Spicy parsnip soup

Parsnips. Love ’em. The second most festive vegetable – but sprout soup doesn’t exactly appeal  😉 So, parsnips it was, and the quest was on to find something a bit interesting to do with them. Step forward: spicy parsnip soup, with ginger and garam masala, creamy but not too unhealthy.

spicy-parsnip-soup

It’s been a long time since I made a new soup that impressed me quite as much as this one! I was a little concerned about using milk in a soup, but it worked fine, and means you get that creaminess without the calories of cream.

It does mean I’m not so sure about freezing any leftovers, which is one reason for the odd quantities in the recipe – well, that and I only had three parsnips! Actually, I quite like doing a smaller batch once in a while: less work, and no risk of getting fed up of the soup before it’s eaten!

One note: this isn’t the prettiest of soups, particularly while it’s cooking where the spices turn it a rather odd mushroomy colour. Don’t let that put you off – it tastes fantastic!

Butternut squash and sweet potato soup

Oh dear – I’ve managed to wander off again from this site, haven’t I? Cooking has been happening, and indeed I’ve had a minor foody revolution after taking some nutrition ‘lessons’! But apparently I don’t get much mileage out of salads when it comes to food blogging (which I should work on, next year, as there’s a lot to be said!), but now that the weather is heading back to autumn, we find ourselves back in soup season and boy, do I have a lot of soup recipes! 🙂

The veg of the moment has been butternut squash, and I’ve been using quite a bit in butternut and red pepper soup of late. However, as it gets colder I’ve been hankering after something a little more substantial-feeling, and I discovered this butternut and sweet potato recipe lurking in my archives – you know, I don’t even remember making this?! Time to rectify that!

This recipe is one that lends itself well to my ‘bung everything in a pan’ method. I was quite surprised not to be roasting the squash, but nope: all in the pan. I could call this “all the orange” soup: squash, sweet potato, carrots, and red lentils.

Once cooked, I was a little surprised to see a slightly oiliness to the soup – but I hadn’t bothered using oil, or softening the onions. Ah! That’ll be from the tomato puree! But, a little fat in your cooking isn’t bad, and indeed can help make the flavour react better on your tongue, or so I read!

This is a nice hearty soup, with a thick and satisfying texture. both from the lentils and the starches in the sweet potato. The mix of flavours has a sweetness plus a little bit of depth. I think it’d go very well with some ham added, maybe even some beans, if you wanted to make it a bigger meal. Experiment with the herbs used, too, as this is the main additional flavour and therefore quite prominent.

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Enjoy! 🙂

Oatmeal raisin cookies

Everyone should have a cookie recipe to call upon, and oatmeal raisin are the best kind of cookies! My recipe is here.

photo of cookiesI’m offering these as a ‘sorry I haven’t posted in so long’ sort of thing – and come on, who doesn’t like a nice cookie? 🙂 (yup, feeling pretty confident of forgiveness… lol!)

I’ve actually made these three times recently, for different people (and some for me each time, of course – quality control is a must! Ahem). Attempts one and three saw me make a half-batch – nice and easy to halve all the quantities in the recipe, apart from the egg. First time, I used the other half of the egg in a different cookie recipe (choc chip, weren’t nearly as good), and today I saved the other half to make egg-fried rice as part of my dinner.

Making the full recipe, I was actually quite amazed at just how MUCH dough I had, and how many cookies that translated to – I’ve said 24, but it felt more like 94 (I wish?!) with the endless batches going in and out of the oven! Fortunately, the dough keeps really well in the fridge, sealed in tuperware, for a few days. Doing it this way means you get lovely, freshly-baked cookies (the best kind!) several times out of the same initial work making the dough.

Nom! 🙂

Spicy carrot and potato soup

spicy carrot and potato soupWhere would the new year be without lots of warming soups? I’ve been stuck in a rut enjoying cooking up batches of my usual favourites, such as winter veg and lentil, hearty lentil with kale, and minestrone with different beans and pasta shapes.

But it was high time to try a new recipe – or to put it another way, my fridge was full of veggies to use up, what could I find that would help?!

Step forward Spicy Carrot and Potato Soup. It’s been a while since I did a purely veg soup (no lentils or beans) as I tend to find them less satisfying. The heat from the spices here, however, add not only a lot of flavour but a sense that you’ve eaten your fill, however odd that seems!

As ever, I went with the super-easy, bung-everything-in-pan approach, and it worked excellently. Still raving about my stick blender for ease of pureeing the soup once it’s cooked, too.

As you can (just about) see from the photo, I served this with some cheesy rolls (part-baked rolls, taken out of the oven ~1 min ahead of time, halved and topped with some garlic powder, cheese, and chives before getting the last 1-2 minutes to melt the cheese). Made for a super-yummy, healthy, winter tea 🙂

Foodie resolutions

A very belated Happy New Year to anyone who happens to be reading! I’ve been dreadful at getting back to this blog, despite racking up the recipes to post and taking photos of just about everything – all bar the writing about it, it seems! So there’s the first of my foodie resolutions for the year: upload the photos, post the recipes, and generally catch up with the backlog!

