Meat Free January

I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions, and I suppose this isn’t really one anyway as I’m not proposing it for the whole year.

We were out for lunch yesterday, combined with a trip to see the new Star Wars film – I’d just eaten a burger, in a restaurant full of people eating loads of meat a few days after Christmas (perhaps like us they’d just run out sufficient Christmas leftovers to make a decent meal and couldn’t face the supermarket again) when I decided I had probably eaten enough meat over the past few days to last me for a month (I don’t generally eat meat every day).

So I decided that I am going to have a meat free January.  I mentioned my idea to my husband when we got home and said that the rest of the family didn’t have to join in and he came up with a whole range of meat free meals that we could both enjoy (most of which we have from time to time anyway) .  Hurrah!  I’m not sure this means he is officially joining in but that at least I can do meat free main meals for us. There are only a few meat free things I will get son to eat – quorn chilli (as he hasn’t yet realised it’s not meat) and pasta with pesto ( which he would probably eat every day if he could), so we’ll still do some meat dishes for him but that shouldn’t be a problem – we often cook separately for him anyway as he’s such a fussy eater, and we’re not often both home by the time he needs to eat.

I’m sharing this publicly at the start as it will help me achieve it.  The one exception I’m going to allow is to use the turkey stock I made on Christmas Day – as long as it is in an otherwise meat free dish, because I don’t want it to go to waste.

When I lived alone I didn’t eat meat that often, maybe once a week so I’m hoping it wont be too hard, and I have plenty of meat free recipes in my repetoire.  I’m off to soak some chick peas and kidney beans now ready for some chilli and curries.

Wish me luck.  I’ll be sharing how I get on over on Instagram

 

 

 

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Vegetable Curry in a Wonderbag

I have been lusting after a Wonderbag for ages.  This year one arrived under our Christmas tree. Hurrah!

Wonderbag

With this new piece of equipment I thought it was about time my I posted a recipe as I haven’t done one for ages, having got really engrossed in reducing our household waste and otherwise reducing our environmental impact. Which is where this fits in quite neatly. The Wonderbag, if you are not familiar with the concept, does not require electricity. You do still need a heat source to start off the cooking process, but once it is piping hot through you pop it into the Wonderbag which is so well insulated that it keeps in enough heat to continue the cooking process for around 4-5 hours ( maybe longer depending what you are cooking).
This suits us well as we have solar panels producing electricity in the middle of the day but we don’t get a chance to eat until quite late. As I work part time I am able to get the dinner going when the sun is out on those days I am home, and still have it hot when we are ready to eat .

For our first go at this I thought I would play it safe with a vegetable curry. The recipe is approximate – feel free to substitute in whatever spare veg you happen to have and vary the spices and quantities to taste, but this is (roughly) what I did. This is enough to serve 4 – as there were only 2 of us eating I just froze half and reheated in the microwave another day.

Start by getting your Wonderbag ready in the place you want to leave it cooking – the instructions suggest you place a trivet or pot stand inside to put your casserole on but you can also line with tea towels – actually I did both this time.

Ingredients:

  • Sweet potato – diced ( I used half of one as that was what we had)
  • Cauliflower – broken into florets ( depending on size half to one)
  • Broccoli – broken into florets ( again I used about half)
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion
  • Garlic
  • Approx 2cm cubed ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 green chilli, sliced
  • Handful of green beans
  • 400g tin of chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • A few mushrooms
  • A couple of tomatoes, chopped
  • Coconut milk ( either 1 can or the powdered sort diluted in hot water)
  • Vegetable stock ( if you like – I think I actually forgot this and just added water)

Additional spices to taste:

  • Chilli flakes or powder ( 1tsp)
  • Turmeric ( 1 tsp)
  • Cumin ( 1 tsp)
  • Ground Coriander ( 1tsp)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • In a tight lidded casserole safe for using on the hob, heat a little oil and fry the onion for a few mins till it is starting to soften.
  • Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and continue stirring for a minute, then add the other spices and stir in to release the flavour.
  • Next add the rest of the vegetables, coconut milk and stock – you want enough liquid to just cover all the vegetables ( not too much as the liquid doesn’t thicken/reduce in the Wonderbag).
  • Stir well and bring to the boil, cover tightly with the lid.
  • Boil for around 10 mins to make sure it is really hot.
  • Transfer carefully to the Wonderbag and seal it up tightly with the drawstring.
  • Get on with something else and come back to it up to 4 hours later ( but as it is all vegetables 1-2 may suffice).  Open it carefully – remember it will still be hot.
  • Serve with rice or Naan bread.

