Tag Archives: healthy

Mini Squash stuffed with Sausage and Fennel

Sticking firmly to our autumnal theme here, we picked up 4 mini squash at the absolutely brilliant farmers market held at St Nick’s on a Wednesday. We’re not 100% that we have the varieties right but we think we have an onion squash (the orange/red one), a harlequin (the green and yellow patterned one), a mini tiger striped pumpkin (the striped pale yellow one) and a gem (the very dark green smooth one). We bought them not having a plan for what to do, we knew we wanted to keep it fairly simple so that the lovely qualities of each squash came through, and we veered away from soup because they’re so small it would have been very fiddly! The stuffing for this is inspired by a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe called “Pregnant Jools’ Pasta” which uses sausages to create a fast ragu to go with spaghetti. We love this dish, especially the combination of sausagemeat with aromatic fennel. This makes far too much stuffing mixture (about double) but it will freeze brilliantly and you can use it to whip up some quick stuffed vegetables another time.

Clockwise from bottom: Mini Tiger Striped Pumpkin, Harlequin, Onion (Red Kuri) and Gem squash (we think!)
Clockwise from bottom: Mini Tiger Striped Pumpkin, Harlequin, Onion (Red Kuri) and Gem squash (we think…)

We stuffed the two flat squash and cut the rounder ones into wedges, roasted them and had them along with nutmeg-spiced cabbage as a side. This is an extremely comforting, autumnal dish and because of the size of the squash it could easily be made after work too.

Ingredients

  • 4 mini squash of any variety
  • Butter
  • 50ml chicken stock
  • Cabbage, sliced
  • Nutmeg
  • A small handful of sultanas

For the stuffing

  • 2 pork sausages (we used Cumberland to remind Fats of home)
  • About 100g rice, cooked and cooled (we didn’t measure so this might be a bit out!)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 shallot/small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Pepper to season

Carefully take the lids off the two flatter squash and scoop out the seeds. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put a knob of butter inside each of the flat squash, put the lids back on and place in a roasting dish in the oven for 20 minutes to soften. Meanwhile slice the other squash into wedges and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

After the flat squash have had about 15 minutes add the wedges to the roasting dish. Roughly chop the carrot, celery and onion, peel the garlic and

We had to decapitate the Harlequin from the bottom... Just have to remove the seeds now!
We had to decapitate the Harlequin from the bottom… Just have to remove the seeds now

add all of these to a food processor/mini blender and pulse to finely chop. Add the fennel seeds and pulse a couple of times more to combine. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat and add the chopped vegetables. Fry these for about 5 minutes until softened. Squeeze two sausages out of their skins straight into the pan, then use tongs/a wooden spatula to break them up – this will become easier as they cook, you want them to break up so they resemble minced meat. Once all of the meat is browned and mixed with the vegetables add the balsamic vinegar, the tomato puree and a splash of water to create a rough sauce. Mix in the rice and turn off the heat.

By this time the squash should have had 20-30 minutes and be starting to soften. Carefully stuff them with the stuffing (they’re hot!) and turn the wedges of squash so they colour evenly. Return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes. When they’ve got about 5 minutes to go heat 1 tsp of butter in a large pan/wok and grate in about a quarter of a nutmeg with a fine grater. Add 50 ml of chicken stock and allow them to bubble together for a few seconds and then throw in the sliced cabbage. Toss to coat in the butter/stock mixture, add the sultanas and then cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat stirring occasionally.

Don't worry about the burn (in fact it's delicious!)
Don’t worry about the burn (in fact it’s delicious!)
The cabbage makes a perfect, spicy accompaniment!
The cabbage makes a perfect, spicy accompaniment

Dish everything up and tuck in, snuggled up in a cosy jumper!

On a completely unrelated note, as we’re writing this we heard about the sad passing away of Lou Reed. He was one of our absolute favourite musicians, singing and dancing along to Transformer is one of Bird’s earliest memories. He had a pretty good innings and produced some incredible music both with The Velvet Underground and solo for decades and BBC 6 Music’s thoughtful honouring of him could not be more inspiring to write to.

Advertisements

Rabbit Stew with Sage Dumplings

Rabbit is a really underused meat in the UK – it’s not widely available in supermarkets, even though it’s one of the most sustainable meats you can buy. We bought some from our local butchers (one of them – there are about 5 independent butchers within walking distance from us!) and the meat is really delicious. It’s a very rich, gamy meat – perfect for a comforting autumn stew! This recipe includes some amazing suet dumplings with copious amounts of sage, another autumn treat.

