Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

¸.•*''*♥♥*''*•.¸ Happy Christmas ¸.•*''*♥♥*''*•.¸
to you and yours from me and mine.
 May you have lots of fun, food and good company.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and all shopping, kitchen prep and housework is done. Phew!

Vegetables all in their pans; all frozen items needed have been unearthed from the freezer and are defrosting slowly in the fridge; dining table has been laid for lunch; soft drinks, wine and fizz are in the fridge and I am now sitting quietly with a glass of mulled fruit punch, a bowl of cashew nuts and Michael Bublé (sadly, only on the radio, not in the flesh!)

If I’ve forgotten anything, it’s too bad; we’ll just have to do without.

Big Day tomorrow and the sooner you go to bed, the sooner Santa will come…!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Two Days 'til Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve Eve – only two days ‘til the big day! How’s the food prep going? I think I'll make my Cranberry and Apricot Puds later, they’ll keep perfectly well in an airtight tin until needed but, other than that, it’s all nice and easy and relaxed here at the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so organised, but I bet things won’t feel quite so laidback on Christmas morning!
True to my word, I did decorate my cake last Sunday but I’ve just realised that I haven’t put a pic of it on here. To be fair it doesn’t look much different from last year’s but, if you have a winning formula, stick with it; there’s no point in trying to re-invent the wheel. We've already cut into the cake and it's going down very nicely - I hate eating Christmas cake halfway through January so we always start early. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

Every year I think about doing something different for some of the festive meals, but I seem to always fall back on the old favourites. Maybe that’s the essence of annual celebrations, though; it’s nice to see the dishes which prompt memories and evoke good feelings and it’s also not a great idea to try something new for Christmas lunch when all eyes are on you!

The butter has been out of the fridge to soften for a couple of hours, so I’d better get on with those puds…

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Ten Days 'til Christmas

Well, I haven’t posted for a fortnight, so I bet you think I’ve been sitting around doing nothing. Au contraire, mes amis.... the Christmas tree and decorations are up, the lights in the front garden are twinkling and I have also been very industrious in the kitchen. Although I haven't cooked anything new I’ve made a batch of Not Sausage Rolls, a batch of Cheese and Onion Mini Quiches, Christmas Red Cabbage, Mushroom and Sherry Sauce, Mushroom Duxelles for our Nut Roast Wellington and two batches of Mince Pies.

This little lot is all residing snugly in the freezer ready for dipping into when required, although I have to say the stock of mince pies is diminishing rapidly because Mr Simply Veg keeps eating them!

Much as I love food, food shopping is really starting to get on my nerves now; everyone seems to have gone into “I must buy as much food as possible - the shops are closed for one whole day” mode! Now, I confess I’m as guilty as anyone of stuffing the freezer and pantry to the gunwales at this time of year, but from the way some people are staggering out of the supermarkets, eyes glazed and trolleys heaving under the weight of food, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were preparing for a six month siege! What on earth do they do with all that food?

For a bit of light relief I think I might retrieve my Christmas cake from the depths of the pantry tomorrow and give it its festive topping of marzipan and dried fruit and nuts. This is the best bit about Christmas; all the nice foodie bits and pieces which make it special. It’s just the shopping I hate…

Friday, 30 November 2012

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

It’s been absolutely flippin’ freezing here today! Our car is actually black but, parked on the drive this morning, it was completely white – it was quite an impressive frost. Not the best day for putting up the outside Christmas lights, but at least it was dry as well as beautifully sunny.

As soon as the weather gets cold my thoughts turn to soup; there’s nothing so quite so warming and comforting as a bowl of hot soup and a chunk of fresh bread.

This is one that Mr Simply Veg has wanted me to make for some time (he likes blue cheese and I don’t; although I love most cheeses there is just something about the blue variety that gives me the willies!) so I finally gave in. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat and enjoy a piece of Stilton at the end of a meal but in this it was lovely. The cheese flavour wasn’t overpowering but it gave a real savouriness to what could otherwise have been a fairly bland soup. Looks like lunch is sorted for the next couple of days...

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 large floury potato, diced
1l stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large head of broccoli
½ tsp dried thyme
125g Stilton, crumbled
1 tbsp crème fraiche

Sauté the onion, celery and potato for 5 minutes in the olive oil in a large saucepan; chop the thick stalk off the broccoli, dice and add to the other vegetables in the pan along with the crushed garlic and sauté for a further couple of minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the veg are almost tender.

Roughly chop the rest of the broccoli, add to the pan with the thyme and simmer for another 5 minutes. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth, adding a little more stock if necessary.

Keep back a tablespoon of the crumbled Stilton for garnish, then stir the rest of it and the crème fraiche into the soup.

This was based loosely on BBC Good Food's recipe.

Serves 6

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Porcini and Chestnut Roast

There seems to be 1001 Christmas magazines around at the moment – every one of them promising the “Best Ever Christmas”...! They can't all be right, surely? The only one I’ve bought this year is the BBC Good Food Vegetarian Christmas; it’s OK but there’s nothing in there that makes me go “Wow – I must make that!”

I always pick up any free food magazines when I’m in a supermarket, though, just in case there’s something in there worth trying. There rarely is, actually, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a recipe for a Christmas stuffing in a Waitrose mag which looked like it had possibilities. It was listed as a stuffing but I thought it would convert, with a few tweaks and additions, into a tasty nut roast; so I changed some of the ingredient proportions, then added more mushrooms and a smidge of lemon to sharpen it up a bit and this is the result.

We had some for dinner last night with jacket potatoes and a tomato salad and I have to say it was really rather good; not the sort of thing I usually do for a midweek meal but it made a nice change and will definitely go on my list of 'keepers'. It'd be good for a Sunday lunch if served with all the usual suspects and, although I’m planning on serving Nut Roast Wellington for Christmas Day, I think it’s worth keeping this up my sleeve as an alternative.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp olive oil
40g dried porcini
250g ciabatta breadcrumbs
300g vac-packed chestnuts
75g grated parmesan-style cheese
handful of chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tsp Marigold Stock powder
grated zest and juice of half a lemon

Put the ciabatta breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. Soak the porcini in 250mls of boiling water for 10 minutes then strain, reserving the soaking liquid; chop finely and add to the breadcrumbs.

Sauté the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil for 5 minutes; add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes then add the veg to the mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the chestnuts, leaving some of the pieces quite chunky, and add to the bowl along with the cheese and parsley.

