Monday, 23 March 2015

Starting off #MeatFreeWeek with Aubergine, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry

Curries are my favourite things to cook as you can pretty much whack anything in and they're bound to taste good! They're also very simple and cost effective when you have all the spices and bits stocked up in the cupboard, as well as being much healthier than buying pre-made sauces. My essential spices for curries are coriander seeds, mustard seeds, cardamon pods, turmeric, paprika and curry powder. I tend to keep chillies in the freezer so that they're available when I needed and don't bother to defrost them. The sweet potato can always be swapped for butternut squash, and the aubergine can be changed to courgette - and the good thing about curries is it doesn't matter what vegetables you use. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

- 1 aubergine, sliced into similar sized chunks
- 3 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into pieces (a little smaller than the aubergine) with their skins on 
- 2 handfuls of spinach
- 1 handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 thumb of grated fresh ginger (optional)
- a big dash of white wine * Probably very unusual in a curry, but I like using it. Red and rose is also fine *
- 400g tin of coconut milk
- 1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
- 1 red chilli, thinly sliced with or without seeds depending on taste
- 2 tsp mango chutney
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 4 cardamon pods, seeds removed and shells discarded
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp garam masala (optional)
- a handful of fresh coriander, chopped (optional)

1. Start by cooking the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger in a pan with a little vegetable oil or coconut oil. 

2. Once the onion starts to brown, pour in the dash of wine - which should sizzle. Then add the sweet potato and aubergine. Stir frequently for a few minutes and don't let the vegetables burn.

3. Once the wine has evaporated away (after a few minutes - no need to count though), add the tin of coconut milk and chopped tomatoes and stir to combine. 

4. Boil the kettle and fill the empty coconut tin with 1/2 water and the stock cube. Put aside for a few minutes. 

5. Let the vegetables cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, and then add the stock from the tin. * Don't worry if the stock cube hasn't completely dissolved, it should continue to dissolve in the pan * Continue to cook your curry for a further 5 minutes.

6. Whilst the veg is cooking, in a saucepan, add a little vegetable/sunflower oil. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds which should spit a little and start to crack. In a pestle and mortar, grind the cardamon and coriander seeds together until crushed. Add these in with the mustard seeds for 20 seconds or so. Then pour the seeds into your curry, along with all the other curry spices and the mango chutney. * I don't usually measure my spices, I just dash a bit in - so don't be afraid to do the same! *

7. Let the curry cook for a further 10-15 minutes without a lid, to let the juices boil down, until the sweet potato is ready. Taste is and see if it needs more of anything. If it isn't spicy enough for you, add some chilli flakes, if something is missing, maybe add some chopped coriander, more mango chutney or curry powder. 

8. Finally, put in the spinach and finish the dish off for a few minutes, stirring frequently. 

* Serve with rice, yoghurt, or flat bread. If you're feeling adventurous, you could poach some white fish in turmeric and cardamon pod water for around 4 a treat! *

Dairy-Free Carrot, Cinnamon and Walnut Cake

This was a perfect dinner party dessert last week, a recipe that never fails! Sunflower oil is used instead of butter, which helps keep the cake moist and light. It's delicious served with a yoghurt topping, for those that can eat dairy, or simply dusted with icing sugar or cinnamon.

Ingredients (serves 8)

- 6oz (170g) caster or light brown sugar
- 6oz (170g) sunflower or vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 5.4oz (153g) plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 12oz (340g) grated carrot, roughly 2 1/2 large carrots
- 1oz (28g) walnut pieces (or more!) 
* I didn't use raisins this time, but you can add a handful if you feel like it *

1. Heat the oven to 170°c.

2. Mix the sugar and the oil in a bowl and then add the eggs one at a time. * Don't worry if the mixture curdles a bit *

3. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon into another bowl and mix well. Fold the flour mix into the egg mix and stir until combined.

