22 March 2017

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup. Get your fix of beta carotene here, orange coloured food for the win. LOL You certainly know you've eaten something by the end of a bowl of this - and all for around 300 calories, which can't be bad. Of course, the crusty bread and butter blows the calories out of the water, but it's good to start low!

When I dreamt this soup up, I was after a main course soup that didn't involve much meat but that tasted like it did. Because of my predilection towards developing gouty painful feet from time to time, it is useful to have a few mainly vegetable recipes to lean on during these periods. Now I know there are those who would tut heavily and announce that lentils are incredible bad for gout - and I know that. However, not with me. They most definitely are not one of my gout triggers, whereas meat very often is - and pork (not bacon, interestingly!) can often be a prime trigger.

Well, I certainly scored with this soup as it is hearty, wholesome and would fill you up on a chilly winter's night. The chilli gives it a nice friskiness that helps to keep your tongue interested, while the butternut squash and lentils give it that heartiness that satisfies. Oh and of course, discovering a piece of bacon every so often will reassure those carnivores amongst us that there is, in fact, some meat in their dinner and they haven't had a vegetarian dish sneaked onto their plate.

Now, where Cook's Tips are concerned, the top one for today is that it is really important to use low sodium stock cubes for this soup. Ordinary, salty, stock cubes will spoil the soup with salt overkill so it is way better to use a low salt stock powder or cube and have to add a little extra salt at the end, rather than the alternative.

As you will see from the recipe, I recommend using a potato masher a few times to break up the vegetables a little and so thicken the soup. Now, you can use a stick blender and whizz the lot, but you will lose a lot of the lovely interest from the texture and of course, you will lose the bacon pieces. However, if that's not important to you and you prefer a more pureed texture to your soup, then whizz away.

For all you vegetarians out there the soup is easily converted to being veggie. Simply leave the bacon out, use all vegetable stock and add half a tsp smoked paprika for the smoky flavour the bacon would have brought and you're home and dry.

Okay, well, I think that's it - so onwards to the recipe!

RED LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CHILLI SOUP (serves 3 as a main meal)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 red onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 large red chilli pepper, de-seeded and diced finely
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
half a butternut squash (I used the stalk end), peeled and diced
3 large juicy tomatoes, cored, diced and as much juice as possible included
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp low salt chicken stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
1 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
500ml hot water
150g dried red lentils
sea salt
ground black pepper.

Method :

Use a large sized saucepan and heat the olive oil over a moderate heat. Add the streaky bacon lardons and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden.

Add the onion, garlic, chilli pepper, carrots and celery and continue to cook, sweating the vegetables down and stirring regularly until they have just begun to soften - around 10-15 minutes.

Add the butternut squash pieces and give them enough time - stirring regularly - to warm up.

Next, add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato puree and stir to combine. Cook on until the tomatoes have begun to break down.

Add the dried basil, the two stock powders (or stock cubes), hot water and red lentils. Stir through until well combined, then cover the saucepan and bring to a lively simmer.

Remember to stir the contents regularly, as red lentils can sink to the bottom and singe if left unstirred.

Once the lentils are almost cooked and the butternut squash is tender, taste to test for seasoning and add sea salt and ground black pepper as necessary.

Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils, carrots and butternut squash are tender, then taking a potato masher, press it through the soup some three or four times to just break up some of the vegetables which will have the effect of thickening the soup. You can, if you prefer, whizz the soup with a stick blender, but I much prefer to have some chunky texture to it - I think it keeps you interested as you eat it.

Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with warm, buttered chunks of bread for dipping.

Printable version

18 March 2017

Simple garlic butter prawn spaghetti

Well, this one was a real unexpected surprise.  I wasn't supposed to be cooking this recipe at all and in fact, can't remember why I wasn't cooking the intended one.  Whatever the reasons were - and it could be any number of them! - I decided to go for this because it looked simple and sounded like it could be rather good.

Yes, it's certainly simple - both in number of ingredients, cooking process and method - and as for "rather good", well that's a bit of an understatement.  It turned out to be very good indeed.

The recipe originates with the BBC Good Food website and I could just direct you straight there, however, it occurred to me that if we ever lost that site, I'd lose a very useful and tasty recipe.  So here it is, with thanks to BBC Good Food for the original.

