18 September 2014

Butternut squash and stilton soup

In my opinion the easiest way to get veg into kids is to make lots of simple homemade veggie soups. This simple soup has celery, onion, carrot and squash in, not to mention garlic which is great for boosting immune systems. Yes, it has stilton in, but you'll be surprised how little it tastes like stilton - instead it just gives a salty and creamy edge and a richness. My daughter loved it. I find most kids like soups, for some reason. The act of dipping bread in seems to appeal. This one's silky, smooth, probably one of the best soups I've ever made. Perfect for an Autumn lunch.

Soup making is so easy. If you don't have a blender, which is what I use, then you can get a hand blender stick one quite cheaply, like this hand blender from Amazon. There are some kitchen tools that are worth buying as a mum if you want to make fresh and healthy food, and a soup blender is one of them. You can houmous with these too...

I topped mine with simple croutons, made by dicing up a few slices of normal brown bread and frying in a little oil and butter, then seasoning.

I made mine using my beloved Instantpot electric pressure cooker, which halved the time, but of course you could make yours in a normal pan, instructions for both below.

Serves: 4 adults, generously 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes  

With Instant Pot:
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes 

1 small-ish butternut squash, diced into 1inch chunks
2 stalks celery, diced small
2 carrots, diced small
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
700 - 800ml veg stock (depends on how thick you want it)
100g stilton, crumbled or diced
Pepper and a little salt

Normal instructions: 
  1. Soften the garlic, onion, carrots and celery in a little oil over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, until very soft. 
  2. Add the diced squash and cook for a further few minutes. 
  3. Now pour in the hot stock. Let it come to boil then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked through. 
  4. Time to add the cheese. Just crumble in and stir. Whizz using a blender of some sort. Eat with crunchy croutons!
Instant Pot Instructions: 
  1. Set the IP to Saute. Add some oil and soften the garlic, onion, carrots and celery in a little oil about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add the diced squash.
  3. Now pour in the hot stock. Put the lid on and press Cancel. Set the IP to Soup and decrease the time from 30 (it's default) to 10. It will say On, then start counting down. Cancel once finished. 
  4. Once it's done, release steam and crumble in the cheese. Transfer to a blender and whizz. 

Twice-baked jacket potatoes

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This little lunch I made for me and my poorly daughter the other day. She has been off preschool all week with a horrid virus that brought her out in awful sore spots, so I wanted to make something nice for her. She left most of it, but hey, it's the thought that counts!

It's reminiscent of the very first thing I ever cooked. It was in a primary school home economics lesson, we scooped out the filling of a jacket potato, mashed cheese with it, and put it back to bake. This is that, but with bells on. It's very tasty, good cold too if you have leftovers.

If you don't have basil then use dried oregano or leave the herbs out. Replace spring onions with half a normal onion if you don't have those in.

Serves: 2 adults for lunch (or equivalent)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes 
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes (do the prep whilst the jackets are baking)

2 large jacket potatoes
Handful of basil, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. 
  2. Microwave the jackets, pricked with metal skewers, for 5 minutes to get them going, or else they take ages in the oven. 
  3. Bake them for about an hour. As long as they are cooked through, they're good - it depends on how large they are. 
  4. Fry the sliced spring onion in a little oil over a low heat to soften, for about 5 minutes. 
  5. Meanwhile, mix the mayo, dijon, basil - add the spring onions when ready. When the jackets are ready, slice them in two, and carefully scoop out the potato. Mash roughly with the other ingredients. 
  6. Place the filling back into the shells. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown and bubbling. 
  7. Serve with some salad or as a side for sausages. 

16 September 2014

Carrot and coriander soup

I mentioned a while back that I am doing some photography work for netmums. I'm recreating the most popular recipes for them and taking nice pics. They are all great family recipes, but every now and then one of them really tickles my fancy and I make a mental note to share it with you here. (Then mostly I forget to do just that.) 

