Over the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of meat my family and I eat. While I could never contemplate being vegetarian, it’s very important to me that I don’t bring up my children to consider meat as a basic, ‘everyday’ kind of ingredient, but much rather a luxury ‘treat’ food. This is for a variety of reasons: to avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals through intensive farming methods; to reduce our impact on our environment; and to improve our overall health.
It hasn’t always been easy. At first it was my husband who showed the most resistance – his attitude was that a meal wasn’t a proper meal unless there was a meat component. Then there were complaints from the children when I refused to take them to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. “It’s not fair,” they’d whine. “Our friends at school get to go with their parents!”
But recently I think we may have turned a corner with both our girls. Our oldest,who started secondary school in September, has started talking about wanting to be pescatarian – inspired by her new (vegetarian) school friends – and is keen to learn to cook her own meals. And our youngest, now eight, who has always been a somewhat stubborn carnivore, actually asked for a second helping of tarka dal. Yes, you read that right. My daughter asked for more lentils. Lentils! Admittedly, she asked for “more of that meaty thing” but once I explained all the dishes on the table were vegetarian it then became clear that by ‘meaty’ she meant ‘tasty’.
I’ve been a Riverford customer for several years now, receiving an organic veg box full of seasonal delights on a weekly basis. This week for the first time I tried out one of their recipe boxes and was mightily impressed.
The recipe boxes contain fresh, seasonal organic produce, step-by-step recipe cards to help you create inspiring and vibrant dishes, and all the ingredients you need in exact quantities. All you have to do is cook.
Coming up with the recipes for the boxes are Riverford’s own talented bunch of cooks, including chefs from the Riverford Field Kitchen down in Devon, Kirsty Hale who comes up with the weekly veg box recipes, Riverford founder Guy Watson and his brother Ben. Every now and again they invite special guest chefs to create recipes too and at the moment it’s the turn of the Happy Pear twins, David and Stephen Flynn. Part of Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube, the Happy Pear are on a mission to get people to eat more veg. Continue reading “Thumbs up for… Riverford and The Happy Pear recipe box”→
There is nothing that shouts out autumn to me more than beetroot. You might have gathered by now I’m ever so slightly addicted to this perfectly purple vegetable and I reckon the best way to eat it is simply roasted, when it goes all sticky and sweetly caramelised. Just delicious.
I am clearly not a proper foodie. The other day a carton of tomatillos arrived on the back doorstep in our weekly veg box from Riverford and I had no idea what they were. I thought they looked vaguely like Cape gooseberries, so peeled back the papery husk of one and popped it in my mouth. I instantly spat it out again as the sour juices hit my tongue.
On consulting the Riverford website, I discovered these little green fruits were indeed tomatillos, native to Mexico and a staple of Mexican cuisine. It turns out they are actually related to the Cape gooseberry, so I don’t feel a complete plank for stuffing one in my gob.
So, what to do with them? I posted the question on Twitter and Instagram, and the response was almost unanimous: Mexican salsa verde. Who was I to argue? Particularly as were planning a barbecue later that day, and I thought a salsa verde would make a perfect condiment.
But as is my wont, I felt the urge to play with the Riverford recipe I turned to and decided to throw in some ripe pineapple for a little sweet to balance out the sour, an addition that worked out rather well I thought. Some recipes call for cooked tomatillos, but Riverford recommend using raw as “they retain a sour freshness that would be perfect for a summer’s day”. I rather liked the sound of that. The end result was a vibrant and fresh dip for tortilla chips that works equally well as a tangy accompaniment to grilled steak and fish, particularly when washed down with an ice cold beer.
My nine-year-old loved it while my six-year-old wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – perhaps it was just a little too green for her?
Mexican salsa verde with tomatillos and pineapple
350g tomatillos, husks removed and washed
½ ripe pineapple, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1 lime
large handful of fresh coriander (plus a little extra for serving)
1 tsp brown sugar
Simply throw all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz them up until you achieve a still chunky salsa texture. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with a little extra chopped coriander.
I’m entering this Mexican Salsa Verde into August’s Spice Trail challenge, hosted by moi, where the theme is Beach Barbecue.
“But whatever did you do for food?” asked Mr Brown. “You must be starving.”