Mix the reserved porcini liquid with the beaten egg, stock powder, lemon zest and juice; pour over the breadcrumb mixture and stir really well. Spoon into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 180C for 50-60 minutes.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into thick slices to serve.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Roasted Butternut Soup

This is a really nice soup, very tasty and warming and such a lovely autumnal colour; we had some for lunch today after a couple of hours of raking up yet more leaves from the garden.

Despite my best intentions last week I didn’t get round to making this until the weekend because I’ve been trying to empty out the freezer a bit and, having found several frozen blocks of various soups lurking in there, I wanted to get those out of the way before making any more.

I’ve had a lovely clear out and a tidy-up of the freezer; it’s now ready for stacking with nice Christmassy bits and pieces plus a few things like mushroom duxelles and red cabbage which will both be needed on Christmas day. I also want to make and freeze some mince pies and I’ll probably make another batch of Not Sausage Rolls and a few cheese and onion quiches as well.

Maybe I used to be a squirrel in a former life – this is obviously my version of storing nuts for the winter!

1 large butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
few leaves of fresh sage
1.5l vegetable stock

Cut the unpeeled squash in half, discarding the seeds, and put into a large roasting tin; drizzle with half the olive oil and put the thyme leaves and whole garlic cloves in the seed cavity. Roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes until soft and just starting to brown at the edges.

Meanwhile, put the onions, carrots, celery, sage and remaining olive oil into a large saucepan and cook gently for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Add the stock and bring to the boil; simmer for 20 minutes until the veg are tender.

When the squash is cooked, scoop the flesh from the skin and add it to the stock along with the garlic squeezed out of its papery skin. Simmer for a further 5 minutes then blitz with a stick blender until absolutely smooth. You might need to add a bit more stock if it’s too thick.

Nice with a swirl of single cream or a blob of crème fraiche.

Makes 6 generous portions and freezes well.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Healthy Food?

I feel I should warn you, I’m just going to have a bit of a rant but, before I do, here are a couple of questions for you:

What do the words ‘healthy food’ mean to you?
Which foods do you consider to be ‘unhealthy’?

The reason I ask is that I am fed up (notice the tenuous foodie terminology there!) to the back teeth with people talking about “healthy food”. Government ministers, the media and even the medical profession bandy the ‘healthy’ word around at every possible opportunity without anyone knowing what the hell they mean by it. If the powers that be are trying to educate Joe Public about food and nutrition, they seem to be going the worst possible way about it. Don't even get me started about Traffic-Light Labelling...!

So, what is meant by healthy? Is it low in fat or low in cholesterol? Low in salt or low in sugar? High in fibre, maybe, or high in polyunsaturates? Who knows…? But that’s my point; some foods are being promoted as ‘good for you’ whilst others are being demonised as ‘unhealthy’ when they are actually nothing of the sort. The whole thing is a total distortion of the true situation, and the real message of "Moderation in all things" is being lost when, in reality, it's the very message which should be hammered home. It’s a mystery to me why people who ought to have some understanding of food can’t get it through their thick skulls that all food is healthy and no food is ‘bad’ for you!

An example: vegetables are ‘healthy’, apparently. OK, so let’s assume I live on steamed vegetables and nothing else; well, I’ll be really, really healthy, right? No....wrong! I’ll be short on protein, calcium, fats, salt and sundry other vital vitamins and minerals. You see what I mean about promoting or demonising certain foods? Obviously, I’m not suggesting that living on ice-cream, chocolate and cake is a good idea but I feel we all need to keep a sense of proportion.

In a nutshell, some foods are better for you if they are only eaten occasionally in small portions and some foods are better for you if they are eaten more often in larger portions, but no foods are 'bad' and there is no need to cut any foods out of your diet in order to eat ‘healthily’.

Moderation is all!

Rant over – I am now going off to make some roasted butternut soup.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Leek and Mushroom Pie

Last night’s dinner was a special request by Mr Simply Veg; a few days ago he asked for a pie with a puff pastry top. When I enquired what sort of pie, he said “Leek and something…?” He’s helpful like that…

Now, I have made tarts, flans, quiches, pasties and turnovers; I’ve made mince pies, homity pies and even shepherd’s pies but I don’t think I have ever made a ‘proper’ pie. I am clearly not an experienced pie-maker because I don’t even possess a pie plate/tin/dish/whatever, so off I went to Lakeland and bought an enamel pie tin - the sort of thing that used to be around when Adam was a lad and looked like it meant business!

I looked on the net for some tips, grabbed a trusty roll of puff pastry from the freezer and set to. This was the outcome and, for a first attempt, I thought it wasn’t too bad; just goes to prove even an old dog like me can still pull a few new kitchen tricks. Mr Simply Veg was a very happy chap indeed.

200g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
3 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
350ml milk
25g butter
30g plain flour
1 tsp Marigold Bouillon stock powder
100g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp crème fraiche
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
a little milk

Sauté the mushrooms and leeks in the olive oil until cooked and barely golden; set aside.

Put the milk, butter, flour and stock powder in a small pan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly; simmer for 5 minutes then take off the heat and stir in the grated cheese followed by the crème fraiche, mustard and parsley. Mix in the cooked mushrooms and leeks then turn the whole lot into a medium pie tin or dish with a rim and allow to cool.

Turn the oven on to 200C. Cut a piece of pastry about 2cms bigger all round than the top of the pie tin; dampen the rim of the tin with water then lay the pastry over the tin and tuck the excess pastry under to form a double thickness rim; cut a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry and brush all over with milk.

Put on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

Serve with veg of choice (we had broccoli and carrots).

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Sausage and Lentil Hotpot

I used to really like winter but I’m starting to change my mind; I’m not looking forward at all to the grey days and the long dark evenings to come, although I do like a nice cold frosty morning with the sun shining through the trees. The weather’s been very autumnal lately – grey and overcast with intermittent rain; you know the type of thing…there’s a break in the clouds so you decide to go for a walk but, by the time you’ve grabbed a coat and a pair of shoes, it’s raining again…grr!

My cold is still dragging on (maybe this year I’ll just have one very, very long cold which will last the entire winter!) so I’m still in comfort food mode.

