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Stuffed tomatoes and peppers – a great veggie recipe!

2 Oct

I remember the days when my husband, Terry, used to say he hated vegetarian food.  That was before our son married a vegetarian, Tracy.  Over the years I have made countless meals without meat and, with the exception of those using Quorn, Terry has enjoyed every one.  I think perhaps our favourite is Stuffed Tomatoes.  There are lots of variations of this dish.  Some add minced meat to the stuffing, others, like my friend Maritsa, add roasted pine nuts and raisins.  I make mine how my adopted YaYa (that is Grandmother in Greek) taught me, many years ago.  Sadly she is no longer with us but whenever I cook this I have memories of standing in her tiny kitchen, working together and not understanding a word said between us.

For those of you who have tried Greek cooking, it can be a bit of a hit or miss affair.  Recipe books written by Greeks rarely give precise measurements and it can be frustrating when you have to decide how much a ‘bit of’ something actually is.  This, however, is perfectly natural for the Greeks.  If you ever get the chance, talk to a Greek about food.  A light will switch on in their eyes and they will start talking with passion about a subject they love.  Rena Salaman writes that cooking for Greeks is a constant reminder of who they are and where they come from.  Recipes were rarely written down and so every household would have their own version of what is known to be a popular Greek dish.  The one thing they would have in common is that the food would always be made of what is in season, and, most importantly, there would always be an extra portion, just in case there is an unexpected visitor.  Such is the Greek hospitality! This recipe is Syn free if you are using Frylight olive oil and Food Optimising on the Slimming World plan.

Anyway, back to the plot and Yaya’s Stuffed Tomatoes and peppers (Tomates ke piperies yemistes)

Serves 4

  • 4 large tomatoes (ripe beef tomatoes are perfect)
  • 4 green peppers
  • 5oz rice,washed and drained
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • Small bunch of flat-leafed parsley, chopped
  • 4 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • Cold water
  • Spray olive oil  / Frylight 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges (baking potatoes are best)
  • 8 oz fresh tomatoes, grated, mixed with 1/4 pint water
  • pinch sugar
  1. Wash the tomatoes, slice off the top at the stem end.   Using a teaspoon, carefully remove the tomato pulp and reserve.  Place the tomatoes in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle a tiny amount of sugar in each.
  2. Wash the peppers and slice off the top at the stem end.  Carefully remove all the seeds and white pith inside and discard.  Place in the dish with the tomatoes.
  3. Chop the tomato pulp.  Lightly fry the onion until soft, in a little spray olive oil.  Add the tomato pulp, the rice and the chopped herbs.  Cover with cold water, about 1 inch above the level of the rice mix.  Bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat until rice is tender to the bite and all the water has been absorbed.  Keep an eye on it and add a little more water if required.
  4. Fill the tomatoes and peppers 3/4 full, top with a tablespoon of water and replace the lids.  Wedge potato slices between tomatoes.  Spray with olive oil and pour over the grated tomato mix.  Season with salt and pepper and bake in a preheated oven, 180c/170C fan/gas 4, for 1 hour.  Baste occasionally to keep the vegetables moist.

Kalo Oreksi (Good appetite!) 

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Spicy potatoes with spinach

10 Aug

DSCI0052I love spinach, especially in curries.  One of my favourite side dishes is sag aloo. I have tried many recipes but, until now, have been disappointed.  This recipe is not a traditional sag aloo but it is delicious and, for me, is exactly what I want to accompany an Indian meal.

Full of nutrients and delicious taste, spinach is a winter superfood. But  what’s the best way to eat it? Here are a few tips, courtesy of Care2 website.