And sorry I forgot to take a photo of it before we ate it 

If you like it spicier you can add any additional spices you like or some curry powder. You could cook the rice in the bag too to save even more energy – you’ll need to add it at least 5 mins before you transfer to the Wonderbag and it will absorb some of the sauce.

Wonderbag 2

 

Notes on sourcing ingredients with minimal packaging:

If you are a more expert food grower that myself you may well have some of the ingredients straight from your garden or allotment – in which case I am in awe.  At this time of year we only had homegrown garlic and windowsill chilli and I had to go out to buy the rest.

I generally find the local market to be the easiest way to get unpackaged veg – so I went off with my trusty shopping trolley and filled up with most of the required veg either straight into my trolley or my own cloth bag. The ginger was unpackaged from supermarket.

The only veg I can’t find package free are the green beans – we have decided the best way to get these out of season is frozen so we can buy a larger amount ( less packaging pro rata) and my thinking is that it might also be more local than the out of season fresh ones shipped from Kenya – although I have yet to check this out ( note to self to do this soon). Sometimes we do have luck growing these so would have our own in the freezer, but sadly not this year.

Rice – I buy bulk 5 or 10kg  bags of basmati rice which last us ages – they are still in plastic but again, relatively less than buying the small bags.

Spices – I didn’t buy any especially this time but they are either in glass jars or again bought in bulk size bags.

Chick peas – I tend to buy in tins rather than dried for convenience – at least the tins are recyclable.

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Red Thai Spicy Parsnip and Coconut Soup

Image

This is a really tasty way of making the most of the last few winter veggies from the allotment, specially since we had to dig up the last remaining root veg up a couple of weeks ago to move across to the adjacent plot.

You can adapt to whatever veg you have on hand but I used (to serve 2-3 generously):

A couple of parnips (diced)

A potato (diced)

A red onion (chopped)

A clove of garlic (chopped or crushed)

A couple of teaspoons of Red Thai paste

A handful of dessicated coconut (or coconut milk)

A red pepper (sliced)

A small amount of spinach (frozen is fine)

Can add some chill flakes too if you like it more spicy.

Method:

Put the dessicated coconut into a pint jug and fill up with boiling water (or stock if you prefer) .  Leave to one side.

Fry the chopped onion until it starts to soften and then add the garlic (chopped or crushed) and the red Thai paste.

Then add the parsnip, potato, dessicated coconut plus water (or can of coconut milk)

Bring to boil and simmer for approx 10 mins before adding the red pepper and spinach.

Simmer for another 10 mins or so until the potato and parsnip are soft, adding more water/stock as necessary.

Then whizz up in a blender to the consistency you prefer ( personally I prefer to blitz around half then stir back in, leaving the rest with some chunkier pieces).

Easy beetroot risotto

After making Nigella’s fab halloumi with beetroot and lime, and adding grated raw beetroot to my sandwiches, we still had 3-4 small beetroot in the fridge towards the end of the week.  This recipe is a simple and quick version of beetroot risotto, maximising the potential of home grown veg by including the spinach like leaves and dispensing with precooking by boiling or roasting the beetroot first ( but by all means do this if you have more time than I).

Since I pretty much made this up as I went along, quantities etc are approximate and can be varied according to what you have available, and if course how many you are feeding.  This was for 2.

Image of beetroot risotto
Beetroot risotto

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped ( I used red but it doesn’t really matter)

2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed.

Beetroot ( 3-4 small) inc leaves.

Risotto rice (approx 100g per person)

Stock ( vegetable or chicken)

Cheese to taste – I used cheddar and parmesan.

Salt and pepper to taste.

A little oil.

Method:

Wash and peel the beetroot, separating and reserving the leaves.

Grate beetroot ( using a mini-chopper /blender is easiest)

Make up around a pint of stock to start with but have hot water ready to make up more as needed.

Add the grated beetroot to the stock and keep on a low heat.In a separate saucepan fry the chopped onion in a little oil to soften, adding the garlic after a minute or two.

After another minute add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Once it is well coated begin ladling in the stock with the beetroot a little at a time, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more ( you could add a little red or white wine before the stock if you have some open and handy.)

Stir in the washed and chopped leaves after about 10 mins.

Continue adding stock until the rice is cooked, which should be about 20 mins.

