Midweek Mexican Madness with Old El Paso

A few weeks ago I was very lucky to receive an email asking me if I would be prepared to work with Old El Paso by reviewing their Mexican products and making a few recipes at home for us to try as a family.

Old El Paso products make Mexican food easy. I have been buying their seasoning, fajita kits and tortillas since I was at University and for me, the cheaper imitations just are not as good. But then, I like my Mexican food spicy! One of my all time favourite Mexican dishes are enchiladas. Old El Paso sell both the dinner kits which include full instructions, or you can buy the spices, corn tortillas and make a spicy tomato sauce to suit your own taste, I prefer the latter although both options are tasty! Old El Paso have some great recipes on their website to make enchiladas, but with a twist so do check them out!

Now I am no food blogger, but I wanted to share with you how I make my enchiladas! I use Quorn fillets, and lots of vegetables as a filling all wrapped inside Old El Paso corn tortillas and topped with as spicy tomato sauce. Here are some of the products that I was sent in order to make some midweek Mexican madness! (That’s what I call our Wednesday Mexcian menu!)

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Quorn meat-free chicken and veggie Enchiladas

You will need:

Old El Paso dinner kit for Enchiladas
2 x peppers
Handful of button mushrooms
1 x aubergine
Packet of Quorn pieces/fillets/roast chicken-style
Cheddar cheese, grated
Oil/FryLight

Chop a few a couple of peppers (I use red and yellow) and a large red onion, pan fry in oil/FryLight until soft, then add a handful of button mushrooms and a chopped/ prepared aubergine. Cook further for 5-10 mins until all the vegetables are starting to turn golden brown. Next add the Quorn, I usually use Quorn pieces or fillets, but had none in so used a Quorn roast, and chopped it up! Throw it into the pan and cook all the ingredients for a further five minutes.

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Next make the tomato sauce, by adding the sachet of Old El Paso seasoning (add two if you prefer spicy HOT!) to the tomato sauce provided in the dinner kit with a little water, or to chopped tomatoes and garlic, then add HALF of it to the vegetable mixture. Simmer for 5-10 minutes then you’re ready to prepare the corn tortillas. Carefully spoon approximately 1/8 of the mixture into each corn tortilla, adding a teaspoon of the sauce and roll, placing fold side down in a ovenproof dish.

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Once all the Enchiladas are filled, pour over the remaining sauce and top with the grated cheese, cook in the oven at approximately 180, for 25 minutes. Ta-dah! You have a tasty Mexican treat, all prepared and cooked within an hour. The meal kits are pretty mild-tasting too, so suitable for all the family.

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Why not give Old El Paso a go next time you fancy a Mexican feast? My toddlers love them! I do try to mix up with fillings for variation, spinach, goats cheese and refried beans are amazing. Buen provecho!

Old El Paso also sent me two toppings to try, as pictured above. I have to admit I do not buy these, simply because I prefer to use creme fraiche, and make my own salsa, using balsamic vinegar and lots of fresh tomatoes and coriander (which, is amazing by the way!) but actually these sauces were really pleasant. I used them as accompaniments for this meal and also alongside fajitas, there was enough for two meals for a family and the tomato zesty dip was really tasty. I would buy them again in the future, although perhaps when they are on offer as they can work out quite pricey!

Overall I love Old El Paso. Their food isn’t about getting out the best china and having a posh sit down meal, it’s about eating together, being social and getting stuck in! As Mexican food experts they’re passionate about bringing the spirit and flavours of Mexico to dinner tables all over the world. Their recipes are bursting with bright colours, full flavours and fragrant blends of herbs and spices. Try them today!

You can also find further Mexican recipe inspiration and recipes on Old El Paso’s social media pages including Twitter Facebook & Instagram

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New Release Video! We HEART Quorn

If you read this blog regularly, or know me at all you will know that I am a huge Quorn fan and I have worked with the brand previously, making recipes and promoting their wonderful meat-free, low fat products, enabling people of the UK to add versatility to their meals without the guilt of animal slaughter or the faff of ensuring meat is prepared, cooked and healthy.