For about 4 portions, you’ll need:

  • Knob of butter
  • Olive oil
  • 80g smoked bacon lardons
  • 6 small shallots
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 150-200g new potatoes
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 rabbit, jointed (ask your butcher to do this for you – you’ll end up with 6 pieces)
  • 250 ml red wine
  • Enough chicken stock to cover (about 1 litre)

For the dumplings:

  • 50g suet
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 5 finely chopped sage leaves
  • Cold water

Start by peeling the shallots and chopping up your carrots, celery and new potatoes. We like our veg nice and chunky, they’ll soften and soak up loads of flavour as they cook. Heat up a knob of butter and some olive oil over a fairly high heat and throw in your bacon lardons and shallots. After about 5 minutes (the shallots should have started to go a little brown), add the rest of the veg along with the fresh herbs. Cook for another 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and stir through the veg – this will ensure you get a thick stew. Now add the whole rabbit pieces, along with the wine and the stock.

Make sure you brown the shallots well - the caremelisation is really tasty!
Make sure you brown the shallots well – the caremelisation is really tasty!

Once your pot has come to the boil, put a lid on it and place it in the oven on a low temperature – 150°C to 170°C, depending on how long you want it to cook for. The lower the heat and slower the cooking time, the more tender the rabbit meat will be. We cooked ours at 150°C for about 4 hours, but the rabbit will probably be cooked after about 2 hours. Take it out and stir it every half hour or so.

When the stew is about half an hour from being done, it’s time to make the dumplings. Mix together the suet, the flour, and the sage leaves, and start adding the water, about a tablespoon at a time. This should be done fairly quickly, otherwise they won’t rise properly. When it has all come together, roll it into small balls (about the size of golf balls – or ping pong, if that’s your game!). Put them straight onto the top of the stew – they’ll swell up loads, so be sure to leave some space between them.

Those dumplings are monsters!
Those dumplings are monsters!

Put the stew back in the oven and leave to cook for about 20 minutes. When the dumplings have roughly tripled in size, your stew is ready to eat! Watch out for rabbit bones, as they can be quite small and fiddly. If you’ve never tried rabbit before, please give it a go! It’s super sustainable, lean & healthy, and totally delicious.

Thai Style Steamed Sea Bass with Jasmine Rice

In an attempt to counteract the large volumes of cakes/sweets/biscuits we have been consuming over the last few weekends and will probably continue to consume (it’s practically the law when you have guests or are a guest that you have to set yourself well on the track to diabetes) we’ve been getting super healthy with our evening meals. Thai and Vietnamese style food just screams healthy to us – the fresh, spicy, clean flavours are exactly what we need. This recipe, steamed sea bass with jasmine rice and stir fried vegetables, is particularly virtuous. The fish is wrapped in pak choi leaves and steamed over a fragrant liquid while the vegetables set you well on your way to 5 a day (and the jasmine rice is just lush – don’t try to take our carbs away, you might lose your hand!). This one was a make-it-up-as-we-go-along number, as so many of our recipes are, and we’re chuffed with how it turned out! It was also our first time using our new bamboo steamer and we predict we’ll be getting lots of use out of it.

Ingredients

Basmati rice

  • 1 tsp jasmine tea leaves or 2 jasmine tea bags
  • 2 sea bass fillets
  • A piece of ginger, about 2-3 inches long, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 limes
  • 2-3 pak choi
  • 1 birds-eye chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, bruised and chopped in half
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • A selection of vegetables (we used baby corn, pak choi, mange tout, carrot, sugar snap peas XXX), sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Neutral oil such as sunflower or vegetable

Brew the tea for the rice by placing your loose tea or tea bags in a jug and pour over half a litre of boiling water. Allow to brew for at least 5 minutes. Once brewed pour into a saucepan (making sure to strain it if using loose leaf tea!) and top up with more boiling water if necessary, then place over a medium heat to bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling add the rice and stir occasionally until cooked.

Jasmine Tea

Fill up a saucepan (over which you can fit your steamer) about a third of the way full with water. Throw in half of the ginger matchsticks, the chilli, the lemongrass, the garlic, half of the fish sauce, half of the sugar and the juice of half a lime. Bring this to the boil.

Frozen chilli

Meanwhile cover the bottom of the steamer with a layer of pak choi leaves and then lay the sea bass fillets on top. Squeeze over the juice of half a lime and sprinkle the fish with the other half of the ginger. Place another layer of pak choi leaves on top so that the fish is completely covered. If you don’t have a bamboo steamer then you could easily use a metal vegetable steamer, or just buy one – they’re dirt cheap in Asian supermarkets. Once the steaming liquid is bubbling place the steamer over the top. The fish will take around 5-10 minutes to cook depending on thickness, about the same amount of time as the rice.

