Monday, 9 February 2015

Butternut Squash, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne

To be honest, I don't know why I cooked this (apart from the fact that it's delicious). It is a faff and a half, and if I tried putting spinach and mushrooms (and in the middle child's case, white sauce) in front of the children, there would be an outcry of "eeeeeewwwww! Vom!"..... which would inevitably end in someone being sent to their room and a big old strop from me. You see, I mind much less if they don't like something that has taken about 5 minutes to put together, but when it has taken an arsenal of kitchen equipment and hours to prep all of the separate components then.... well....

For this reason, I've made the lasagne in two separate, smaller dishes, one of which I've given to a friend. It's a really tasty vegetarian lasagne, a little bit sophisticated and would be a good dish for entertaining. Personally, I preferred it without the goat's cheese, but my husband disagreed. To be honest, I'd rather just grate some cheddar over the top!

I've added a very small amount of dried, crushed chillies when roasting the butternut squash, which works well with the sweetness of the squash and the earthy flavours of the spinach and mushroom.



  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1x 250g box of chestnut mushrooms (or use oyster/shiitake if you are feeling indulgent)
  • 1 x 200g bag of spinach
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • (Optional) 25g goat's cheese (I used Kidderton Ash, you might prefer something milder), or use grated cheddar
  • 30g butter
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying mushrooms
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram and optional crushed chillies)
  • 2-3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram)
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
For the white sauce
  • 40g butter
  • 2 dessert spoons of plain flour
  • Approx. 2/3 - 3/4 pint milk
Serves 4 - 6



(Roasting the butternut squash)
  • Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees fan
  • Slice the butternut squash into quarters lengthways. Place skin-side down on a baking tray, then sprinkle salt, ground pepper and dried mixed herbs over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, then place in the oven and cook for 35 minutes until the squash is softened and browned. Remove from the heat and let cool
Yummy roasted butternut squash

(Making the tomato sauce)
  • Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil very gently in a heavy-based pan, and add the crushed garlic. Let it bubble very gently for a minute or two to infuse the oil - do not let it catch and burn, as this will make the sauce bitter
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, dried mixed herbs, red wine and sugar. Using a sharp knife, pierce the chilli a couple of times so that it doesn't explode. Add the chilli to the pot and give several turns of the pepper mill. Mix well to combine
  • Heat the tomato sauce until it is bubbling, then reduce the heat, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 45 minutes until all of the flavours have infused. When the sauce has cooled down, remove the chilli and discard
(Preparing the spinach and the mushrooms)
  • Rinse the spinach and drain. Heat 30g butter in a heavy-based pan until bubbling. Add the spinach to the pan, then grate over some black pepper and add some salt. Add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, then stir rapidly until the leaves are just wilted. Remove from the heat
  • Slice the mushrooms finely. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a heavy-based pan and heat the oil until it begins to move. Add the mushrooms and a good pinch of black pepper, than stir-rapidly until the mushrooms are coated in oil and slightly browned. Remove from the heat

(Assembling the lasagne)
  • When the butternut squash is cool enough to touch, take a quarter and place it skin-side down onto a chopping board. With a sharp knife, remove the skin from the narrow end, and peel as much as you can away. Don't worry if you can't peel much.
  • With the skin-side on the board, slice the butternut squash into slices 3-4mm thick. Peel the skin away gently with the knife as you cut towards the board.
  • Place a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce into the base of a baking dish, so that the base is just covered. Arrange slices of butternut squash across the bottom of the dish, then scatter over some sliced mushrooms and spinach. Top with a layer of dried lasagne sheets, then repeat, layering the lasagne as you go. Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets, then spread any remaining tomato sauce over the top

(Making the white sauce)
  • Gently melt 40g butter in a heavy-based pan until it starts to bubble. Add 2 heaped dessert spoons of plain flour, and whisk into the butter. Keep whisking for a minute or two, to allow the flour to cook
  • Add the milk a splash at a time to the pan, whilst whisking continuously. Don't worry that the roux goes solid.... it will loosen eventually! Keep adding the milk and whisking, until the sauce resembles custard in its consistency. I find that a silicone whisk works well at getting rid of any lumps. Add salt and pepper if desired
(Baking the lasagne)
  • Using a ladle, spread the white sauce evenly over the lasagne, until the sheets are completely covered. Dot the top of the lasagne with cubed goat's cheese or grated cheddar and finish with a light dusting of grated parmesan

  • Bake in the oven at 195 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the lasagne is piping hot throughout. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Would be nice with a peppery green salad to cut through the richness

Butternut Squash, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Tomato Fish Pie

My middle child has a real aversion to creamy, white sauces which unfortunately means that there are several dishes that I don't make at the moment. I can sympathise - he is a miniature version of me, and I would be sick as a child if anyone tried to make me eat anything which was too heavy on the dairy. How things have changed!