My other foodie resolutions look a little like this:

  • Try new recipes – the obvious one 🙂 I’m going to go easy on myself and say one each month.
  • Try cooking new foods – thinking halloumi, which I’m amazed I’ve only nibbled once, and perhaps polenta. And maybe this is the year I finally try making scones (I know, I know – hanging my head in shame 😉 )
  • Try a new technique or two – like the spiralizer!
  • Try some new eateries and/or something new instead of the old favourites on the menu.
  • Finally finish (ie restart!) inventorying the freezer, and keep it up to date! Perfect time for a clear-out, too.

Anyone else have foodie resolutions for the year – and how are they going so far?

Slow-cooked chicken casserole

Much as I love my slow cooker (aka crock pot), my results can be a little hit and miss. Yesterday’s attempts at a fairly simple chicken casserole, however, were so amazing that I had to scribble down my recipe (here) so I can do this one again!

slow cooked chicken casserole

First to mention, I have one of the smaller-sized slow cookers (about 1.5 litres, I think), which is supposed to be a 2-portion version. However, I tend to cook my accompaniment separately (shout out for frozen mashed potatoes, btw!) which means I get 3 or even 4 portions out of a batch – certainly, 4 out of this batch!

Starting with chicken – I suppose I’m a little ‘mean’ with this, using less than 1 breast per person, but I like to balance it with more veg – I used carrots, parsnip, and leek as my veggies. Top tip: leave the carrots far more chunky than you would usually – the slow cooker makes them lovely and tender, and it’s nice to have a substantial ‘chunk’ as an added feature in the meal. This is pretty important, in my view, to balance the super-tender chicken which can flake into next to nothingness after a long cook. The leeks also more or less vanished into the sauce, along with the onion which I’d only added for flavour.

Flavour was the big aim for this dish. First, a splash of white wine. I’d advise going easy on this – wine can turn a little bitter in a slow cooker, I’ve found. Then some herbs and spices: a little garlic puree, a splash of (vegetarian, so fish-free) worcestershire sauce for that ‘umami-ness’, and a good shake of chicken seasoning (I have the Swartz spice one) – these are all rather unspecific, my apologies, but the phrase ‘to taste’ is a saver here 😉

I’m a recent convert to the ‘stock pot’ style of stock (no, I don’t make my own!), and used about ⅔ of one – the rest will go into my risotto tomorrow. I also added some chicken gravy powder – just a little, for flavour and, I’d hoped, a little thickness – no measurement to share, sorry! Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients to about ⅔ – too much liquid is a common mistake (for me!) with slow cooking. Mix it all well, especially trying to distribute the stock.

I’d prepped all this the night before, so as I was heading out to work I put the crock pot on low and left it for about 8 hours. The house smelled amazing when I got back last night!

Alas, I hadn’t quite got the liquid right, so it was looking fairly running – don’t panic! As I stirred, a lot of the chicken broke up, and the leeks broke down, both adding a little thickness. I also added some cornflour – mixed with a little cold water – and left the whole thing uncovered on high for about half an hour while I prepared the rest of the meal. I know some people find the point of slow cooking to have the entire meal in ‘one pot’ fashion, but I like the extra portion of ‘main’ and a little separation for the sides. Besides, frozen mashed potato is surprisingly nice, and ready in a few minutes!

Rather impressed myself with this one – for a ‘made up’ recipe, it was absolutely delicious! 🙂

Pork stew

Or to give it its full name: pork, dried plum, and apple stew. Ahem. Okay, okay – dried plums are more commonly known as prunes, but please don’t let that word scare you! They are sweet and yummy, and go so well with the rich mix of flavours in this dish (recipe here).

Hmm, think my food photography needs a little work, too! ;)

Hmm, think my food photography needs a little work, too! 😉

I’ve been seriously slacking with this blog, but also with cooking in general. My poor freezer is looking quite bare – something I’m in dire need of remedying before I embark on the madness that is NaNoWriMo, whereupon I will have no time to cook – barely enough time to eat, with all the writing! 😉 – and need some healthy food stocked up.

This stew has been a family favourite for years now. It can look a little daunting – lots of ingredients, some (mustard powder?!) a little niche, but it’s not really all that difficult, and is both pretty healthy and very, very delicious! Not to mention that it’s a little different from so many of the things that I make. However, like most of my fav recipes, a big batch can be split into 4 or 5 portions and frozen for those moments – just home from work, or mid-NaNo… or both!

Let’s talk stir fry!

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One of my frequent dinners is stir fry: quicky, easy, healthy. I’m also of the opinion that not every meal has to be from a recipe, and the busy cook shouldn’t have to feel guilty about taking shortcuts – like buying a sauce. That said, every bought sauce can be improved a little…! I’m currently partial to the Blue Dragon sachets (esp. sweet chilli or teryaki) and then jazz it up with a little extra garlic and ginger, and maybe soy sauce.