Seabass raw

To make the sauce for the stir-fried vegetables mix together the oyster sauce with the remaining fish sauce and sugar, the juice of half a lime, a few drops of sesame oil and enough water to thin it out.

Vegetables raw

When the rice and fish have a few minutes of cooking time left get a wok really hot, add 1 tsp of neutral oil, throw in the vegetables and stir to coat in the oil. Once coated and beginning to wilt throw in the sauce and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes until the vegetables are slightly soft but still retain a lot of crunch.

Then just dish it all up! Spoon some of the delicious steaming liquid over the fish, it should be just cooked and really moist with delicate Asian flavours. Sit back and feel smug at just how healthy you’ve been!

Steamed sea bass complete

Quinoa Stuffed Butternut Squash

We’re back with one of our favourite autumn ingredients again – butternut squash. Bird stopped by the market again after ballet and couldn’t resist a huge squash (and this absolutely giant cabbage which we used in about 6 meals!).

What a beast!
What a beast!

We decided to stuff the squash with quinoa as we enjoyed the quinoa stuffed vegetables we made a month or two ago so much. We chose to spice up the stuffing with some chorizo and dried chilli flakes, adding courgette and spinach for some fresh greenery. We then topped them with a little smoked Applewood cheese which matched the smoky paprika flavour of the chorizo perfectly. This is one of those meals that can tick away nicely on a weekend afternoon and will make 4 portions – we had it for dinner and then lunch later in the week, but if you’re just cooking for yourself you would have a couple of dinners and lunches for about an hours work!

Ingredients (for 1 very large butternut squash):

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 50-100g chorizo, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 small courgette, finely diced
  • 5-10 sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 50g quinoa
  • 200ml chicken stock or boiling water
  • Spinach (fresh or frozen, we used 3 blocks of frozen)
  • Cheese (any good melter will do)

_MG_3229

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Using a large, sharp knife slice the butternut squash lengthways and then scoop out the seeds. Stab the squash a few times in the middle with the knife, not going all the way through, to help it cook quicker and then brush with a little olive oil. Pop them in a large roasting dish and whack them in the oven to cook. They should take about 30-45 minutes to cook depending on size, they’ll be ready when the flesh is soft all the way through. Meanwhile heat 1tsp of olive oil in a small saucepan and add the chorizo.

Chorizo sizzle

Let it sizzle away until slightly crisp, then add the chilli flakes, the sun-dried tomatoes and the courgette. Stir these to coat in the oil, add the quinoa and do the same until it starts to pop. Pour in the chicken stock and add the spinach if you’re using frozen – if you’re using fresh then wait until just before it’s cooked so you don’t lose all of the goodness. This will need to cook for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to start with and more frequently towards the end as the liquid is absorbed so that it doesn’t stick. Have a little taste at this stage and season it with salt and pepper to your taste.

_MG_3238

Once the squash is cooked and the quinoa mixture is ready take the squash out of the oven and (carefully because it’s hot!) scoop out most of the flesh, just leaving around 1 cm around the edge to keep the shape. Mix this flesh with the quinoa mixture and stuff back into the squash. Top with a small amount of grated cheese and then put it back in the oven for 15-20 minutes to let it all cook together and for the cheese to melt.

_MG_3245

Serve with salad and enjoy! This makes a brilliant lunch when cold, if anything you can taste all of the flavours even more.

_MG_3248

Slow Roasted Tomato Soup

We’re pretty massive soup fans – they’re usually cheap, often quick, very healthy and so tasty. This one isn’t particularly quick, but it is beautiful… A rich, tangy tomato soup made from very slowly roasted tomatoes and not much else! To accompany the soup we made a spelt loaf. Spelt is an ancient grain (the Romans were fans!) which is slightly rougher textured than a wholemeal and has a really lovely nutty flavour.

To keep the spelt bread light and fluffy we mixed it with white flour (300g spelt to 200g white) but other than this we followed our basic bread recipe and shaped it into a round rather than using a loaf tin for a more rustic feel. Keep an eye out for some more spelt themed bakes coming up!

Ingredients for the soup (this made 2-3 portions)

  • 750g of medium sized plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cloves of garlic, still in their skin but stripped of any loose papery bits
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp of dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • rock salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 small white onion, finely diced
  • 1 small potato/half a baking potato, diced

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Take the quartered tomatoes and add them to a large roasting dish along with the garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, the leaves from the thyme sprigs, the chilli flakes and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Mix this all around and then pop in the preheated oven.

Bird used to hate tomatoes with a passion... now she can slice a mountain of them with no fear!
Bird used to hate tomatoes with a passion… now she can slice a mountain of them with no fear!

