Butternut squash and red pepper soup

Ah, the Scottish weather: one week it’s sunshine and salad, and the next we’re plunged back into winter (week? Sometimes this occurs on the same day. Seriously!).

This soup is, in my opinion, a good bridge between the seasons. It’s the lightest, most summer-y soup that I’ve tried, nice and light and yet still warming.

Despite the instructions in the recipe, I kind of forgot this time (I was having a bit of a binge-cook, and it got hectic!) and did my usual throwing everything into the pan – and it worked! You probably lose a little of the depth of flavour that roasting would give, but if you’re in a hurry then it’s an acceptable alternative.

I was using up the other half of the butternut squash (and a stray bit of yellow pepper, which went very well!) I’d used for the Butternut Squash and Bean Crumble, giving me half portions of each – so, three large portions of soup (although it freezes very well).

 

I’ve gone and bought salad for this week, so I imagine it’ll be snowing by Wednesday. Again 😉

Butternut squash and bean crumble

I’m not doing too well on the mix of recipes (or new recipes – yet!) as all these yummy vegetarian dishes have me looking up ones I haven’t tried in a while!

I’m not sure what’s taken me so long to make this Butternut Squash and Bean Crumble again, as it was absolutely delicious! I do love butternut squash, and the mix of the wine and tomatoes is a lovely base. The chilli surprised me a little, but it works – I used a level teaspoon, and wouldn’t want it any hotter. I might, however, have to try butter beans (lima beans, I think?) next time, as the cannellini were a bit small and inconsequential in the finished dish.

The crumble topping is one I intend to try on other things: the breadcrumbs went lovely and crispy, and my experiment of adding some mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) added some lovely crunch and colour – I’ll be doing that again!

My one concern about this recipe is portion size. I remembered the first time I made this ended up with just HUGE portions (perhaps I misread the original recipe‘s 6 portions and thought it was 4?). This time, I halved the recipe – and please don’t worry, I have a great way to use up the other half of the squash! – thinking it would make four decent portions, instead of three huge: instead, I must confess that my version of the recipe gives more of a lunch portion than main course (although: perfect excuse for dessert!). I ended up eating 2/3rds of the half I cooked (the other half is in the freezer), and will throw some salad together with the remaining third for tomorrow’s lunch.

It was really hard to stop here and leave some for tomorrow's lunch...!

It was really hard to stop here and leave some for tomorrow’s lunch…!

Banana oat bars

As requested (hi, Karen! 🙂 ), here’s a super-easy recipe that you can modify to suit your own tastes.

I love this as a way to use up over-ripe bananas – the riper the banana, the sweeter the recipe. It also feels super-healthy, as far as snacks go, and can be made with as little as two ingredients: oats and banana. Easy to remember, too: 1 cup oats for every banana! The size of the banana is important, of course: if it’s large then add a little bit more of the oats, until the mixture is quite stiff (why does this post feel like a Carry On script!?!).

That seems a little dull, though, so I tend to add chopped dried apricots – tip: ‘chop’ the apricots with scissors, much easier than a knife – sultanas (slightly juicier than raisins) or dried cherries (goes really well if you add a smallish amount of ground almonds).

My last batch also saw me experiment with adding golden syrup. The extra sweetness isn’t really needed, but it’s a nice addition if you’re willing to forego a little of the healthy feel.

In the pic above, I should point out that the baking tray used is super-tiny: about 6×4 inches, I think. Line it well with greaseproof paper, as the mix does stick quite a lot!

Alternatively, when I’ve done a double batch (2 bananas), I get enough mix to use a bigger tray and a silicone sheet – this is perfect, as the whole result just peels off! For that, I use a normal-sized baking sheet and don’t try to push the mix into the edges (see pic below). If doing this, it’s important to keep the mixture as non-runny as possible, and don’t press the edges down too thin, or they’ll burn before the middle is cooked.

I would recommend keeping the mix reasonably thin – about half an inch? – to stop the middle feeling a little gloopy. That’s matter of taste, though, as I got complaints with that batch about the edges being a little chewy! You can’t win, but at least this recipe is easy enough for repeat trials!

Enjoy 🙂

Veggie shepherd’s pie

assembling the pie pic

Happy Easter! To balance out all that chocolate (I suspect!) the supermarkets have all had offers on their fresh veg this past week, so an excellent time to stock up on soup ingredients. And to balance out all that chocolate (I know! ;)) a perfect time for some more veggies-as-main-courses, too. This Veggie Shepherd’s Pie is a perfect healthy and hearty, warming dish with the added benefit of a whole lot of flexibility! Make it all at once, freeze it, or make the sauce separately and add fresh sweet potato when you’re ready to eat. I made this a month ago, eating a single portion of the four. This can feel like a long-to-make meal – it’s not really, but anything with more than one step can be too much effort, right? 😉 Making the sauce – chop carrots and bung stuff into a pan for a while; making the topping – if you dice the sweet potato it cooks in 15 minutes or less; and finally assembling (tip: press the mash on rather than trying to spread it, which moves the base in a messy way) and baking.