There is only one Cook's Tip for this recipe - and that is, if you are using cooked King prawns (or Tiger prawns), then literally just heat them up in the pan.  Don't cook them, as they are already cooked and will become tough and hard if heated for too long.  They just need to be brought up to a good temperature so as to avoid any risk of encouraging bacteria by half-hearted warming and that's all.

This dish certainly doesn't have big, bold flavours.  However, if you're into garlic butter, lemon and prawns, then you will love it.  The spaghetti gives it that comfort food thing and the lemon prevents the butter from becoming too rich.  I'd have it again tomorrow, I liked it that much!


Ingredients :

250g dried spaghetti
sea salt
20g salted butter
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
a pinch of ground black pepper
250g cooked King prawns
zest of 1 lemon
15g fresh parsley, chopped.

Method :

Firstly, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the dried spaghetti and cook to manufacturer's recommendation.

In the meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over a gentle heat and add the chopped garlic.  Sweat, as opposed to fry, the garlic ever so ever so gently until the pieces are softened, adding the black pepper along the way.  Then, add the prawns, the lemon zest and the parsley and increase the temperature just slightly, sufficient to heat the prawns through without cooking them and without frying the pan's contents.

Drain the pasta and add to the prawn & garlic pan.  Toss the pasta in the garlicky butter and serve into warmed bowls, sharing the prawns out evenly.

Printable version

6 March 2017

Chorizo & saffron baked cod

First of all and before I say anything else, let me just say how much I love this dish.  We thought it up during one of our brainstorming sessions and I liked the idea immediately.  It has everything I could like about a fish dish - it's simple, it only needs a few ingredients and it involves a fillet of fish rather than some broken up pieces in a sauce.

It's hard to imagine, but once upon a time I despised fish.  Couldn't bear the smell of it and certainly wouldn't eat anything more than a fish finger. Although, the seeds were there because I would happily tuck into a fillet of rock salmon (Huss) in batter from our local chippy.  However, all that changed when I fell pregnant with our son (who adores fish of all kinds) and suddenly I was craving fish.  Weird but true.  Since then, the liking for fish has thankfully stayed with me and since we've started shopping at Lidl stores, I have discovered an affordable source of proper fish fillets.  Yay!

As Lidl had their extra large packs of cod fillet on special offer it seemed rude to not take advantage of that, hence we thought up this lovely recipe. 

I reckon that as winter is coming to a close here, that might explain why my culinary head was concentrating on sunnier recipes from warmer climes and I was thinking along Spanish lines, although I do hear tell that this is very much a Portuguese recipe in spirit.  Atlantic or Mediterranean, it's all good to me.

As I've said, I loved this dish.  The cod is beautifully cooked and the en papillote (in a bag) cooking retains all its moisture.  The lovely tasty oils from the chorizo and saffron bathe the fish and just add that extra bonus to the flavour.  Inevitably, there will be some cooking juices from the fish that amalgamate with the oils and provides a perfect light sauce so if you enjoy your fish, you're going to love the simplicity and unfussiness of this recipe.

Again, I don't have many Cook's Tips for you.  Most importantly is not to be scared and cook the fish for too long.  It's far better to open the package and then have to put it back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes, than to overcook and dry the fish out.

Now I know that saffron can be quite expensive, however this recipe isn't asking for a lot so if you can devote some saffron threads to it you'll benefit from the improved flavour.  However, if all you've got is ground saffron, don't sweat it - it'll be fine.  Just add a small amount.

So, there we have it.  This cod dish would go well with paprika roast potatoes and any kind of Mediterranean vegetable, but I served it with Nigella Lawson's rapid roastinis (to which I added some dried rosemary), petit pois and green beans, which were very good indeed.  Now, onwards to the recipe!


Ingredients :

3 good sized, chunky and skinless cod fillets
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, diced finely
70g finely cut chorizo slices, cut into fine strips
a small pinch of saffron strands
10g salted butter
a pinch of ground black pepper
a small pinch of sea salt.

Method :

Firstly, cut a long strip of silver foil or greaseproof paper that is twice as long as your pieces of cod when laid in a row.  Fold it in half and lay it onto a baking tray, opening up the top layer.