The base of my stir fries is veg: lots and lots of vegetables! It’s not a stir fry to me without carrots, onion, peppers, mange tout, and then maybe some broccoli or pak choi or bean sprouts. Bean sprouts are rare: they only come in such huge bags that a single person would struggle to get through!

Once in a very blue moon, I’ve been known to buy a pre-prepared pack of stir fry veg. These are for those ultra-lazy moments, or when I’m craving a bit of a shake up. I love the ones that come with sliced water chestnuts – for the crunch! – or bamboo shoots. I used to buy tins of these things, but again they can be difficult to get through for one.

Even if you’re preparing your own veg – and I find chopping vegetables quite meditative (call me odd, but it’s calming!) – do yourself a favour and do at least two portions. This means you get a prep-free meal in a day or two, and lets you split things like peppers and carrots between two meals.

For the protein, I use either diced chicken breast (I pre-dice it, and freeze in individual portions), sliced minute steak (the really thin kind), or tofu – the Cauldron marinated tofu is excellent. I also like to throw in a small handful of raw cashew nuts towards the end.

So, today’s stir fry adventure went like this: first heat a little oil in a wok – big wok! – and cook the chicken until starting to colour. Then add the onion for a few minutes – it needs a little extra, I find – along with some garlic puree. I then added the rest of the sliced veg and some ground ginger or puree, letting it all fry for a few minutes before adding half a sachet of Blue Dragon teryaki sauce – the other half keeps well in the freezer, fyi. Finally a scattering of cashew nuts before serving, with rice or noodles. Total time: 10 minutes (not including the rice)!

Tl;dr:

  • oodles of veg – and prep ahead of time; keep a second portion in a sealed tub in the fridge for a day or two
  • freeze individual portions of pre-diced chicken breast for a quick make – defrost in the microwave if you can’t plan ahead
  • no shame in using a bought sauce! 2-portion sachets can often have the second half frozen, even if the packet doesn’t mention it
  • spice up the sauce with a little extra garlic, ginger, soy, chilli flakes, lime juice, or even a splash of sherry – and these are just a few of the possibilities!
  • serve with rice or noodles – the latter make the whole dish take about 10 minutes to cook.

Let me know in the comments – what do YOU do with a stir fry?

stirfry

Home made coleslaw – take 1

coleslaw

Summer’s practically over before it’s begun, it seems, and salad days are a little dubious. However, early this year I was making the effort to use the season to eat more healthily, and so I thought it’d be nice to try for a healthier coleslaw to go with my salads.

I was overwhelmed with choice! I remember an apple coleslaw from my childhood: should I try making that? Or one of the numerous variations suggestion… Nope, first go, let’s try for classic: carrot, (spring) onion, and cabbage, as shown in my recipe.

The ‘healthier’ part was using Greek yogurt (I like the Fage 0% fat one, for all sorts of things) to replace at least part of the mayonnaise. In the end it didn’t really taste lighter – it was almost sickly rich, to be honest! I added another recipe’s suggestion of cider vinegar – just a splash – to try and cut it.

I think I need to experiment a whole lot more with this one, to get the right mix. And try adding some sweetness – grated apple, perhaps.

Do you have a favourite, healthier take on the classic coleslaw recipe? Do share! 🙂

In Season: rhubarb

rhubarb photo

Cooking in season is something I’d love to do more of. It’s a difficult thing these days, though, with everything available all year from supermarkets. Even with the best intentions, it can be a case of trial and error to discover that, ew, cucumber (for instance) is pretty nasty out of season!

One way around the confusion is, of course, to grow your own – something else I’d love to do more of! Right now, however, I’m happy to help my dad use up the surplus from his garden, and the one thing he has in abundance at this time of year is rhubarb!

My usual method for dealing with this glut of rhubarb is simply to chop – top tip, use scissors instead of a knife! – it into a big casserole, add a couple of peeled and sliced apples (of the sweeter eating variety rather than cooking apples – there’s enough tang from the rhubarb already!) and stew it in the microwave – my 850W takes 10-12 minutes depending on the amount of fruit.

This mixture, cooled, keeps in the fridge in a sealed tub for up to a week. Or, it can be frozen and defrosted for later use.

What use? Well, anything you like! Pie or crumble, anyone? In an attempt to be healthier – not to mention lazier 😉 – I tend to just reheat a portion in the microwave and serve with yogurt. For a little more indulgence, I’ve taken to adding a sprinkle of Dorset Cereals’ Honey Granola, with pecans and almonds, inspired by a colleague treating us all at work to some amazing Rhubarb Squares (donating the stalks I can’t use has major benefits!) – not exactly healthy, but they were gooey and rich and utterly amazing! 🙂

What are your favourite uses for rhubarb? Please do share in the comments! 🙂