Quorn Foods have a fabulous Quorn YouTube Channel where you can watch all their adverts, and gain top tips or inspiration for making your favourite meals with Quorn products. You can also watch the amazing long distance champion runner Mo Farah eating his favourite Quorn foods. The YouTube video below shows him eating his most favourite chilli, made with Quorn Meat mince. Which I have to say, is one of my favourites too!

Want more protein in your diet? Protein-rich foods have long been popular with people that lead an active lifestyle. Protein, accompanied by exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, can help you to improve muscle mass, which could help you to increase your overall strength. It can reduce the time needed to recover after a tough jog or strenuous workout, and it forms an essential part of the antibodies that keep you feeling healthy. It’s inside your hair and nails too, so eating plenty of high quality protein can leave you looking, and feeling, great.

In short, Quorn foods are a healthy source of protein, encouraging that healthy lifestyle that we all crave!

If you’ve not tried Quorn, I wholeheartedly recommend it, they taste great, look impressive and actually some of the time, it’s not entirely obvious you are not eating meat. Quorn products are great for losing weight too, especially on the Slimming World or Weight Watchers plans, where Quorn products fully compliment meals ensuring you have points of syns left for other important treats, such as chocolate or a glass of wine!

Look out on my blog for further ‘We heart Quorn’ recipes, posts and news!

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If you like the sound of trying Quorn or perhaps building or simply adding to your repertoire, then you can visit http://www.quorn.co.uk/healthy-protein/ for more information, recipe ideas and cooking videos. Alternatively, log onto the Quorn UK Facebook page follow @QuornFoods on Twitter and their fabulous Youtube channel too.

You can also search the hashtag #ahealthyprotein you will also find lots of useful Quorn information, tips and recipes too. Be sure to share yours!

*Disclosure: Crowtherclan were compensated by way of payment from Quorn foods for embedding the above video. All words and accompanying opinions are my own*

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I Heart Quorn: Some Lasagne Lovin’

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This blog is the first of two very special Quorn blog posts! Most of you will know that I’ve been a vegetarian since I was nine, and so choosing meat-free alternatives have been pretty high on the agenda for many years now. You will also probably know that I am a HUGE Quorn fan. Quorn Foods recently asked me to work with them in order to create a Winter warming recipe, or to try one of their wonderful creations that are listed in the recipes section of their website. Being a Quorn fan, I jumped at the chance! I have been hankering after working with them for years, and helping them fly the flag for healthy, versatile meat alternatives across the worldwide web, spreading the Quorn love as standard!

I love vegetables too, ALL of them. Well, all except celery anyway and so rather than make family friendly vegetarian dishes from protein such as lentils, tofu or Quorn I like to add a good variety of veggies too. Most of our meals at home consist of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables and using meat alternatives regularly means that we can be adventurous with our meals and re-create most recipes that our carnivore opposites enjoy.

The recipe I’d like to share with you is one that I made up on the spot last week and it contains both Quorn and and a array of colourful vegatables, packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals, which, for this time of year are great for fighting off those pesky bugs and infections! I regularly make lasagne but often its a spur of the moment option because I do not meal-plan. The reason for this is that I like to be spontaneous with our meals, simply because some of our best meals have been when I have just thrown most of what was left in the fridge into a pan. Of course, I am aware it’s far more economical to meal plan, and I would like to start at least having a tough guide as to the meals for the week and so plans are in the pipeline to be more organised now I am working part-time and can enjoy cooking a little bit more.

The Quorn lasagne is made primarily with Quorn Fillets, which resemble (although some will disagree) like chicken breasts. Essentially, you can do what the heck you like with the Quorn fillets but I like to but them frozen, allow them to defrost and chop them into chunks. Often I will fry them in a little Frylight or olive oil and then they are ready to be added to any dish you like. You can also cook them by adding them straight to your slow-cooker, casserole or stir-fry. Quorn fillets aren’t great when it comes to marinating however, be warned. But I am past being upset about this, as I have learnt to add vegetables to dishes that soak up the flavour of the dish, or to use a richer sauce to balance things out. I also like that the texture of the fillets differs depending on how it is cooked. In a slow cooker (which is my usual method) the fillets become soft and tender. Pan frying ensure a tougher consistency, probably more like roast chicken.