Bending down, the bear unlocked the suitcase with a small key, which it also had round its neck and brought out an almost empty glass jar. “I ate marmalade,” he said, rather proudly. “Bears like marmalade. And I lived in a lifeboat.”
From A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Is there anything more British than the Paddington stories? And is there anything more British than marmalade for breakfast?
We are well into Seville orange season and everyone seems to be making marmalade, so I thought it was about time I had a go myself. I’ve made lots of jams and preserves but never for some reason got around to trying my hand at marmalade.
I received a marmalade kit from Riverford, which contains organic Seville oranges and lemons, and a recipe card. You just add your own sugar and jars. And they said on the website there’s no need to have made marmalade before; the Riverford recipe is pretty foolproof and you can cook along with Guy Watson (Riverford founder) in their YouTube video. Perfect.
Unfortunately the day I’d set aside to make marmalade I was absolutely full of cold and didn’t want to go anywhere near the kitchen. My husband Jason leaped to my aid and volunteered to make it instead. Result. Marmalade making is just the kind of thing he’s good at too. Any activity with lots of steps, where you need to follow detailed instructions and be a bit measured and scientific – that’s the sort of job he’s good at. And yes, our kitchen resembled a science laboratory while he was at it.
And I can report that the final result was very good indeed. Perhaps the shredded peel was a little on the chunky side for my liking and he possibly boiled the marmalade a little too long, so it ended up rather dark, but a good first effort I’d say.
If you’d like to have a go yourself, you’ll need to move quickly as Seville orange season finishes in late February. Kits are available from Riverford and you’ll also find the recipe on their website. And do watch Guy’s video too. He gives lots of useful tips like…
Make sure your pan is big enough. If the pan is too full, the marmalade will boil over and with all that sugar it’s a complete nightmare to clean off your hob.
When you dissolve the sugar, don’t do it too vigorously, otherwise it all sticks to the bottom and you’ll end up with burned marmalade which tastes hideous.
Don’t boil the marmalade for too long. If you go beyond the setting point, your marmalade will set hard like concrete.
So now we have a cupboard full of marmalade, I’m looking forward to very civilised breakfasts of marmalade on toast with a pot of tea, reading the newspaper. While my children throw their crusts at each other and moan about having to brush their hair before school…
While duck isn’t the cheapest meat around, I’d happily eat meat-free for a few days to justify including it on my weekly meal plan. A deliciously succulent meat, it works wonderfully with strong, spicy flavours.
This broth is inspired by a Riverford recipe and features star anise, Chinese five spice, ginger and garlic, as well as that favourite of the veg box at this time of year, the Savoy cabbage. It is the perfect winter warmer, especially when you serve it with a little chilli sauce on the side.
I think the spicy broth would go very well with a glass of Isla Negra Merlot, a soft, easy drinking red wine I was lucky enough to sample the other night during #BoothsCheers,a special festive wine and beer tasting on Twitter organised by the British supermarketBooths. There will be more tastings on Wednesday nights between now and Christmas – maybe you’d like to take part next time? But anyway, enough about the drink and back to the food…
Spicy duck broth with Savoy cabbage and noodles
2 duck breasts
2 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
dash sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
half a Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
2 litres hot chicken stock
2 star anise
150g dried egg noodles
chilli and soy sauces to serve
Preheat the oven to 200ºC / gas mark 6.
Score the duck skin and rub in the five spice. Place the duck breasts on a rack in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest somewhere warm.
In a large saucepan heat the vegetable and sesame oils and fry the garlic and ginger for a minute before adding the Savoy cabbage. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the hot stock and star anise.
Bring to a simmer and gently cook the cabbage for a couple of minutes. Then add the noodles and cook for around three more minutes until the noodles are just soft.
Pour the broth into bowls, using tongs to serve the noodles and cabbage. Slice the duck breast and place on top. Serve with some soy and chilli sauces on the side. And enjoy!
