Friday, 6 December 2013

Merry Veggie Christmas :)

This year, I have made a meal which brings together elements from my favourite Christmas dinners over the years. 

The heart of the dish is Thanksgiving Stuffing, a recipe from America, which is essentially a savoury bread and butter pudding. It is a fantastic winter comfort food, thick and crunchy and gooey!

To accompany this I have made Parmesan roasted Parsnips, which have a slightly nutty flavour, Honey roasted Carrots, whith a touch of vinegar to balance the sweetness, Steamed Curly Kale, for freshness, and The Best Gravy Ever.

I do have to point out that the parmesan is NOT vegetarian - it contains rennet. My personal relationship with cheese is that I have never bought, cooked with, or eaten vegetarian cheese, so I haven't used it here. If you don't have an issue with non-vegetarian cheese then knock yourself out :) but if you would prefer to omit it, or experiment with other flavours with parsnips then go for it :) maybe even leave a comment with the alternative that you used!

(I also added a big spoonful of cranberry sauce on the side, it's an accompanying treat which works with this meal, and definitely adds to the Christmassy flavours!)

Here are the cooking times. Basically the main elements can be prepared and cooked at around the same time, and you can make the gravy and steam the kale just before plating up.

Stuffing = 5 mins prep, 50 mins cook
Parsnips = 2 mins prep, 40 mins cook
Carrots = 5 mins prep, 45 mins cook
Gravy = 15 mins cook
Kale = 5-10 mins cook

To prepare the Stuffing, I cut half of a French Bread Loaf in half, and then cut that half into cubes.

In a frying pan I melted some butter and gently cooked a chopped onion and one chopped celery stick.

While this was cooking I mixed the french bread with two beaten eggs, a teaspoon of pepper, half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of dried sage.

When the celery and onions were soft I added them to the mixing bowl and slowly stirred 500ml of vegetable stock in too.

This was poured into a shallow roasting tin, covered with foil and cooked for 45 minutes in 160 degrees of heat.

For the last five to ten minutes of cooking I took the foil off of the tin to make the top crispy and golden.

 For the parsnips, I peeled and chopped them into equal sized batons and boiled them for six minutes, to make them tender.

After draining them, I coated them in a mix of 100g of grated parmesan and five teaspoons of flour.

The next step is to heat a little bit of oil on a baking tray over the hob, and place the coated parsnip ontop. This is to make sure that the 'batter' goes crispy, rather than going straight into the oven which can leave them a bit soggy.

 After 30 minutes in the oven, they were crispy and smelling awesome!

To make the Honey roasted Carrots, I peeled a large handful of these Chantenay variety (they were only £1 in the supermarket for a large bag!). Drizzled in oil and tossed in a shake of pepper and salt, they went into the oven at 170 degrees.

After 30 minutes I brought them out to add a little shake of White Wine Vinegar and half a teaspoon of honey. Then they went back into the oven for another 15 minutes.

To make The Best Gravy Ever, you only need these ingredients: Butter, flour, marmite, soy sauce, tomato puree, vegetable stock and hot water.

To start, we have to make a roux. This is simply equal amounts of butter and flour, ideally in a non-stick pan, over a medium heat.

The aim with this recipe is to keep stirring the mixture until it turns a light nutty brown colour, so that all of the flour-flavour is cooked away.

At this stage the stock needs to be added, a little at a time. This makes the roux turn quite dough-like, but by adding the stock gradually, it will thin out.

Once the stock was finished I kept topping up the sauce with hot water, until it was a normal gravy consistency - thicker than water, but thin enough to pour off of a spoon.

Now it is time to add the flavour! In went a large, heaped, teaspoon of tomato puree...

...a teaspoon of Marmite...

 ...and teaspoon of Soy Sauce. Keeping the pan over a medium-low heat, I stirred all of these ingredients in until it was smooth. (I then added another small teaspoonful of Marmite for a little extra flavour). 

Finally, in a frying pan with a splash of water, I steamed a handful of Curly Kale for just over five minutes, with a lid on. 

Time to plate up!

Merry Meat-Free Christmas! 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ratatouille, Halloumi and Couscous...with a meat-eater's alternative

I don't know about you, but I get cravings for fruit and vegetables....probably the same way that people crave chocolate or chips :) don't get me wrong, I love chips and chocolate, but every now and again I will be aching for some fresh, juicy vegetables too!

This meal is cheap, at around £4.95 for the vegetarian version and £6.15 for the meat option, is easy to make and has great Mediterranean flavours.

For the Ratatouille, I chopped up Aubergine, Peppers, Tomatoes, Courgette, garlic and onion...

And added them to a hot pan with a little oil.

(Five minutes later I added another two or three cloves of garlic, because I am a bit of a garlic fiend, if you haven't already gathered that from my other posts!)