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On the day I decided to create this recipe I had in the fridge; butternut squash, spinach, courgettes, baby corn, cherry tomatoes, a yellow and a red pepper and some red onions. I always make my own base sauce and so quickly threw some fresh garlic, chopped onion, a dash of balsamic vinegar (or use a little sugar) and chopped tomatoes and tomato puree into a pan and left to simmer to make a basic tomato-garlic sauce. NB if the kids aren’t going to be eating the dish, at this stage I often use fresh chillies at this stage too, as I like a kick when it comes to tomato based sauces, so you could do that too!

Next I lightly pan-fried the butternut squash, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms, adding them to the homemade tomato base sauce once cooked. Then I layered it all up alternatively in a large dish, using the raw spinach to create added layers before the pasta layer, which I knew would wilt nicely whilst in the oven.

I’m not going to list the ingredients in a list form, or with quantities, as I find that family meal cooking doesn’t really work in that way. I am an experimenter and so believe in just working with that you’ve got and trying different vegetables, and seasoning to make a slightly different dish every single time. Variety is the spice of life after all! (AND I don’t actually know any quantities and I generally just chuck it all in!)

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The great thing about lasagne is that you can add what you like and it’s always pretty tasty, plus you can put it in the oven to cook whilst you get one with all those other jobs we all have to do! Next I topped with a homemade cheese sauce (see the end of this blog for a quick and easy cheese sauce recipe!) and sprinkled with more cheese and some dried herbs. Hey presto! I have to add here that when using butternut squash and Quorn fillets, I have found that goats cheese works fantastically! But sadly, all I had in the fridge was cheddar so I went with that.. so if you want to out-do me, use goats cheese. or perhaps a fiery cheddar.. ooh that would be good too.

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After cooking for approximately 30-40 minutes you have a tasty family meal which if stored in the fridge, will last a few days, which means for us, that it last two days, and for two dinners. The lasagne is fairy cheap to make, approximately £7-8 per dish which is, if you’re on a budget I think really reasonable for a family of four. We all loved this dish and both our vegetarian children eat Quorn and have done since the baby-led weaning days, they love it as much as I do in fact!

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In our house, we eat most of the Quorn products, but i’d say it is the fillets we eat the most. It’s a healthy protein that’s low in saturated fat and so suit my (usual) healthy eating plan. I am not a fussy eater, but I like to eat well and in my opinion using Quorn allows us to enjoy all those family favourite meals such as chilli, spaghetti bolognaise or casseroles safe in the knowledge that no animal has suffered for our enjoyment, plus Quorn has high protein levels far less saturated fat than meat. In fact, Lucy Jones, spokesperson for Quorn and Channel Four dietician, says “Incorporating a healthy protein source into our everyday diet is crucial for maintaining normal bones and muscle mass and growth. Protein is also a good source of energy, so for those trying to make exercise a regular part of their routine, it’s vital to introduce varied protein rich foods to help power through the day. So it’s never been so important to eat a protein rich, varied diet. Guidelines suggest that adults should eat between 45g and 55g of protein a day. That’s the equivalent of two pints of milk or seven to eight eggs, so it’s essential that healthy proteins such as Quorn Mince and Quorn Chicken Pieces are introduced for a balanced and healthy diet.

Quorn Meat Free Chicken fillets are available in both chilled and frozen variants, Quorn meat free items are a healthy protein source, quick-to-cook and perfectly versatile for creating stir fries, curries and casseroles. The price is VERY reasonable too especially compared to meats, starting from RRP £3.39 for a 350g chilled pack, RRP £2.55 for a 300g frozen pack and RRP £3.18 for a 500g frozen pack, Quorn meat-free fillets are available from Asda, Morrison’s, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and many more.

If you like the sound of trying Quorn or perhaps building or simply adding to your repertoire, then you can visit http://www.quorn.co.uk/healthy-protein/ for more information, recipe ideas and cooking videos. Alternatively, log onto the Quorn UK Facebook page follow @QuornFoods on Twitter and their fabulous Youtube channel too. if you search the hashtag #ahealthyprotein you will also find lots of useful Quorn information, tips and recipes too. Be sure to share yours!