This is one that I had to share though. I have adapted the simple carrot soup recipe from netmums, making it thicker using less stock, and adding ground and fresh coriander. To be honest I wasn't particularly looking forward to making it, the thought of Carrot soup just doesn't make you drool in anticipation does it? As a simple soup recipe it's more than fine, but the sweet spices make a HUGE difference. Top with fresh coriander too and a little Greek yoghurt and extra virgin, and it becomes something really rather spesh. 

My husband - and kids - couldn't get enough of this wonderful healthy soup. And to think it only takes a little bit longer to create this soup from scratch than to open a shop bought one and reheat it. And they seriously do not compare. 

Serves: 4 adults
Prep time: 5 minutes 
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes

500g carrots, scraped (if not organic, if organic just wash) and diced into 1cm cubes approx.
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
700ml vegetable stock (I use an organic bouillon powder)
2 tablespoons of olive oil

To serve:
Fresh coriander
Greek yoghurt
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Wash or scrape the carrots, then dice quite small so they cook quickly. Dice the onion and crush the garlic, then fry gently in olive oil to soften for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the coriander if using and cook out for 2 more minutes.
  3. Now add the carrots and soften for 2 minutes.
  4. Pour in the hot stock (just use 700ml if you want a nice thick soup) and bring to boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the carrot is cooked.
  5. Whizz in a processor and serve with fresh coriander, roughly chopped, and a swirl of Greek yoghurt then a drizzle of oil too.

Cheesy leek and bacon pasta bake

This hearty baked pasta dish is perfect family food. It's easy and quick-ish (what it lacks in super speediness it makes up for in ease), fills tummies and, most importantly, is really good. Adam, who normally isn't that enthusiastic about 'pedestrian' dishes like this, really liked it and kept picking afterwards... It also re-heats well, which is good as I made enough for 8-10 people. 

I don't know why I feel the need to make enormous portions, thank God I'm not a single woman living alone as I don't actually think I can cook in small portion sizes! Maybe it's a deep down longing for a couple more children?? Who knows, but without a freezer at the moment (we are in short term rented property whilst our house is being renovated) I can't even store stuff for later that way. 

My bechamel sauce is a microwave all in one method and is an absolute life saver. Want less sauce? Simply change proportions (I often make 750ml / 50g / 50g). This would be a great recipe to turn to if you had some leftover pasta - I sometimes find myself with a bowl of the stuff in the fridge, all stuck together, and sometimes it gets slung. I shall sling no more - next time I shall make a creamy pasta bake. 

Guys feel free to adapt away too! Replace the leeks for spinach (wilt and squeeze out moisture first) or even cooked broccoli florets. Leave out the bacon entirely even. Salmon and peas would work well. Replace the cheddar for stilton. Use the basic premise of pasta, cheese sauce and the rest is up to you. 

Serves: About 8 (my pie dish is very large, simply half or reduce by a third if using smaller baking dish)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes 
Total time: 50 minutes

400g pasta 
3 medium leeks, rinsed then cut into 1inch slices
4 rashers of smokey streaky bacon, rind removed and cut into lardons 
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon oil 
Knob of butter

For the sauce: 
1 litre of whole milk 
75g plain flour
75g butter 
Salt and pepper

Spoonful of English mustard 
125g mature cheddar cheese 

For the topping:
Handful of breadcrumbs (optional)
50g parmesan


  1. Render the lardons on bacon down quite slowly until crispy. This takes about 15 minutes. 
  2. Then soften the sliced leeks in the bacon fat, add the garlic after 5 minutes. You want to get them nice and soft, so that the inner rings pop out easily. It'll take about 15 more minutes. Add a knob of butter to help the leeks soften. (You could fry off the bacon and leeks at the same time in separate pans, saving time but not washing up.) 
  3. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water until al dente. Drain but retain a mugful of pasta water!
  4. Make the sauce in the microwave. Put the flour, butter and milk in a large microwaveable jug or bowl. Set on high for ten minutes, whisking every minute or so. It will suddenly thicken, at that point turn the heat to medium and cook out for two more minutes. Add the cheese and mustard. 
  5. Mix the bacon and leeks, cheese sauce and pasta and pour into a baking dish. Add a small splash of pasta water - this prevents it from being too claggy (and makes it more saucy - remember the pasta soaks up sauce in the oven). Top with breadcrumbs and grate fresh parmesan on top. 
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. 