  • It’s wiser to choose tender baby spinach leaves. The larger the leaves, the  more mature they are and more likely to be tough or stringy.
  • Spinach  leaves that are placed under direct light in the stores have been found to  contain more nutrients than those stored in darkness.
  • Cooking spinach actually increases its health benefits!  Just half a cup of cooked spinach will give you three times as much nutrition as one  cup of raw spinach. That’s because the body cannot completely break down and use the  nutrients in raw spinach.
  • As an exception to the advice above, research studies show that taking  spinach in juice form is actually the healthiest way to consume it. Blend  spinach with other vegetables or fruits to create a delicious glass of juice.
  • There’s a compound in spinach called oxalic acid, which blocks the  absorption of calcium and iron. An easy way to solve this problem is to pair  spinach with a food high in vitamin C.
  • Freezing spinach diminishes its health benefits. The way to get the best  from the leaf is to buy it fresh and eat it the same day.
  • Do place spinach on your ‘organic shopping’ list, because the leaf tends to  be sprayed heavily with pesticides that don’t come off with normal washing.
  • Everyone talks about the benefits of spinach in nourishing the eyes and  building bones. What few know is that it also very good for digestion. Spinach  eases constipation and protects the mucus lining of the stomach, so that you  stay free of ulcers.  It also flushes out toxins from the colon.
  • Another lesser known benefit of spinach is its role in skin care. The bounty  of vitamins and minerals in spinach can bring you quick relief from dry, itchy  skin and lavish you with a radiant complexion. Regular consumption of fresh,  organic spinach juice has been shown to improve skin health  dramatically.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/8-surprising-health-facts-about-spinach.html#ixzz2UwrG42ip

Well, here is the recipe.  Hope you like it.

Spicy potatoes and spinach                                     Serves 2-4 (depending on using as a main or side dish)

  • 400g waxy new potatoes (I used Charlotte), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 x 2 inch piece of cinnamon stick, halved
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp ginger paste (or 1 inch root ginger peeled and grated)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 200g chopped canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 ml warm cooking liquid (reserved from potatoes)
  • 1 bag washed and ready to eat baby leaf spinach
  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes or until just tender.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan or wok and add the fennel seeds and cinnamon stick.  Cook for a few seconds then add the onion, garlic and ginger.  Fry over a medium heat for about 5 – 10 minutes or until the onion is soft and just turning colour.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder. Stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Increase the heat and cook until the tomato juice has evaporated.
  4. Cook the spinach as per instruction on packet. Drain and squeeze out excess juice then chop roughly and add to the tomatoes with the potatoes and 200 ml of the potato cooking water.  Season with the salt. Mix well and when warmed through, serve.

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Cheese and potato Frittata

29 Jul

imageI love frittatas. They are quick, easy to cook and great with salad for a light lunch or part of a Tapas meal. This frittata is more substantial than most and is delicious hot or cold. In fact, I think I prefer it cold so it’s a good job that there are usually leftovers so we can snack on them whenever we feel peckish.

This frittata is baked in the oven so no need to turn it in the pan which can be very messy. You will need, however, a frying pan that can be transferred from hob to oven.

Cheese and potato Frittata.          Cuts into 8 pieces

  • 500g waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 oz cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 190c/180c fan/gas 6.
  2. Cover the potatoes with water, add a little salt then bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and cover, simmer for 5 minutes until just tender.  Drain and cover with a clean tea towel to absorb the steam.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the onion for about 10 minutes until soft and just turning golden.
  4. Add the potatoes to the onion and crush down slightly. Fry gently until just turning golden and starting to crisp.
  5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl. Add the cheese and parsley then season with salt and pepper. Beat until combined then tip the potato mix into the eggs and coat completely.
  6. Add a little more oil into the frying pan and tip the eggs and potatoes in. Even out and allow to cook gently until the bottom is set and turning golden. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the eggs are set and golden on top.
  7. Leave for 1 minute then loosen the edges and transfer to a plate ready for serving.

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Quorn, mushroom and red pepper curry – tastes great.

