Caponata

caponata photo

I really should be blogging more about cooking in lockdown, I guess. It’s changed everything, including eating habits – and not necessarily for the best. I’m now at the point of trying to go for some healthier choices to combat several weeks of stress-relieving grazing, indulgences of cake cake cake, and just the weirdness of sourcing supplies.

First up then, has been a pot of caponata. I was lucky enough to be fed some of Kellie Anderson’s wonderful, healthy but oh so full of flavour cooking, and her website Kellie’s Food to Glow is an absolute go-to when you want to up your healthfulness game. This sweet and sour tomato stew was one of those things I was slightly reluctant to try, given I’m not a fan of olives. And then – ooh, I like this! Kellie really widened my palate on several occasions.

The recipe on her site is more classic, I believe, using aubergine. I’ve made that version and it was good, but wanted to make something now, not in a week when I next manage to get groceries delivered (grr). So, my version uses peppers instead, and I think it’s a great substitute.

As for the olives, I discovered I like black olives more than green, so I use those – just the jarred kind from the supermarket, and suits me fine in this recipe.

The recommendation is to leave this chilling for at least three hours to let the flavours develop, so I make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. I’m not wholly convinced on the ‘room temperature’ serving, so mine goes in the microwave til it’s warm but not hot, and again that suits me well.

I serve this with some fresh bread, for lunch or a very light dinner.

Sausage, sweet potato, brussel sprout bake

Ah, Christmas. Or rather, the days after Christmas where diet becomes 90% leftovers and struggling to think of new ways to use things up! I’ve already done the traditional leftover sarnie (turkey, stuffing, pigs’n’blankets, cranberry), and obligatory turkey curry. One year I mixed that up and did a turkey and ham pie.

My fridge is still full. Cheese will end up in the freezer if/when needs be, and I want to make brie and cranberry cups with the soft cheese that won’t, but that still leaves sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, bacon, eggs, celery, hummus, and most of a pack of brussel sprouts… o.O

So, today’s dinner was a bit of a mismash, so ‘chuck stuff in’ that I didn’t bother taking pictures. And then it was niiiice!!

First I parboiled some sprouts and thick slices of sweet potato (the remaining sprouts got blanched and are in the freezer). These went into an oven dish along with some red onion, a drizzle of olive oil, and some splodges of pesto. I also splashed in a little red wine, just cos.

After 15 minutes in the oven, in went the cocktail sausages, plus some chopped bacon, and in it all went for another 25 mins.

I’m amazed it worked, but it did. Nom!

What are *you* doing to use up leftovers?

Christmas cranberry cookies

As if Christmas wasn’t busy enough with things to do, not to mention already overflowing with nice things to eat, something (usually ‘I have eggs needing used’ ;)) makes me want to bake.

My first thought was a batch of these oatmeal raisin cookies, but in honour of the season I made a few changes. First, swapped out the raisins for cranberries, and soaked them in a bit of (ahem) cointreau for that festive orange zing. I also upped the spice content: a bit more cinnamon, a little nutmeg.

As ever, I started baking and regretted the effort needed almost immediately. Creaming butter and sugar is tough on the wrists! Still, I think the end result was pretty much worth it 😉

cranberry cookies

Tomorrow: fruit loaf!

For other inspiration, why not check out these boozy fruits and marzipan, or add festive flavours to a batch of muffins? 🙂 And of course, can’t not mention the recipe that gets me 99.99% of my hits – the infamous and inexplicable over-popular jaffa cake trifle!

What are your go-to festive recipes?

Caribbean chicken

Today’s batch cooking was inspired by a couple of mushy-looking bananas, and the pineapple I got on sale. I’d also bought chicken to make spicy tomato chicken – to use up tomatoes (sense a theme?) – and figured I could do two chicken dishes at the same time.

Both are very healthy recipes, some of the few that survived a diet plan phase I observed at home. These days I could definitely do with shifting a few pounds, but my main aim with cooking is always flavour.