Take the cod pieces and starting from the folded end, lay them along the centre of the foil right side up, then set aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a small frying pan over a moderate heat.  Add the shallots and fry for 3-4 minutes, until they have softened.  Then add the chorizo strips and the saffron and cook for another 5 minutes or so or until the chorizo has released some of its tasty oil.  Reduce the heat to low and add the butter, pepper and sea salt and stir to combine.

Spoon the chorizo mixture evenly across the top of the fish, making sure to use all the flavoured oil.  Quickly fold up the sides of the foil package, folding each side at least three times, to secure it well.

Place the fish into a pre-heated oven (180degC/350degF/Gas4) for 20-25 minutes, a little bit less if your fillets aren't of the chunky kind.  When the fish is cooked, the foil package will be puffed up like a balloon.

To serve, simply make an incision across the top of the foil package and using a fish slice, plate up each piece of fish onto hot plates, making sure to capture as many of the chorizo pieces as you can, placing them on top of the fish.  Drizzle with the cooking juices.  Serve with roast potatoes, or rosemary fried gnocchi, along with a few vegetables of your choice.

Printable version

4 March 2017

Sticky Hoisin chicken and red pepper with onion rice

Well, this one wasn't supposed to be like this at all.  However, the Chinese chicken traybake that I'd originally intended to make just wouldn't have suited our different requirements, so I bailed out at the last minute and made this up instead.  I think it turned into a very definite win.

As such, I can't give you chapter and verse as to how the recipe came about - I just made it up on the fly!  However, I will tell you that I was very impressed with myself for running two pots that required so much watching over and stirring, without burning either of them.  LOL  I must be improving!

Everyone loved this recipe and hubby even went so far as to declare it delicious and say that he was missing his deep fried King Prawn balls with sweet & sour sauce and prawn crackers that we normally have with a Chinese takeaway.  So that is high praise indeed.

If you're not used to juggling two pans, both of which require your attention, you can always just make plain boiled rice or alternatively buy a bag of egg fried rice from the supermarket to go with it.  However, it really isn't a difficult thing to get the two pans working well and fortuitously the action does seem to alternate from pan to pan!

As for any Cook's Tips, well the most important one is to ensure you have all your a-chopping and a-peeling done before anything hits a hot pan.  Getting a mise en place together in this way is worth dividends when you're cooking Chinese food as you really don't have time to stop and chop a pepper as you go!

It really is worth the 45 minutes of fairly intense cooking action involved in this one, to hear the admiring plaudits from your family as they tuck in happily.  So, onwards to the recipe!


Ingredients :

For the chicken :

1 tbsp olive oil
3 chicken breasts, sliced
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 bunch spring onions, sliced diagonally
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
1 red pepper, cored and sliced
4 white mushrooms, sliced
200ml hot water
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp light soy sauce.

For the rice :

2 individual tbsp olive oil
2 medium eggs, lightly mixed
0.5 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 large brown onion, chopped
200g white rice (I used Basmati), rinsed until the water runs clear
400ml good chicken stock
200g petit pois.

Method :

Begin by heating one tbsp of the olive oil for the rice in a wok set over a moderate heat.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and add a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of black pepper and half a tsp of Chinese five spice powder.  Whip lightly with a fork.  Once the oil is hot, pour the egg into the wok and cook until an omelette has formed.  Ensure the egg is solid (you can flip the omelette over if you wish) and remove to a warmed plate and reserve.

Next, place 1 tbsp olive oil into both the wok (for the chicken) and a deep saucepan (for the rice).  Heat the wok over a hot heat and the saucepan over a moderate heat.  Once they are both hot, add the chicken to the wok and the brown onion to the saucepan, including a pinch of sea salt & black pepper to both.

Cook the chicken until it begins to caramelise, then turn and cook again until it again begins to caramelise.  It is not necessary to cook the chicken through at this stage, but it should have two golden sides, at least, after which remove from the pan and set aside somewhere warm.

Cook the onion until transparent and softened and just beginning to caramelise.

While the onion is cooking in the saucepan, add the spring onions, garlic, chilli and five spice to the wok and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.  Next, add the red pepper and white mushrooms to the wok and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the water, cover the wok and bring to a boil.