25 Jul

As I have got older I have eaten less meat and more vegetarian dishes.  I have to say that I am still persevering with Quorn but dishes like this one are so tasty it is difficult to detect the Quorn.  It isn’t the flavour, it’s the texture I am having to come to terms with, although there is no doubting, it is much healthier than eating meat for every meal.  I made this recipe up as I went along, using tips I had picked up from some of my favourite chicken curry recipes.  I was delighted with the outcome.  It might even make me a convert!

I used a curry paste in the recipe.  As the Quorn readily absorbs flavours I chose a medium strength paste but, off course, you can vary this to suit your palate.  Here is a bit of information that may help you make an informed choice.

Curry pastes are a mist blend of herbs and spices and are used as a base for many curry recipes.  There are a number of different Thai curry pastes, each imparting their own specific flavour to the dish.

Red curry pastes usually include red chillies, shrimp paste, lime leaves, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, coriander and seasoning.

Green curry paste is the same as the red except it uses green chillies.

Yellow curry paste gets its colouring from turmeric and, occasionally, yellow chillies.  The other ingredients are as above.

Massaman curry paste is based on Indian cuisine and includes a number of dried spices such as cumin, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.

All the above are quite spicy so take care how much you add if you don’t like your food too hot.  Phanaeng curry paste is milder though.

Patak make curry pastes with a wide range of heat ratings.  Mild pastes include Korma, Tandoori and Tikka.  Medium are Balti, Bhuna, Jalfrezi, Rogan Josh and Biryani.  Hot are Garam Masala, Madras, Vindaloo and Kashmiri Masala.

Quorn, mushroom and red pepper curry                             Serves 4  (can freeze)

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp medium curry paste (I used Patak’s Balti paste)
  • 6 fresh baby plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 150g button mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 350g Quorn chicken style pieces
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp full fat Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 pt hot water
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until soft and turning golden (should take about 10 minutes).  Stir in the curry paste, lemon juice  and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute more.
  2. Add the mushrooms, pepper and Quorn pieces  and gently mix so they are all coated with the spice mix.  Cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a measuring jug, whip the yogurt then gradually add the hot water then the salt.
  4. Gradually add the yogurt mix to the quorn, stirring continually.  Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the herbs then serve with rice or naan bread. 

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Courgettes with pasta, my favourite pasta dish!

1 Jul

 There was a time when I hated courgettes but, over the years and after trying so many delicious recipes, that has all changed.  I love it when there is a glut of courgettes in the shops but, thankfully, you can now buy them all year round.  When we had this recently it reminded me how much we love it, and how long it had been since we ate it!  I can’t remember when we first had this dish, it must be at least five years ago.  I think our first time was because someone had given us a bag full of courgettes, they were not a vegetable I would have actually bought in those days!  The recipe would probably have come from one of the cooking journals I subscribe to and, if I remember, the picture did not look that tantalising.  I am so glad we tried it though.  Sometimes you come across a recipe that you want to make time and time again.  This is one of those times! We absolutely love this pasta dish.  You would not believe how fresh it tastes or how much flavour it packs in.  Before the recipe though, I thought I would look at some food trivia on Parmesan Cheese.

I can remember, many years ago, buying Parmesan cheese already grated and served in little tubs.  It was disgusting and smelled of sweaty socks.  Yuk!!!  The first time I bought fresh Parmesan I could not believe the flavour.  It is so strong, absolutely beautiful.  It really makes you wonder how they manage to transform such a great taste to an imitation of sweaty socks!!  A lot of people will not buy the fresh cheese as it is expensive and they may only use it occasionally.  Believe me, it is worth the expense!  I grate the whole block at a time and freeze it in a well sealed freezer bag.  That way I can take out just as much as I need when I need it.  I even freeze the rind, it gives a great flavour to soups!