The last few weeks have been as busy as ever in the Bangers & Mash house. I jetted off to Amsterdam and London for work leaving my darling Mashettes to fend for themselves for a few days. I’ve never been apart from my family for that long before but of course when it came to food they were all sorted, as I’d left them with a trusty meal plan…
Amsterdam was wonderful. The last time I visited I was in my early twenties and it felt quite strange going back all grown up and all professional. I was there for the Meet the Blogger event for interior design bloggers at the simply stunning Conservatorium Hotel. If you’ve ever seen my home, you’ll know how incongruous I felt being at a conference for glamorous ladies talking about the latest in home design trends. But my role there was to tweet and blog about the proceedings, and I’m always happy when tasked with writing. There is a lovely short film documenting Meet the Blogger if you’re interested…
As I was there in a work capacity I didn’t have much opportunity unfortunately to really explore Amsterdam’s restaurant scene, although I did enjoy a rather splendid steak somewhere I can’t remember the name of at the end of a very long day. And I was also taken to a lovely bakery for a quick bite of lunch on my way back to the train station. De Bakkerswinkel bakes superb bread, as well as pastries, cakes, pies and all kinds of baked delights. I only had a simple ham and cheese roll but it was sensational and a delicious way to end my stint in the Dam.
A day after getting back from Holland, I had to head off to London for a trade show where I was helping out as a press officer on a client’s stand. I can’t say the event was all that exciting but it was a good chance to catch up with my Dad and step-mum Sue the night before as they live in Tottenham. And I finally got to see their amazing new kitchen, which they’ve been talking about and planning for oh, only the last 20 years or so. I am now green with envy. I want a new kitchen. Now.
But back to the food. I’ve been trying out some really rather good recipes lately. Initially I was rather disappointed with my attempt at a lamb and rosemary crumble. When it came out of the oven it just didn’t look particularly appetising and so I didn’t bother taking any photographs. Yet it tasted surprisingly good. I’m to work on it a bit more to see if I can make it look as good as it tastes.
Another tart that turned out well was a butternut squash tart with blue cheese, spinach and ricotta. It was one of those very simple affairs where you roll out some ready-made puff pastry, smother it with a few choice ingredients and bake. Hey presto! You have a tasty supper.
Pasta is always popular in our house, particularly as a quick dinner after a busy day at work and school. We all loved this yummy sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti. Definitely a dish we’ll be making again. And again.
Pasta makes another appearance in my list of highlights. Broad bean tops arrived in our veg box the other week. I have to admit I had no idea you could eat them but they are quite delicious; like a cross between pea shoots and chard. I used them in this recipe from Riverford for pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint, which was very good indeed. We are growing broad beans in our vegetable patch, so I look forward to experimenting some more with this new ingredient.
Egg fried rice is an excellent speedy supper and so versatile too. You can throw in whatever you have to hand or need to use up. I cooked up a big wok full of egg fried rice the other night with peas and red pepper, served up with lashings of soy sauce and hot chilli oil. My kind of fast food. Yum.
Last but not least comes the Full English pizza. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Pizza topped with all those staples of the traditional cooked English brekky: sausage, bacon, tomato, spinach and egg. I wanted to use mushroom as well but my daughter Jessie hates them with a passion. You’re probably thinking it sounds completely OTT and you’re probably right, but it was so tasty and very, very moreish. I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before.
Well I think that’s it for now. I’m rather pleased to be able to look back and see the highs far outweigh the lows. I’m definitely getting better at this cooking lark, I think. Now, time for those meal plans…
I’m a big fan of the weekly veg box. There’s something quite exciting about not choosing your own produce but simply going with whatever is in season and is in good supply.
The veg box didn’t always suite my lifestyle though. Back in my crazy 20s when we lived in Bristol, in the days before children, when I was working full-time yet still partying hard, I first ventured down the veg box path.
It was around the time that I was just beginning to develop an interest in food and cooking, and the idea of a weekly delivery of fresh organic vegetables seemed a right-on thing to do.
Problem was the vegetables would arrive and I simply had no idea what to do with them, or indeed what some of them actually were. I’d get home from work, wanting to make a quick supper before meeting friends at the pub, and end up just staring blankly into the fridge at a gnarly celeriac or pile of sweet potatoes and having not the slightest scooby what to do next.
And eating greens week-in-week-out just wasn’t turning me on. It took me right back to my Cranks childhood…
But life is very different now that I’m all grown up. The veg box suits me and my family. As you have probably spotted already, I’m rather into meal planning. Each Sunday night I sit down at my laptop surrounded by recipe books, plan out my family’s meals for the week, and place my online order for all the groceries needed.