I was going to do sausage and mash last night but Mr Simply Veg had a fancy for garlic bread, which rather negated the need for mash. Quite clearly something with a sauce was needed, to allow bread’s mopping up tendencies to have full rein, and this tomatoey, lentilly affair fitted the bill very nicely, I thought. I also steamed some broccoli to have on the side because I have this rather childish notion that anything green ‘will do me good’ if I’m unwell. Yes, I know it’s an old wives’ tale but, there again, I am an old wife so what can you expect?

100g green lentils
Marigold stock
6 Cauldron Cumberland sausages
1 large onion, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
50mls white wine
50mls water
½ tsp chilli flakes

Simmer the lentils for 15 minutes in just enough stock to cover, then drain and set aside.

In a large lidded frying pan fry the sausages and onions together in the olive oil until golden; add the garlic and fry for another minute or two then add the tomatoes, white wine and water, oregano and chilli flakes. Stir well and add the lentils; pop the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes.

Serves 2 generously

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Cinnamon Buns

I woke up yesterday with an unmistakeable dryness in my throat and the awful aching all over that could only mean one thing…yep, my first cold of the winter; and it’s only October. Rats!

Comfort food was called for and it had to be something that didn’t involve too much effort on my part. On the cover of this month’s Waitrose mag there’s an enticing picture of cinnamon buns, but the recipe includes an icing that I didn’t like the sound of and it also makes 16 buns…just a tad over the top for the two of us! So, feeling inspired, I unearthed a recipe for an enriched bread dough (which I originally used for hot cross buns) and cheated by doing the kneading and first proving in the bread machine but, if you’re feeling less fragile than me, you could do it by hand. All I had to do was pop the filling in, give them a second proving, whack ‘em in the oven and Bob’s your uncle!

I’m not experienced at yeast cookery, and I’ve never made these before, but I was quite chuffed at how well they turned out – true, they don’t look quite like the ones on the magazine cover, but what you see is what you get; the food in my pictures is actually edible and it hasn’t been prettied up by a food 'stylist'!

½ a sachet of fast-action yeast
250g strong white flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
25g butter
110ml milk
1 egg

25g melted butter
50g soft brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
50g dried mixed fruit

a little sugar for sprinkling

If you have a bread machine put the dough ingredients into the bread tin in the order given and set the machine going on the ‘Basic: dough’ setting. When the machine stops follow the steps ** below.

If you’re making by hand, put the dry ingredients and the egg into a large bowl, heat the butter and milk together until barely warm then add to the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a dough then turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough becomes smooth and silky; put the dough back in the bowl and cover loosely with clingfilm; leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size then follow ** below.

** Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 30cm x 20cm, brush generously with melted butter then scatter over the cinnamon sugar and dried fruit. Roll up tightly, like a swiss roll, from a long side then cut into 9 equal slices.

Put the slices, cut side up, in a 22cm square greased cake tin; cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to prove again until doubled in size.
Bake at 200C for 12-15 minutes until golden then sprinkle with a little sugar and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Thai Green Curry

It seems ages since I last posted; I wouldn’t like you to think we've been fading away and not eating at all for the last three weeks or so, it's just that I haven't been cooking anything new and have just stuck to easy-peasy stuff that I can do with my eyes closed and which doesn’t require much thought.

I did manage to make some more chutney, though, using all the remaining fruit from the garden, I’ve also made loads of plum compote and I have six jars of Christmas mincemeat maturing quietly in the pantry, so I haven’t been entirely idle.

Before my recent cooking slump I had finally tracked down some Thai green curry paste. I’d been after some for ages, but trying to find one that's veggie was a bit like searching for the holy grail. Waitrose, god bless ‘em, came up trumps so a few weeks ago I added tofu, assorted veg, coconut milk and palm sugar to some of the paste and made what can only be described as a very mediocre meal…I was so disappointed; best thing I can say is, it was OK...ish.

Undaunted, I ventured into the kitchen on Friday to have another go; instead of tofu I used paneer (I seem to be off tofu at the moment for some reason) I also upped the ration of curry paste to give it a bit more zing, I changed the mix of veg and added loads of chopped coriander and a good squeeze of lime juice. This time it wasn’t mediocre, it was bloody brilliant! You will see at the end of the recipe that I’ve said it serves four…well, it would have done if the two of us hadn’t eaten it all!

1 pack of paneer
1 tbsp vegetable oil
125g sugar-snap peas, halved
125g baby corn, halved
150g small broccoli florets
1 red pepper, chopped into largish pieces
3 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
2 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 tsp palm sugar
1 400g tin of coconut milk
handful of coriander, chopped
juice of half a lime

Chop the paneer into little batons (about half the size of your little finger) and fry in the vegetable oil in a large pan until golden on all sides; drain well and set aside on kitchen paper whilst you cook the curry.

In the same pan, in the residual oil, cook the baby corn, red pepper and broccoli for a few minutes, add the lime leaves, curry paste, palm sugar and coconut milk. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer then immediately add the sugar snap peas and the cooked paneer; simmer for a few minutes (you want the veg to still have some ‘bite’). Stir in the coriander and lime juice and serve with rice.
Serves 4 (or two very greedy people!)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Lost my cooking mojo...

Do you ever go through periods when cooking just isn’t quite doing it for you?

It's September 12th and I've only made one post so far this month – I seem to be in a sort of slump at the moment; I’m quite happy to potter around in the kitchen making jam and chutney but I just can’t be faffed with cooking proper everyday food if you know what I mean. Quite honestly I’d be happy living on porridge, soup and sandwiches at the moment…

I have a list of things as long as your arm that I keep meaning to try – most of them are main meals and some will need adapting  in order to vegetarianise them – but I just can’t be bothered. Maybe nearly 40 years of turning out three meals a day is catching up with me, maybe I’m getting old or maybe I need to challenge myself a bit more…who knows?

Anyway, fact is, I’ll be really glad when this pall of kitchen inertia lifts. I think I’ll make my Christmas mincemeat at the weekend – some early Christmas cooking might buck me up a bit and the mincemeat will taste all the better for having a couple of months to mature. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Plum Jam

I said I’d report back about the jam I made last week; I'm pleased to say we loved it…it’s very plummy if you know what I mean, i.e. it doesn’t just taste of ‘jam’ it tastes of fruit, so I think I’ll make another few jars to add to the stock of preserves already in the pantry. If we have a bad winter this year, with the snow up to the window-ledges, we’ll survive very happily on home-made bread and jam. Lovely….

