googling symptoms and demanding an MRI) but I’m taking it as yet another sign of my advancing years. Actually, on that googling thing, I broke my own health-anxiety rule and was busy googling whether or not my arm was anything to worry about when it suggested blood poisoning as a result of muscle tearing and had to stop.

Speaking of advancing years though, it’s my birthday next week and quite frankly I thoroughly intend to mark it because for the last two years, I’ve ‘cancelled’ it – we were in lockdown in 2020 and in that awful semi-lockdown in 2021 so it didn’t feel worth celebrating but I’m 37 and let’s be honest, pretty unlikely to stumble my way anywhere near to living past 74. So I’m treating this as my mid-life point and I won’t be told otherwise. Historically I’ve always been a bit down in the mouth about my birthday, seeing it as a personal affront when the numbers on the left side of my age tick higher than the right, but I’ve been listening to a podcast by Derren Brown of all people which touches on how we mustn’t be fazed by the passage of time nor the advancement of age because there will come a time when you’d give anything to be right back here in this moment with the people and health and tchotchkes you have around you right now. Unusually for me, that actually sunk in, presumably because I was concentrating hard listening to him in the vain hope he was trying to put me under and lead me to some evil bidding.

He also promotes the concept of philocaly – finding beauty in the small things you tend to overlook – and I happen to think that’s a charming way to live. For my part, I’ve stopped swearing and throwing my arms around like I’m conducting an orchestra when I’m stuck behind some old dear doing 25mph on a 60mph road – they might be a nervous driver, they may have things on their mind – plus they’ll be dead soon enough. It’s really quite easy when you tune in to your feelings.

Anyway: just a short blog entry today because I want to take Goo out now that it’s getting light at night. It’s just so much easier chasing after his poo-walking with a bag thin enough to see through when the sun is shining. This recipe was originally on the blog from 2015 and comes with a very sweet, very innocent trip report from our last visit to Berlin. Heavens.

beef and broccoli

but in the end he needs a little more than me, beeeeeeeeeeef and broccoliiiiiiiiiiii

Is it even a plate of beef and broccoli if you don’t over-saturate the picture so it looks as though you’re serving it up on a nuclear moon and spill gravy all over the place?

recipe reacharound: beef and broccoli (300 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

This little fakeaway dish might not exactly scream excitement and flavour, but listen here slick - it's one that we keep coming back to when we can't be arsed with anything flash. So check your attitude at the door and crack on.

Calories (300 of them), as ever, are approximate. Don't be tempted to skip on the cornflour, it's needed for the sauce to thicken, and if you have a dodgy ticker or high blood pressure, and yes Susan, I do mean you, perhaps switch to low-sodium soy sauce. Because the thing is, well, close up, he was almost purple.

Ingredients

  • 500g of diced beef - now we just buy the ready diced stuff from the supermarket, but feel free to get steak and chop it up, you heartless monster
  • 75ml of light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp of cornflour
  • one large onion, diced finely
  • two tsps of garlic paste 
  • same again of ginger paste
    • look, we know you can use fresh, and that's fine if you prefer, but this is a lazy dinner
  • 250g of broccoli, chopped into tiny little trees
  • pinch of chilli flakes if you like your arse all-a-tingle
  • 250ml of good beef stock

Instructions

  • over a high heat and with a little bit of oil, fry off the beef for a minute or so with two tablespoons of soy sauce until browned on all sides, then set aside
  • in the same pan, add a little more oil if needed and saute, on a medium heat, the onion until golden, adding the ginger and garlic towards the end
  • add the broccoli and chilli flakes and keep frying off for a minute or two more
  • mix together the cornflour, beef stock and remainder of the soy sauce, making sure there's no lumps or so help me god
  • add the beef and the liquid above into the pan and bubble away on a high heat until cooked and thickened and what have you
  • serve with rice

Notes

Recipe

  • we prefer our broccoli with a bit of crunch but if you're of the generation that believes a vegetable ready for tea should be set away boiling seven months before because you'd take rickets over vitamins, then parboil the broccoli before hand
  • but seriously, get out of that habit, enjoy some flavour
  • add peppers into this to bulk it out - chopped into fat strips and thrown in with the onion
  • buy your broccoli pre-chopped by all means, but it's easier to just cut your own. Well no easier no, but certainly less bougie

Books

  • 100 dinner time favourites for your perusal in our newest cookbook DINNER TIME, launching in May - you can pre-order here!
  • perhaps you prefer things fast and filling - well there's over 100 speedy recipes in cookbook two: order yours here! 
  • let's go back to where it all began - cookbook one: click here to order
  • you want somewhere to track your successes - try our diet planner: here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because Paul seemingly needs a new set of clothes every time he leaves a room and he's costing us a tonne in fabric conditioner

Courses fakeaways

Cuisine fakeaways

Now listen: Paul and I are taking a short break – only a couple of weeks, and then we’ll be back with more content. Until then, look after the place, feed the cats, blast the skidders off the netty. Back April 5.

Every time I shut my eyes, it’s always the same.

Jx

recipe reacharound: sloppier cubs (510 calories)

If you think I’ve called this recipe sloppier cubs simply because between that and the word reacharound anyone googling it is going to get a filthy surprise, well, you’d be gosh-damn right, Susan. But this little trip down into the recipe archives is a hot take on our bacon cheeseburger sloppy cubs recipe from 2017 and frankly, it’s one that we ought to have revisited a lot sooner BECAUSE THEY ARE BLOODY AMAZING. Seriously, if you like sloppy mince between your buns – and once you’ve finished sending me your number / nudes – you need to try this. But first…

What do you call your evening meal? Whether you’re an ASDA sort who calls it tea, a Marks and Spencer sort who calls it dinner, a Waitrose type who calls it supper or a Juice Newton who calls it Angel in the Morning, it hardly matters. We’ve got 100+ evening meal ideas in our new book which is bursting with colours and flavours and you just need it. You do! You really do. You can order it here 

Oh I know, I’m never off!

I do want you to know – and I am not trying to guilt trip you, mind – that I am writing this blog in an unusual amount of pain, even for a hypochondriac like me. In a misguided effort to lose some weight before we go on holiday, I’ve been attending our local Elite classes again. For those that div-not-knaa, they’re high intensity fitness workouts where you get thrown about and shouted at for forty-five minutes three times a week. I’m making them sound awful when in reality, I bloody love doing them when I can actually motivate myself to get out of the car (currently at a 50/50 split on that success). Anyway, one of the recent classes involved a fitness test where you pair up with someone else and do as many reps of various exercises as you can in a minute. Paul is actually attending a different class so there’s no slacking off for me, which I feel is a sign of our crumbling marriage.

The problem is, I’m a dangerously competitive person in situations like this and as a result, as soon as I have to get as many things done in a minute, I have to really, really push myself, way past what I should ordinarily do. That’s fine if it is eating skittles or satisfying Lederväters in a dark room, but not when it comes to mountain-climbers and bicep curls. I ought to clarify, given my reputation, mountain-climbers is that exercise where you get on all fours and bring your legs up your chin, like you are running on all fours. That’s all well and good if you’re skinny and lithe but I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve kicked my own tits into my teeth. Plus I’m always a bit self-conscious doing that pose whilst someone behind me shouts ‘HURRY UP’ and ‘PUSH YOURSELF’ and ‘FEEL THE BURN’ because it takes all I can do not to shout ‘YES, DADDY, YEEEEES‘ back at them. 

It was those exercises which have done me in though: I actually felt something twang in my right elbow at the end and since then, it hurts like absolute buggery to straighten my arm. Typing hurts. Ironing is a knacker. I may as well forget about my fantasy of being picked up by a rough lorry driver whilst out hitch-hiking. I’ve had to look at Paul with a pained face more than once and explain that I couldn’t possibly do the hoovering because I’m clearly dying. See also: taking the dog for a walk, cleaning the glass in the shower, marital relations.

I’ve taken to walking around with my hand wedged into my coat pocket as a makeshift sling because it hurts to let the arm flap around too much. That was fine until yesterday afternoon when I had to go to a jewellers to get my ring finger measured and I strolled in looking like I had a shooter and was about to turn the place over. The look of panic on the poor lady’s face soon dissipated when I tried to explain I needed my ring measuring and burst out laughing when she cautioned that ‘as you warm up, your ring will expand’, which was a relief to all concerned.

Still, at least I got through the actual class without any major incident. The last time I did an actual bleep test was back in high school where I got put in detention for a week for telling my PE teacher to ‘fuck right off’ when he screamed at me to keep running. In my defence, he was absolutely one of those PE teachers who wanted to be in the police, failed because he got angry trying to spell his name without a prompt, and decided to buy a whistle and bully schoolchildren instead. I hated him and he hated me just because I didn’t treat football as something worth turning my face beetroot for. And listen, it’s not that I minded an authoritarian teacher – my favourite teacher of all was a tiny little bloke who once thew a football boot at me for talking – but this bloke was just a knob. Still, who’s laughing now.

So yes, please do keep me in your thoughts, because clearly I’m one moment away from death (or I’ll be better once I rub whatever knock-off Voltarol Paul brings me back from Tesco) – and if I do die, I ask for only modest floral tributes and minimal wailing at your windows to remember me by.

Now, let’s do the sloppier cubs, shall we? Well, you do it, my arm hurts.

sloppier cubs

At only 510 calories each, these sloppier cubs burgers will fill you right up!

Sloppier cubs, but with branding (siiiiiiiigh) – lovely

We only took two photos of the sloppier cubs burgers but when I typed burger into google photos, this popped up – look how wee he was!

recipe reacharound: sloppier cubs (510 calories)

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 burgers

If we're entirely honest, we haven't had to make a lot of changes to this recipe - just added a few bits and pieces in. But what you have here is a proper sloppy burger that'll make a right mess of your front, but that's just fine because it tastes so good. Plus: we've added more bacon into the recipe this time, and that's never a bad thing.