These are left to cook for around 2 hours and need very little attention – a stir every half hour ought to do it! Once cooked they will be the most delicious, melt-in-the-mouth sunblush style tomatoes, but try to resist eating them all at this stage – you’ve got a soup to make! We roasted our tomatoes one evening and made the soup the following evening to save on time a bit, this meant that when it came to actually making the soup it was ready in less than half an hour so we could fit it in after work.

I think these could convert even a tomato-hater.
I think these could convert even a tomato-hater.

When you’re ready to make the soup take as much of the oil from the roasting dish as you can and put it into a large saucepan. This means that you’re getting the wonderful tomato flavour right from the start, and also means you won’t make the finished dish too greasy by adding yet more oil. Add the chopped onion and fry very gently for around 5 minutes until it starts to become translucent and softened. Throw in the potato, stir to combine, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and into the soup and then add in the tomatoes making sure you scrape every last bit of the juice and the oil in. Fry this for a minute or two before adding enough boiling water to cover. Cook for around 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, and then whizz it up so it’s smooth – a hand blender that you place in the pan works the best for this and saves you dragging out a food processor which you then have to wash up. You can pick hand blenders up for as little as £10 and they are so useful.

Spelt loaf

We had ours with the spelt bread that we mentioned above. This worked brilliantly – the sweet nuttyness of the spelt combined with the fruity tomato soup spiked with a little chilli was a perfect match. If you don’t like chilli feel free to leave it out, or if you fancy a spicy tomato soup then whack some more in – it’s completely up to you and your tastebuds!

Roasted tomato soup
Heinz eat your heart out!

Soups are a staple for us year round, but especially in the autumn and winter… Our extra special favourite that we’ve been looking forward to for months involves butternut squash! We’re hoping to expand our soup repertoire too so let us know your favourite in the comments.

Steak with Stir-Fried Veg

It’s Asian food time again! Normally when we cook stir-fries we bung all of the meat in with the rest of the veg and fry it all in a wok together. This time, we thought we’d try something a little different. In this recipe, we’re stir-frying the veg like we usually do, but griddling the steak separately. This is a little more effort but a million times more rewarding! It’s also a great way to make a steak go that little bit further if you’re on a budget but still fancy a treat.

So here’s what you’ll need:

  • A steak, fatter the better
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 medium-sized pak choi
  • A large handful of mushrooms
  • 8-10 pieces babycorn
  • A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • A fresh red chilli
  • 2-3 spring onions
  • 150 g rice
  • 2 tbsp Oyster sauce (1 tbsp for the marinade, 1 for the vegetables)
  • Sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Pepper

Phewf! A whole load of stuff then. But just like with our noodle soup, loads of these are store-cupboard staples. Actually a lot of these ingredients were leftovers from when we cooked that recipe, so they’re a great couple of meals to do close together to make sure you don’t waste anything.

First, knock up a quick marinade for the steak, using nothing more than a tablespoon or so each of oyster sauce and olive oil – make you you have enough to cover the steak. Leave to marinade for an hour or so – it’s a good idea to keep it out of the fridge and covered in some cling film, as your steak ought to be room temperature when you fry it.

Feel free to mix it up with the veg - this lot is nice and colourful though!
Feel free to mix it up with the veg – this lot is nice and colourful though!

Put the rice on to cook. Slice up all your vegetables fairly thinly, as they’ll need to cook pretty quickly. Put a griddle/frying pan on to a high heat for the steak, which you’ll do in a minute. Now get your wok out and heat up some oil, and throw in the veg – it should sizzle satisfyingly (the wonders of cooking on gas! This step would take about 20 minutes using the electric hob at our old place). Mix together some dressing for the veg using 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 1 tbsp water, 1 tsp fish sauce, juice of half a lime and a few twists of pepper and add this to the wok, making sure it covers everything. The veg should take about 5 minutes or so to cook.

Granny Bird's old wok still going strong
Granny Bird’s old wok still going strong

Now for the main event!  Your pan should be hot by now, so put the steak in. Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of your steak and how you like it – our (very rare) steak took about a minute on each side. When it’s done take it out and rest it for a minute while the veg finishes cooking. To serve, we sliced our steak as thinly as we could, on a slight angle so that each piece was still nice and big – remove any excess fat as you slice.

Mmm we like our steak raaare
Mmm we like our steak raaare

Now plate it all up with an extra wedge of lime and appreciate the magnificence of what you have created!