We went out in the garden this afternoon and picked all the remaining fruit from our little tree; I thought we ought to get it in quickly before the birds and the wasps start to feast on it. It has yielded the magnificent sum of 6.5 kilos of fruit….and that’s a hell of a lot of plums, let me tell you! I can foresee a few busy afternoons making compote, jam and chutneys – I just hope I have enough jars!

1 kilo Victoria plums
600g preserving sugar (the one with added pectin)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Halve and stone the plums and layer in a large bowl with the sugar; sprinkle over the vanilla extract then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave overnight. Next day scoop all the fruit and sugar, which by now will be almost liquid, into a wide deep pan; bring slowly to the boil to dissolve any remaining sugar and allow to boil steadily until setting point is reached. Mine was just about right after 20 minutes and wrinkled nicely when I did the cold plate test.

Pot up into hot sterilised jars and label when cold.

Made three 12oz jars and half a large ramekin (which we ate on toast – well, we had to try it, didn’t we?)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

We're partial to a plum...

…which is just as well!

A couple of years ago when we were still trying to get the garden under control we planted a Victoria plum tree; it was only little, not as tall as me, and it gave us the grand total of two plums in its first year. Last year we had about a dozen fruits, all of which had had the middle eaten out by plum moth; we didn’t manage to salvage a single one.

But this year…bingo! Our tree is now about 50cms taller than me and is absolutely weighed down with perfect fruit – we’ve had to tie up its spindly branches to stop them snapping under the strain! I’ve put a kilo in the freezer to make some more chutney and I’ve mixed a kilo with sugar to macerate for jam-making tomorrow. The ones in the picture are less than a quarter of the total on our little tree; there are still plenty left that aren’t quite ripe yet. It’s really done us proud!

Certain parts of the fruit and veg plot have been a disappointment this year, yes…tomatoes and peppers, I’m talking about you, but the successes have more than made up for the failures.

I love this time of year – so many jams and chutneys just waiting to be made before the veg plot gets put to bed until spring. I’ll let you know how the jam-making goes tomorrow; now all I have to do is find a way of using up the rest of my little beauties!  

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Moist Fruity Tea Bread

While Mr Simply Veg was trying to beat my new laptop (which I still don’t like!) into submission last week I had a poke around in some of my old handwritten notebooks; they’re full of recipes that I’ve picked up over the years from various sources. Some of them are from magazines and some from friends and family that I’ve scribbled down on a piece of paper and then transferred to my notebooks at a later date. I have to confess I’ve never actually made most of the recipes, but they made good reading.

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here and raining, unsurprisingly, so it seemed like a good time to bake a little something and resurrect one of the old recipes. This is one that I used to regularly make years ago (when I say ‘years ago’, I mean about 25; blimey, I’m getting old!) but it obviously fell by the wayside for some reason. It would be nice if I could credit the person this recipe came from, but that seems to have been lost in the mists of time and the crevices of my memory.

In my notebook it says serve this tea bread thickly sliced and buttered; I feel butter is a bit over the top, it’s nice and moist from the tea-soaked fruit, but it’s up to you.

By the way, if you’ve got odd bits and pieces of dried fruit in the pantry this is the recipe to use them up. I used just over 300gm of mixed fruit and made it up to 450gm with half a tub of mixed peel and the remains of a bag of dried cranberries. As I’ve said before…waste not, want not.
450gm mixed dried fruit
250ml hot tea (without milk!)
100g unsalted very soft butter
1 tbsp marmalade
2 eggs, beaten
175g light brown sugar
450g self-raising flour
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Put the fruit in a large bowl and pour over the hot tea, mix well, cover and leave to steep overnight.

Next day, put the butter, marmalade, sugar and eggs into a large bowl and mix well together with a wooden spoon; add the flour and spices plus the fruit and any tea that hasn’t been absorbed. Mix well, and turn into a 2lb loaf tin lined with baking parchment.

Bake at 160C for 1¼ - 1½ hours and cool on a wire rack.   

Sunday, 19 August 2012

New Laptop

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet lately; my old laptop has died, having succumbed to a horde of marauding Trojans, and I’m manfully (should that be womanfully?) trying to get to grips with the new one. It's all-singing, all-dancing and I absolutely hate it!

Yes, I realise that technology changes and things can’t stay the same forever but why can’t they make the bloody thing a bit more user-friendly? We’re not all 15-year-old techno whizz-kids, picking up every nuance at the drop of a hat, nor do we all have the time and energy to sit around working things out and playing with all the very clever gizmos and gadgets which are no use to me whatsoever.

The worst thing about it is the keyboard – it’s hopeless, I feel like I’m typing with gloves on; it just doesn’t have the same touch sensitivity as my old one. The new ‘improved’ keyboard looks good but I don't think it was meant for anyone to actually use - I'm sure it was very cheap to manufacture; conversely, it was not very cheap to buy. How strange.... Oh, and I liked Windows Vista – although I seem to be the only person in the world who did; Windows 7….pah!

So, bear with me while I get my head around this damn thing and I'll get back to cooking as soon as I can. My next post might be a recipe for 'Boiled Laptop'...!

Can you tell I'm a little stressed...?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Chilli Plum Chutney

Before I take up my favourite seat in front of the TV to watch the Olympic closing ceremony I thought I'd get this post on; I wrote it up a couple of days ago but I've been so taken up with sporting action I haven't had a minute to myself... (Incidentally, hasn't it been fabulous? I've loved every minute and have cried buckets whenever we've won gold, daft old bat that I am! Special mention to Andy Murray - I have at long last seen a Brit win a final at Wimbledon...!)

I’d been thinking recently about making some chilli tomato jam, but when I was in the market last week there were some lovely looking plums on the veg stall which set my mind wandering; would plum chutney with a chilli twist work? Well, I’d never know if I didn’t give it a go…so here it is.

It’s a gorgeous deep red from the plums and the red wine vinegar, but I must tell you the plums I bought, although a lovely colour, were absolutely the worst ones I have ever tried to stone; the stones seemed to have been embedded in the plums with the aid of superglue! As my fingers turned red, the air turned blue – I’m not ashamed to confess I said more than a few unladylike words…

However, recalcitrant plums aside, this was very easy and well worth doing if you happen to have a plum tree that has enjoyed our summer; well, when I say summer, what I actually mean is the few warm days that have constituted the British summer this year! The chilli I added gave just the right amount of oomph for us but if you like things a bit more spicy you can ramp it up as much as you like.