We've also cooked the cheese straight into the sauce because, and you'll need to trust me, it makes the dish absolutely perfect.

Calorie counts, like my level of current partners, are approximate.

Ingredients

  • four brioche buns - you can use normal buns if you want, but why would you
  • 400g lean beef mince
  • teaspoon of garlic paste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carton of passata
  • 4 tbsp of that sweet, lurid yellow American mustard
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 8 rashers of bacon
  • 125ml beef stock
  • 100g of reduced fat extra mature cheese, grated

Instructions

  • cook off your bacon, setting aside half for the burgers at the end and chopping the rest into small pieces
  • fry off your onion until golden, add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more, then add the beef mince and cook until browned and lovely
  • add the bacon, passata, stock, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir, and allow to simmer right down and thicken up
  • once nearly done, tip all that cheese in and stir through, and cook until gloopy
  • slice your buns, add the cooked bacon, then pour the mince on top

You could serve this with chips. But then you could just do a lot of things if you tried.

Notes

Recipe

  • a tin of chopped tomatoes would be fine here, as long as you let everything break down and simmer
  • although we didn't add them, chopped gherkins would also be a bloody winner

Books

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, because see, there was this emperor, and he asks this shepherd's boy, "how many seconds in eternity?" and the shepherd's boy says, "there's this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it! Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiselled away, the first second of eternity will have passed" You must think that's a hell of a long time, but I don't care, that bloody sparrow owes me a fiver and he's gonna be ages yet. Sick of this.

Courses burgers

Cuisine burgers man, I literally just told you

Enjoy! Oh and we’ve done another video recipe! Remember to like and subscribe otherwise Paul cries his tears of hot gravy.

I must be careful, I must be kind…

Jx

video recipes: balsamic chicken and Mongolian beef

Hello there!

Just a super quick post to mention that we have started doing video recipes – we plan to do a new video from either the book recipes or the blog recipes every week, but no promises! We get a lot of people who mention that they aren’t very good cooks and are nervous about trying new things. We want to show you that our recipes are an absolute doddle to make and require very little in the way of complicated cooking or mystery ingredients.

We aren’t flashy and we’re just filming in our kitchen using an iPhone so there’s no high production values but hell, that’s us in a nutshell!

We have typed out the captions for those that need them or may find it easier to use them – and the full ingredient lists can be found in our cookbooks, though if you watch the video you can pretty much guess what goes where.

It would really mean a lot if you would subscribe to our channel and like our videos – it’s quite difficult gaining momentum on Youtube these days so anything is helpful! And finally, if you have any feedback on things we could do better or stuff you want to see, please do let us know!

To the recipes then!

Mongolian Beef (from book one)

We had to do it really. You don’t need to stick to beef – people have tried mushrooms, chicken, pork, all sorts. What you will note from our recipe is that there’s no sweetener in there – because why would there be? Use proper ingredients!

Balsamic chicken (from book two)

The only tip I’ll give you for this recipe is to use the best tomatoes you possibly can – a good mixture of colours and flavours will stand you in very good stead!

James & Paul

recipe: corned beef bake, hash, slop, whatever

I’m going to call this a corned beef bake – it’s absolutely the least photogenic of all of our most recent recipes but I tell you what, if you’re looking for a bowl of stodge to keep you warm, this is the potato dish for you. I don’t know if it is a bake, a hash, some slop in a tray, but it really doesn’t matter. But before we get to the corned beef bake, some EXCITING ADMIN.

OK, so not exciting admin, but I do love writing in this little pink box. Just a reminder that Dinner Time, our third magnificent cookbook, is coming out in May. It’s over 100 recipes of wonderful dinner ideas with the usual smattering of us all over the pages. You can order it here – thank you!

Finally, this is a holiday entry so it’s probably going to be a long one – if you’re in a rush, just scroll straight to the food photos! Right. Back to London.

Because I’m going to talk at length about the next two things, I’ve decided to split London into three parts. I know, I’m a slut. But if you haven’t read part one, you can do so by clicking here. Otherwise, you left us as we’d just finished a marvellous escape room, and so we return.

Monopoly Live

Paul reminded me that we had Monopoly Live booked and we had not one single moment to spare for me to go and make myself look pretty, so we were straight into an Uber. Now here’s the thing with Uber: I remember when you could barely move for them in London – you’d open the app and there would be an Uber at your feet within moments. Nowadays you have to wait five to ten minutes. What happened there? Either way, Paul’s impeccable 5* Uber rating took a hit the other week after we bundled a drunk friend in to take him home and he did something – we don’t know what – which made Paul’s rating drop by .02. Paul is still incredibly sore about that. Coming back to London though, our driver was chatty and lovely, even if neither Paul or I needed to open our mouths for the conversation as it was just a long, long monologue. What does that feel like, readers? We arrived at the venue and he was still chattering merrily to himself as he pulled his Octavia away. We loitered for a moment to see if we could hear him on the wind, failed, and so went inside.

I will say this now: we both audibly gasped when we went in at the sight of the doorman: he was quite genuinely one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen in my life. Tall enough to be continued, dark beard as majestic as Aphrodite’s pubes, arms like sleeping bags full of bowling balls. I’ve never, ever been more tempted to kick off and cause trouble in my life and frankly if he had offered there and then to take me up the Old Kent Road I’d have beaten my own shadow to the back room by a solid ten seconds. I looked at Paul (partly to make sure he was seeing what I was seeing but also to ground myself) and he was similarly slack-jawed, though with him it’s pure muscle memory. It was all I could do not to curtsy but somehow I managed to blurt out our booking reference without being lost in his eyes forever. We had arrived forty minutes early and he assured us this would be no problem but honestly he could have spent those forty minutes calling my mother all the names under the sun and we’d have stood there smiling beatifically and nodding politely.

We were shepherded/slid into the bar to wait for our team to be called and we took the opportunity to have a glance around to see who we might be paired up with. Paul and I are both terrible for making assumptions of people (I bet you’re the same) and we immediately decided we wanted to be with the group of four who appeared to be on a double date. The fact that one of them looked like a chubby version of Aaron from Emmerdale (though you could tell it wasn’t actually him, as he wasn’t crying) had absolutely no bearing on our decision, I can assure you. There was another table of four comprised of people more Tipping Point than Mastermind and we were fretting the whole while that we would be paired up with them. Thankfully, the bar had an extensive range of Monopoly-themed cocktails and after three of those, we were too pissed to care. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a strong old-fashioned in a bar in London, and I doubt it’ll be the last. Paul did make the mistake of taking the tiny decorative £50 note affixed to the cocktail jar and slipping it into his shirt pocket as a memento, failing to realise that it was made from sugar paper and as soon as he started sweating (and Paul starts sweating as soon as he blinks) it melted across his boob and looked like he’d started lactating.

Mascless

At half eight we were all corralled into the next room and given our teams – we were, thankfully, with the handsome team. They finally explained how the whole thing worked and I am going to try and give you the gist here – it sounds way more complicated than it actually is, I promise. You were grouped into teams of six, with a maximum of four teams per board. There were only eighteen of us waiting so it became three groups. A man dressed as Mr Moneybags (and a very enthusiastic actor!) comes out and welcomes you all and sets out the rules. No drinking, no smoking, no-no Nanette, that sort of thing. You’re playing on a giant version of the Monopoly board (there’s four to choose from, and we chose the luxury board because we’re classy) and you roll giant dice and move around accordingly. At each property is a little room which contains a puzzle – very much like The Crystal Maze – and you solve the room within a time limit to win that property. To win the game, you need to build properties on your spaces just like Monopoly, and there’s all the usual buying and selling and stuff going on. It is incredibly fast-paced, easy to follow and very, very fun.

What made the whole experience even better was the fact each team is given a real-life token – that is, rather than playing as the top-hat, you’ll have an actor with you wearing a massive top-hat explaining the rules as you go. Our token was a camp, bearded bloke called Timothy Thimble (I have no idea why he appealed to Paul and I) and he was utterly, utterly brilliant. You know when someone knows they are playing a nonsense role but leans totally into it and makes the whole experience so much better? This was Timothy. He made us laugh the entire way around and he was just what you need to get everyone’s inhibitions down. We went in full of British reserve and came out with aching ribs from laughing.

In terms of the games themselves, you all get a go at doing something. Paul and I won our round by correctly hooking forty keys from a bowl onto the right keyhooks which revealed a code – I confess it felt unusual to be taking keys out of a bowl rather than putting them in, but nevertheless we persisted. There was another room which was dark and involved creeping up behind a bloke to rummage in his pocket – I put myself forward for that but I think the fact I’d already taken my trousers off and started passing poppers around might have put them off, and someone else took charge. Paul spun a lucky wheel of fortune three times and lost, which I feel is very Paul, and then as a team we had to build hotels and houses together against a clock using building blocks. Well goodness me, we were appalling at this part: a combination of alcohol, wandering eyes, distraction and an inability to literally think outside of the box saw us needing Timothy Thimble to step in and ‘help’ more than once. We came second – story of my life – but it was absolutely bloody marvellous. If you’re in London and looking for something unusual to do, we can’t recommend this enough. We paid £98 for two tickets so it certainly isn’t a cheap couple of hours but the theming, fun and sheer inventiveness of the game was worth every quid. You can book it online here.