As the vegetables were frying they were starting to get a bit dry and needed some liquid. There were no tins of tomatoes in the house, but since I already had fresh tomatoes in the pan, I mixed half a tube of tomato puree with some cold tap water and made my own, basic, tomato sauce...and added some extra puree for more tomato-flavour :D 

While the vegetables were cooking away and the sauce was reducing down, I fried some sausages for my boyfriend's half of the meal. (I chose Lincolnshire sausages, which were flavoured with thyme, sage and black pepper. My instinct was to buy sausages with garlic, red wine and black pepper - to compliment the French Ratatouille - but I was advised that this might overpower the rest of the meal.)  I also boiled a large glass of water in the large pan, and added a vegetable stock cube when it had boiled.

To the hot stock, I added the same sized glass full of dried Couscous. This is such a great carbohydrate to have with a meal, because it takes no work at all! I just left the pan, with a lid for five minutes, and before serving fluffed the couscous up with a fork. Voila! 

Once the sausages were cooked, I chopped them up, put them in the smaller pan, added half of the Ratatouille and left the pan over a little heat, to keep it hot.

In the same, cleaned, frying pan I added a whole block of chopped Halloumi and fried it over a medium-high heat, with a tiny bit of oil, until it was crispy and golden on one side.

The couscous and halloumi are strong salty flavours, they work well against the sweetness of the Ratatouille, but a few good shakes of ground pepper are really needed to balance out the meal as a whole.

My Mediterranean, vegetarian meal...

...and my boyfriend's meaty version :) 

 Bon appetit :) 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Night-In Fajitas

MMmmmMMMmmmm :) I love making fajitas! Having a little bowl of this and a little bowl of that on the table, being able to make up your wraps to your own tastes, is more fun and interactive than other standard meals...especially in a group, with your family or housemates, or for a cute night in with your other half <3

I've used Quorn Chicken pieces, and because I was cooking for two, I used the whole 500g bag. 

In a fairly big frying pan, with a glug of sunflower oil, I fried up the frozen Quorn.

When there was some colour on the Quorn, I added half an orange pepper, half a red pepper and half a long sweet red pepper, all sliced thinly for convenient fajita wrapping. Because I had a big box of cherry tomatoes, I halved a handful and added those too, for extra juiciness. 

To keep the costs low, you could add a generous few shakes of Cumin Powder, or Five Spice if you have some in the cupboard, however we went the whole hog and bought Old El Paso Smoky BBQ Fajita spices, which did smell good stirred into the mix!

By putting the lid on the pan, and cooking it over a medium heat, this keeps all of the ingredients as moist and juicy as possible.

To prepare the other bowls of ingredients, I shredded a third of an iceberg lettuce, grated a small block of cheese and - being lazy - opened a jar of Salsa. 
(If it wasn't hungry o'clock, and if the local supermarket had a lime, I would have chopped up lots of cherry tomatoes, sliced spring onions and squeezed a wedge of lime, to make my own salsa...but like I said this was a bit of a brand-blow-out meal.)

Final tip, I piled up the Tortilla wraps on a big plate and microwaved them for one minute, to make them floppy and warm, ready to be filled up and munched. If you have a bit more time, you could layer them between baking paper and put them in the oven to warm, and crisp, up instead.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Creamy Light Garlic Pasta with Spinach and Rainbow Chard

I normally make this dish with mushrooms, but when I opened the box up....they were rather mouldy! So I had to improvise a bit :)

This dish is meant to be indulgent, full of flavour and comforting, but also light.

Up until very recently I have made this sauce with single - or double - cream, but I've found that this version is tastier and healthier :)

I put a small handful of spaghetti in boiling water to cook, while I started on the sauce.

First of all I gently fried three big cloves of garlic in a knob of butter - this gives more flavour than oil, but is less healthy.

After the buttery garlic had wonderfully perfumed the kitchen, I added three big spoonfuls of creme fraiche to the pan. This was quickly followed by a generous spoonful of Le Roule (see the Slightly More Interesting Soup recipe for a photo). This is a creamy, garlicy cheese which vamps up the flavour. 

When the spaghetti was three minutes from being cooked, I added two large handfuls of baby spinach and rainbow chard (from the same bag of prewashed leaves) to the sauce. I kept the heat at a low-medium, so as to not mess with the consistency of the creme fraiche, and put a lid on the pan to steam the leaves. 

At this point I drained the pasta, returned it to the pan and shook the pepper and salt pots over it, to give it a lot of flavour. The pepper goes really well with the minimal, yet strong, flavours of this dish.

I was so hungry at this point, that I didn't pay much attention to presentation! Hopefully you will have an idea of how it looked from these pictures :)

I plated up the pasta and poured the sauce and lightly steamed leaves ontop.

Buon Appetito