In the meantime and while the water is coming to a boil in the wok, add the rinsed rice to the onion in the saucepan and stir to combine.  Add the chicken stock and cover the saucepan, bringing the contents to a gentle boil.  Allow the rice to cook approximately half way and add the petit pois.  Cook the rice until just al dente, after which turn off the heat, leave the lid on and allow the rice to steam until the chicken is ready.

Going back to the wok, uncover it and add the hoisin sauce, honey and soy sauce.  Stir through and bring to a frisky boil.  Re-introduce the chicken and stir through.  You are now just waiting for the liquid to reduce in the pan, to a sticky, coating sauce.  It's up to you how far you take it, I suggest you taste it as it reduces and stop when you're satisfied with the flavour and texture.

Finally, chop the omelette into small pieces and stir into the rice.

Serve onto warmed plates.  You can set aside some of the green parts of the spring onion and a few chilli slices for garnish, if you wish.

Printable version

1 March 2017

Smoked mackerel, capers & tomato spaghetti with pesto

I'm really quite proud of this little recipe, as it came about during one of our "staff meetings" when we were having a brainstorm about what we would actually like to eat as opposed to what we thought we should have to eat.  I can remember thinking, as we were contemplating complimentary flavours for it, that less is more and this was definitely one of those pasta dishes.

Now I know that smoked mackerel isn't to everyone's liking, but for this recipe I've used some honey smoked mackerel which is a lot milder in flavour than the peppered or just straight smoked versions.  I heartily recommend that you go for a sweeter type of smoked mackerel, as not doing so will affect the sweet/savoury balance.  If you just can't find any, don't despair, just add a half a teaspoonful of honey along with the tomatoes and you'll be fine.

Speaking of tomatoes, I recommend raspberry tomatoes if you can get them. They are really big, quite fleshy tomatoes with a gorgeously rich tomato flavour - and perfect for something like this.  I get mine from my local Polish delicatessen, so if all else fails, try your closest Polish shop or even an Ethnic shop if you have one.

The recipe doesn't have a sauce as such, as quite simply the extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes (devoid of seeds, but still full of juice) combine with the shallots, pepper and capers to make this dish anything but dry.  The oiliness of the smoked mackerel is tempered by the tomatoes but the secret weapon of the dish are the capers.  Every now and then your tongue trips over one and the intense flavour just wakes up your palate, all ready to again be soothed and comforted by the spaghetti and green pesto.

I hesitate to draw your attention to the fact, but this dish is also extraordinarily good for you. Nutritionally, I reckon it's probably one of the best I've come up with in some time.  But let's skip lightly over that and concentrate on how good it tastes, eh?  After all, I don't want to put anyone off it by shouting too loudly about how good it is for you.

As for the Cook's Tips, the recipe is so simple I don't have many.  Just to say to make sure that you have the spaghetti water boiling before you put the shallots on to cook, or you'll be waiting for the pasta while your tomatoes are cooking instead of heating up, which will spoil the texture if not the flavour.

Oh - and don't forget to rinse the capers.

So, onwards to the recipe!


Ingredients :

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
250g dried spaghetti
2 large full flavoured tomatoes, pips removed, diced
6 cherry tomatoes, pips removed, quartered
2 tbsp capers, rinsed of salt or brine
half a tsp ground black pepper
a good pinch of sea salt
4 honey smoked mackerel fillets, skinned, boned and flaked into small chunks
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves
3 heaped tsp green pesto, to serve
1 tbsp chopped parsley, to serve.

Method :

Begin by putting a large pan of water on to boil.

Next, heat the extra virgin olive oil over a low heat in a frying pan.  Add the chopped shallot and fry very gently until softened.

When the water comes to a boil, add the dried spaghetti and cook to manufacturer's instructions (usually around 10-12 minutes).

In the meantime, add all the tomatoes, capers, black pepper and sea salt to the shallots and just warm them through, without really cooking them.  They should be distinctly warm to the touch before the next stage.

Once the spaghetti is cooked to your preference, drain and return to the hot pan.

Add the tomato mixture, the flaked mackerel and tear the basil leaves into the pan.  Stir through gently and serve immediately with an extra splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Garnish with a good heaped teaspoonful of green pesto and a light sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Printable version

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...