No meal makes it onto the plan though until I’ve consulted the Riverford website, where they list the contents of the coming week’s veg boxes. I love reading through the list of produce and letting my brain whir into action as it comes up with meal ideas.
But sometimes inspiration doesn’t arrive of its accord and the Riverford website itself is a marvellous treasure trove of recipe ideas for every vegetable (and fruit) under the sun. And because I was running short of ways to cook leeks, I came across a Riverford recipe for Flamiche, which turns out to be a Belgian leek pie.
I don’t think I’ve cooked a Riverford recipe yet that has disappointed, and this was certainly no exception. The creamy, buttery leeks combined with tarragon and nutmeg, encased in a light shortcrust pastry made for a tasty supper on one of our regular Meat Free Mondays. We ate it cold for lunch the next day and it was equally good, so I reckon this pie would be great for a picnic.
So here is my slight variation on the Flamiche, which has some spring greens thrown in, just because I happened to have those in the fridge too. It’s ever so easy to make, particularly when you use ready-made pastry. And no it’s not cheating – everyone does it!
Leeks and greens springtime pie
500g ready-made shortcrust pastry
600g leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced
200g spring greens, washed and shredded
6 tbsp creme fraiche
60g parmesan cheese
1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves (I couldn’t find fresh so used dried, which worked perfectly well)
nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper
1 egg yolk, beaten
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.
Gently cook the leeks in butter until soft and translucent. Add the spring greens and stir into the leeks until the greens wilt.
Pour the leeks and greens into a large bowl and allow to cool.
Butter a quiche dish. Halve the pastry and roll out one half into a large circle and line the dish. Prick the bottom with a fork. Roll out the other pastry half into another circle the same size and cover with clingfilm for later.
When the leeks and greens have cooled, add the creme fraiche, nutmeg, parmesan and tarragon. Season well. Spread the mixture evenly over the pastry base.
Next brush some egg yolk over the exposed edges of the pastry, and place the other pastry circle over the pie filling and pinch the edges to seal.
Brush the top with more egg yolk and use a sharp knife to make a cross-shaped slit in the middle so that steam can escape.
Bake in the oven on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve warm or cold with a side salad.
Lorraine Pascale muffins Riverford risotto My soup
A rather large butternut squash arrived in our veg box last week. So as well as making my usual soup, I thought I’d try out a couple of new recipes on the family.
The first of these was a Lorraine Pascale recipe I’d seen her do recently on TV – pumpkin and rosemary muffins.
It’s a great recipe, ever so easy, and would definitely recommend you try it. My husband and I enjoyed the muffins one lunchtime. We had them warm, with a little butter and some mature Cheddar cheese on the side.
Unfortunately our daughters were not so impressed to find them in their lunch boxes at school and nursery. I think perhaps the rosemary was too overwhelming a flavour for them. Oh well, you can’t win them all, but you’ve got to try!
So I put the remainder in the freezer and I look forward to enjoying them at some point, sans enfants.
I won’t write out the recipe for pumpkin and rosemary muffins here but instead direct you to the BBC Food website.
The muffins used about a quarter of the butternut squash. I took another quarter for a squash risotto as inspired by the lovely people at Riverford Organic, who deliver our weekly veg box.
Now this was a success with the whole family, almost. The kids really enjoyed it, wolfing it down in seconds. It’s easy to eat, so very good for toddlers and babies getting to grip with new textures. My husband did quite like it I think, despite a few comments about the lack of meat. Which is normal from him.
This is another simple recipe. I only used half the quantities given in the Riverford recipeand I still had enough to feed two adults and two children, with a couple of portions left over for the freezer.
With the remaining half of the squash I cooked up a big pan of soup. Butternut squash makes for a very satisfying soup and children in particular love it, probably because they’re rather partial to those sweet flavours.
I usually boil the butternut squash with the potato but this time it had already been roasted, as I’d needed cooked squash for the other recipes. I think I prefer it this way. It gives the soup a slightly more smokey flavour which is delicious.
Butternut squash soup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced (if you like a thicker soup, add another potato)
1 litre vegetable stock, hot
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Gently fry until golden.
Add the squash and potato and cook for a minute or two before pouring in the hot stock.
Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Liquidise the soup until smooth using a handheld blender or in a jug liquidiser. Season to taste with salt and pepper.