Parmesan cheese is the French name given to Parmigiano-Reggiano, and one that most of the UK have adopted.  Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, granular cheese that is cooked but not pressed, and is produced in Italy.  The name is protected under European Law and can only be given to the cheese produced in specified regions of Italy.  Informally it is often called the ‘King of Cheese’.  The cheese is made out of cows milk and any left over whey is used to feed the pigs from which Parma Ham was produced.  Great bit of recycling!!!  The cheese is as pure and organic as possible.  Cows can only feed on grass or hay, giving grass-fed milk, and only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter.  The only additive allowed is salt which the cheese absorbs while being submerged in huge vats of brine made from Mediterranean sea salt, before being left to age for an average of two years.  The end result is a fantastic cheese with a deep, savoury flavour.  It is very strong so, although expensive, you only need a small amount yet still get the full flavour coming through.

Anyway, I’ve tried to trace the recipe to a website and failed so I have written it out for you below.  I really hope you give it a try, I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Courgettes with pasta and herbs.    Serves 4       About 530 calories

  • 12 oz/350g  spaghetti
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 650g/1lb 7oz courgettes, cut into thin ribbons (a vegetable peeler is great for this)
  • 25g/1oz butter cut into pieces
  • 50g/2oz freshly grated parmigiano-Reggiano (or Grand Padano if you can’t get it)
  • Handful each of chopped fresh basil and flat leaf parsley
  1. Cook the spaghetti as per packet instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the garlic and cook gently for a few seconds until it becomes fragrant.  Be careful not to let it burn or it will be bitter.  Tip in the courgettes, stir to coat in the garlic oil then cook gently for about 4 minutes.  They need to be softened but not soggy.
  3. Drain the spaghetti and add to the courgettes, along with the butter, cheese and herbs.  Toss them gently until the butter has melted, the spaghetti is coated with the cheese and herbs and the courgettes are evenly distributed.  Season to taste and serve immediately.  You can drizzle with a little extra olive oil if you like.

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Vegetable Lasagne – better than meat!

18 May

DSCI0632I think there are few meals that are as comforting as lasagna. Served with a crisp salad it can be the perfect balance of flavours and textures.  In the past I have always chosen a beef lasagne where the option has presented and it was natural that for many years this is the type of lasagne I would make at home.  Some years ago I made a vegetarian version for my daughter-in-law and, lo and behold, my husband, a confirmed meat-eater, loved it and actually preferred it to the meat version.  It has been ages since I last made this but the other day I had a craving so made it for supper.  Once again, my husband, who appears to have a short memory of his liking for anything vegetarian, showed his distaste then managed to have two huge helpings.  Well, it is documented here so if he pulls this trick again I have written evidence.

I have chosen to use mushrooms, courgettes and tomatoes as the three vegetables for my lasagne. I am sure that you can vary this with whatever you have available but would suggest that the tomato and cheese sauces play some part in the end product as they contribute to the rich flavours and moistness of the finished dish.  Maybe try replacing the courgettes with some cooked chopped up spinach would be a nice alternative. I am sure my foodie followers will have loads of suggestions that I would love to hear about if you have the time.

Anyway, here is the recipe.  It will serve 4 people easily and warms up well for the next day. You can freeze if you use fresh pasta that has not been pre-frozen.

Vegetable lasagna                Serves 4

  • 40g dried mixed mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 large courgette, quartered lengthways, seeded and sliced
  • 400g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 pack fresh lasagne sheets
  • 50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the Cheese Sauce

  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 1 pint milk
  • 50g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  1. Preheat oven to 200C/190C fan/gas 6.
  2. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion over a medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 more minutes until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small frying pan melt half the butter and sauté the courgettes over a medium heat until soft. Add to the tomato sauce.
  5. Drain the mushrooms and slice. Melt the remaining butter in the small frying pan and add the dried and fresh mushrooms. Cook on a high heat until they release their juices then turn the heat to low. Add the garlic and lemon juice and season. Continue to cook until most of the moisture has evaporated.
  6. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan then add the flour. Mix well and cook over a low heat for a minute. Add the milk slowly, mixing between additions to a smooth paste. If it starts to curdle don’t worry, whisk and it should become smooth again. Add the cheese and the mustard, stir until the cheese has melted. Season lightly to taste.
  7. Put a little of the cheese sauce in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Top with lasagne sheets cut to fit the dish. cover with a layer of mushrooms, followed by a layer of tomato sauce then cheese sauce. Repeat finishing with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden on top and bubbling.
  8. Leave to stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

 

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Cheese and potato pie – a really simple recipe with shortcuts!