750g plums, stoned and chopped roughly
1 large Bramley apple, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
450g light muscovado sugar
350ml red wine vinegar
2 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp chilli flakes

Put the stem ginger, garlic, cumin and salt into a blender with a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar and blitz until slushy.

Put the plums, apple, onions and sugar into a large wide pan, add the garlic and ginger mix followed by the vinegar and chilli flakes; give everything a good stir and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer steadily for about an hour or so, giving it a stir from time to time, until thickened and almost no liquid remains when a channel is drawn across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Pot up into hot sterilised jars whilst the chutney is still hot and allow to mature for at least 4-6 weeks before eating.

Makes 5 190g jars.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Roast Vegetable Quesadillas

It’s not been a great couple of weeks for cooking for two reasons: firstly, we’ve had a guy in doing some decorating in the sitting room and the kitchen (the entire contents of the pantry were spread across the worktops at one point; it was as much as I could do to make a sandwich for lunch!) and, secondly, I’ve been busy watching the Olympics…..well, there won’t be another Olympics in the UK in my lifetime so I thought I’d better make the most of it!

The kitchen is now back up and running again so yesterday I made some rather tasty Chilli Plum Chutney (recipe to follow) and today for lunch we had these quesadillas; nice and easy finger food to eat whilst we watched Jess Ennis and others giving their all in the quest for a gold medal.

I’ve made quesadillas before using up leftover chilli sans carne but, in the absence of any chilli, I roasted some peppers and a couple of courgettes and red onions from the garden. I find roast veg are absolutely addictive; it’s surprising any of them made it into our lunch because I was picking at them immediately they came out of the oven…! This will make more veg than you need for the quesadillas but the leftovers are brilliant with some herby couscous.

3 mixed peppers
1 large red onion
2 small courgettes
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp cayenne
100g grated mature cheddar
4 soft flour tortillas
4 tbsp soured cream
2 tbsp chopped chives
few grinds black pepper
sprinkle of cayenne

Turn the oven on at 200C

Deseed the peppers and chop them into chunky pieces, cut the courgettes into thick slices on the diagonal, peel the onion and cut it into eighths through the root. Toss the veg together with the olive oil and the cayenne then put them in a shallow baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

Mix the sour cream with the chives and plenty of black pepper, put into a small ramekin and sprinkle with cayenne.

Use the grated cheese, some of the roast veg and the tortillas to make two 'sandwiches'. Place each tortilla sandwich in a dry non-stick frying pan and cook over a medium heat for two or three minutes until the cheese starts to melt then flip over to cook the other side.

Cut into quarters and serve with the sour cream dip.

**You’ve probably already noticed that I’m a massive tennis fan; Andy Murray is in the singles final tomorrow against some Swiss bloke called Federer (!) Well, whilst I've been typing this Andy and Laura Robson have just booked a place in the mixed doubles - also tomorrow!! I’m so excited I can barely think straight…!**

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Olympics are here...!

OK, I'll admit it, I am officially excited! For the last seven years, since London was awarded the Games, I've been very blasé and dismissive about it…

“We can’t afford it”
“There’s a recession on”
“We won’t be as good as Beijing”
“The bloody Americans always win everything”
“I’m not really interested”

…but now we’re on the brink of the whole thing starting I’m really getting quite enthusiastic.

We’ll sit down this evening with some stuffed baguettes and salad followed by fruit and soya yogurt and have a right old Olympic wallow in front of the telly.

Good Luck guys and may the best man, woman or team win!

(If Andy Murray wins gold in the tennis tournament I'll definitely start blubbing and I may just start turning cartwheels - now that'd be a sight to frighten people!)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Greek Salad

There was something strange in the sky when we woke up this morning; it was a big round ball that seemed to be giving off a lovely warm brightness. It looked familiar but because it was so long since we’d seen it, I couldn’t be sure…is it....could it be....surely not? Yes….it is.....it’s the sun! Well, bless my boots, I think the summer’s arrived!!

I went into the garden to throw a few words of encouragement to the veg plot and was so taken aback by the unaccustomed summeriness (is that a word?) that I started thinking about lunch in the garden. Something salady was needed, obviously – a chunk of feta in the fridge caught my eye and the words “Greek Salad” popped into my head. Perfect summer food.

I’ve been making this salad for years but I feel I should confess that, having never been to Greece, I wouldn’t know an authentic Greek salad if it jumped up and slapped me so, for purists, my version could probably best be described as Greek-ish.

½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp dried oregano
2 large vine ripened tomatoes
5 inch piece of cucumber
200g feta
20-25 kalamata olives
black pepper

olive oil for drizzling

Put the thinly sliced onions in a large salad bowl and mix with the olive oil, lemon juice and dried oregano; I find this short marinating takes some of the ‘sting’ out of the onions.

Chop the cucumber in half lengthways then into chunky half-moons; chop the tomatoes into chunky pieces, discarding the cores; halve the olives. Add cucumber, tomatoes and olives to the salad bowl then crumble over the feta and mix well (use your hands to avoid bruising the cuke).

Drizzle with olive oil and grind over a little black pepper before serving.  

This made enough for two with enough left over to fill a couple of wraps for lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Couscous, Chickpea and Feta Salad

The wet weather goes on here unabated, but there's a rumour going about that we're going to have some decent weather next week just in time for the Olympics – it's only a rumour but we're all so desperate we'll clutch at any straw; if the summer doesn’t hurry up it’ll overlap with autumn if it's not careful! I’m really not a big fan of hot weather, but even I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of sun; much more rain and we’ll all start going rusty!

Our veg plot has really suffered for lack of warmth and sun; the potatoes and onions have been happy enough but the more summery crops are struggling quite badly. The tomatoes don’t even have a single flower on them, nor the courgettes and the least said about the poor peppers and French beans the better…

Strangely, despite the weather, the salad leaves have been pretty good so I picked some lollo rosso and added it to this salad. This is another one of my Waitrose chiller-cabinet imitations; I can’t for the life of me remember what theirs is called but this is my take on it.

NB: I mentioned the weather above; well, I would have put this post on earlier this evening, but it was raining so hard the local electricity sub-station was knocked out which meant we had no power - it was like a monsoon! Don't you just love these lazy, hazy days of summer....?!