Us in Mayfair? Not exactly the Reader’s Husbands bit is it

The Crystal Maze Experience

The other ‘big’ experience we had booked was a go on The Crystal Maze Experience near Piccadilly, which promised a perfect replica of what was my favourite TV show growing up, Fun House. RELLOW RELLOW RELLOW. No, The Crystal Maze obviously. I used to have a crystal in my bedroom that I had been told came from The Crystal Maze and I was super damn proud of that. However, in retrospect, it seems obvious that my ‘Auntie’ Elsie – already pushing 95 at the time the show was on – hadn’t hurtled around the maze herself. I mean she couldn’t get out of her chair without a hoist so again, seems unlikely. Turns out the crystals were just paperweights you could buy in tonnes of shops too. It’s always been the lies I can’t handle.

I was never one of those purists who stopped watching when Richard O’Brian left, although I’ll die on the hill that the Industrial zone was far superior to the Ocean zone. I’m all for that derelict factory aesthetic. Paul and I did chuckle watching a re-run a few months ago when we realised one of the games involved sliding a perfect illustration of Paul’s ‘fancy a takeaway’ face around. See?

Also, if you’ll forgive me a moment of nerdiness, it’s the fourth best TV theme of that era after (in reverse order and all opening in new tabs):

  • the BUGS theme tune (though the way the wire moved in the opening credits always – and still does – creeped me out);
  • the Going for Gold theme tune (done by the same chap who scored Interstellar, no less) (and that link takes you to the full theme tune if you are wanting some extra cheese on your day); and
  • the 999 theme tune (brrrrrr)

Actually sticking that 999 theme tune on when I was finding the link gives me the shivers. When I was young I used to be terrified of the house burning down at night so naturally my parents thought the best way to calm me down was to let me watch a 50 minute programme, upstairs and alone, full of things bursting into flame and people getting javelins thrown through their neck. Funny how simple bits of music can take you back, isn’t it? Mind saying that I blame Gladiators for awakening my love of dick after seeing Rhino prancing about in his leotard. Also, possibly why I have a thing for authoritarian men too thanks to referee John Anderson – even now when it’s ‘taking a while’ Paul just needs to shout ‘YOU’LL GO ON MY SECOND WHISTLE’ in a strong Scottish lilt and we can get to sleep early.

Anyway, shock horror, I digress, but you learned something new about me there didn’t you? So, to very briefly explain how it works – it’s essentially the TV show but slightly smaller, but all rules are the same. Team of six (they’ll pair you up with strangers if there’s just two of you, like us) running around four giant zones, each player playing 3-4 games to try and win a crystal whilst your teammates look through the windows and shout advice / naked hostility. Games are split into mental (using your brain), skill (using your agility), physical (using your strength) and mystery (fuck knows). A team captain is nominated at the start who chooses who gets which game. You get between two to three minutes per game and if you don’t get out in time you get locked in. Each crystal is worth five seconds in the Crystal Dome at the end where they turn on giant fans and tonnes of gold and silver tokens blow about. You need to get 100 gold tokens after deduction of silver to win. There see, I could be the Maze Master – lord knows I’ve got the haircut.

With us starting at 3pm, Paul got us to the venue at 2.15pm, because heaven forfend we would turn up to an adventure and not have to spend fifty minutes glancing at our phones and me inwardly seething at him. We were shown to the bar (hooray) and told we couldn’t drink (boo) and immediately spotted another couple of lads who were on our team, literally and (so we thought) euphemistically. There was something about one of them – 6ft 2″, chubby, snappy shaped beard, green coat, hectoring his partner – that just appealed to me, so I decided to spend my time making cow-eyes at him. Eventually, after my hamfisted attempts at flirting left my ham entirely unfisted, we were ushered in to meet the other couples and to meet our Maze Master, Ty Tanic. I’ll say this now – in much the same vein as Timothy Thimble, this man was an absolute legend – so full of vim and enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself. We gave the captain role to a lovely lady whose name I forgot immediately and in we went.

Cubs, I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was. The games are exactly like the ones on the TV in terms of attention to detail, size and scope and you really do feel like you’re on the game show itself. Paul did two games (winning one, losing the other – and how: he had to shoot arrows to knock apples off perches and he quite honestly would have had more luck if he had stayed back at the hotel, bless him). I did three games and, somewhat inexplicably, won all three. My mystery game was essentially a tiny escape room which was easy enough, then I had a physical room where I had to crank a generator and then hoist myself across the room on a trolley quick enough to snatch the crystal before it disappeared out of sight. I say with no exaggeration that it was probably the fastest I’ve ever shifted my 20-stone frame in my entire life: I exited our burning house in a more leisurely fashion. My last challenge involved building a set of giant keys to slip into holes into the wall and well, it can’t be a surprise to you to know I did well there. Between the six of us we played sixteen games before heading to the dome with ten crystals.

Find someone who looks at your arse like Paul looks at mine and you’re set for life

Before we get to that, a couple of things I learned:

  • turns out when you don’t know the people you’re playing with, you can’t really shout ‘helpful’ instruction like you might with your partner – whenever we lost a game, it was all very aaah bad luck and IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE – one of the games we lost was a giant form of Operation where you had to pick up scattered bones and put them into a giant alien corpse. Our teammate seemingly didn’t understand how to use tweezers and took two minutes to figure it out. I almost bit through my tongue holding back my yelling but she was so nice I didn’t dare say anything;
  • you move between zones in the same way as you did on the TV show – crawling through tunnels, sliding down giant slides and for what must have been a terrifying moment for the person below me, climbing down a very tall ladder. I was preoccupied with Paul climbing down above me however as he had spent a good ten minutes saying he didn’t think his knee was going to hold – that and me wearing oversized Dr Martens made for a very scary descent;
  • one of the rooms apparently has an actress playing Mumsie in it – we didn’t get her and that’s probably for the best – had I opened a door and been met with an aged crone wearing tattered rags looming from a veil of smoke, I’d have just assumed Paul’s mother had come along on the Megabus

The dome itself was exactly like it was on the TV – lots of screaming and shouting and things getting blown all over, then we were ushered in to have a go ourselves. We managed 188 gold tokens and only one minor concussion. A quick stop for photos (the magic ruined slightly by someone coming in with a leaf-blower to sweep up all the errant tokens) which I won’t be posting here because I look like three little men wearing a giant shirt and then we were on our way, promising to leave Tripadvisor reports and to bitch about the other contestants.

Rather like the Monopoly Live experience, we can not recommend this enough: it was a solid two hours and superb from start to finish. As there are more games than there are opportunity to play them, Paul and I will be going back to try the others. I’d say only one thing: it is probably better with people you know purely so you don’t feel bad calling them a stupid cow when they can’t do the games, but even if not it was still amazing. Expensive though: two tickets cost £158, but there’s always deals to be found if you look around on those voucher sites. You can have a look here!

OK, let’s leave it there. 3,000 words. I’m not even sorry. To the corned beef bake!

corned beef bake

This is what the corned beef bake looks like cooked

corned beef bake

Again, the corned beef bake doesn’t look much, but it tastes so good!

corned beef bake

Get a spoon and start to shovel this corned beef bake as soon as it is done! 

corned beef bake

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 giant servings

This recipe comes via the author of the Emotional Support Potatoes. I've tinkered with it to add our own spin on it, which will doubtless result in four days of asthmatic, indignant wheezing and a face like a slapped arse - six days if he realises I've changed the recipe - and it's lovely. I have however added his gran's recipe under our own so if you're a purist, you can try that too. Either way works!

Also, this is one of those recipes where it is hard to give an exact amount on things because it depends what ratio of corned beef to potato you like. See also cheese.

On the calories: this comes in at 605 calories but those are HUGE portions, including the cheese and the crisps - you can reduce both to save some calories but listen, this is a bowl of stodge and you don't need to skimp. Calorie counts are approximate as ever.

Ingredients

  • 700g of potatoes - we use Maris Piper
  • one egg and a splash of milk
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • one large tin of reduced fat corned beef 
  • two large onions
  • 250g of extra mature cheddar
  • chilli sauce, as much as your arse can handle
  • optional: one bag of Walkers Max Flame Grilled Steak Crisps

Instructions

  • make the mash by boiling chunks of potato (don't peel them) until soft and mashing it up with an egg and some milk, plus salt and pepper to taste
  • whilst the mash is cooking, finely dice your onion and fry gently until golden and soft
  • in a big bowl, mix the mash, corned beef, half of the cheese and more salt and pepper together, seasoning to taste
  • slop into a baking dish and cover with the rest of the cheese and, if using, the crisps - but crunch the crisps up first so they go into wee tiny bits

Pop in the oven on about 170 degrees for 30 minutes, covering the top with tin foil for the first twenty minutes so the crisps don't burn. Feel free to finish off under the grill to make it super crispy. Serve with beans if you like but we prefer just good old fashioned chilli sauce.

Notes

The original recipe by Ann Nethercot, living legend

Make your mash with a load of butter and milk until creamy. Mash in a tin of full-fat corned beef, top with cheese and grill until crispy. Serve with beans and disappointing looks at your grandson.

Recipe

  • customise this to your heart's content - add some peppers in there, chilli sauce running throughout, try sliced tomatoes on the top - but we think either the pure way above or our way works best
  • don't stop reading at this point, we've given you a second recipe for how to use leftovers

Books

  • this might not look like the most sexy recipe ever, but that's because we're saving those for book three which is awash with recipes that'll make you pop a towel down - you can pre-order here!
  • what's bright, colourful and satisfies you in the kitchen? Neither of us, but the second book can: order yours here! 
  • considering it was our first, the original cookbook is still something to treasure: click here to order
  • looking for twenty six extra recipes and a kick up the arse with your diet - then try our planner: here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as we're going on a cruise in September and just learned that J-Lo is our entertainment and I need to bone up on diamonds so I'm not fooled by the rocks that she's got

Courses comfort food

Cuisine twochubbycubs

Now, if you have leftovers – and you likely will because lordy does this make a lot – let it cool in the fridge and then shape it into fish-cake sized patties. When time to cook, dip them into egg and then seasoned panko crumbs, then gently fry them until the crumb is golden. Serve with beans and a fried egg on top, like so!