So that’s it, my kind or Quorn and Butternut Squash Lasagne recipe! Hope you enjoyed! My next Quorn blog post will be all about Quorn Sausages, and more than likely include a (loose) recipe.. so watch this space!

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Quorn Foods Ltd is the reporting group which includes a main trading company, Marlow Foods Ltd. Quorn Foods Ltd encompasses all international operations of Quorn and Cauldron. This post was written by myself in collaboration with Quorn foods.

Quick & Easy Cheese Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

25g/1oz butter
25g/1oz plain flour
600ml/1 pint milk
salt and white pepper
80g/3oz cheese, grated (e.g. mature cheddar, Gouda, gruyère)


Method

1.Melt the butter in a saucepan.

2.Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.

3.Take the pan off the heat and gradually stir in the milk to get a smooth sauce. Return to the heat and, stirring all the time, bring to the boil.

4.Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes and season with salt and white pepper.

5. Stir in cheese and allow to melt. Don t re-boil the sauce or it will become stringy.

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Courgette & Pepper Frittatas: Weight Watchers 1pp!

I love frittata and so I decided to attempt to make some mini versions using Weight Watchers friendly ingredients, basically that are low point value, and also tasty. Something which let’s face it, low fat food can lack.

I worked out that these little frittatas are around 1-1.5 ww pro-points each. I used six eggs, and 30g vegetarian hard cheese. I chose hard cheese rather than cheddar or other cheese as I fancied a change, and I think it compliments the courgettes really well. You should be able to make sixteen mini frittatas with the recipe below, and they are good to take in lunch boxes, or freeze for a rainy day. (I never freeze them though, because they don’t last that long in my house!)

The frittatas take about twenty minutes to cook, take them out once springy on top, be careful not to over cool them as the texture will be too tough, and you won’t enjoy eating them as much!

Ingredients

6 eggs (fresh, good quality & free range)
1 large courgette
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
Handful of chestnut mushrooms
30g Vegetarian hard cheese
Fry Light cooking spray
Black pepper

Pro Points: eggs (18pp) + cheese (3pp)
21 points for 16 frittatas = 1.3pp per frittata

Method

1. Beat the eggs together in a bowl and season.

2. Grate the courgette, blot with kitchen paper to reduce the moisture. Add to the eggs.

3. Chop the mixed peppers and mushrooms into small chunks, add to the egg mixture sprinkle some of the cheese on top of each.

4. Using a muffin tray, spray each muffin hole with Frylight and spoon in some egg mixture into each. Use another try or place the remainder to one side until later.

5. Place the tray/s into the oven and bake for approximately twenty minutes.
Once cooked, turn out onto a wire rack and enjoy hot or cold!

These frittatas are also perfect for parties, buffets and they’re so easy, kids will enjoy making them too!

Other ideas for fillings that I have made are:

Spinach & cherry tomatoes
Goats cheese & peppers
Butternut squash & feta
Mushroom & mozzarella

Basically, choose a vegetable and some cheese, and you’re probably onto a winner. Enjoy!

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Biting the (Nutri) Bullet

Disclaimer: This is NOT a review. I purchased the machine myself and these views are all MINE!

I have a new toy. I felt I just had to share with you the love for my new Nutribullet. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram it is likely you will have seen the photographs of the machine in all it’s glory!!

I’d first seen the Nutribullet on Twitter. Lots of colourful smoothies appeared in my timeline, along with the promise of smooth, healthy drinks to eat on the go.
Sounds good! I thought. But, I did have concerns it was just the latest fad and at £100+ I didn’t fancy wasting my money.

I did a bit of research (aka Amazon verified purchases feedback) because the Nutribullet website seemed too smoothie-maker propaganda heavy for my liking. Sure enough, lots of people seemed pleased with their machines. So I decided to bite the bullet (sorry) and purchase one for myself.

The next day it arrived. I pulled it out of the box like a child on Christmas Day wrestling with a new toy.

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Minutes later we were making our first smoothie. Banana, frozen cherries, apple juice, water, plain yoghurt and a squeeze of honey. It was delicious! I was very much impressed with the power of the Nutribullet, it whipped all the ingredients up in seconds. It’s also very easy to put together, and more importantly wash!