4. Then stir in the grated carrots and walnuts into the cake mix (and raisins if using) and place in a suitable round cake tin with a removable base. 

5. Cook the cake at 170°c for 25 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160°c and cook for a further 20/25 minutes.

6. When the cake is ready, remove it from the oven and leave it to cool for around 10 minutes (otherwise it will deflate in size). Then gently scrape around the sides with a spatular to remove it from the edge. 

* Sieve some icing sugar or grated cinnamon on top for decoration *

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Sweet Minced Lamb with Aubergine and Apricots

If you're bored of bolognese, this sweet, curry inspired dish is the one for you. It can be made a few days in advance (which lets the juices flow) and served with boiled rice, couscous, or a baked potato. Perfect for dinner party preparation as it re-heats really well and can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

for the sweet beef - 

- 1 tbsp groundnut oil (or veg oil)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 500g beef or lamb mince 
- 1/2 an aubergine, chopped into small pieces
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 green chilli, chopped
- 2-3 tbsp mango chutney
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 10 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
- 100ml chicken or vegetable stock
       - 8 dried apricots, chopped
   - 50g sultanas or raisins
- salt and pepper

for the couscous - 

couscous (roughly 280g - see instructions)
240ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 small handful of coriander, finely chopped (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp good quality olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Fry the onion and garlic in the groundnut oil for a few minutes and then add the chopped aubergine. Stir for another couple of minutes and then add the meat and start to brown it, stirring constantly. 

2. Next, stir in the curry powder, tomatoes, tomato puree and chutney. Cook for a few minutes and then add the stock, followed by the apricots and raisins. Season with salt and pepper and let the dish simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.

3. When the lamb has been cooking for 20 minutes, start to make the couscous. Place the couscous in a clear bowl and just about cover it with stock. Leave it for around 4 minutes with a lid or plate on top, and then fluff it up with a fork. Next add the chopped coriander (if using), lemon juice, sugar and oil, and season well. *For less faff, make rice not couscous*.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Gluten Free Lemon and Almond Cake

A fail safe recipe that goes down a treat! Perfect for any dinner party, or as a sweet fix with a cup of tea. When I first acquired this recipe from a friend, I changed the quantities as it didn't need 6oz sugar or butter - feel free to add more sugar if you like it sweet though! It still tastes great and it's got just the right amount of sweetness which compliments the sourness of the lemon zest. This got demolished by 6 girls last night, so you might want to make two if you've got 10-12 people over. 

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

- 6oz ground almonds (I whizz them up in a blender for a few minutes as it's cheaper than buying them ground, and adds a crunch to the cake)
- 5oz butter
- 4 oz sugar
- 3 eggs
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp gluten free baking powder (or normal)
- a few drops of almond essence (this is essential!)

for the icing -

- 3oz icing sugar
- juice from half a lemon

1. Heat the oven to 170°c.  

2. Blitz the almonds if you're doing them yourself, until they resemble granulated sugar or thereabouts. * Try not to over blitz them or they might start turning into almond butter * Remove them from the blender and set aside.

3. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a bowl or food processor for a few minutes until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. * You may need a spatular to scrape down the sides occasionally *

4. Finally, spoon in the ground almonds, lemon zest, baking powder and essence to form a good cake consistency.

5. Pour the mixture into a smallish cake tin lined with parchment paper, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until it is cooked right through.

5. When the cake is cooked, take it out of the oven and leave it to cool for around 10 minutes, before transferring it to a plate or cake tin. Make the icing while it is cooling and pour it over the cake while it is still warm. When the cake completely cools, you'll have a tangy, crispy and delicious topping to add extra moisture to the cake.

6. Top with pomegranate seeds or almonds whilst the icing is still wet.

* Serve hot or cold, on it's own or accompanied with yoghurt or ice cream *

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

My Baba Ganoush

It's an odd thing cooking a whole aubergine, but then again, it's pretty satisfying. Baga Ganoush is quite straight forward, tasty and healthy - however it's a bit of an effort too! Most recipes will ask for tahini, but I prefer to use peanut butter as it's less strong. One aubergine doesn't go very far, and then it's gone in a flash. So if you're making this dip for a lot of people, try double or tripling the quantities. 