150g couscous
175ml boiling stock
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, finely chopped
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped mint
1 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
200g feta, chopped into cubes

4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tsp finely chopped parsley

salad leaves

Put the couscous in a large bowl, pour in the boiling stock and stir well; cover with a plate and leave for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork then carefully stir in the rest of the salad ingredients.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over the salad before serving.

Serve with salad leaves of choice.

Serves 4

Thursday, 12 July 2012

No-Knead Loaf

On a food forum where I post there has been a thread running recently about the pros and cons of fresh yeast versus dried yeast. Sakkarin, who actually runs the forum, posted about a ‘no-knead’ loaf he’d made, using dried yeast; the loaf looked gorgeous and was described as 'pretty close' to being ciabatta.

I love bread but I’m useless at making it, which is why I use a bread machine, so my eyes lit up at the thought of no kneading. Could this be the breakthrough whereby I make a loaf of bread by hand which doesn’t require the consumer to undergo extensive dental work afterwards? Surely even I could manage this? The answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes”!

I followed Sakkarin’s instructions to the letter and, to my amazement, I produced an astonishingly good-looking loaf with a thinnish crust and a lovely, slightly holey, soft-textured crumb; it was a delight.

It was pronounced a “triumph” by Mr Simply Veg who had three slices for lunch today with Brie and red onion marmalade – I didn’t bother with any pronouncements; I was too busy chomping on a slice of warm bread and butter!

Thanks Sakkarin – I’m chuffed to little mint balls!

500g strong white bread flour
7.5g dried yeast
7.5g salt
40ml olive oil
380ml water

Mix the dry ingredients together then add the olive oil and water and mix together to form a moist mass.

Cover with cling film and leave for 10 to 12 hours by which time the dough will have risen dramatically.

Tease the dough carefully out onto a silicone sheet dusted with flour – it will be very sticky.

With as little handling of the dough as possible, shape it a bit into the traditional ciabatta slipper shape; dust the top with flour and cover with a clean dry teatowel. Leave on the worktop to prove for 2 hours. When your oven is up to temperature (225 degrees), put a few squirts of water into a baking tray in the bottom of the oven to create steam. Slide the silicone mat onto a heavy baking sheet (or a bakestone, if you have one – I don’t)

Bake at 225C for 25 mins until deep golden and gorgeous and cool on a wire rack.

I’ve paraphrased Sakkarin’s instructions, but if you’d like to see his post and pics click here. (fifth post down on page 2)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Lemon and Coriander Houmous

For some reason I’ve never been entirely happy with it whenever I’ve made houmous, (or should that be hummus, hummous, humous or even homous...?) it always seemed to lack a certain 'zing'.

I’m very fortunate in having an ‘outpost’ of Borough Olives at our local market where I happily spend a small fortune on tapenade, harissa, sun-dried tomatoes and, of course, gorgeous olives. Luckily for me they also sell really delicious houmous, so for the last couple of years I haven’t bothered making my own when theirs is so much better. Thing is, they don’t always have it on Tuesdays when I shop (I can’t be fagged with going shopping on a Saturday; far too many people for my liking) so last week I studied the ingredients list displayed on the stall, committed it to memory, and came home to have another go at it myself.

Well, it wasn’t half bad – no, actually, it was very good; I think I might be getting the hang of it finally. I used more oil and lemon juice than I have in the past and I think that may be where I’ve been going wrong – I also added a smidge of cumin, just to ‘warm’ it up a bit.

Lovely with a few breadsticks and some crunchy veg and, just to prove it, here's a pic of my lunch today...a nice summery type of lunch, I think you'll agree; what a pity it was raining stair-rods outside!

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp tahini
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 tbsp warm water
¼ tsp ground cumin
chopped fresh coriander to taste

a little olive oil for drizzling

Put all the ingredients, except the coriander, in a food processor and blitz until almost smooth. Add the coriander and blitz again for a few seconds.

Scoop into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavours come together. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Aubergine and Mushroom Lasagne

You will see from the second picture on this post why I don’t often make lasagne…apart from making it in individual dishes, (which I don’t have) how the hell do you serve it so that it looks as good on the plate as it does in the dish? Why does it never sit nicely on the plate so that you can see the separate layers? Answers on a postcard, please, because I’m damned if I know!

Despite its slightly iffy appearance this lasagne had a really nice depth of flavour; we both enjoyed it a lot. I love aubergine in any way shape or form; put it together with mushrooms, pasta and a cheesy sauce and I’m a very happy bunny indeed.

Incidentally, there was some of the aubergine sauce left over so I might have a go at making a quesadilla-type thingy for lunch tomorrow; handy to eat whilst watching Andy Murray in the semis at Wimbledon. I’ll be yelling at the television and my nerves will be shredded; definitely not the type of thing to watch on an empty stomach….Come on, Andy!!

1 medium aubergine, chopped into large dice
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved or quartered
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
75ml red wine
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano

4 or 5 sheets of fresh lasagne

250ml milk
20g butter
25g plain flour
1 tsp Marigold Bouillon stock powder
75g mature cheddar, grated
2 tbsp grated parmesan-style cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large pan; add the aubergine, mushrooms and onion and sauté over a medium heat for 10 minutes, add the rest of the sauce ingredients, bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes.

When cooked, put a layer of sauce in the base of an ovenproof dish then cover with a sheet of lasagne; repeat three or four times ending with a sheet of lasagne.

Heat oven to 180C

Put the milk, butter, flour and Marigold stock powder into a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens; simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the cheddar; pour the cheese sauce over the top layer of lasagne then sprinkle with grated ‘parmesan’.

Bake at 180C for 45 minutes until golden and bubbling

Serves 2

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Potato, Three Bean and Sesame Salad

I feel I should warn you I’m typing this with one eye on the telly watching Andy Murray playing Ivo Karlovic at Wimbledon; if I wander off into incoherency at least you’ll know why!

I thought you might like to see a pic of some of our ‘Swift’ potatoes which we dug up two days ago. The rest of the veg patch is still a bit hit and miss but at least the spuds have enjoyed the rain. Despite the recent awful weather we seem to be having three days of summer at the moment (I hope this isn’t all we get!) so a potato salad seemed like a good idea yesterday.