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We’ve had the Nutribullet now for about a month, and every day we have had a smoothie for breakfast. Having gone from regularly skipping breakfast to having a nutritious smoothie, I of course have noticed a huge change in my health. For one, I am less tired and have more energy. I am also snacking less during the day, and my skin, nails and hair seems nicer too.

I imagine my iron levels are through the roof considering all the spinach I have been eating (and I eat it a lot during the week too!) So for all anaemic-prone Mamas out there- get throwing some fresh spinach in your smoothies. I guarantee you will notice a difference in just a few days.

I am sleeping well, and it’s definitely helped stabilise blood sugar levels in a morning (less grumpy behaviour on the commute). However the Nutribullet website suggests that using the product can help you look younger too. Well, I’m yet to experience this miracle transformation, but I will keep you posted!

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The longer we have the Nutribullet, the more ingredients we are trying because we become more daring and adventurous! So far firm favourites are mangos, spinach, banana, apples (core first!), frozen berries, cherries, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, oats, avocado, goji berries, grapes, carrots, peaches, kiwi fruit and strawberries.

Basically, any of the fruit and vegetables you have in, chuck them into the beaker, add come apple juice, water, a squeeze of honey, and mix it up! As long as you add a sweet fruit, it masks the taste of the vegetables slightly, so I always try add mango or strawberries for that reason! I also always add some almond or soya milk, just because I like the creamier texture. Avocado also makes the smoothie mega creamy, which is of course, extremely good for you too, winner!

Some tips for using your Nutribullet (learnt the hard way by me)

1. Always add water. Always. Even if it’s just a splash, otherwise your smoothie will be too thick and will resemble tar.

2. Include honey in your smoothies, it adds sweetness, and takes the edge off a vegetable-heavy smoothie, and is better for you than sugar, as it contains antioxidants.

3. Use frozen fruits, it’s ensures the smoothie is nice and chilled, especially if you are taking it on the commute or school run. Failing that, throw a few ice cubes in instead. Smoothies are much nicer, when cool. Trust me..

4. Be aware if you use ALL frozen fruit, your smoothie will resemble a witch’s cauldron when you open it at the train station..

5. Use cupboard ingredients too, as well as fresh and frozen. Seeds, oats and dried berries and apricots all work well!

6.If everyone at home wants their own travel cup, you can purchase more from the Nutribullet website.

7. For recipes, tips and ideas follow @NutribulletUK or like their page on Facebook

8. Don’t be shy. You make not be keen on kale, goji berries or perhaps avocado but just think of all the amazing vitamins and minerals you will be putting into your body! Add herbs, and chopped ginger for different taste experiences. (Yes, it really works!)

9. Ignore the colour of the smoothie. It is not important. (Sometimes is will
look vile- as long as you’ve added honey, you will be fine)

10. If you create any amazing recipes or know any that I can try, please comment below and share your Nutribullet love!

A milling blade is included with the Nutribullet, but I don’t think it’s really necessary! The main blade seems to blast the seeds or oats I add just fine!

I’d really recommend purchasing a Nutribullet, and I’m particularly looking forward to mixing up some cocktails this Christmas in it too…

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An Amazing Bakewell Cake

A new series of Great British Bake Off is now upon us (and half way through already!!) so each Wednesday evening, I am generally baking and watching the contestants on the show create delicious cakes and bakes! The arrival of the new series has inspired me to share with you a recipe that could represent something very British baking wise and it’s also extremely easy to make.

The Bakewell Tart is a firm favourite of mine, but I wanted to create a more cakey-version of the classic tart. So, I decided to add ground almonds and also almond extract to my usual sponge mixture. The result was delicious, and tasted perfect. The classic combination has this cake bursting with almond flavour, sandwiched together with the luxurious dark morello cherry conserve topped with a blanket of silky icing, toasted almond flakes and glace cherry halves.

Bakewell Tart originates rather obviously from the picturesque town of Bakewell in the Derbyshire Peak District and traditionally, it is an English pudding or dessert consisting of a shortcrust pastry, with a layer of jam and a sponge using ground almonds although some versions of the tart are covered with a layer of fondant. The most famous recipes for the Bakewell Tart came Mrs Beeton in 1861 although there are now lots of modern examples to be found in most cake shops and in most supermarket cake departments!