Ingredients (makes a small bowl)

- 1 whole aubergine, washed
- 1 small clove of garlic
- 4 sprigs of mint, stalks removed and leaves kept
- a few drops of sesame oil
- 1/2 tbsp smooth peanut butter 
- juice of half a lemon
- salt and pepper

1. Turn the oven to 200c and cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Place your aubergine in the oven for 40-50 minutes, turning occasionally. *Some recipes say to prick the aubergine first, but this makes it harder to peel when it's cooked*

2. When the aubergine is charred and flattened slightly, take it out of the oven and peel off the skin.

*The aubergine will let off some water*

3. The water needs to be removed to form a smooth creamy texture. Put the aubergine in a sieve and push out the water with a spoon.

4. Mix all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.


Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds to add a little colour.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Naughty Chocolatey Brownies

A brownie recipe that never fails! I made these for 30-40 people in the summer and they were a huge hit. The brownie mix is extremely good, so expect to eat half the mix before cooking!

Ingredients (makes 8 very large pieces)

- 100g plain flour (I have made them using gluten-free flour and they're still very good. Next time I want to try ground almonds)
- 250g unsalted butter
- 300g caster sugar or soft brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 75g good quality cocoa powder
- 4 eggs
- 100g plain chocolate or white chocolate (drops or from a bar - not too dark unless you like rich brownies), mashed into small pieces

1. Start by turning the oven to 180°c. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer for a few minutes and then gradually add the eggs one at a time.

2. Add the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and blitz until smooth. 

3. Stir in the chopped chocolate drops or pieces and then place in a suitable lined square cake tin.

4. Put the brownies on the floor of the oven for 25 minutes and then turn the oven down to 140°c (simmering oven) and bake for another 20 minutes in the centre of the oven.

* If you have doubled the mixture, then 40 minutes for baking and 35 for simmering * Try adding chopped nuts or raspberries for someting different *

Easy Chilli Chicken Pot with Peppers and Basil

This dish is so simple, delicious and quick. It's perfect for any dinner party as you can leave it to cook while attending to your guests. This was invented from fridge leftovers, so you can chop and change the vegetables as you wish. The radishes were a late addition, and I don't think I've ever cooked them before - but they really work!

Ingredients (serves 4)

- 4 chicken legs or thighs
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes or similar
- 2 peppers (any colours), chopped into big slices
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly sliced
- 1 whole red chilli, chopped
- two sprigs of basil with around 14 leaves, roughly chopped (I keep leftover basil in the freezer so that it doesn't go bad, and then get it out when I don't have it fresh. Any herb can be frozen and used this way, saving waste and money)
- a few good glugs of leftover red wine (or any wine if you don't have red)
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 100g radishes (optional), chopped in half

1. Firstly, brown the chicken in a little vegetable oil (it might be good to use a deep frying pan with a lid - to avoid spitting), for around 5 minutes, turning occasionally.

2. Remove the chicken from the pan and fry the onions and garlic for a few minutes. When they begin to soften, add the wine and tinned tomatoes and cook until the sauce starts to bubble. 

3. Place the chicken, peppers and chilli in the pan and cook on a medium heat for around 20-25 minutes. Fill the empty chopped tomato can with 1/3 boiling water and the stock cube, and add that to the pan 10 minutes in along with the chopped basil. If you like lots of sauce, keep the lid on so that the juices don't evaporate away. Keep an eye on the heat might need turning down a little.

4. If you're using radishes (or another alternative like peas or mushrooms) add these to the pan 5 minutes before serving.

Serve this dish alongside rice, potatoes or some delicious bread. Minimal effort and washing up, maximum tummy happiness!