Turn off the heat and add cheese and seasoning to taste, then cover with a lid and leave for a couple of mins before stirring again.

To serve you can add more pepper and parmesan, and as we had some in the garden I topped with rocket.  Would be good with fresh crusty bread.Image

What can I do with all these courgettes?

Came home from holiday to a huge pile of courgettes, depite removing all the flowers before we went away.    Courgette season is truly upon us.

Having got bored of just frying them up with other veg after a few days I trawled the web and various recipe binders (for which read bits from magazines loosely piled in a disorganised heap in the kitchen).  Thought these ones were worth sharing:

Cheesy courgette loaf:

Cheesy courgette loaf

I’d heard zucchini bread is popular in US, and searched for recipes, but they seem to be for a sweet loaf and I wanted something more savoury.  Eventually found a recipe at: http://www.pebblesoup.co.uk/2009/07/courgette-and-cheese-loaf.html, which I have amended very slightly.  It’s not quite like bread, with 3 eggs – perhaps tending towards a frittata, but still great sliced, lightly toasted and buttered.  The cheese does need to be strong (you could perhaps substitute some parmesan)  – I only had mild cheddar in the fridge and it wasn’t quite cheesy enough.

Might be worth experimenting by adding other veg you happen to have, such as onions?

Ingredients:
75 g butter (melted and cooled) – you can do this in the microwave but take care, it doesn’t take long.
200g grated courgettes (this was 2 fairly small home grown ones)
2tsp salt (I used Lo-salt)
225g self raising flour
3 eggs, beaten
Approx 4tbsp milk
Cayenne and mustard powder to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp of each and it was only very slightly hot)
125 strong cheddar (grated)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (this is for an electric oven without a fan – fan ovens may need a lower temperature and/or shorter cooking time).
  • Line a loaf tin with baking parchment – to avoid the bottom becoming soggy I find a metal tin works better than a silicone one, and with the lining it still comes out quite easily.
  • Mix flour, salt, cayenne, mustard.
  • Add grated cheese.
  • In a separate bowl mix the eggs, milk and butter.
  • Add these to the dry mix along with the grated courgettes and stir to mix.  Add a little more milk if necessary but it should be a thick mix to spoon into the tin.
  • Once in the tin bake for approx 40 mins (although I like to check earlier) until the tops springs lightly when pressed.  Turn off the oven and leave the tin in for a further 10 mins.
  • Leave to cool before removing carefully from tin.

Keep in an airtight container.

Courgette crips:

Slice courgettes as thinly as you can.  Lighty oil and season (can try whatever seasoning you like such as paprika, salt and pepper, chilli etc).

If you have an electric dehydrator lay the slices out on the trays, not touching and dry for approx 15 hours at 55 degrees C.

You can also dry in a low oven (the dehydrator uses less electricity), with the door wedged slightly open but this is a bit of a pain if you want to use the oven for anything else.

Other ideas

  •  Pasta sauce: Cook with some onions,garlic,  tomatoes, basil  (plus chilli if you like) then whizz in a blender to make a pasta sauce – good for freezing.
  • Pastry tart: Use as a topping for a puff pastry tart (spread some pesto on a sheet of ready rolled pastry, top with mozarella, thin slices of courgette, some cherry tomatoes, and some black olives.  Season with black pepper.  Cook at 200 C for 15-20mins.  When cooked sprinkie on some toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.

Beetroot and Fennel Soup

Serves 1-2

1 tsp oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 beetroot (approx 100g) plus leaves, chopped

fennel (either the herb or I used a few top fronds from overgrown florence fennel)

Swirl of greek yoghurt

1. Fry the onions in a little oil until they start to soften, then add the garlic.

2. Add chopped beetroot (not the leaves yet) and give it all a stir.

3.  Add boiling water to cover (start with approx 1/2 pint) and bring back to boil.  You could use stock if you prefer but the beetroot flavour is strong enough without.

4. Add chopped beetroot leaves and fennel to taste.

5. Simmer gently for about 10 mins, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary depending how many it’s to serve and how thick you like your soup.

6.  Once beetroot is tender blend and add black pepper to taste.

7.  Once in the bowl swirl in some yoghurt or cream.

8.  Enjoy with some toast or crusty bread.

Just whizzed this up for lunch with a leftover allotment beetroot and the tops of florence fennel which had bolted making the bulbs far too woody .  They add a great flavour to this soup. Mainly used fronds but a small amount of stalk OK if blended. The soup is a rich, rather alarming red colour – watch out for splashes.