Most of us have eaten Bakewell Tart but probably not so many of us have made this fabulous twist, so why not give it a go?

Ingredients

For The Cake

8oz butter well softened
6oz caster sugar
2oz ground almonds
8oz self-raising flour
6 teaspoons almond extract or essence
4 large eggs

For The Filling & Topping

1/3 jar of morello cherry or black cherry conserve
8 oz icing sugar
6 teaspoons water or lemon juice
3 tablespoons flaked almonds, lightly toasted (buy a small bag, then toast in a dry frying pan for a few minutes)

2 x 8 in round sandwich tins, greased with fry light spray

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4

2. Beat together all the cake ingredients until smooth. Divide the mixture equally between tins and level the tops with a spatula. (Weigh them if you need to!) Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

*Do not open the oven door until 25 minutes of baking to check the cake*

3. Place the tins onto a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before turning out to cool.

4. Once cool, put one sponge onto grease proof paper, then spread with conserve/jam. Sandwich the second sponge on top.

5. Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl. Add the water and/or lemon juice, then stir until smooth and thick. At this stage, the icing needs to be thick and stiff! Spread the icing on the top of the cooled cake.

6. Scatter the toasted and cooled flaked almonds on the icing and leave to set for a few minutes before cutting. Add the cherries and decorate as you please, depending on cake shape.

The cake can also be placed in the fridge to set if preferred.

7. Initially I made this cake in a round tin, although for the Clandestine Cake Club first Birthday party I decided to make it in the shape of a number one! (See photos below)

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National Vegetarian Week: Veggie Rice Bake Recipe. A Guest post from Mummy Zen

Today I have for you a recipe for National Vegetarian Week and it’s a fabulous guest post by Holly from Mummy Zen

As this week is National Vegetarian Week, I am sharing a vegetarian recipe some of you might like to try; rice bake. It’s a family favourite in our household, it’s relatively quick to make and it’s a great recipe for adapting to whatever vegetables you happen to have around.

In a nutshell, you cook some rice, some veg and combine with a sauce. Top with cheese and breadcrumbs and bake in the oven. The veg can be of one type only (even frozen peas!) or a mix of whatever you have to hand.

The sauce can be whatever you like too, I usually make a bechamel sauce and tweak it in some way (make it cheesy / add some tomato/pesto/mustard) but you could use any kind of homemade or ready made sauce, as you would for pasta for example. A tin of soup could even be used, something like a cream of mushroom soup would work well.
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Most recently I made a rice bake with mushrooms, courgette, green pepper and asparagus with a cheese sauce. My children seem to like and eat courgette if it’s grated (not when it’s diced or sliced) so I grated it for the bake. They don’t like asparagus so I made two separate bakes, one with asparagus for my husband and I, the other without for the children. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the completed rice bake – we were in too much of a hurry to tuck in!

You will notice that I have not specified quantities in the recipe below. Simply cook the amount you think your family will eat and enjoy – there’s no risk of the recipe not turning out, I promise!

Ingredients

•Rice
•One or more vegetables, finely diced/sliced/grated
•Fresh breadcrumbs
•Cheddar cheese, grated
•Sauce (see note above)

Method

•Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6
•Cook rice.
•Gently cook your vegetables if applicable (ie: steam/boil asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, lightly fry courgette, pepper, aubergine, mushrooms etc).
•Make your sauce unless you are using a pre-prepared sauce / tin of soup.
•Combine rice, vegetables and sauce in an ovenproof dish.
•Top with breadcrumbs and cheese.
• Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and golden on top.

Enjoy!

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National Vegetarian Week: I Have An Announcement! A Guest Post from Kip Hakes

My first ever guest post on the blog, Kip Hakes has an announcement he wants to share with you all!

I wrote this post recently about Halal Meat, and after really thinking about it, I’ve decided..

I’m now a vegetarian.

