Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's Pie

It’s been misty in the mornings this week.  C has started pre-school.  The leaves are turning and the the nights are drawing in.  Summer is officially over.  Ho hum.  Best make some yummy kid-friendly food to cheer everyone up.  I’m a stickler for (some) rules and this pie is definitely shepherd’s because I use lamb mince – if you use beef it is cottage pie, so there.  I like to fancy mine up a bit and sneak in vegetables all over the place.  This is a recipe that I’ve been making for years but it has evolved over time.  I’d like to say that following the birth of my daughter I decided we needed more vegetables and I’m sneaking them in for her.  Unfortunately this is not true and the only adaption I’ve made for her is to reduce the amount of salt I add (I use reduced salt stock powder and season more lightly these days).  The sneaky vegetables are me being completely lazy and not wanting to make a side dish as well as the main event.  A one pan meal (eventually).  And that’s a hang over from when I worked in one of those office type jobs, where you leave the house early and get home late and then still have to knock up a proper dinner.  Fact is that shepherd’s pie from scratch is a bit of a faff, so I would rarely make it midweek, but even though I really like eating (clearly) I’d usually rather spend precious weekend time making cakes and desserts.  So, through design it probably doesn’t need a side vegetable but if you did want something else I can recommend a little steamed broccoli.  To attempt this mid-week I’d absolutely be using leftover roast lamb and leftover mash, which you should do if you have this to hand.  The instructions here though, are assuming you’re starting from scratch so you need to give yourself an hour to get this done.

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Mediterranean potato bake with prosciutto wrapped cod

Mediterranean bake with parma ham wrapped fish

This is one of those ‘bung in what you’ve got’ recipes that was good enough to keep and write down.  It is probably out there on the interweb in some form, but in my head it came from a desire to use up some of a packet of prosciutto, a couple of fish fillets and some new potatoes.  I imagined the ham wrapped fish nestling on a spicy potato stew, somewhat like patatas bravas.  Hence I’m going with the word ‘Mediterranean’ in the title.  Poor thing doesn’t know where it’s really from…  You can, of course, use any firm white fish that comes thick enough to wrap with the prosciutto.  Whatever is fresh, ethically sourced and a good price on the day you buy.  This is also another good way to use up leftover boiled new potatoes.  I rarely boil half a bag, as I figure if I cook them all in one go I’m saving energy and getting C and myself that much closer to a finished meal.  Another thing I’d say is that although black olives look prettier in the finished dish (you can’t see the green ones in the photo above now, can you?) you should put in either what you have or what you prefer.  I’m ALL about fat, green olives.  So that is often what is knocking around in my fridge.  The choice is yours though.  This is super quick to knock up and makes a nice change from the grilled fish, new potato, steamed veg combo I seem to make 90% of the time!

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Potato and egg bake, with sausage (soysage) and avocado

Baked breakfast hash with avocado

One of the things I love most about leftovers is how it opens up a world of cuisine fusion possibilities.  Nothing too radical, but the putting together of things in a less than traditional way that is tasty and has some links back to a classic.  So here are the things I needed to use up today (it was also a Monday and I do try to be meatless first thing in a week, so if I don’t manage it again I know I started it in the right vein!): cold roasted potatoes, soysages, eggs, cavolo nero, avocado.  The things that popped into my head were – breakfast hash (potato, eggs, soysages) and huevos rancheros (eggs, cavolo nero, avocado).  Why not a combination of the two?  A sort of spicy and tomatoey potato bake, with the cavolo nero in there and a egg baked in, topped with crispy soysage crumb, and slices of avocado.  It sounded pretty good in my head, and I have to say it was delicious.  I’d say no need for tortilla because of the potato (although if you’ve got some, dipping in the egg is lush), unless you’ve only got a little cooked potato and you want to bulk out the carbs.  You could easily have this for breakfast if you wanted.  We had it for dinner because it is substantial enough, and who doesn’t like having breakfast at dinnertime?