Normally I would make a fish pie with a white sauce, but tonight I decided to try using a tomato sauce. I used a sauce that was packed with vegetables, but had been liquidised till smooth. If you are short of time, just use a shop-bought sauce. I would have added chopped fresh parsley to the sauce as well, if I didn't suspect it would send him running for the hills!

We ate this with sprouts fried with bacon, but only because this was what was in the fridge. Spinach would be a lovely accompaniment, as would broccoli, runner beans or peas.



  • Approx. 340g fish pie mix (salmon, smoked haddock and cod, dice into 2-3 cm cubes - you can add prawns or vary the fish)
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary)
  • 1 red chilli
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 3-4 large, floury potatoes such as maris piper
  • A few tablespoons of sweetcorn kernels (tinned or fresh is fine)
  • 30-40g butter
  • A splash of milk
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 4-5



  • Make the tomato sauce. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-based saucepan and heat very gently
  • Add the crushed garlic and let it bubble gently for a minute to infuse the oil. Do not  let the garlic catch and burn
  • Add the diced onions and increase the heat to moderate. Stir the onions in the oil for a minute or two until glossy, then add the carrots and celery. Stir for a further minute or two, then add the tinned tomatoes, red wine vinegar, mixed herbs and 6-8 good turns of the pepper mill. Mix well and bring to a simmer
  • Using a knife or skewer, poke a couple of holes into the chilli and place it in the tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes

  • While the sauce is simmering, make the mashed potato. Peel the potatoes and cut into 3-4 cm dice. Place in a pan and cover with cold water
  • Bring the water to the boil, then boil gently for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft
  • Drain the potatoes and return to the pan. Mash the potatoes roughly, then add the butter, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to mash until smooth

  • Remove the chilli from the sauce and liquidise until smooth
  • Add the sweetcorn kernels and mix into the sauce

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees fan. Place the fish pie mix into a baking dish, then pour over the tomato sauce (you will have made more than you need, aim for the sauce to only just reach the top of the fish). Mix the fish and sauce together, then arrange evenly in the base of the dish
  • Using a tablespoon, place the mash on top of the fish. Start from the outside, working your way to the centre of the dish (this will stop the sauce from spilling over the sides of the dish) until the mash is heaped fairly evenly over the fish
  • Using a fork, score and roughen up the surface of the mash to get a lovely crunchy topping
  • (Optional) Add a couple of dots of butter or grated cheese over the top of the mash
  • Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes until the fish is cooked through
  • Serve with green vegetables, simply cooked

Tomato Fish Pie

Tomato Fish Pie with Stir-Fried Sprouts and Bacon

Friday, 26 September 2014

Bucatini with Beef Meatballs

My middle child doesn't have friends over to play often, due to crazy logistics this year for the children, and us parents. Sometimes it feels as if we are ruled by the schedule of (particularly my eldest's) various extra-curricular activities, but a few friends have assured me that this happens in their households too. This year, we are starting him on some of the same classes as his sister, and next year I hope that everything will become easier when they are (hopefully) all at the same school.

This is the last week that I will be home relatively early (early enough to do school pick-up), so we have taken a few days to have his friends around to play. On Tuesday I did egg-fried rice, which didn't go down too well (and I hate sending a child home without being sure that they are full), so I found out in advance what today's guest likes eating. It turns out he loves meatballs, so I procrastinated until 10pm last night, then got on with it.

Whilst the sauce was cooking, I found out that our guest wasn't a fan of vegetables ("I don't eat them"). But he did say he ate pasta sauce, so once the sauce was cooked, I took a stick blender to it and pureed it all. The smooth texture of the sauce worked well with the meatballs, so I'll probably continue to puree in the future.

I normally prefer to use a combination of pork and beef for meatballs, but didn't remember to defrost any pork. These meatballs are easy to make and cook, and freeze well for a standby dinner.

Middle child, despite cleaning his plate (save one meatball, which was snaffled by his sister), protested that the meatballs were not as nice as the ones served in the school canteen!