Stir Fry Done

Noodle Soup with Prawns

This is another of our great week-night meals – quick, easy and fresh. It’s so simple and tastes amazing. Asian food can be quite intimidating at first glance, especially as there are so many flavours – but most of the ingredients for this noodle soup are store-cupboard staples in our house (so you only have to hunt them down once every few months!) and only the fresh ingredients need to be bought when you cook it. The stand-out flavours here are chilli, ginger, lime, lemongrass, soy sauce and fish sauce. If you have never tried fish sauce – don’t knock it! It’s used in place of salt in Asian cuisine and gives soups a really rich flavour. Just don’t use too much.

So, for 2 people you’ll need:

  • A thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 chilli
  • 1 stick of lemongrass
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • A couple of limes
  • Fish sauce (to taste)
  • Dark soy sauce (to taste)
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • 2 nests dried egg noodles
  • 10 prawns (we keep them in our freezer, very handy but defrost them first)
  • 100 g mange tout
  • 2 pak choi

Noodle Soup Ingredients

First, put the chicken stock in a decent sized pan (it shouldn’t fill it up – you’ll be packing it with veg in a minute) on a medium heat. While this comes to the boil finely chop your ginger, chilli and garlic and the white bits of the spring onions, bash up the lemongrass a bit with the butt of a knife, then throw them, along with the sugar, in with the stock. Leave this to simmer for about 10 minutes, to let the flavours infuse – slice up your pak choi and the rest of the spring onions while you’re waiting.

Those slices of ginger will be amazing pops of flavour, so don't chop too finely!
Those slices of ginger will be amazing pops of flavour, so don’t chop too finely!
Our chopping board doesn't get much healthier
Our chopping board doesn’t get much healthier

Put the noodles in with the stock, and after a couple of minutes add all your green veg. Don’t leave to cook for too long – you want nice crunchy veg! Add the juice of 1 lime, and fish sauce and soy sauce to taste – we suggest a teaspoon of each to get you started. Lastly add the prawns. Don’t cook these for too long either! There’s nothing worse (literally, nothing) than overcooked prawns. To get them nice and tender they shouldn’t need more than about a minute in the boiling soup.

Noodle Soup Done

Once everything is done, serve it with the a slice of lime each and the fish and soy sauce on the table, so you can adjust the seasoning to be perfect for you.

Chopsticks and fancy spoon optional, but they make it an occasion!
Chopsticks and fancy spoon optional, but they make it an occasion!

We cook this all the time, and often change around the ingredients – we’ve done it with chicken, salmon (fried so that it has lovely crispy skin) or tofu instead of prawns, and you can also swap out the veg and use any other Chinese leaf, babycorn, mushrooms – we try to use one crunchy vegetable and one leafy one to give a mix of textures and flavours. Use your imagination, and let us know how it turns out!

Sea Bass and Crunchy Salad

We love fish and try to have it at least a couple of times a week.  Here’s a recipe (inspired by Olive magazine – thanks!) with some interesting flavours in it, but trust us – it tastes amazing!  It’s super-quick and easy and takes hardly any cooking, perfect for mid-week.  This recipe uses preserved lemons which are used widely in middle eastern cooking, they can be found fairly easily now – check out your local deli or Asian supermarket or even posher supermarkets (Waitrose we’re looking at you!).  These keep for around 3 months in the fridge so we will be making some other recipes featuring them so none go to waste.

Start by preparing the salad: take a medium-sized bulb of fennel and finely slice – this won’t be cooked at all so take some time to make it as thin as possible – and throw it in a bowl with a diced preserved lemon (just the peel – remove the flesh).  Add the juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of olive oil, and half a teaspoon of caster sugar.  Salad done!  Quick or what?  Don’t be put off by the strong flavours at this stage, it will mellow with the grilled fish and complement it perfectly.

These lovelies are what you're looking for.
These lovelies are what you’re looking for.

Now for the meat – we used 2 fillets of sea bass, but any white fish will do (the original recipe used mackerel).  Lay on a baking sheet covered with lightly oiled baking/grease-proof paper so that it doesn’t stick, skin-side up, brush with oil and season with a bit of sea salt.  Place under a hot grill for 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets (ours took about 5 minutes), until the skin is nice and crispy.

Raw fish isn't the most attractive thing to photograph... sorry!
Raw fish isn’t the most attractive thing to photograph… sorry!

We served the sea bass and the salad with some homemade wholemeal bread (try our recipe).  If you wanted to omit the bread this could be a lovely light lunch which just cries out for a cold glass of white wine, or it would be great for any nutters doing low carb.  We reckon this would be even more tasty prepared on a barbeque and served in a bun – if only the summer would come back so that we can try it!

Quick, simple and super healthy.
Quick, simple and super healthy.