14 May

 Before we start, the picture is of the pie before it was cooked.  It was so delicious we had eaten it before I remembered to take one of the finished product!

When I started writing this blog my intention was to help all those who wanted to cook but needed help.  I had been one of those people myself when I first married, even though I had years of cooking with my Grandma to help me.  Confidence in cooking is so important.  Without it the  opportunity to experience happy moments of sharing good food with friends are missed and, of course, so is the ability to prepare healthy food from scratch for yourself and your family.  I was reminded of this fact recently when my daughter-in-law asked for advice on cooking.  With that in mind I am sharing this very simple, yet delicious pie recipe.  I think it was perhaps one of the first things I cooked for myself when I was a student.  I can remember sharing it with some of the girls, served with a very simple salad.  A great meal and a great memory.

I have used bought prepared shortcrust pastry for the recipe.  Trust me, there is no shame in that and, nowadays, it is so good I am sure you could pass it off as your own.  Oh dear, I can almost hear members of the WI screaming in horror! In the past I have always used bought puff pastry as this is more complicated to make at home, but would never entertain the idea of buying shortcrust as it is quite easy to make.  I think my snobbery has wasted a lot of time and, although I still make my own on occasion, when time is short and you need to knock up a meal in a hurry, bought is perfect.  Nowadays you can buy a whole range of ready-made pastry from most large supermarkets.

  • Sweet shortcrust – perfect for fruit pies and flans etc
  • Shortcrust – great for pasties, pies and savoury flans etc
  • Puff pastry – perfect for great looking meat of vegetable pies, or vol-u-vents etc
  • Butter puff pastry – gives pies that extra richness
  • Filo pastry, perfect for a lower calories pie topping, scrunched over fruit or meat, or for Greek spinach pies, samosas etc

Well, here is the recipe.  Eat it hot or cold, perfect for picnics or a buffet.

Cheese and potato pie                                         Serves 6 – 8

  • 1 x 500g pack chilled, ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 200g new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 200g cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge before you start to prepare the filling.  It will give it time to soften and will roll out without cracking or breaking up.
  2. Put the potatoes and onion in a pan of boiling salted water.  Bring back to the boil then simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes until just tender.  Do not allow the potatoes to boil rapidly as they will break up.  Drain and leave to cool.
  3. While the potatoes are cooling, cut the pack of pastry in half and need each half gently and quickly into a ball shape.  Flour the work surface and rolling-pin lightly then roll one ball of the pastry out into a circular shape.  You can do this by turning the pastry round in a clockwise motion in-between rolls, it will help with the circular shape.  When the pastry is about as thin as a pound coin lift gently using the rolling-pin and line your pie dish, making sure it fits snug into the corners and leaving excess hanging over the edge.
  4. Add the cheese to the potatoes and mix gently so as not to break up the potatoes.  Make sure the mix is completely cold and fill the lined pie dish.
  5. Roll out the second ball of pastry as before. Dampen the edge of the pastry lining then lower your second circle of pastry on top.  Pinch the edges together to make a good seal the, using a sharp knife, run it around the edge of the pie dish to remove all excess.
  6. Make a cross in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape.  Decorate if you want with diamond-shaped pieces of pastry.  Put in the fridge to allow the pastry to recover while the oven heats up.
  7. Preheat the oven to 190C/fan180C/gas 5.  Brush the top of the pastry with the beaten egg then bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and firm.

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