This one is based on a recipe by Michel Roux I saw mentioned on a messageboard, but I changed it around slightly; I was doubtful about the sesame dressing, but I thought this Michel bloke can cook a bit and probably knows what he’s about (ha!) so I decided to go with it. Good call…the dressing was fabulous; sweet, sharp and tangy all at once.

(Incidentally, Andy has just beaten Karlovic in four sets...good man!)

400g new potatoes
100g frozen edamame beans
100g frozen baby broad beans
100g fine green beans
½ a red onion, finely sliced
small handful fresh coriander leaves

2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
juice of 2 lemons
black pepper

Chop the potatoes into bite-size chunks and boil or steam until just tender; drain and plunge into cold water then drain again.

Top and tail the green beans and cut into thirds. Put all three types of bean in half an inch of boiling water in a small pan, bring them back to the boil and simmer for three minutes. Drain, plunge into cold water and drain again.

Put the potatoes, beans, red onion and half the coriander leaves in a large bowl. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, drizzle over the salad and mix gently with your hands so as not to break the potatoes.

Scatter the remaining coriander leaves over the salad before serving.

Served 2 for dinner with some left to have on the side with a sandwich next day.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Emma Bridgewater China

Regular readers will have noticed that I use Emma Bridgewater ‘Toast’ china; I like it a lot and have spent a small fortune on it – just ask Mr Simply Veg!

I’ve noticed the glaze cracking on some of the pieces recently; I don’t put my china in the oven or on a hot hob so I can’t see why it’s happening. I don’t think this is acceptable and have contacted the company to see what they have to say. Surely mugs and plates should last longer than 2½ years?

I’m not expecting much joy from them to be honest – they’ll probably say it’s my fault for daring to serve hot food on a dinner plate or for putting hot coffee in a coffee mug!

Does anyone else have this china and this problem?  I’d be very interested to hear of your experiences.

At the company’s request I’ve sent back three mugs for them to inspect to see if they’re faulty. I suspect I know what their reply will be but, who knows, I could be pleasantly surprised; I’ll let you know when I hear anything.

Update 12.7.12

Well, I have finally received three new mugs to replace the three I returned. Getting the replacements was a bit like pulling teeth and involved an exchange of no fewer than fourteen emails and one phone call...! I could have walked to the factory in Stoke-on-Trent and back in the time it took.

Sadly, there was no replacement for the three dinner plates and four mugs which have already gone to the great china dump in the sky; it should also be noted that in the last week the glaze has started cracking on another two mugs. Hmmm…here we go again.

I won’t be chucking all my Toast china in the bin just yet and buying a whole new set but, when I do, it most certainly won’t be from Emma Bridgewater. Their customer service leaves a hell of a lot to be desired – I had the distinct impression that they were trying to stonewall me, hoping I’d give up and go away. They clearly don't know me. This particular china was not worth the money and, frankly, for an outlay of well over £1000 I expect better.

I won't ever buy another piece of Emma Bridgewater china - it looks nice but looks aren't everything.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Garden Fruit and Vegetables

I was reading this piece in The Telegraph this morning and I have to say the strawberry growers have my sympathy. Our vegetable plot this year is looking as sick as a dog. The weather we’ve had recently has been awful – it’s been incredibly wet but, sadly, very little warm weather to go with it.  

I don't think some of our crops will recover, to be honest; most of the carrot seeds haven’t germinated, the tomato plants look pathetic, the courgette plants aren’t putting on any weight at all and the peas and French beans are doing a good impression of ground cover, bless ‘em! It’s a proper tale of woe because the fruit trees are also a sorry sight – I can actually count the apples on the tree....there are eight! Hopefully, underground, the onions, beetroot and potatoes will be alright, although I’m feeling a bit nervous because I can’t keep an eye on them! One tiny ray of light has been the salad leaves – I picked the first of our lollo rosso and rocket a couple of days ago; keep going lads, we’re depending on you!  

When I think back to this time last year they were practically giving away soft fruits on the market – it was so cheap I was making jam like it was going out of fashion; no such luck this year yet, most of the soft fruits available at the moment are imported and therefore much more expensive. I'm still living in hope of a few decent English strawberries whilst I watch Andy Murray get beaten again at Wimbledon, though.

Astonishingly it’s the Summer Solstice next week, after which the days start getting shorter again and the nights start drawing in!  Aargghh...!!! We haven’t had any summer yet!

If you’re attempting to grow your own this year I really hope you’re having better luck than us; if it all suddenly bursts into life I’ll let you know, but I’m not holding my breath…

Friday, 15 June 2012

Easy Buttermilk Scones

I only started making scones successfully last year after a lifetime of trying and failing but there’s no stopping me now – I can rattle off a batch of scones at the drop of a hat! One thing, however, has been bugging me: after stamping out the scones with a cutter you have to bring the dough together again and cut out another couple to finish up the dough – well, those last couple of scones are never as light and fluffy as the first ones. I needed to work out an answer to this conundrum….

Well, Mr Simply Veg and I were reminiscing the other day about corner shops (remember those?) that used to be near our homes when we were children (about a million years ago!) – he mentioned a shop he knew that was like Arkwright’s on ‘Open All Hours’ and I remembered a bakery where we used to buy warm Hot X Buns on Good Fridays…are you still with me? It came to me from the deep recesses of my memory that said bakery used to sell wedge shaped scones, presumably in order to avoid wasting any dough. There you have it, I found my answer – it’s scone wedges for me from now on!

It doesn’t answer the question, though, of why almost every recipe I have ever seen tells you to make round scones…it’ll just have to remain another one of life’s impenetrables.

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder
50g unsalted butter 
50g caster sugar
125ml buttermilk, approx

a little sugar for sprinkling

Sift the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl; rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then mix in enough buttermilk to give you a soft but not sticky dough (I usually add 125ml then see how it feels and add another couple of teaspoonsful if it needs it).

Knead the dough very lightly then pat it out with your fingers on a lightly floured surface to a circle about 3cm deep.

Using a very sharp knife cut the dough into eight segments and transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake at 200C for about 12 minutes. If the scones cosy up together a bit while they’re cooking, just pull them apart whilst they’re still warm.

Serve warm with plenty of butter, cream or jam (or possibly all three!)