Look at that ooze though!

Right, that’ll do. Until next time.

Tick tock goes the clock, and what then shall we see?

Jx

retro recipe: chutney stuffed coconut chicken

A nice trickle of pre-orders at the moment ahead of launch of our new cookbook in May – having seen the final drafts and signed off on all the recipes a few days ago, we can promise you it is absolutely glorious. Very us. You can order it here – thank you! 

Today’s retrorecipe is something slightly different. I’ve realised that there’s a lot of sport to be had from looking at old recipes and mocking the fact that they put everything in jelly or use the word ‘puff’ far more than could ever be considered decent, but there’s actually a lot of very good recipes out there which have fallen out of favour that simply need rescuing and brought up to date. Plus there’s the small matter of us wasting food by cooking stuff only for Paul to shove it away and pronounce that he isn’t eating it, like he’s Newcastle’s answer to Violet Beauregarde. That’s my drag name right there incidentally: Violent Noregarde.

This coconut chicken is an absolute doddle to make and comes from Betty Crocker’s ‘Buffets’, which promises menus, recipes and planning tips for easy and successful home entertaining. Now my first confession: for years I have imagined Betty Crocker as some homely nana bustling around in her American kitchen, keeping an apple pie cooling on the window and swatting at her sticky-fingered grandchildren with a broom. Kind of like my nana but she doesn’t have Fifteen-to-One playing at a volume that brings the roof tiles clattering off when someone buzzes in. However, a quick bit of googling to see what she looks like reveals the whole thing to be a sham: she’s a made-up figurehead representing a massive conglomerate who just so happens to look like my husband in a nice dress. I confess myself seriously disappointed and to make matters worse, it turns out there was never an Aunt Bessie, despite all the cloying marketing and ‘just like my nana used to make’ advertising. Which, to loop around, wouldn’t be true anyway: my nana used to make Yorkshire puddings that you could climb inside and enjoy a hot bath of gravy – I’ve never had an Aunt Bessie Yorkshire pudding that wasn’t as flat as a witch’s tit.

I’m just amazed it’s taken me thirty-six years to realise the scale of corruption in the home baking world, I truly am. I know a lie takes the elevator whilst the truth takes the stairs but even so: madness.

Second confession: this book is absolutely glorious. A relic of its time absolutely (make sure there is one ashtray per every two guests is an especially timeless tip, with presumably a few tanks of oxygen kept to one side for after) and very much a ‘whilst your husband goes and works, you stay home at occupy yourself with doilies’ tome, but still glorious. By way of example, there’s four pages, including diagrams, detailing how best to set up your buffet to promote good flow. There’s a map if you’re having a circular buffet, those who fancy a three-sided buffet are literally catered for and, best of all, a double-line buffet plan. Not to be sniffed at.

We can’t very well talk about buffets if we don’t mention the one buffet that I absolutely do not miss: the taster nights. I know we have talked about this a lot over the years but good lord if we didn’t see the worst of humanity (maybe overegging the pudding a bit) at those events. Long time stalwarts will know it’s where everyone attending Slimming World is encouraged to bring a snack to place on the decorating table and everyone titters and chortles their way through eating watery quiche and plucking dog hair from their teeth. The type of meeting where you’re looking to see if those are sesame seeds on the prawn toast or nits. We were lucky – our class was on the outskirts of the posh part of Newcastle (Edinburgh) and so it was fairly civilised but I always remember a couple of weeks we spent attending a class in a flat-roof social club whilst on holiday. I’m not saying it was rough but when we got up to eat we took our chairs with us in case the scrap man swiped them. I’ve never seen, either before or since, such fervent desire for a Tupperware box of golden vegetable rice that had been sweating in someone’s handbag for the best part of eight hours. Possibly the only buffet I’ve attended where everyone brought their own knives without knowing the event was catered.

Thankfully, Betty Crocker’s buffets are a far more decadent affair – you can tell Betty has a bit of money because ‘she’ also recommends having one member of staff (hired or otherwise) per six guests to dispense drinks and to replenish snacks. Maybe this is where Fanny Cradock’s Sarah moonlights at night, when she’s not busy being scolded/scalded by Fanny during the day. You won’t need any staff to assist with this coconut chicken because it’s luckily very easy to make – handy, it’ll give you time to rearrange your ashtrays just so. Perhaps the best bit of the book is how bewilderingly comprehensive it is: she has thought of every buffet situation you can imagine. They start off obvious: ‘A Mother’s Day Buffet‘ opens the book, though if I served my mother a gooseberry tart and a ‘summer’ cocktail for Mother’s Day I’d be likely to get it thrown back in my face. My mother’s idea of a cocktail is putting her usual six Jack Daniels shots into a mist of diet coke and sticking a cigarette in it for decoration.

We then travel the world a little: ‘A Hungarian Style Dinner‘ gives us an apple strudel and some buttered noodles, a ‘Scandinavian Coffee Party‘ suggests ‘jam sandwiches and cookies’ which sounds delightful and even Ireland gets a mention with ‘An Irish Dinner‘, a stunning festivity consisting of Irish coffee and bread. You rather get the sense that ‘Betty’ is phoning it in at this point but fret not, she pulls it out of the bag for the ending. If you have ever agonised at night what to serve at an ‘Out of Town Guest Buffet‘ (usually clumsily-administered poppers in my case, and if they were halfway decent, I’d make them some toast after) then the answer is here: a marinated cauliflower and broccoli salad set in aspic BECAUSE OF BLOODY COURSE IT IS. We end on my personal favourite: a ‘Soup and Sandwich Late Supper‘ (presumably for the times you don’t want to wake Iris and instead microwave your own soup) where Betty suggests that when you get home of an evening stinking of shame and sambucca, you should set about making scotch shortbread and creamy split pea soup. I mean goodness me, it’s all I can do not to void myself into the wash-basket after three sniffs of the barman’s cloth – where does Betty get her stamina from?

All the above sarcasm aside, it really is a terrific book that I will be taking more than a few recipes from. Given we only let people into our homes if they’re punching a hole in something (walls, ceilings, my bumcheeks) we tend not to have many buffets but with this handy guide, perhaps that’ll change. Shall we do the coconut chicken then? No, we must.

coconut chicken

We served our coconut chicken with a traditional puck of Uncle Ben’s (ANOTHER LIE) rice and some chilli sauce

coconut chicken

You can use any chutney for this coconut chicken – anything you want

coconut chicken

Branding shot for the coconut chicken right there

chutney stuffed coconut chicken

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 people

So desiccated coconut - aside from being one of those ingredients I actively avoid because I can't spell it (desiccated I mean, I can manage coconut) - is one of those things I say I don't like until I actually eat it and realise it's like eating a Bounty bar. If you're not a fan of coconut however then you're shit out of luck here and I suggest you leave right now, before you fall any deeper.

You'll forgive me if I don't make any obvious jokes about chutney stuffing in this recipe, because that would be childish and immoral.

I apologise for the somewhat uninspired photography - I was in a rush because as I was serving up, Goomba was staring at me with his big sad eyes like he was Link's nana from Windwaker and that only means one thing - he needed to be let out. It was very much a plate up, photo and go affair otherwise we'd have another kitchen disaster to handle.

We used fig chutney from Tesco here because it was the first chutney Paul spotted on the shelf, but you can - and perhaps should - use a red onion chutney or similar. 

Finally, as ever, all calories are approximate and worked out via the NHS app. Your experience may differ. If that's the case, sorry.

Ingredients

  • four large chicken breasts
  • chutney of your choosing - we used Tesco Finest Fig & Balsamic chutney here because we are fancy bitches
  • two large eggs
  • 100g of desiccated coconut
  • salt and pepper

We served ours with microwave rice and some chilli sauce because we were in a rush, see. You will also need some cocktail sticks and preferably a big rolling pin. What can I say: size-queen for life, me.

Instructions

  • bring to mind someone who you absolutely hate: the type of person who if you accidentally ran them over, you'd reverse back over them to make sure the job was done
  • whilst you're thinking of them, take a knife and cut your chicken breasts in half horizontally - through the breast so it can open like a book
  • place onto some greaseproof paper and cover with more greaseproof paper
  • still got your enemy in your head - excellent - take your rolling pin and bash the absolute buggery out of those chicken breasts, imagining it is the skull of your nemesis, flattening them so they're easy to roll
  • hiding your 'excitement', remove the greaseproof paper, smear a good tablespoon of chutney in the middle of each breast, ignoring the fact it now looks a bit like a beskiddered gusset
  • carefully roll the breasts up in a nice spiral and secure them with cocktail sticks
  • they can sit in the fridge for a bit until needed
  • once you're ready to cook, carefully dip them in beaten egg (seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper) and then roll in the desiccated coconut
  • cook - you can bake in the oven but we put ours in our Instant Vortex Airfryer (cocktail sticks removed) for twenty minutes, until the chicken was cooked through
  • serve with rice

Notes

Recipe

  • please make sure the chicken is cooked through before serving - at a minimum you want an internal temperature of at least 75 degrees celsius to be safe - see our notes under tools

Books

  • twochubbycubs: Dinner Time is our new book and it's out in May and has over one hundred meal ideas for every single evening event you can imagine - you can pre-order here!
  • our second book, glorious in its rainbow spine, is perfect for every other meal occasion: order yours here! 
  • our first cookbook is still a sight to behold, full of our sass and meals: click here to order
  • everyone forgets about the planner which is silly because it's brilliant for whacking ganglions with (and also contains 26 recipes, just saying): here

Tools

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as Goomba is going to the groomers next week and if he's anything like his Dad, will tip the groomer generously in the hope of being roughly tumbled about in the back room by the lad clipping his hair

Courses retro, chicken

Cuisine chicken

May we take a moment to appreciate the retrorecipes so far? We have domino sandwiches, a fabulous cocktail salad, a party pate and a recipe, such as it is, for cheesy bananas. I mean, I’ve worse.