This ‘Caribbean’ chicken is a fairly easy, light curry dish containing pineapple and banana. Both go very well with the chicken and the spice.

While easy enough to make it does need a bit of lead time – prep, hob cooking, AND an hour in the oven (!) but it’s worth it. Alas, while I do freeze it I have to admit that it doesn’t defrost too well – tastes lovely, still, but tends to separate a little and the bananas go very mushy.

And still, it’s a regular in my cooking rotation: tastes lovely, is pretty healthy, and what more do you really want?! 😉

The recipe page can be found here.

caribbean chicken

(of course I took a photo before I’d realised I’d forgotten the banana – oops!)

Creamy celery soup

Here in Scotland we’ve had our fairly typical clash of weather: unseasonably hot and sunny not so long ago, and today I woke up to snow. Likewise, eating choices have switched from a bit of salad back to soup.

It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I’m a big fan of celery and its delicate peppery taste. Last week I was using it as a crudite to dip in houmous, but as ever – even if the weather hadn’t turned on me! – I ended up with half a head or so left in the fridge in danger of going soggy. Time to have a go at a celery soup, methinks!

celery soup

I was having a conversation with a colleague during the week about how soup is usually such a large batch to use up all the veg you’ve bought, that you’re fed up of it before you’re done. I’ve been there many a time (thank goodness for freezers, eh?!) – and relatively recently (esp with the parsnip soup, my first ‘milk’ soup and one I wasn’t willing to try freezing) ‘twigged’ how to reign myself in and make smaller batches! This one was even more restrained that the 2-3 portions of chicken and rice soup that really only started off as one portion – this one *is* one portion! But, given the purpose was to use up the celery then that’s perfect.

You can find my cobbled together recipe here. I added potato for a little extra thickness, and to be honest it was maybe a bit much with the roux base – or, I should have used plain flour instead of trying to cheat with cornflour!

If you want a really smooth soup you’re going to have to prep the celery much better than I did, removing the stringiest bits. Blenders are going to struggle with this, I think. I didn’t bother too much.

I used to love cream of celery soup – from a tin, argh! – when I was a kid. This tasted pretty much spot on for those memories. The milk made it creamy but not unhealthy, and – main aim! – my fridge is wilt-y celery free 😉

Sweet potato chilli

One of my new favourite recipes came courtesy of a friend, who’d adapted this Cookie+Kate offering. I’ve put my own spin on it through repeat cookings, but somehow I’ve never managed to write up the recipe – which you’ll find here.

sweet potato chilli in a bowl

As stated in the original, the thing that really makes this lush and rich, is blending about a third of the mixture before stirring it back in. I cannot recommend this enough! Easiest way is with a stick aka immersion blender – absolutely love mine!

With the added thickness, this is ready to eat straight from the pot, but it also freezes very well. Have also used butternut squash and carrot instead of the sweet potato, but try anything that takes your fancy. Different types of bean are also good – my preference is for mixed bean salad, which comes with sweetcorn, and kidney beans.

Best way to serve, in my opinion, is with some sour cream (or natural yogurt, possibly with some lime juice) and cheese, melted over the top. Scoop it up with tortilla chips for a bowl of nom!

 

One butternut squash: all the ideas!

Cooking for one comes with a fair number of challenges, including how to use things that don’t really come in small quantities. Personally, I love butternut squash so much that I’m never stuck with ideas for what to do with ‘the rest of it’ (as I’m sure the large number of recipes that start ‘butternut squash something’ show!), but I’m always up for new ideas.

The ‘usual’ might be to start with a meal of ‘squoodles’, aka squash noodles, used as a healthy pasta substitute and served with pesto, roast peppers, and toasted pine nuts – and a hefty slab of garlic bread, since you can’t be too healthy 😉

There’s always soup – I’ve got quite a few listed. My favourite is probably the bnut and red pepper, although it’s less hearty than some of the others and so I tend to do it out of the winter season.