  • 400g beef mince (I used 10% fat Aberdeen Angus mince)
  • 4 tbsp. stale breadcrumbs (I used wholemeal bread, which I had previously whizzed in a processer and put in the freezer)
  • 2 tsp chopped mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram) or 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 twists of freshly ground black pepper
Makes approx. 35 meatballs

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely diced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g cubed pancetta (or use sliced streaky bacon)
  • 1 red chilli
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • Olive oil and/or sunflower oil for frying
  • (Optional) Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • (Optional) Grated cheese


  • Place the mince, breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, garlic, egg, parmesan cheese and pepper into a large bowl. Using your hands, squidge everything together until the mixture is thoroughly combined
  • Line a plate or tupperware box with greaseproof paper. Take a small amount of the mince mixture in your hands and roll it to make a meatball, around 2.5 - 3cm diameter. Make sure that the mixture holds firm and place on the plate/box. Repeat, placing the meatballs a small distance apart from each other. I use a box, and interleave the meatballs with greaseproof paper
  • Cover the plate/box with clingfilm or a lid, and place in the fridge overnight

Beef meatballs, ready for the Fridge

  • Heat a heavy-based pan and add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Heat until the oil is moderately hot and add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, then add the onions and garlic and stir for 3-4 minutes until the onions are glossy and softened (don't let the garlic catch and burn)
  • Add the diced carrot to the pan and stir for a further 4-5 minutes
  • Add the plum tomatoes, rinsing out each tin with approx. 1/4 tin of water and adding to the pan
  • Add the tomato puree, celery, dried mixed herbs and balsamic vinegar and stir well to combine
  • Using a knife, pierce the chilli a couple of times, then add to the sauce
  • Bring the sauce to the boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer
  • Simmer the sauce for45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft
  • Remove the chilli, then puree the sauce until smooth with a stick blender, and add some more water if it seems too thick. Continue to simmer on a low heat, covered, whilst you cook the meatballs and pasta
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive or sunflower oil in a frying pan and add the meatballs (approx. 6 per child or 8 per adult). Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

  • Add the meatballs to the sauce, replace the lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • In the meantime, boil a large pan of salted water. Add a splash of oil, and add 100g per adult of pasta to the pan (I used bucatini, but any long pasta would be fine)
  • Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. When the pasta is ready, drain and place into warmed plates
  • Add the meatballs to the pasta using a slotted spoon, then add generous amounts of the sauce to the dish
  • (Optional) Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add grated cheese (I used cheddar) and more ground black pepper if required
  • Serve with a big glass of red wine

Bucatini with beef meatballs

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

Most children who are brought up in a household with Chinese cooking will be acquainted with seaweed in some form or other, and I don't mean the crispy green stuff that you get in the chippy (which isn't seaweed). One of my favourites is 紫菜湯, a yummy soup with ginger, pork, dried shrimps and fronds of greenish-brownish seaweed, which are sold in dried pancakes, and soaked and rinsed of sand several times before being dropped into the soup at the last minute to create that wonderful salty, iodine-y taste of the sea.

I really like samphire, and wish that it was available more readily. I was excited to see it at the Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, and picked up a box without a clue how to cook it. It has that lovely seaweedy taste, and a freshness and bite that goes well with a crispy slab of white (I suspect pink also) fish. Stir-frying seemed to work well, the fishmonger also told me that it's normally just boiled for a few minutes.

Be gentle with the salt in this dish, as the bacon and the samphire will both add to the flavour of the finished plate.



  • 2 cod loins
  • 6 slices streaky bacon
  • Large handful of samphire
  • 8-10 baby new potatoes, washed (I used British Gems from Sainsbury's)
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes
  • Lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 2



  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan
  • Prepare the potatoes by cutting in half and placing in a single layer in a roasting dish. Add the chopped herbs, 6-8 twists of the salt mill and 10-12 twists of ground black pepper (adjust seasoning according to taste). Pour over 3-4 generous lugs of olive oil, and stir to mix the seasoning and oil with the potatoes
  • Place the potatoes in the oven for 35 minutes
  • Pre-heat the roasting tin for the cod in the same oven
  • Wash the cod loin and dry on kitchen towels
  • Sprinkle the cod with a few twists of black pepper, the wrap the streaky bacon around each loin, folding the ends underneath snugly

Wrap the streaky bacon around the cod loins

  • Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large, heavy-based pan and heat until very hot (oil is moving around the pan). Place the cod loins, "tidy" side down, to the pan. Brown for 3-4 minutes, taking care not to move the cod around the pan too much
  • Using a spatula, turn the loins over and brown the bacon for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, but reserve the frying oil
  • