The Main Attraction: Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomato Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomato Soup

“What kind of rain is it? Drizzle, or wet rain?” “Just drizzle. But it’s been going for hours.” Not just drizzle. Drizzle is the worst kind of rain. Non-committal weather. Rain if that’s what you want to do. Rain and I’ll eat soup.

I normally cheat and buy soup (shoot me) but in a rare moment recently I was feeling wholesome and I made a batch of my own. Not only was it embarrassingly easy, I remembered how much tastier homemade soup is (when you get it right) and vowed never to buy soup again. Which I will of course stick to as thoroughly as I stick to my wholesome living. Ahem. Here’s how you deal with drizzle and break the tasteless soup cycle:

Ingredients (makes 4 portions)

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 6 tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 pint vegetable stock

Do it

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 9 (220 degrees)
  2. Peel and roughly chop the butternut squash and the onion
  3. Halve the tomatoes
  4. Put the chopped butternut squash, onion, peeled garlic cloves and halved tomatoes in a roasting tray
  5. Splash over some olive oil and add sea salt and pepper
  6. Roast in the oven for 30-40 mins until the squash is tender
  7. Bring the vegetable squash to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer
  8. Add the roasted vegetables and leave to simmer for a further 20 minutes
  9. Turn off the heat and allow to cool
  10. Blend once the mixture has cooled enough and re-heat to serve

Serve on a drizzly day with chunky bread and feel smug!

 

Something Sweet: Fruity Black Bean Brownies

Fruity Black Bean Brownies

The best people really like chocolate. By really like, I mean REALLY like. None of this ‘I keep a bar in the fridge and have a square or two when I fancy it’. The best people are the ones who kept a bar of chocolate in the fridge for two minutes. And then eat it all.

These brownies are, for me, the perfect brownie. Chocolatey, squidgy, fruity. But NEWSFLASH – they’re made of beans. BREAKING NEWS – they still taste amazing. Mind. Blown.

The recipe is adapted from Hemsley + Hemsley (gluten, grain and refined suger-free) and I’m a little bit obsessed. If you’re sceptical and think they’re going to taste like a tin of beans with added cocoa powder and sprinkled with walnuts you’re in for a very tasty shock. Here’s how you think out of the brownie box:

Ingredients (makes 9 large brownies)

  • 1 tin of cooked black beans (500g – either salted or unsalted)
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 45g cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 75-90ml maple syrup (depending how sweet you like them!)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 70g dried fruit (I used a mix of raisins, sultanas and cranberries)
  • 50g chopped walnuts (to decorate)

Do it

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (170 degrees)
  2. Grease and line a square baking dish (I used 20cm x 20cm, 1 inch deep)
  3. Drain the black beans
  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and set aside
  5. Add the drained beans, eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup and vanilla extract to a food processor and blend until smooth
  6. Add the melted butter to the food processor very slowly (so you don’t cook the eggs)
  7. Taste the batter – adding more maple syrup if you prefer it sweeter
  8. Stir in the dried fruit with a wooden spoon until mixed through
  9. Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin
  10. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top to decorate
  11. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the brownie starts to crack on the top and feels firm but springy to touch
  12. Leave on a wire tray and cut into even rectangles once cool

If you’re looking for a sweet snack that gluten-free and gluten-loving friends can enjoy, I’d definitely recommend this as your answer! You can also supplement maple for golden syrup and finish with melted white or milk chocolate (or both) for that extra chocolate hit if you’re not too concerned about a little refined sugar.

The Main Attraction: Cauliflower Steak

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Being married to someone who likes steak has it’s distinct disadvantages. Specifically for a vegetarian. Being repeatedly told of steak’s messiah status in the meat world is quite annoying, but not as annoying as when you’re out for a meal and the steak-fan pushes the boat out and orders a steak, only for it to be disappointing (a regular happening). Cue more repetitive exclamations of how they shouldn’t have ordered the steak, they knew it wouldn’t be very good, they should have ordered a burger, and next time it’s your responsibility to remind them not to order the steak. It’s a vicious cycle of steak-loving and loathing.

You don’t get that with cauliflower. You can make steak out of cauliflower again and again and you’ll never wish you were having a burger. Ever.

At first I was sceptical whether cauliflower steak would taste good and be a substantial enough meal. I needn’t have worried on either count as it’s tasty and filling, although not the most photogenic as you can see. The meat-loving steak-fan himself rated it “half decent”, which is man-code for he liked it and he’d happily have it again. Here’s how vegetarian’s can get their steak fix too:

Ingredients

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • olive oil

For the chimichurri sauce

  • half a bunch of parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 shallot
  • half a red chilli (or a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes)
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • juice half a lemon
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • sea salt and pepper

Do it

  1. Make the chimichurri by blending all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth and set aside
  2. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower
  3. Slice the head of the cauliflower into ‘steaks’ 1 inch thick
  4. Spread the chimichurri over both sides of the cauliflower steaks and leave to marinade for 15-30 mins
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees (gas mark 4)
  6. Pan-fry each cauliflower steaks for 5 mins on each side, or until they start to brown well
  7. Transfer into a large oven dish and roast in the oven for 30-40 mins

Serve it with homemade chips and you’re on to a winner.

Come Dine With Him: Tuna Provencal

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It’s perhaps no surprise that a busy summer has meant Come Dine With Him has taken a holiday, let’s call it, from the kitchen. But, like every good trip to Malaga, holidays have to come to an end, and last night it was time to get back on the horse and see what he could concoct from two tuna steaks and a handful of vegetables. A easy task? It’s always worth easing in gently after a holiday…

With a bit of inspiration from Gordon Ramsay, the conclusion was an unexpected Tuna Provençal, which due to ease of preparation and minimal washing up* (the real key as to whether a dish gets recreated in our household), it was deemed a great success. Plus it tasted pretty damn nice, I’ll give him that. Here’s how he reminded himself that cooking isn’t as bad as he remembered it:

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 tuna steaks
  • olive oil
  • half a red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 courgette, chopped
  • tin of chopped tomatoes (400g)
  • sprig of thyme
  • sprig of rosemary
  • 50g pitted black olives
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • handful of basil leaves (optional)

Do it

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (gas mark 6)
  2. Heat a splash of oil in a pan, add the onion, garlic, peppers and seasoning
  3. Sauté for 5-6 mins until they begin to soften, but not colour
  4. Add the courgette and cook for a further 2-3 mins
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and olives
  6. Simmer for a few mins before transferring to an oven-proof dish
  7. Rub the tuna steaks with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil
  8. Place the tuna steak on top of the vegetables with a lemon slice on each steak
  9. Add a grind of pepper
  10. Bake for 8-10 mins, which will cook the tuna steaks medium-rare. Cook for 5 mins longer if you prefer medium-well
  11. Scatter ripped basil leaves over the dish and serve

*The washing up quota: one chopping board, one knife, one pan, one oven-proof dish, two plates, two knives and forks, two glasses. Pretty ideal for any reluctant dish pig.

The Main Attraction: Cauliflower pizza base

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There’s a bit of a cauliflower pizza base craze going on at the moment and I’m not usually one for crazes but I did see a recipe that said a cauliflower base was “as good as Dominos” and so I threw caution to the wind.

I was very cynical about the whole thing, perhaps too cynical given the way it turned out, but I didn’t want to eat wet vegetable masquerading as something we all know is much nicer than anything in the same family as the brussel sprout (brassicaceae just in case you were wondering). The key is to squeeze out as much moisture from the cauliflower as possible once it’s cooked, and the result is a pizza base that’s crispy at the edges but has enough moisture in the middle for it not to be too dry. Or too wet. Plus it holds whichever topping you choose neatly just like, well, a pizza really.

Does it still taste of cauliflower? Not as much as you’d expect. Is it as good as Dominos? Okay I’ll be honest, it probably wouldn’t pass a like-for-like blindfold taste-test (which take place surprisingly frequently in our house), but as a gluten free, healthy alternative to pizza it tastes good enough! Here’s how you cave in to a craze:

Ingredients (makes one base – enough for 2 people)

  • 1 large cauliflower (head only)
  • 1 egg
  • handful of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tspn mixed herbs
  • sea salt and pepper
  • one square of muslin

Do it

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees celsius (gas mark 5)
  2. Rinse the cauliflower, remove the florets from the stalk and leaves
  3. Blitz the florets in a blender until the same consistency as rice
  4. Empty the ‘rice’ cauliflower into a microwavable bowl and cover with cling film. Prick the cling to give air holes
  5. Microwave the cauliflower for 6-8 mins
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Once cooled, tip the cauliflower rice into the centre of the muslin and wrap the muslin around the cauliflower to create a ball of cauliflower rice inside the muslin
  8. Squeeze out all of the liquid in the cauliflower over the sink. The retained water will drip through the muslin, as if a sieve
  9. Once you’ve squeezed out as much as you can, empty the cauliflower rice into a mixing bowl and add the egg, parmesan cheese, herbs and season well with salt and pepper
  10. Mix together and transfer the mixture onto an oven-proof pizza stone, or pizza tray
  11. Spread out evenly, creating a thick pizza base
  12. Oven bake for 15-20 minutes
  13. Remove from the oven and add your topping of choice (I have used a tomato base, mixed vegetable and feta cheese top)
  14. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the topping is cooked and the edges of the pizza base are crisp and browned

I’d recommend going thicker rather than thinner with the base and experiment with your toppings. I’ve read using the same base recipe and adding cheese and garlic makes a brilliant garlic bread, which will be my next cauliflower pizza base adventure. A convert to the craze? Let’s just say it’s not quite as crazy as I first thought.

Something Sweet: Key Lime Pie

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I have a friend who’s also gluten intolerant, which makes life a lot easier. We recommend recipes, share sob stories, don’t feel as socially awkward when we’re out for dinner and have to ask the server twenty questions before we can order. It’s actually amazing having a gluten intolerant friend.

This key lime pie was made for a BBQ at my gluten-free friend’s house, and seeing as I knew her and her (nearly) husband have special skills when it comes to BBQs, I wanted to bring a cracking dessert. Of course, being the first time I’d made this, I labelled it an ‘experiment’ in case it was one gluten-free step too far, but luckily everything went swimmingly and this creamy/ lime/ biscuit combo was a winner. Here’s how you celebrate your gluten-free friends:

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 150g gluten free digestive biscuits (I used Sainsbury’s ‘Free-from’ range, although of course in an ideal world of perfection I should have made my own)
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • tin of sweetened condensed milk (397g tin)
  • 400ml double cream
  • 2 limes (juice and zest needed)

Do it

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat
  2. Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs and add to the melted butter
  3. Press into a 10 inch flan dish (I have used a loose bottom dish)
  4. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm
  5. For the filing, whisk the condensed milk, lime juice, lime zest and 200ml of double cream until the mixture is thick and creamy (approx. 3-5 mins of whisking)
  6. Pour over the biscuit base
  7. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set
  8. Whisk the rest of the double cream (200ml) until thick and once the pie is set pour (or pipe if you want to be fancy) on top
  9. Decorate with an additional lime (optional) and return to the fridge until you’re ready to serve

As the couple in question are about to get married and insisted on not being told what was in the recipe to alleviate guilt from straying from their ‘wedding diet’, I hope they don’t read this post until after their wedding. But in case they do… Bee and Gilly please substitute all mentions of butter and cream for ‘definitely fit into your wedding outfits’ and ‘people who eat dessert always have more fun’ 😉

The Main Attraction: Black Rice Noodle Prawn and Squid Stir-Fry

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I’ve been on a bit of a noodle mission recently and it’s very much been trial and error. Mainly error. The noodles I’ve been testing have all been gluten-free alternatives and more often than not I’ve found them to disintegrate very easily leaving a noodle-stodge mess. Then I came across black rice noodles.

Black rice noodles may look slightly intimidating, but there’s no difference in taste between black noodles and white noodles, or even spaghetti, and as long as you stick exactly to the cooking time below, they keep their noodle shape to make the perfect alternative. Plus there’s something a little ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ about them, which makes them all the more exciting. Here’s how you cook up some gluten-free noodles, Captain Jack Sparrow style:

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 125g Black rice noodles (I used King Soba)
  • Olive oil
  • large handful baby sweetcorn
  • large handful purple stem broccoli
  • large handful mange tout
  • half red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 125g raw prawns
  • 125g squid, ringed
  • 1 lemon (juice only)

Do it

  1. Boil a pan of water ready for the noodles
  2. Wok-fry the baby sweetcorn and purple stem broccoli in a glug of olive oil
  3. Add the mange-tout and red chilli once the sweetcorn and stem broccoli have started to soften slightly
  4. Fry the garlic for a minute in a small frying pan with a dash of olive oil
  5. Add the prawns and squid rings into the small frying pan with the juice from the lemon and leave to simmer cook over a medium-low heat
  6. Meanwhile, add the black rice noodles to the pan of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes
  7. Continue to wok-fry the vegetables until they’re cooked through but still crunchy
  8. Toss the prawns and squid rings, they will be cooked once the prawns have changed colour to pink
  9. Drain the noodles
  10. Layer the noodles at the bottom of the dish, a generous amount of vegetables and spoon the seafood on top

Quick, easy, delicious.

Aside: Al Fresco Aubergine

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I’m definitely a summer person. As soon as the weather gets bearable enough to eat outside then I’ve packed up a picnic and am heading to the nearest spot of grass, or preferably beach, I can find. I’m not fussed about bees, wasps, ants or any other insect that might try and jeopardise my al fresco eating, and I’ll even deal with my other half freaking out at the slightest glimpse of anything that flies. As long as we’re eating outside. These aubergines are Ottolenghi inspired, although mostly from a recipe I found whilst trawling the Internet. Like most useful Internet searches, I now can’t seem to find it again.

It does call for a reasonable amount of oil and I had thought this might be greasy but it’s not at all, and the lemon juice, chilli and garlic combine to make it really fresh and very addictive. Plus no vampire will ever come near you again if you get the amount of garlic just right. Here’s how you make aubergine al fresco:

Ingredients (makes enough sides for 4 people)

  • 2 aubergines
  • olive oil (for brushing)
  • sea salt and pepper

Marinade

  • 5 tbspns olive oil
  • 5 tbspns lemon juice
  • half red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • sea salt and pepper

Do it

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 degrees)
  2. Cut the aubergine into wedges, each about the same length as your little finger. As much as possible try to ensure there is some aubergine skin on one side of each of the wedges
  3. Line up on an oven tray and brush with olive oil
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins, or until the wedges have browned at the edges and are soft
  6. Meanwhile, make the marinade – mix the olive oil, lemon juice, chilli, garlic and parsley in a large bowl
  7. Season with salt and pepper
  8. Remove the aubergines from the oven when cooked and add to the marinade (whilst hot)
  9. Mix thoroughly to ensure all the wedges are covered in marinade
  10. Leave for in the marinade for an hour and serve

These also make a great addition to a vegetarian lentil dish to serve as a main, and can be accompanied by some crème fraîche mixed with dill and lemon to ease the chilli kick.

Come Dine With My Friends: Four Seasons Quiche

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My friends Michelle and Vicky have an allotment. They live in the country, in a beautiful cottage, with a lovely dog called Riley and I have major life envy. This is the second year of their allotment. Last year was their trial, but they’re the kind of couple who can turn their hand to anything and make it a success, so I wasn’t surprised when they yielded enough amazing vegetables to feed their entire village. This year they’ve got a plan. And a greenhouse. They’ve also acquired a second plot and I’ve got a feeling they’re going to need a lorry to transport this year’s harvest. But they’ll do it and will be eating like organic royalty for most of the year.

A weekend visit to see them is always great, but during their early summer harvest (yep, that’s a thing in the allotment world) it’s extra special, as we went up to the allotment to pick radishes, beetroot, onions and chard. What to do with all these amazing veggies? Well, of course Michelle had mentally-designed a Four Seasons Quiche recipe ahead of my arrival, and so post-picking we set to work making a quiche feast. The key ingredient of eggs were acquired from Michelle’s mum’s chickens, or “the girls”, as they are fondly referred to. Here’s how you have a quiche-tastic weekend:

Ingredients (makes the biggest quiche I’ve ever seen)

  • 400g shortcrust pastry (homemade or ready made – we used gluten free Genius)
  • several knobs of butter or olive oil (for frying)
  • 3 beetroot
  • 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsps runny honey
  • 4 onions (allotment Spring onions… or white or red onions will work as well)
  • 2 tbsps soft brown sugar
  • 100g feta cheese
  • a large handful of chard
  • a bunch of asparagus
  • 7 eggs (6 for the quiche, 1 for sealing the pastry bottom)
  • a splash of milk
  • 200g cheddar cheese, grated
  • sea salt and pepper
  • optional – herbs and herb flowers to decorate (lavender, rosemary)

Do it

  1. Pre-heat the oven at 190 degrees/ gas mark 5
  2. Roast the beetroot – chop into quarters and place in a makeshift tinfoil parcel with a splash of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the honey. Season with salt and pepper and wrap the tin foil over the beetroot. Cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until soft. Take out the oven and cool. Once cooled, the skin will be much easier to remove – it should just peel off. Chop the beetroot flesh into bitesize chunks and set aside.
  3. Grease a large quiche dish – the bigger the better!
  4. Roll out the shortcrust pastry to fit the dish – blind bake with baking beads for 20 mins
  5. Egg-wash the pastry bottom to seal (using one of the eggs), and return to the oven for a further 5 mins.
  6. Remove the pastry case after 5 minutes and leave aside until ready to fill
  7. Prepare the four individual ‘seasons’ – beetroot (see above) and feta, caramalised onion, asparagus and chard
  8. Feta – chop into chunks and set aside with the roasted beetroot
  9. Caramalised onion – slice the onions and fry with a knob of butter for 3-5 mins. Add the brown sugar and continue to fry on a low heat until the onions have caramalised, turning golden brown in colour. Season with salt and pepper and set aside
  10. Asparagus – chop the asparagus into chunks, leave the asparagus heads aside to use as decoration, fry the rest off with a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper. Set aside
  11. Chard – chop the chard roughly. Fry off with a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper. Set aside
  12. Fill the blind baked pastry case with the fillings – ensuring each filling takes up one quarter of the pastry bottom. Pack each quarter generously with each mixture
  13. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs loosely with a fork and add a generous splash of milk
  14. Pour the egg mixture delicately into quarter-by-quarter into the quiche, this is to ensure the quarters are kept separate
  15. Sprinkle the whole quiche with grated cheese
  16. Decorate the top of each quarter – using the asparagus heads, lavender, chard flowers and rosemary
  17. Cook in the oven for 35-40 mins, or until the quiche has set and the cheese has turned golden brown on top

This may feel like a lot of ingredients, and a lot of effort, but the end result is definitely worth it! And it’s guaranteed to be a great talking point of any family meal or friend’s picnic. Plus, of course there’s always the hero who will want to try every season, which when a quiche is this good… who can blame them?!

The quiche also looked awesome before my friend Michelle put it in the oven. Very pretty!

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The Main Attraction: Red Thai Prawn Coconut Noodles

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I’ve been wanting to recreate the sort of thing I always order on a Thai menu for a while. If the description lists prawns, lots of veggies, coconut milk and lime then I’m sold and I’ll rarely stray from this top choice. If it ain’t broke, after all. So figuring out a quick, easy, mid-week version of this restaurant favourite felt like the right way to go. I also tried out rice vermicelli noodles for the first time. Fashionably late to the party? Always! Surprise, surprise they’re ideal and I’ve added them to my go-to list of gluten-free alternatives, which is steadily growing. Here’s how you get my easy, in-house Thai fix:

Ingredients (makes portion for 2)

  • Olive oil for stir frying
  • 100g baby sweetcorn, chopped into chunks
  • 1 pak choi – stem and leaves, stem chopped into chunks
  • 100g mange tout, halved
  • 200g shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tbsps Thai red curry paste (check to ensure gluten free)
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 100ml vegetable stock
  • 1 lime
  • 300g rice vermicelli noodles
  • 200g raw king prawns

Do it

  1. Heat a wok with a splash of oil. Stir fry the sweetcorn and pak choi stems until slightly softer
  2. Add the mange tout, pak choi leaves and mushrooms and continue to stir fry for a further 3-5 mins. Remove from the wok and set aside
  3. Add the Thai red curry paste to the residual olive oil in the wok and cook off for a minute
  4. Pour in the coconut milk and stock
  5. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4 mins
  6. Meanwhile, in a separate pan submerge the rice vermicelli noodles in boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes until soft
  7. Add the stir-fry vegetables to the wok and mix thoroughly into the coconut milk
  8. Add the juice of half the lime
  9. Add the prawns
  10. Drain the cooked noodles and add these to the wok
  11. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the prawns have cooked
  12. Serve with lime to garnish

For chilli fiends you can also add fresh red chilli to give it that extra kick. I’ve also found this is a great meal to serve to non gluten-free friends, as they won’t even notice the lack of gluten. Making it an all-round winner in my book.