Generally, I’ll end up cubing and roasting at least part of the squash. It goes very well in salads, or pasta, and I’m a huge fan of putting squash into a risotto.

But, this time, we’re after something a bit different… And so I had a week of trying not one but THREE new recipes, all using the same squash.

First up was this butternut mac’n’cheese, which I was hoping would be a healthier (and maybe easier) take on a favourite comfort food. It tasted lovely, but my attempts at cutting it down to a single portion went a little awry and it ended up a bit dry. I’ll probably try it again at some point. Realised on serving that it wasn’t so far off the rather more successful ‘Easy Cheesy Pasta Bake‘, so perhaps I can find a working combination of the two.

Moving on, and one of my main ideas had been a butternut squash curry. This was relatively ‘safe’ – I just used bought curry paste, so it wasn’t going to be massively different from any other curry I’ve made – just, vegan 🙂 I ended up with three generous portions, so the rest went into the freezer, while a large amount went into my very virtuous-feeling tummy 🙂

butternut squash curry photo

Aren’t those colours lovely? I’d definitely do this again, and maybe for guests.

The piece de resistance, however, came from a want to use up some lasagne sheets. I love lasagne. I love my dad making it for me, as it’s a bit of a faff! What else could I do with it? Cannelloni! This was very experimental, combining ideas from at least four different recipes – and oh, was it good!

prepping the cannelloni

photo of finished dishIt did make a lot more than I was expecting – easily enough for 2 meals – but I highly recommend the second portion reheated the next day, as I think it was even better. I’ve read that filled cannelloni can be frozen, so I’d probably give that a go. Also, I’m going to experiment with different sauces – the tomato worked well, but I think a white or cheese sauce might be interesting, perhaps . Keeping the pasta moist was a little bit of a challenge, especially as I didn’t want to drown it in sauce, so perhaps a bit more pre-soaking?

This one is going into the regular rotation, methinks! 🙂

Boozy fruits and marzipan

boozy fruits

Many Christmases ago we had a bit of a homemade theme, and I made chocolate truffles and shortbread, and these, choc-dipped ‘boozy fruits’ and marzipan. I’ve never bothered with the massive effort of the truffles again, but these have become a Christmas tradition, always appreciated and a nice change from all the regular chocolates that are about at this time of year.

I’ve given some instructions here, but a lot of it is a matter of choice: take your pick of fruits (and if you come up with any good ones I’ve not mentioned, let me know!) and combine with whatever alcohol you like – this is an excellent way of using up the tail end of a bottle (hic!).

My recent batch was:

  • 12 dried apricots soaked in honey-whiskey liqueur, a new favourite!
  • 12 dried plums (in case the word ‘prunes’ puts anyone off – they are lovely!) in cherry brandy
  • a pack of dried mango slices soaked in vodka
  • half a pack of marzipan, rolled and cut into stars

All of the above half-dipped in melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk – I do suggest using a nice chocolate you enjoy eating, it’s very noticable.

All that’s left after that is to present them in a nice box, and enjoy a few bits when the thought of another Quality Street is just a bit much 😉

Honey plum chicken

A couple of years ago, I tried this recipe to use up a glut of plums. It was lovely, but very very sweet.

So, this year again faced with a punnet of fruit needing used, I decided to make a few changes: less honey, some garlic and chilli flakes – you can see my version here, and I declare it a success!

This is one of those recipes that is highly customisable – more honey/maple syrup if you want it closer to the original; more chilli or ginger if you like it spicier. It’s also a one-pot thing (not including accompaniments – I suggest rice and whatever veg you fancy) that’s very easy to make for one (even though I’ve given the ingredients for 2 portions).

I haven’t tried freezing or reheating this; I’d rather eat it fresh.

And, somehow, I totally forgot to take any photos! Next time 🙂

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!