I want your horror, I want your design.

J

recipe reacharound: Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Let’s keep this strictly business this week shall we? The recipe is a reacharound of the Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese, it’s fabulous, it’s wonderful, it takes no time at all and tastes bloody good. I’ve hurt my shoulder trying to sneak a giant concrete garden ornament into the rubble bin at the tip so it hurts to type. In my defence I didn’t want to pay £2.50 because that seems like an outrageous amount to someone like me: the Queen blinks against the sudden light when I pull a fiver from my wallet. Plus I was giving it the Barry Big Bollocks lifting it out of my Golf like I was Geoff bloody Capes so if anything, it was my hubris that felled me in the end. But isn’t that always the case, eventually?

Luckily, we have the second part of the Paul story to entertain, so over to my slender counterpart. You can read part one here, so you can. Paul doesn’t believe in skimping on the detail, so do just scroll to the photos of the Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese if you’re in NO BLOODY MOOD for his nonsense and flimflam.

You know what would make my shoulder hurt a little less? Seeing some pre-orders on our amazing new book! 100 fast dinner recipes for all occasions! You can order it here 

So really, the next five years or so carried on in the same sort of way. James would cook sometimes and he even taught me how to make a delicious risotto – still one of my favourites. Pretty early on we started going to Slimming World. James had a lot of success in his teen years following SW and knowing I was self-conscious about my weight (actually having access to food and not having to walk 10 miles a day meant the weight piled straight back on again…) we gave it a go. And that go lasted for a good 5-6 years. We tried a few different classes as we moved about but always returned to the same one because it was so super friendly and the consultant was a right laugh. No shade to Slimming World but we didn’t really enjoy the classes. It just wasn’t our cup of tea and our consultant did her best. We fell into the same pattern of turning up, getting weighed and then making an excuse to leave so really our fiver went on standing on a pair of scales, which of course we could do for free at home. A year or two after joining Slimming World though we started to try a bit more cooking, mostly for financial reasons (Papa John’s ain’t cheap) but also we knew that if we didn’t we’d just balloon more and more. Social Media was starting to become a thing so we joined a few of the Facebook groups and started making all the standard fare that used to be doing the rounds. You know the stuff. Curry Loaf. Quiche. Fanta Chicken. If it was about 10 pixels across and badly cropped we made it. We laugh about it now but that was the height of our abilities. And so, twochubbycubs was born! Initially it was more of a place for James’ writing but, for some reason we still can’t figure out, it really started to take off. Fuck knows why, because for the first couple of years the stuff we put out was absolute shite. But it did! And so along with that, out of necessity, we needed to be able to cook.

So, that brings us to the recent times. If you’ve been following us for a while you’ll know that a few years ago we appeared on ITV’s This Time Next Year. It was by chance that we spotted a post in our Facebook group where the production company were looking for people so on a whim we just did it. We knew that weight loss would need to be our thing – by that point we’d ballooned to nearly our biggest size, both well over twenty stone. The process was pretty quick, we had a few interviews and then got the news while we were on holiday in, er, Berwick, that we were going on! Of course we then spent the next month or so absolutely stuffing our faces like never before – thinking that we may as well take advantage before it’d all be taken away for us forever.

The challenge was to lose twenty stone between us, in a year. We got off to an okay start – doing the same things we’d always done – joined Slimming World, stayed for the class, stopped eating takeaways. And that was really it. The losses, as always at the start, were pretty massive but it wasn’t long before they levelled out and we started to become a bit despondent. But the truth is, we didn’t know what else to do. We knew that exercise would help us but we were too big at that point to do anything comfortably, and it was at the bottom of our list of priorities. We’d absorbed all the bad habits that slimming classes drum into us – like eating a giant plate of potatoes or pasta (with us, usually both) and thinking that because it was “Free” we would automatically lose weight. We were falling behind on our weight loss, massively, which became all too apparent when we were booked in for a DEXA scan and I was told that, halfway through our challenge, I was still 50% fat and off the centile charts. We were gussied up to do something about it but still a bit clueless, so we started restricting. We cut out the ten-a-day Muller Lights, switched to skimmed milk and stopped eating cheese. Naturally, all this meant was that we’d both binge on the sly because our meals at home just could not sustain us, and we’d taken out all the deliciousness and joy from eating. By chance, James stumbled across a local company that ran HIIT classes (I think it’s the same as Cross Fit, but without having to pay to licence it) that promised that if you lost 20lb in six weeks they’d give you your money back. He signed us both up immediately and told me, ON MY BIRTHDAY OF ALL DAYS (where I had already finely curated my birthday takeaway for the night) that we were going, and we were going to stick with it. I wish I could say that was the worst birthday I’ve ever had, but the birthday I spent with him in hospital having his willy-hat lopped off probably takes the title.

I won’t lie, I was absolutely dreading it. The thought of going to a warehouse in the middle of an industrial estate to EXERCISE. In my condition?! No. I raced through all the excuses but ‘er indoors was having none of it. We were going.

Fortunately, the first session wasn’t the fresh hell I was expecting. The place was clean, tidy and modern and the staff lovely. I actually recognised the trainer as being the bloke who used to always give me extra chips in canteen at work and never charged me for it (and still to this day I tell him it’s all his fault I got so fat). Because the classes were aimed at people losing weight (and it being just two weeks after Christmas it’s fair to say we were all in a pretty poor condition) they were, thankfully, quite easy to begin with. Lots of squats, wall sits and easing you into exercise, gently at first. Well, would you believe it – I bloody loved it. Well, when I was actually doing it I wanted to die and seriously considered faking having a heart attack so I could get out there (I’m not joking), as soon as we finished singing Freed From Desire (our groups theme song, for some reason….) I felt great! The weight was melting away, and each time I hit the 20lb target, usually landing a few pounds over.

The saving grace of this was that we enjoyed the exercise – and I’ll come back to this later – and if we hadn’t had found that, we would have failed in the first few days. Having the exercise we enjoyed and also importantly getting the results from it made the food a little less terrible. There was also the important fact that we were due to go on the telly in just a few months, where the lovely Davina was expecting her stage to creak a hell of a lot less. Those last six months we really, really went for it. We did the HIIT classes three times a week, and we went to the gym for the other four days for no fewer than three hours at a time. We (to borrow a phrase from the nineties) caned it, and we got the results. By the time we made it to the studio in the May time we hadn’t quite hit our target (I was short by 2.5 stone and James 1) but we felt and looked much better so we didn’t mind. If we had started our fitness part earlier we would have easily hit our target, and probably a lot more (we were still overweight, but only just). We made the promise on that sofa that there was no going back. We were never going to get fat ever again, and the changes we made were there to stay, and we were only just beginning, baby. We left there and went back to the hotel and ordered ourselves a celebratory Papa John’s that we’d been fantasising about for the last six months. So high on our success were we that we ordered a small pizza each and didn’t even finish it. The next day on the way home we went to a Little Chef and I had a yoghurt.

It didn’t last.

Two days after getting home from the studio, fresh in our H&M gear (that we could now fit into) we minced to Tesco to stock up on chicken ‘n’ broccoli, but outside they were handing out vouchers for some Kelly’s ice cream. We bought 4 tubs that day, just as a treat you understand, and it was a bargain after all it’d be silly not to….and ate all four that day. Delicious, mind.

Ever mindful we’d had six months of terrible food and an excruciating exercise regime we promised ourselves that we’d have the occasional treat but we’d stick to it. A few months before we had booked a dream holiday to Canada for six weeks – another thing to aim for, and we were determined we were going to be just as slim as we were for it as we had been on the telly. We signed back up for a six-week programme at Elite and got back on it. By the time Canada came along we were back at our telly weight.

Canada, of course, was awesome. Throughout the whole holiday we’d tell each other, “we’d never have done this if we were still fat!” (which caught more than one bearded Canadian bloke off-guard). And it’s true. Like I said up there, being fat impacts on every single part of your life, and we were realising now what things we would have avoided. Even simple things like not wanting to go up an observation tower because the lift was quite small and people would tut because you’d be taking up too much space. All sorts of daft stuff.

We did six weeks in Canada and, naturally, we did pile on the pounds when we were there. We started off well but by week two we were eating every treat, all the poutine, trying out all the different flavours of crisps… but we promised ourselves that when we got back we’d get back on it, and we’d shed it all. It was just a treat for ourselves anyway, and we were on holiday after all.

When we got back we did indeed get back on it. Back to Elite, back on the brown rice. We hit the 20lb target again and felt pleased, but without having the shadow of the TV programme hanging over us the motivation was gone. We stopped going to the gym as often and when we did we’d slack off. A few weeks later we went on holiday to Tokyo. Already by that point, which was only two months after being on the telly, I was all too aware that the weight was piling back on and I was “big” again. Granted I wasn’t as big as I had been, but was still big, and in somewhere like Japan that meant REALLY big. Naturally we had to try all the local delicacies, and the unusual restaurants we just had to visit, and the bars, and all the different KitKats (plus a melon soda which I swear has heroin in it) just made things worse. After Canada I started in a new job which was okay but was bullied terribly which only got worse after we came back from Japan. Comfort eating became a fast friend, as did all of the bad habits, and in less than a year I was only a few stone off where I had been at the start of the year.