It’s for a number of reasons really – I’ve never really been good with meat, I’ve never had that ‘caveman’ thing of ripping it off the bone with my teeth, it just makes me feel queasy. The overriding reason, above all else is – I don’t really like the idea of something dying, in, what aren’t the nicest of circumstances, to fill my tummy. If you really sit and think about where your plate of sausages, or beef burger has come from, heck even the gelatine in the Haribo sweet, it’ll turn the strongest of stomachs. I’ve lived in a state of ignorance and just not really thought about it all but the bottom line is – it’s gross.

So in the last few months, I’ve been dipping my toe into the world of meat free, picking vegetarian options while I’m out, and rustling up vegetarian meals when I’ve cooked at home, and honestly – I’VE LOVED IT.

It’s not always easy, especially when eating out to find decent vegetarian food on a menu chocker with meat dishes (especially in cheap and cheerful pubs). What I have found though has been fabulous and it’s great to try new things. I had some amazing vegetarian Thai food in Manchester, and Wagamama seem to be very vegetarian friendly too. Switching to the vegetarian curries from my local Indian have been an eye opener too, they seem to be full of more flavour and I don’t feel like I’ve eaten a load of stodge when I’ve cleared my plate. Fast food hasn’t been an issue either – the few veggie options in McDonalds are pretty good, although I think they should definitely extend their choice with Happy Meals, the ‘Carrot Sticks’ seem a bit mean.

I do still need to get a few things sussed out, especially lunches. Lunch usually was a ham or chicken sandwich and a packet of crisps. Of late it’s tended to be cheese based sandwiches, beans on toast, or perhaps noodles – I want to suss out some more exciting stuff! I also need to expand my dinner repertoire, most of the cookbooks I have to hand are very ‘meat heavy’, with only a handful of boring sounding veggie dishes. The Quorn website has been very helpful with suggestions on various ways to use it in recipes, and everything I’ve tried has been fantastic.

The vegetarian bug is taking over G and J too, G (10) has always been a big fan of vegetables, and she’s enjoyed trying Quorn, and helping me cook meals with it.

A massive positive to making the switch to vegetarian is the weight loss, I’m nearly two stone down from the start of the year, and it makes sense really considering the sheer amount of good food I’m consuming. It’s all very liberating! If you’ve ever thought of becoming a vegetarian, try it, slowly cut back, try things like Quorn instead of meat, pick vegetarian options when you’re out, it becomes second nature alarmingly quickly. It’s never too late!

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National Vegetarian Week: Why I am Vegetarian

This week it is National Vegetarian Week and this means that thousands across the UK are eating a meat free diet for a week in aid of both fun and also, for an interesting challenge. I thought I’d share with you over the next few days a selection of posts, with hopefully some guest posts too including recipes, thoughts and experiences all about vegetarianism. The Vegetarian Society says that some 4 million people in Britain are vegetarian, and together they are making a difference in the way we think about food in the UK.

For those of you who aren’t sure The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: “Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter. Vegetarians also avoid the by-products of slaughter such as gelatine which is found in some sweets, biscuits and ice creams and animal rennet which is found in some cheese.

For us (Myself and the Children) this is something we do every week. We are vegetarian and so do not eat any meat, fish or animal derived products at all. I have been vegetarian since I was nine and it all began after meeting like-minded animal loving (and vegetarian) friends at a drama club. Up until the age of nine I hadn’t considered turning vegetarian, but as soon as I considered it, I knew it was right for me.

Why am I vegetarian? This is a strange concept for me to write about, because it’s not normally a conversation I have or topic I cover. I believe in choice. So I don’t rant and rave at meat eaters, I don’t attend rallies supporting the cause. But this does not mean I am not passionate about vegetarianism. Put quite simply, I do not eat meat because I think it is cruel and also unnecessary.

The thought of anything suffering makes me feel ill. Whether human or animal. 2.5 million animals are slaughtered and over 600,000 tonnes of fish are killed EVERY DAY in the UK and I find that very, very sad. I also don’t eat meat because I think it is a grotesque injustice to keep the animals in the horrendous conditions that they are kept in, and even worse to then slaughter and consume them.

I can’t remember what meat tastes like and to be honest, I do not want to remember. I am more than happy with my delicious vegetables and also tofu or meat substitutions such as Quorn or Linda McCartney products.

So then, the main question. The question I am asked so very regularly. Are vegetarians missing out on essential vitamins?