Makes 8

Friday, 8 June 2012

Stuffed Baguettes

This is one of those ‘it shouldn’t work…. but it does’ recipes. I saw it on the now defunct BBC Messageboard ages ago (Msg #8) - thank you AlisonWright. It sounded interesting but I was a bit doubtful to be honest; I finally got round to giving it a go when we had my sister and brother-in-law round for a ‘kitchen-table’ type lunch a couple of weeks ago. Well, I'm happy to say, the baguettes went down a storm. The original recipe was far too meaty for my liking so a few adaptations were necessary but I kept to the basic recipe as much as possible.

They’re quite filling so you really only need a side salad to go with them or possibly some decent chutney and a few olives.

This recipe is definitely a keeper and will be making further appearances throughout the summer. Incidentally, I use the word ‘summer’ very loosely; it’s blowing a gale and throwing it down with rain here at the moment! (Don't tell anyone, but I've got the central heating on...!)

4 part-baked baguettes
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
200g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped parsley
4 eggs
2 tsp Dijon mustard

Fry the onion in the olive oil until softened and golden; set aside to cool. Slice the tops off the baguettes lengthways and discard then tear the bread from the centres to leave you with four canoe shapes; leave the walls of the baguettes about 1cm thick – if you make them too thin they’ll collapse when you cook them….trust me, I know! Crumble this bread into a large bowl; mix in the sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, cheese, chopped herbs and cooled fried onion. Beat the eggs with the mustard and stir into the breadcrumb mix.

Spoon this mixture into the four bread shells and place on a baking sheet, making sure they’re level.

Bake for 15-20 mins at 180C until golden.

Cut into three wedges on the diagonal before serving with salad.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mixed Bean Salad with Tomato Dressing

Well, I’m amazed to be able to say that the weather forecasters were right for once in their lives; the weather has been glorious for the last couple of days so, following on from what I said a couple of weeks back, I had a go at recreating another one of my ‘This is Not from Waitrose’ salads yesterday. I decided to go for the mixed bean variety.

The bean part was easy but the dressing required some thought. I wanted a dressing that was tangy without being citrusy and something that would be thick enough to cling to the beans; I definitely didn’t want to end up with something resembling soup with the beans swimming in a sea of dressing! I decided to go for a tomato and balsamic combo; it took a while to get just the taste I was after but I got there eventually.

Now, I have to tell you that we had this for dinner last night with quiche and new potatoes…and we had to stop ourselves from eating it all – we loved it! There was about two spoonfuls left (!) which we ate alongside our lunchtime salad sandwich today; I’m happy to report that it was just as good after 24 hours in the fridge.

1 tin mixed beans, well-rinsed and drained
100g fine green beans
50g frozen soya beans
½ a Romano red pepper, diced
¼ of a medium red onion, finely chopped
small handful of roughly chopped curly parsley

2 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 heaped tsp sun-dried tomato paste
4 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp water
black pepper

Top and tail the green beans and cut into thirds; bring ½ inch of water to the boil in a small saucepan, add the green beans and the soya beans, bring back to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and plunge into cold water then drain well again.

Put the mixed beans and the cooled green and soya beans into a bowl, add the diced red pepper, the finely chopped onion and the parsley and mix well.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a blender and blitz until almost smooth.
Stir the dressing into the salad, cover with cling film and refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavours amalgamate.

Serves 4 or maybe even 6 as part of a barbecue or buffet (or 2 extremely greedy simple veggies!)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Fruity Tagine with Lemon and Almond Couscous

The weather here has been awful for the last few days, constantly grey and cold, nothing like May should be at all. In a spirit of optimism we planted a whole lot of vegetable seeds last week but it’s been so chilly I’m not entirely convinced they’ll survive. However, there are reports of things warming up a bit later in the week; hmm…I’ll believe it when I see it!

So…what to eat? It’s too cold for light summery meals but I feel heavier winter meals should be over by now. I just didn’t know what to do for dinner last night; it was a case of opening the fridge to see what inspired me.

I finished up making this tagine; I’ve followed tagine recipes in the past that I’ve not been too impressed with, they just didn’t seem to do it for me, so this time I made it up as I went along, adding more of this and less of that to suit our taste. I make no claims as to its authenticity (I know you don’t usually find paneer in a tagine!) but we enjoyed it and I’ll definitely make it again.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp each of cumin, paprika and cinnamon
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into batons
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
1 tin chopped tomatoes
400ml stock
1 tbsp honey
250g paneer, cubed
1 tin chickpeas, drained
100g dried apricots, halved
handful of chopped coriander

200g couscous
275ml boiling stock
zest and juice of 1 lemon
50g toasted flaked almonds
handful of chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion over a medium heat for five minutes; add the garlic and the spices and cook for a further minute or two.

Add everything else, except the chopped coriander, stir well and bring to the boil; pop a lid on and turn the heat down. Leave to simmer gently for 45 minutes.

About 10 minutes before the tagine is ready put the couscous, zest and juice of the lemon in a large bowl; add the boiling stock, stir once, cover the bowl with a plate and leave for 8-10 minutes. When all the stock has been absorbed, fluff up the couscous with a fork and stir in the toasted almonds and the chopped parsley.

Stir ¾ of the coriander into the tagine before serving and sprinkle the rest of it on top.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Gnocchi Bake

I used ready-made gnocchi here because I wanted a quick dinner after we’d been faffing around in the garden planting seeds (carrot, beetroot and courgette, since you ask). Yes, I know gnocchi is easy to make and I’m being very lazy, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t!

This is pure comfort food; easy, quick and incredibly tasty. Serve with a tomato and red onion salad dressed with some olive oil and a splash of balsamic; add a mindless telly programme and a glass of something cold (that'll be water for me...the wine is for Mr Simply Veg) put your feet up on the sofa and enjoy.

250g gnocchi (½ a pack)
1 head of broccoli (about 350g)
350ml milk
25g butter
30g plain flour
1 tsp Marigold Bouillon stock powder
100g cheddar cheese, grated

Break the broccoli into florets. Bring a large pan of water to the boil; add the gnocchi to the boiling water, when they start to bob to the surface add the broccoli and cook for 1 minute exactly. Drain well and plunge into a bowl of cold water to halt the cooking process; drain again and put to one side while you make the cheese sauce.

Put the milk, butter, flour and Marigold stock powder into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens; simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in half the cheddar. Stir the gnocchi and broccoli carefully into the cheese sauce.

Tip into an ovenproof dish and top with the rest of the grated cheddar. Bake at 200C for 15 minutes until bubbling and golden.