Something that became ever apparent at this time is my absolute total lack of willpower. I have none. James attributes a lot of it down to being a “poor kid” and if something is there I have to have it before it’s gone. When I get an idea in my head that I want something, I have to have it, and nothing will bring me down. Trust me, I’ve tried everything. I started leaving my wallet at home so that I couldn’t buy stuff, but instead I’d just use the contactless on my phone. I uninstalled that but so I just switched to saving up odd bits of change. I would make up excuses to go to the supermarket for something and sit in my car stuffing my face, and load up on other stuff that I’d hide in my car so I always had a stash. A very destructive habit.

When the TV programme finally aired, I was pleased but also embarrassed and ashamed. I had people coming up to me congratulating me for what I’d achieved, but it was clear that I didn’t keep it up. We were back shopping for clothes at the garden centre and moping around. We did Elite a few more times but we didn’t stick to it. Once or twice we missed the 20lb target. We just couldn’t get back into it, no matter what we tried.


Alright Paul we get the bloody point about the bloody gammo, Christ. More from Rusty Bloodvessel next week. For now, we turn to the instant pot spaghetti bolognese which will delight and surprise you. Don’t have an Instant Pot? Then who the hell do you think you are? Don’t worry, we’ve done a normal method too. Oh, and Paul typed the recipe up, so if there’s errors, we can blame him.

Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Of course if you don’t cover your Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese in half a Ped-Egg’s worth of cheese then why bother

Overhead shot of Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese, ruining my camera with steam

Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Nevermind the Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese, you should have seen the word that appeared before OFF on the machine

Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

650 calories I hear you cry for Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese and of course you're right that seems like a lot but does it really? For a massive bowl of pasta and wine and meat and the ease of cooking it all in one dish? Plus, to be fair, this probably serves six - we're just greedy fat pigs. If you have leftovers, you can turn that into another meal, see below the recipe for that!

All calories are approximate and worked out via the NHS calculator. So shut yer gob.

Ingredients

  • 400g lean beef mince
  • 400g spaghetti
  • 40g diced chorizo
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml passata
  • 125ml red wine
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano

Instructions

  • set the instant pot to saute and add a splash of oil
  • add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened
  • add the garlic, stir and then add the mince and chorizo cook until browned
  • add the chopped tomatoes, passata, red wine, salt, pepper and oregano to the pan and give a good stir
  • break the spaghetti in half and add to the pan along with 850ml water - make sure the spaghetti is covered as much as possible (push it down with a wooden spoon if not)
  • cook under high pressure for ten minutes, then quick release
  • give a good stir and leave to cool for a few minutes - don't worry if it looks a bit watery, it'll soon thicken up

Notes

Recipe

  • huge apologies to the entire nation of Italy for this one, which is probably illegal there. Still good though.
  • add whatever you like into this - bacon, mushrooms, spinach - whatever you have lying about, chuck it in
  • the wine won't get your kids pissed but if you'd still rather avoid it just add the same amount in extra water instead

Not got an Instant Pot? You can cook it pretty much as is on a hob, but add the spaghetti straight into the hob rather than doing it on its own - the spaghetti cooks in the sauce and it's just laaaahverley

Books

  • twochubbycubs: Dinner Time is our new book and it's out in May and it's so good I could bubble - genuinely our best work yet - you can pre-order here!
  • of course if you like your meals fast and filling, book two will scratch that itch: order yours here! 
  • perhaps you want to go back to where it all began - our first cookbook which is a joy untold: click here to order
  • our diet planner will keep you on track and there's twenty six recipes in there for good measure: here

Tools

  • we have an Instant Pot Pro because of course we do - you can find it here but other variants of the Instant Pot are cheaper still and they're all marvellous bits of kit

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as Goomba has developed a love of eating things off the work surfaces and we're currently missing a teaspoon

Courses evening meal

Cuisine twochubbycubs

Got leftover Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese? Crack three eggs into it, and bake it in the oven topped with cheese and tomato!

Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Leftover Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese can be baked with eggs into a loaf

Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese

Looks like a scabby knee but the leftover Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese tastes good baked like this

Gonna level with you, our SEO bollocks is saying I need to say Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese a few more times to get a green light. I personally think I’ve said Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese enough times but they are saying this Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese needs more Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese references. Pah! I’m too busy thinking about Instant Pot spaghetti bolognese to concern myself with matters like that.

Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.

Jx

recipe: winter minestrone

Winter minestrone awaits you – a cheery bowl of absolutely lovely soup, but before we get there, two things!

I know, I know – but we must remind you that our new cookbook DINNER TIME is coming out soon! May 26 – and it is glorious. You can order it here – thank you!

Secondly, this is a holiday blog, so please forgive the length – not often I can say that. If you’re hungry, just scroll as quick as you can straight to the food photos. I won’t hate you for long, promise. Get to wheel out a fancy banner though! Oh it’s been so long.

I’m going to make you a promise on this one: I shall post part one today and part two next week in a break of tradition of me posting the later parts of a holiday trip two years after I’ve been. It’s a bad job when you go to revisit your past frolics only to find the country has a new name and redrawn borders. Still, twochubbycubs go to Formosa does have a lovely ring, doesn’t it? On that note, the rest of the NC500 posts are back in the queue to appearing soon, only ten months late. I know, I’m utter scum.

We’re cheating a bit calling this a holiday entry really because:

  • it was a work trip to see our lovely publishers which we somehow managed to spin into a four day adventure;
  • it’s London – we were only there but two weeks ago; and
  • I’m not writing it chronologically this time, only the highlights, otherwise we’re going to get stuck on me telling you about the crisp selection on LNER for 2,000 words and nobody needs that in their life. (edit: yeah don’t listen to that last one)

Though that said, turns out no crisps on the LNER journey because our publishers had put us in standard and sat us apart for good measure. We aren’t fussy bitches though – we only travel in first class if we can get a cheap upgrade and purely so we can rinse them out of sandwiches and coffee – but sitting apart on what we thought was going to be a packed train wasn’t going to be fun. We nipped to the ticket desk to enquire how much it would be to upgrade our tickets only for the lady to laugh (in a nice Geordie way) and inform us that it would be £180 extra, each. At that price I’d expect to not only drive the train but take the driver back to our hotel to test my own shunt limit.

We sloped back to wait on the platform and to chance our arm in coach C, where we were told there may be some unbooked seats together. Luckily, after pushing a few old folks out of the way there were indeed two seats together however they were opposite the most ‘Hi, I Study Philosophy at Durham University’ person you could ever wish to meet. The type whose volume is always set to vociferous and for good measure, doesn’t so much elongate their vowels as take them to a country road and strangle them until the light leaves their Is. It would have been quicker and quieter for her to get on the train intercom and share her ‘faaaaaabulous dining experience‘ with the rest of the passengers all at once. I don’t think we had made it over the Tyne before I switched to an individual seat a few rows back, leaving my poor husband to die inside on his own. You must understand: it was either that or I took the tiny emergency hammer from the window, clawed out my eardrums and deposited them both in her oaaaaaat-maaaaaaaaaaalk laaaaaaaaaaatte.

winter minestrone

Taken four minutes after leaving Newcastle

The rest of the journey passed almost without incident save for a drunken bloke who appeared from the toilet after Newcastle and started bellowing about needing to be let off at Durham, despite the train not stopping there. He had seemingly taken the view that the best way to remedy this vexing situation was to wander down the aisles shouting ‘DURRUM’, ‘NEED DURRUM’, ‘GOT TO GET TO DURRUM’ before a kindly train guard took him by the elbow and, if there is any justice in this world, hopefully pitched him out of the train door onto the tracks post Darlington.

I’ve never longed for a cup of tepid, over-brewed coffee and an adjustable headrest more, honestly.

For the first two nights of our four night adventure we were staying back in the Premier Inn Hub by Kings Cross, where we had stayed only a couple of weeks prior. I had hoped the staff would have been waiting for us by the door to slap us on the back and welcome us home but instead we were given a room in the basement without windows and a bed you’d struggle to scratch your arse in without turning on the shower. Despite Paul’s weight loss we remain a significantly heavy coupling but actually, after some minor grumping and generous lubrication, we settled in just fine. We did try once more to order a drink from the bar (after a previous experience defeated us) but they had somehow managed to outdo themselves with the bartender who looked utterly mystified when we asked for a gin and tonic.

After some gentle persuasion and once another member of staff had nipped over to change his batteries, he managed to pour a single shot of gin into a glass followed by eight litres of tonic. Given how proud he looked I didn’t like to mention I’d ordered a double and so we left it at that, though we won’t be troubling the bar again any time soon lest smoke started pouring from his ears. That’s my job!

We woke bright and breezy enough on the Saturday and rushed straight to our first bit of fun, which Paul had rashly booked the night before: Otherworld in Hackney. I say rashly because the concept of Otherworld revolves around virtual reality and with barely a set of working eyes between us, it was always going to be a risk. I can’t see without my glasses and Paul doesn’t so much focus on a subject as take in the view around it at all times, but gamely we pressed on, me ever thankful for the fact my rucksack contains at any given point about eighty-seven pairs of contact lenses which I always immediately forget about. Quick stop to model.

Turns out if you stick me in a jumper and hat from Don’t Feed The Bears and make me smile, I look like a 19 year old again

After a quick coffee at an arty little coffee-shop (honey, spelt and imagination muffin served with a mist of coffee) we were ushered in to what looked like somewhere you’d go for a colonic irrigation, all smooth glacial pods and people dressed in sterile white. A short health and safety briefing and an explanation of how it all worked (all of which I paid no attention to because there were shiny lights to look at) we signed our waivers and entered our individual pods. A very expensive headset awaits you and once the pod is sealed, you’re away to a virtual world.