My answer is ALWAYS the same. No.

A balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy! The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, as with any other diet, including a meat-eating one is to eat a wide variety of foods including proteins, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, plenty of greens, whole grain products and seeds. I have been a vegetarian for 22 years and never once had low iron or any diet related illnesses.

I love being a vegetarian and if it’s good enough for tortoises, rhinoceros and gorillas then it’s good enough for me!

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Manchester Tart Cake

Last month’s Clandestine Cake Club meeting was great, the theme was ‘Places’ and although at first I struggled to decide what type of cake to make, eventually the answer seemed obvious to me. I would make a Manchester Tart Cake! I love Manchester, I went to University there and I love the relaxed feel to the City in fact, I often refer to Manchester as my spiritual home! I have not made this type of cake before but a few months back, when I bought Lynn Hill’s (the creator of Clandestine Cake Club) cake recipe book, I’d stumbled upon a fellow member’s cake version of the baked tart and thought it looked tasty! Other ‘Places’ themed cakes present at our last meeting included a Chocolate Battenburg, a Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle cake, a Bakewell cake, a Madeira cake and a Somerset Apple cake. They were all delicious!

Manchester Tart is a traditional English baked tart consisting of a short crust pastry shell, spread with raspberry jam, covered with a custard filling and then topped with coconut and a cherry. The tart is thought to have originated in the 1800s in Manchester, and from the 1940’s until the mid 1980’s Manchester tart was most commonly seen on the school dinner menu and enjoyed probably quite regularly by many Children. It is a very traditional dessert in British cuisine, which tends to historically consist of simple dishes with few ingredients and history wise, Manchester Tart is derived from ‘Manchester Pudding’ which was first recorded in Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide written by Mrs Isabella Mary (Mayson) Beeton, published in 1861.

The recipe I have used to make this cake is a rather indulgent variation of the recipe by Joanne Jessop, included in the Clandestine Cake recipe book, but essentially it is the same idea. A homemade vanilla pod custard and raspberry jam filling, sandwiched in between custard flavoured sponge, topped with icing and of course coconut. Making custard from scratch if you are not used to it can appear daunting, although it is actually relatively easy. If you are short on time however, ready-made custard works well too. I used shop-bought raspberry jam (good quality) although of course homemade would taste delicious if you have the time, or have some in at home.

The original recipe for Manchester Tart has not changed much over time, although variations such as using strawberry jam instead of raspberry jam or adding fresh fruit like bananas, apples and grapes (mixed into the custard filling or layered on top of the jam) can be made, and equally can be added to this cake recipe easily. You could also use whipped cream to top the cake and then garnished with coconut and cherries, however the cake would require eating immediately. Made using this recipe the cake will keep for a few days, but store in an air-tight container.

This cake looks very pretty topped with the coconut and the sponge has a lovely yellow colour and it tastes good too! Why not give it a try?

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Manchester Tart Cake Recipe

Serves 8

Ingredients

225g butter
200g caster sugar
2 tbsp custard powder
200g self raising flour
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence

Filling:

4 tbsp. raspberry jam

For the custard

1 vanilla pod
250ml milk
3 large egg yolks
75g caster sugar
25g corn flour

Topping

100g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. desiccated coconut

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190 fan (gas mark 5) Grease two 20cm round sandwich tins.

2. Beat together all the sponge ingredients and divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins evenly. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a knife/skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool and remove from tins.

3. To make the custard, place the milk and vanilla pod into a saucepan with one tablespoon of cold water and slowly bring to the boil, remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy, then whisk in the corn flour. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk a pour over the egg mixture, whisking continuously.

4. Add the mixture back to the heat, and continue to whisk. Once the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove from the heat and cover with cling film, this stops a skin forming. When cooled, transfer to the fridge.

5. To assemble the cake, spread the jam over one of the sponges. Beat the custard to loosen it then spread it on top of the jam (you will not need all of it) then top with the other sponge.

6. For the topping, mix the icing sugar with a tablespoon of the milk, and add milk until you have the desired consistency, (you will need it fairly stiff). Spread the icing on the cake and immediately scatter over the coconut. You can then add a cherry if you so wish!

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