8 September 2014

Lamb, butternut squash and chick pea tagine

I've just dropped my son, Arthur, off at his new school, he's started reception today. He's not long been 4. It's gone so quick, his baby and toddlerhood! And my daughter, Beatrix, who is only just 2, has been dropped at the local preschool, where she will go every day, but only until noon.

Son was fine, couldn't get in there quick enough (see, he's been attending the village preschool for over 6 months prior to starting, so he's already best mates with 8 of the 10 kids who are going into reception, and he knows lots of the other kids in the school from the village - there's only 45 in the whole school!).

But my daughter got really upset when I left her. I knew she would. Aside from me and occasional helping out from my in laws, my mum has been looking after her 2 days' per week until now. So she's never really experienced life outside the family, on her own...

It's very weird walking away from your screaming child, whilst another adult pacifies and cuddles her. You are fighting your instincts to go to her. It's the same knot in your chest that you get if you've even tried to cry your child out.

But you know you must leave her. She needs to make her own way in the world, as does my son. It's time for her to make friends and experience life outside of our family. I remember the first time I left Artie though, at about the same age, if not younger actually. First a trial period in a nursery (took him out and left my job after a couple of months). Then when he was 2 1/2 I started him in a little playgroup/preschool, a couple of sessions to start with. I wept as I walked away. But this morning I didn't.

It's not that I love her any less, I just know that she'll be fine. And I've seen how Arthur, my very shy little boy, has come out of his shell to be a confident and popular kid who others want to play with. There is no other way of them learning how to be with other children than to be with other children, without you there, making their own way...

So, back to the recipe... (thanks for allowing me that little emotional outpouring!!)

This recipe is my third for Instant Pot, who gave me one of their brilliant electronic pressure cookers a while back. It's something I make quite a bit, a lamb tagine. But it's the first time in the pressure cooker. And this time I included some squash to make it even more wholesome. The meat was falling apart and the stew had a great depth of flavour too. Unbelievable in only 30 mins. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can get the same effect, but it'll take about 2 hours in a casserole dish. Do you see why I love my Instant Pot?!

I always, always, always garnish my tagine with freh coriander, but there was none available in the village. This happens sometimes when you live in the country. So please forgive the omission of a fresh herb garnish, but do fling a little on top of yours to serve... oh, and a splodge of Greek yoghurt with some extra virgin on top too.

Serves: 4 adults (or equivalent)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

500g lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into roughly 2/3cm chunks
1 tin of chick peas, drained
1 tin of tomatoes plus half the tin filled with boiling water
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon runny honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Instructions for Instant Pot:

  1. Switch on to Saute. Add oil and then onions and garlic to soften for a few minutes. 
  2. Now add meat to brown for a couple more minutes. 
  3. Tip in spices and let these coat the meat. 
  4. The tinned toms go in now, and the boiling water too (omit the water if you want a less saucy stew).
  5. Stir in the honey and then Cancel the Saute setting. Put on the lid. Press Manual which will pressure cook for 30 mins.
  6. Serve with cous cous and yoghurt on top - and ideally some fresh coriander too!
Instructions for normal casserole:
  1. Soften the onions and garlic in a little oil. 
  2. Add the meat and brown. 
  3. Now the spices too. 
  4. Add the liquid (toms, water, honey) and bring to boil. Let simmer for about 2 hours with a lid on. Take off the lid for the last 20 minutes to thicken a little. 
  5. Serve with cous cous and yoghurt on top - and ideally some fresh coriander too!