To be clear: you are by yourself in your pod and the pod is shut to everyone else. By writing that I make it sound like a wankatorium and it isn’t, but it did alleviate my anxiety about having a headset on and feeling vulnerable with people around me. If that is a concern you share, fret not, it’s all very safe. The schtick is that you’re transported to a virtual island to walk around on – you can see a digital avatar of other players and you can hear members of your own party chuntering away too. That’s the theory – in reality they forgot to close our mics so some poor quartet of girls ended up sharing our sound channels and were treated to Paul and I screaming and shouting (unaware) for a good ten minutes before we overheard one of the girls shakily asking a member of staff for help. Nevermind, we were having fun.

The island is populated by various VR games which you can play together and, after five minutes of watching Paul swat at a wall instead of killing zombies and then turning on the spot for five minutes like a lazy Susan clad in too much denim, we agreed over the microphones to go our separate ways. I spent the next forty minutes chopping fruit, dancing like a loon and playing with a radio I found in the virtual world and had a great time. Paul indicated afterwards that his experience was equally as fun though I remain fairly certain his consciousness is still in the cloud trying to figure out how to open a virtual door. We reconvened for two cocktails afterwards which were included as part of the package and agreed it was all excellent fun. Would cheerfully recommend, even if you have funny eyes like Paul. That’s mean I know, but if I had a pound for every time he looked angrily at me for making those jokes, I’d have 50p. Anyway, for £66 for about 90 minutes of entertainment and four excellent cocktails between us, it was really bloody good value. You can investigate it for yourself here, though obviously finish the blog article first.

winter minestrone

Only photo we got of the place, which also includes the wrinkles caused by the headset

We had planned on heading to the National History Museum so I could have somewhere new to look bored and disinterested but realised our fatal error when we arrived to find queues upon queues of harried looking parents shouting at their children. Half-term and worse still, there were so many posh children milling about having a break from the nanny that we just couldn’t entertain joining the queue. You know it’s going to be torture when you can’t tell if the parents are shouting for their children or their dog: come along Rex, come along Rover, has anyone seen Marcus’ poo-bags, that sort of thing. I’d have thrown myself under a bus had Paul dug his heels in but luckily he saw sense so we elected to just go for a wander instead. That’s one of our favourite things to do on holiday: ramble about with no sense of direction and see where we end up. Rather like writing this blog, as it happens.

Not bad for fifteen years together I guess

We had lunch in The Magazine near the Serpentine (I had baked beans on toast, though it was actually stewed chickpeas on sourdough bread because of course it was) and then had a stroll around Hyde Park. There was a giant relay race taking place which we only realised when someone blew a whistle at us to get out of the way. We apologised for being Northern and moved on. This did mean that for the next half hour we had a sea of folks running towards us with expressions as though they’d shat themselves which provided some comedy and we chortled and tittered until we finally made it down to Soho and into the Duke of Wellington. For those unfamiliar, it’s like a virtual reality Jacamo showroom but with added beard oil. We love it.

Though you’d struggle to gauge Paul’s enjoyment as he was sitting with a face full of woe – turns out his knee was playing up, presumably with the shock of walking further than the distance to his car of a morning. Being a loving and warm husband I immediately offered to go to the nearest Boots to get him a knee support (and to have a gander around Dignitas’ website given he’s clearly on the way out) and ten minutes later, with that helpful and caring smile of mine, I handed over an ankle support. Buy at haste, repent at leisure. How we giggled as I left my pint for the second time and schlepped back to Boots, taking a moment to really chuckle to myself at the fact I’d hurled the receipt for the ankle rest into the bin the first time around. You can understand my confusion, I usually just rest my ankles on a workman’s shoulders. Proper support acquired and handed over, Paul gave the occupants of the pub a cheap thrill by rolling up his trousers and slipping his brace on. I was all for the show, but the sound of people spitting their Carling onto the floor was a damning indictment. Despite several of my emergency paracetamol and ibuprofen, the headache caused by Paul going on about his knee didn’t shift and so we Ubered back to the hotel to let him rest.

winter minestrone

Eater von Teese

Twenty minutes later I was terribly bored of sitting in the hotel (plus we had a further engagement) so it was a quick kick to his patella and we were off to the next activity, the Revenge of the Sheep escape room at ClueQuest, just off from Kings Cross. To write about an escape room is a tricky business as you don’t want to give away spoilers, so I promise to keep my fingers on my lips here. Before going in we were discussing how difficult it must be to summon up the enthusiasm to be a room host – it’s usually the same schtick each time (with some excellent exceptions) and I confess to becoming a little jaundiced about the whole thing. I would love to be able to sign a disclaimer before a room to mutually agrees we:

  • will not take the ceiling apart (because we’re not idiots);
  • we won’t move the heavy furniture around (because we’re fat and lazy and it’s all we can do not to take a breather the second we enter the room); and
  • we know that if there is a fire we can actually leave instead of being entombed in the room to turn into smoking pools of fat (see rejoinder to point one, above).

But, no, the dance must be danced every time. However, presumably to shut our big fat mouths, our host was brilliant – very energetic and fully into his role to the point where we were smiling and joking with him, which is entirely unheard of with Paul. The room itself (remember no spoilers) revolves around stopping a machine that turns people into sheep. You can imagine the vein on my forehead pulsing as I tried desperately to get my sheep pun in before the host, but I failed. We didn’t fail the room though, escaping with a few minutes to spare. It was a brilliant bloody room too: full of clever, unusual puzzles and some excellent props.

Escape rooms have really upped their game of late and it shows: gone are the days of reading a clock on the wall to get a combination code and acting surprised when the UV lights come on (though UV always gives me a moment of terror anyway, lest the host looks through the camera and assumes I’ve been messily eating a Fruit Corner). I’d show you our winning team photo but I look fat as butter so you can do one. The room cost £60 and you can book online here.

Buoyed with the sense of accomplishment that can only come from shouting at one another amidst the threat of ovine armageddon (and I can’t begin to tell you how tired I am of writing that sentence in my recaps) we jumped into another Uber towards our next activity. But would you look at the time? Let’s pick up part two next week. Spoilers: Paul got taken up the Old Kent Road, I spent an hour with a pipe-smoking genius and we watched silently and bereft as a lady tried to replace an alien’s heart. Those old chestnuts, eh.

winter minestrone

The star of the show: winter minestrone, delicious, quick and tasty

winter minestrone

The real beauty of winter minestrone is that you can chuck anything into it and it’ll still be good

winter minestrone

Oh hello sexy bowl of winter minestrone!

To the winter minestrone then.

winter minestrone with garlic bread

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 8 servings

We have been trying to find a halfway decent minestrone for bloody ages and whilst it may not be the most exciting recipe ever, it is one of our favourite soups. Luckily, Ina Garten of all people came through with the goods and whilst we have changed a few bits to make it a little lighter in terms of calories, I can confirm it's delicious. It also freezes really well. Give it a go!

Calories are worked out via the NHS app and are approximate, so make sure you double check if you're not sure.

Ingredients

  • 100g bacon medallions, diced
  • 2 brown onions, finely diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 3 stalks of celery (you guessed it, finely diced)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 tin of butter beans
  • 200g dried macaroni
  • 250g baby spinach
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 tbsp green pesto
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  • spray a large pan with a little oil and place over a medium heat
  • add the bacon and cook for 6-8 minutes until lightly browned
  • add the onions, carrots, celery, sweet potato, garlic and thyme, stir and cook for 8-10 minutes until the veg is starting to soften
  • add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes
  • remove the bay leaf, then add the beans and pasta and cook for another 10 minutes or so
  • add the spinach to the pan and stir, and cook until wilted
  • add the wine and pesto, stir and serve with garlic bread

Yeah we aren't going to give you the recipe for garlic bread, it's bread rubbed with garlic topped with cheese. Ah bum.

Notes

Recipe

  • we sped up this recipe by using the pre-chopped bags of vegetables from the supermarket - not necessary, we're just bone idle
  • add some chilli flakes to make this more of a winter warmer, and then die inside for saying winter warmer

Books

  • our new cookbook - Dinner Time - is simply amazing - we've seen the first drafts and it's just incredible - you can pre-order here!
  • our second cookbook Fast & Filling is all about fast recipes that fill you right up: order yours here! 
  • our original cookbook is still a stunner and has another 100 recipes to help you out: click here to order
  • even our planner is awash with recipes - 26 recipes plus all your planning needs: here

Tools

  • we have finally found halfway decent freezable soup containers - rejoice - find them here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as thanks to Paul's love of an Uber and my love of sitting, we're in debt to the tune of £16,000,000 to every bugger with a Prius or Skoda Octavia in London

Courses soup

Cuisine minestrone

Looking for another soup recipe to keep you warm of an evening? Try our chicken soup for the soul! Click the picture to go straight there!

It’s going to be a long, long way down…

Jx

retro recipe: party ham pâté (microwaved, but not really)

A huge thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered our amazing new cookbook – twochubbycubs: dinner time launching on May 26 2022! We are super excited to finally show you the fruits of our hard work, and it really makes us smile when we have your support! The price has already dropped so if you’re holding out, now is the time to buy! You’ll get the cheaper price if it drops again! You can order it here – thank you! Also: we are out of action for the next couple of days doing Book Stuff – the next blog will be Wednesday – we haven’t died.