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Chicken, mango, avocado and quinoa salad

Chicken, mango and avocado quinoa salad

Adapted from Climbing Grier Mountain’s foodie fridays: grilled chicken, mango, and avocado quinoa salad

Time for some therapy.  Me, not you (unless you’re up for that sort of thing).  I’m settled on the couch, so I hope you’re sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair.  I’ve been pondering why it is that I’m frequently eating meals with at least one ingredient on the cusp of perishing.  On the one hand I could argue that by getting a veg box I am always running the risk of not being able to eat up all the contents in time.  Were I to live next door to a farm shop I could pop in daily for fresh ingredients, and I wouldn’t be hoping to make a pile of veggies last a whole week without any of them disintegrating into mush.  But this is not entirely true.  If I’m honest the problem is me and my shopping habits.  When I go to a store I go with a list and I don’t go very often.  I buy what’s on it.  But I often put things on that list for a planned future meal that never materializes because other things got in the way.  I often find I’m changing my meal plan because we’re not hungry enough for the dinner I had planned or we’ve got back too late for me to make the thing I had in mind.  Friends joke that if the zombie apocalypse comes mine is the house we should barricade ourselves in, as we won’t need to venture out for food any time soon.  I know that it has irked me in the past to not be able to make something exactly because I don’t have the right ingredients, but I’m not like that so much now.  Unless I’m actually craving something a specific way I’m now more willing to fiddle around with a recipe and not freak out.  I think I need to be more strict with myself on shopping trips, to not pop things in the trolley just because they might be useful in something.  I’m probably about evens on feeling chuffed I found the thing I suddenly need in the fridge because I bought it on a whim, and eating something odd because I’ve suddenly got a sausage, a pineapple and a open carton of passata to use up!  Which leads me to this recipe.  Mangos were on sale, so I had one of those and the thing was borderline self-juicing when I finally used it.  And I had half an avocado.  That’s another part of the problem.  I am but one, and C is still tiny, so I’m often using half of this and half of that because I would be the size of a house if I cooked for even two adults and then ate most of it myself.  Combined with leftover chicken from a weekend roast this recipe was using up three things that needed to go, and luckily it was gorgeous!  As the original recipe said – summer in a bowl.  You wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some of that, would you!  I didn’t have the parsley called for in the original, and I’m not a big fan anyway, so I subbed in a bit less mint, which worked wonderfully.  You should use whatever you prefer.

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Savoury rice (with sausage)

Savoury rice (with sausage)

Adapted from Jamie Cooks It Up!’s Cheesy Spanish Rice

Today’s recipe is probably not for anyone that can make a macaron successfully.  This is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.   But I’m excited to post this because I probably eat a version of this most weeks.  And anyone can make it, even someone who has never really cooked before.  Savoury Rice or Student Rice, if you like, which is probably when I first started cooking something similar.  The recipe at Jamie Cooks It Up! is the easiest route I’ve found to savoury rice nirvana, but then I also love her blog because she is just so funny.  There are lots of good family orientated meals there.  I find it very inspirational when I’m looking to cook something that C and I will both appreciate.  This dish only requires one pot (unless you’re cooking a protein separately), it can be a main or a side and you can add whatever you like.  Endless versatility is definitely its virtue.  I’d say I usually stick with the basic bones of the dish every time: onions, garlic, pepper, long-grain rice, cumin, passata and stock.  But you can add, or swap, almost any element.  Herbs instead of spice, vegan, veggie, meaty, fishy proteins.  Leftovers, frozen veg, tinned tomatoes instead of passata, this dish doesn’t care what you add in!  It’ll just take it and be all the better for it.  I’ve gone with a sausage version this time – the sausage is also your choice.  Big or small, spicy or plain, veggie or meat.  The base recipe is vegan until you add either your stock or your protein, so make of this what you will.  I’ve added leftover roast beef and broccoli before.  I’ve added prawns and frozen peas.  I’ve added a vast quantity of mixed veg and some sriracha, or mushrooms with cheese popped on the top at the end (see Jamie’s original recipe for the cheesy version).  It’s all good.  Just remember to add uncooked meat or vegetables at a time that will allow them to cook through by the time the rice is done, which might be as early as the first step.  Double the quantities for a horde – I make it for four and save some as I’d rather not have half a pepper and half an onion sitting the fridge, but you should just go with the flow.*  And it can be done on a budget, when you’re short of time, and when there’s barely anything in your cupboard.  If you’re nervous about cooking give this a go, because just as long as you stir it a couple of times it is very forgiving. Love it.