The other three portions of the sauce base went into the freezer (in individual portions) so today I could defrost the sauce and use up one of my fresh bag of sweet potatoes (the rest went into a Sweet Potato and Chilli soup – nom!). I both defrosted and heated the base in the microwave, so it was warm under the new mash, and the whole thing only took 20 minutes in the oven, and around 40 minutes total. Had I cooked the whole thing from frozen, it would have taken 40 minutes in the oven, so either approach has benefits. At least this way I didn’t have to find quite as much space in my freezer, and didn’t ‘lose’ a dish in the meantime! I’m sure I could find other uses for that base sauce – it’s very tasty! It’s also a great way to use up carrots, and – as the recipe notes say – the secret to this dish is making sure you leave a little firmness and ‘bite’ in the carrots, rather than letting them cook to mush. The green lentils also add to the heartiness, while just a small amount of red lentils soak up any extra juices. I’d recommend the sweet potato over regular – in fact, I may have to try that more in general, as it is a healthier choice – as it goes so well with the flavours here, adding that bit of sweet to the red wine and herb richness, and the slight tang from the cheese sprinkles. Veggie Shepherd's Pie photo

Spicy tomato chicken

spicy tomato chicken

Spring is here, and it’s past time I added some more main courses to this site – not to mention dispelling the myth that I’m vegetarian!

Most of my recipes fall into the ‘batch cooking’ category – single portions can seem like too much effort. This one, however, isn’t really freezable BUT it does make great leftovers for the next day! Today I’ll have this mexican-ish-inspired spicy tomato chicken with rice, then tomorrow’s lunch will be the other portion served in a wrap.

That said, it’s still not the least-effort cooking preparation (cooking: easy as it gets!): in particular, peeling tomatoes can be a bit of a pain. I would totally recommend the effort over using tinned tomatoes, though – the flavour difference is very noticable. See the ‘Top Tip’ on the recipe page for how to make the process much easier!

Another time saving tip is to make this up the night before, and leave it in the fridge marinating. Alternatively, the sauce ‘paste’ will last in a small tub for a couple of days, ready for you to add the chicken and vegetables.

The main bonus for going to all this effort is that this is an uber-healthy meal. From experimenting over the years, I’ve found that you can eliminate the need for added oil with this one, as the combination of the tomato puree and the juices from the tomato work fine from just bunging the whole lot in the pan. More, just because it is very healthy, there is still tons of flavour in this dish! Enjoy 🙂

Sweet potato and chilli soup

bowl of soupMORE soup?! I do cook other things, honest, but in this season I also cook a *lot* of soup! Generally I try to whip up a big pot every other weekend – this gives me a healthy, go-to meal for thle week (either lunch, or supper if I’ve eaten a bigger meal during the day), and the remainder can (usually) be frozen. I say ‘every other week’, as I don’t want to get fed up of eating nothing but soup!

This week, it was the turn of Sweet Potato and Chilli soup. With no lentils (for a change!) this is a thinner soup than many that I make, so you might want to add a little less liquid; it also tends to feel a little less filling – good or bad, as the situation calls for.

It also needs blended – I’ve become a huge fan of stick blenders for this, after realising that they don’t hurt the saucepan. No more transferring batches to my not-quite-big-enough jug blender! Just make sure you don’t lift the blender out of the pan while it’s still on – recipe for mess, and I speak from experience 😉

I’ve put fresh chillies in the recipe, but to be honest I’m lazy and I’ll usually just use powder. I prefer it, finding it easier to gage the heat. This time I went with fresh, and discovered my little packet was near heat-less, which was a tad disappointing. Stick to a quarter to a half teaspoon of chilli powder, depending on taste.

Minestrone

January and attempts at healthy eating go together like bread and butter, peaches and cream… oh, yeah 😉 In this cold weather, that means soup!

Minestrone was never a favourite of mine, until I stumbled across this recipe. Now it’s a regular, not least ‘cos it’s a great way to use up that tin of tomatoes from the back of the cupboard as well as a nice change from my usual lentil and veg based soups.

I like to use carrot, peppers and shredded cabbage in mine, but you can use things like courgettes or other (summer) veg, if you prefer. Also, try to use good quality tomatoes: the flavour really comes through if you don’t.

The ‘odd’ ingredient is perhaps the soy sauce – but trust me, it totally makes it! Also, don’t try to cut corners on the times: the long cooking time helps make this the nicest minestrone I’ve ever tried!

One last note: I don’t find this freezes particularly well – ok, if you have to, but the spaghetti goes a bit strange. So, try not to make too much at once and enjoy it fairly fresh instead.

Winter veg and lentil soup

Recipe is here.

Happy New Year, and time to get serious about this blog! What better way to start both the cooking and the year than with a healthy and hearty soup.

I first made this during November in an attempt to use up lots of veg I’d bought to make Root Vegetable Cobbler. I do like finding coordinating recipes – more on that later! The soup recipe I stumbled across was Winter lentil and vegetable on AllRecipes, but adapted it to suit (in particular, I didn’t like the thought of tomatoes and parsnip as a mix!). In the end, it turned into my fall-back carrot and lentil with extra veggies – but wow, those extra flavours were nom!

Plan is to have more photos to match the recipes soon, but in the meantime this is a healthy and very, very easy soup to make. A great way to start to redress some of the festive period’s overeating! 😉

Welcome!

I adore cooking: it’s a practical skill that makes me feel like I’m taking good care of myself. There can be something quite therapeutic in chopping carrots after a long day staring at a screen, too!

This website is to help me keep track of my recipe collection. Along the way, I intend to blog about new recipes I try and share any hints or tips that novice or not-so-new cooks may find useful.

Please drop by and leave me a comment or two – and most of all, happy cooking! 🙂