We need to get this out of the way right from the get-go – this party ham pâté looks absolutely disgusting in the recipe book and the fact that the author microwaves it is absolutely beyond me. As you can see from the photo below of the original recipe, it looks like what you’d imagine Satan’s sphincter to be. It reminds one of something you’d use industrial strength Bazuka gel to burn off a limping horse’s foot. It is the kind of party dish you’d wheel out only if you wanted your guests to leave with scowls and for one of them to kick your dog in anger on the way out.

So, of course, we must try it. As you may have guessed by the subtle clue in the title, this recipe comes from ‘The Book of Microwave Cookery’ by none other than our good friend Sonia Allison. I ordered the book because the idea of a book devoted to microwave cookery delighted me and it was only after receipt that I spotted Sonia Allison was behind it. I mean, of course she was, there was seemingly a few years in the eighties where she was a veritable doyenne of hosting parties and writing recipes.

I’m experiencing strong Baader–Meinhof effect with this woman: I’ve seen her name once and now she’s everywhere, filling every conceivable cooking niche. I half expect to go for a crap and pick up some of the bathroom shiterature we have scattered about only to find her face walking me through 100 recipes for entertaining in the Khor Virap Monastery or 87 billion things to do with boiled eggs. She was certainly comprehensive.

Speaking of comprehensive, don’t you agree I make a wonderful Fanny?

The book does promise an awful lot – the cover is awash with interesting looking dishes that I refuse to believe were made in a microwave, including a lovely looking coffee cake and an elegant gateaux, though there’s scant reference to these in the book so I fear it may have been a bit of a bait and switch: stick a microwave in the background of a pre-prepared spread. I’m not saying you can’t trust Sonia but there’s clearly shenanigans afoot. More mysteriously there are five dessert glasses filled with a luminous purple slop that looks like something you’d scrape from your bumper after a drunken drive in the country which are entirely missing from the recipes.

There’s a whole chapter devoting to cooking safely with the microwave where Sonia walks you through exactly what a microwave is with the deft touch of someone who is also scrabbling together 100 Marmite recipes on the side (not even kidding there, I’ve got it in front of me). She does go against all accepted safety knowledge by stating you can put metal skewers in the microwave with no ill-effect, which is a nonsense. I once left a teaspoon in a cup of tea I was reheating and accidentally opened a portal through to 1992 – I could see Past James. Should have shouted through that he’ll end up doing alright and looking fit.

Perhaps my favourite writing touch from the whole book is the way she will start every single chapter with the same schtick: a dramatic declaration that using the microwave really serves no benefit and it does nothing a conventional oven and hob can’t do, before having herself an epiphany by the end of the chapter and crying out that she couldn’t believe she was so foolish. This is endearing at chapter three and vexing by chapter fourteen. She’s the 80s author equivalent of Troy McClure in The Simpsons slapping his cheek and looking shocked.

One thing I do love though: she thanks her scientific husband for his constructive advice and guidance, which I think is beautiful. Those who have read our books may have realised that Paul and I struggle with the romantic love-letters to one another at the back of the book. We are told to be mushy but if we were being honest, Paul’s note to me would be to thank me for staying out of his hair and mine to him would simply be a photograph of my guilty face with ‘WHAT AM I LIKE’ in cerise Mistral underneath.

To be honest, I do feel a bit mean reading these old cookbooks and scoffing because at the time they would have been an invaluable resource I’m sure, and plus, who is to say that in thirty years time someone won’t be reading our recipe books and chortling at our air-frying ways and crazy ingredients? Hell, it’ll probably be me doing it. Hi Future James, glad you made it through the bad weather, you’re looking fit!

The good news with this party ham pâté is that Sonia reassures us it is ‘an excellent recipe for slimmers’, presumably because you’ll spend most of the evening dry-heaving and pulling your lips back like a snarling dog at the thought of eating it. According to Sonia, for added piquancy, half a clove of garlic could be added. To 800g of ham. She was a wild one for sure! Saying that in the hints and tips bit at the very back she does coyly give a guide on how to microwave ‘body lotion or oils’ so maybe those dinner parties were a hotbed of filth after all.

I confess though: I did try following her recipe to the letter – which was difficult as I only have a normal microwave whereas she seems to be cooking in something you could climb inside for safety in the event of a nuclear war – and it was awful. When a recipe warns you that the edges will brown but this will have ‘no effect on taste or texture’ a warning sign should shoot up. Sonia also suggests using cling film in the microwave, which I did to no real ill effect, though it meant posting myself outside the microwave door lest it burst into flames.

With one ham entirely wasted, I tinkered with the recipe to bring it in line with a more ‘doable’ option at home. I have kept the ingredients largely the same, adding only a couple of modern touches to up the flavour a little. Finally, you can bore off if you think I’m spending time cutting a boiled egg just so for decoration like she did – slicing those pimento olives you see in the picture almost finished me off. To the recipe then!

party ham pâté

As you can, the original party ham pâté wasn’t a looker!

party ham pâté

But with a few tweaks, the party ham pâté can be made delicious!

party ham pâté

And when served with piccalilli and decent bread, the party ham pâté is really quite good

party ham pâté

You want chives with your party ham pâté? Then you’ll smoke a whole PACKET of dried chives

party ham pâté

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 big portions

As discussed at length above, Sonia Allison's microwave party ham pâté is a surefire winner at the dinner table, as long as you change the ingredients, method of cooking and presentation style. But if you follow a recipe and change all the ingredients, method and delivery, is it the original recipe? Or your own? Either way, if you stick to the original method you'll be left with a Ship of Faeces, I guarantee.

This makes enough for four giant portions and if you do as we did, it goes really well with bread and piccalilli. As ever, calorie counts are approximate.

Oh: although Sonia feels the need to decorate the top with eighty-seven keels of dried chives, you absolutely shouldn't. I sneezed bringing this to the table (it's OK, we're among friends) and thought I was at a leprechaun's wedding. If you must adorn it, try just a sprinkling of fresh chives.

Ingredients

  • 800g unsmoked gammon joint
  • two large white onions
  • two cloves of garlic
  • three large eggs
  • thirty olives stuffed with pimento
  • salt and pepper for days
  • 25g parsley (fresh is better)
  • one teaspoon of dried sage

Instructions

You will need a food processor / blender for this recipe - see notes if you don't have one

  • cook the ham as per the instructions - we use our Instant Pot - about twenty five minutes on high pressure and the whole thing is cooked and ready to shred
  • blitz the cooled ham in a food processor until very fine indeed
  • do the same with the onion and garlic and combine with the ham
  • stir the eggs into the mixture with a really good pinch or two of pepper and one of salt (don't add too much salt, the ham is already salty) together with the pepper and sage
  • grease a loaf tin - and really go for it mind you - and then press the mixture in and cook for around an hour on 170 degrees or until the egg has cooked through
  • allow to cool and adorn with the sliced pimento olives and whatever else you want
  • slice and serve

Notes

Recipe

  • you could do so much with this - add curry powder for a bit of spice, chopped egg rather than beaten, different herbs and spices and all that
  • not got a food processor - shred the ham with two forks as much as you can instead - it'll be coarser, but so am I

Books

  • our new cookbook - Dinner Time - is now available to pre-order and we quite honestly believe it is the best one yet - you can pre-order here!
  • our second cookbook Fast & Filling is all about saving time and eating well: order yours here! 
  • our original cookbook will also tickle your pickle with 100 slimming recipes: click here to order
  • and if you're looking to track your dieting successes, then we have a gorgeous little planner: here

Tools

  • we have silicone loaf tins and they work superbly as you can just plop the food straight out - the ones we use are cheap on Amazon nearly all the time and can be found here

Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as I just wanna dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody, and frankly with energy prices the way they are we need all the money we can get.

Courses retrorecipes

Cuisine snacks

Got some leftover ham? Chuck it in our cheese and ham quiche from 2016 – click the picture to be taken straight there!

There ain’t no way that I’ll make do with anything less than I’m used to!

Jx

new book to pre-order: twochubbycubs: dinner time!

BIG NEWS!

After months of being squirrelled away, variously in the house, Scarborough, London and hotels, Paul and I are pleased to announce our third cookbook, twochubbycubs: dinner time is coming soon – 26 May 2022 – and is available to pre-order right now! Simply click on the fabulous cover below to be whisked straight to Amazon to order your copy! For a little more detail about what the book is about, look below!

twochubbycubs: dinner time is a book absolutely rammed full of new recipes focusing on the one meal that matters most – the evening meal! Now listen, if you’re one of those normal people who call dinner ‘tea’ then we are right with you, but if we put out a book called ‘twochubbycubs on tea’ some people might get the wrong idea. Cracking weight loss path though. But no, dinner tends to be the meal that everyone plans for the most, brings people together, the one meal you’ll buy the good ingredients for, the bringer of comfort on dark days and delight on sunny ones. It’s OK, I got goosebumps too.

As you would expect from our book:

  • there’s plenty of vegetarian recipes to get your teeth into;
  • the recipes do not use crap like artificial sweetener or margarine to be low-calorie – they’re just good, decent recipes using proper ingredients;
  • all the meals are easy to cook – nothing complicated, just clear instructions for delicious food
  • there’s so much ‘us’ in this book that it’ll feel like you’re sat down with us for dinner, you poor sods;
  • there’s actually more than 100 recipes in there – I included my fudge recipe as a bonus, and we’ve got you covered with over twenty ideas for sides to go with your dinner too; and
  • listen, if you loved the last two books, you’ll adore this one!

It’s currently £20 on Amazon, but that’s the price that all pre-orders get set at – as more people order it, the price will come down, and then that’s what you will pay (on release) – so don’t be put off by the £20 tag!

We really couldn’t be prouder of dinner time – and we would love your support! So if you know someone who has our book, tell them about the new one – and if you see any of our posts on social media, be sure to share them!

Love you all,

J&P