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Chocolate beetroot cakes with cherry frosting

Chocolate beetroot cakes with cherry frosting

Adapted from BBC Food’s Chocolate Beetroot Cakes by Jill Dupleix and My Darlings and Me’s Cherry Blossom Cupcakes

It has come to my attention that I’ve posted cookie recipes, and big cake recipes, and refrigerator cake recipes, but the individual baked cake department is a little empty.  Luckily the veg box provided beetroot this week, and I didn’t do a roast at the weekend or they would have been consumed already.  Time for little chocolate cakes me thinks!  As I’m sure you know, the chocolate masks the taste of actual beetroot in these, although it does provide a depth to the chocolate flavour that’s quite moreish.  Plus, we also know gluten-free baking can be a little dry so recipes with fruit, or vegetables, in the mix are already helping us out by providing moisture and some binding.  I’ve gone with cherry frosting here because I love the chocolate cherry combination.  Cherries are possibly my favourite fruit, although raspberries and strawberries are right up there.  The icing is a lovely delicate pink colour in contrast to the dark chocolate of the muffin.  I also think this cake might be ‘the one’ for C’s robot birthday cake in June.  The iced chocolate traybake I made previously was very light and I suspect it would collapse under the weight of thicker icing and/or candles.  The beetroot in this makes a firmer cake, but because it is moist and a bit fudgy I also think it won’t fall apart as soon as you look at it.  If your beetroot isn’t already cooked (you could use up leftovers here if no strong flavours were used in the original cooking), then the quickest way to cook your beetroot is to boil it.  You should allow an hour for this: 30-40 minutes of simmering, and 20 minutes of cooling before you can handle them.  Of course you can absolutely do this ahead of making the cake, and the puree will keep covered in the fridge for a few days.  See the note at the bottom of the recipe for more detailed instructions.  If you haven’t tried a chocolate beetroot cake before, and find the idea a bit unappealing, I urge you to give it a go.  I’m sure you will be very pleasantly surprised by the results!

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Aubergine coconut curry

Lamb and aubergine coconut curry

Adapted from Arelene Thompson’s Lamb Curry in the Larne Times

What did you have for Easter lunch?  We had friends over for a traditional roast dinner followed by sticky toffee pudding (gluten-free naturally) followed by cheese and biscuits.  You could have rolled me out of there like a barrel.  Possibly also a couple of glasses of vino…  Of course I’d failed to provide myself with gf crackers despite one kind guest carefully bringing a selection or no, or very low, lactose cheeses.  Top tip – in a pinch plain tortilla chips work surprisingly well!  (Garcia’s Thin White Maize Tortilla Chips are my favourite).  A true feast and it was delicious.  Obviously one shouldn’t eat like that every day, plus there’s still enough chocolate in the house to last until summer.  Here’s what I made though later in the week with some of the leftovers.  I’d slow-cooked our leg of lamb for four hours for the main lunch, as I find it’s easier to do that and leave it to rest, freeing up some room in the oven for the roasted veg, which needs a good blast at a high temperature to crisp up nicely.  The little pile of remaining shredded lamb then creates another delcious meal.  This is my go-to sauce for a mid-week curry to use up leftovers because it is so quick, and although I first discovered it when trying to use up lamb I’m always meddling with the ingredients.  It works as well with leftover beef, chicken or roasted sweet potato chunks for a vegan option, as it does lamb.  You can substitute other green veg for the beans, like sugar snap peas, brocolli or frozen peas, so just use whatever you have.  I really love aubergine in curry so I wouldn’t change this unless I had to.  I love it that much I’d rather make something else entirely if I had no aubergine to hand!

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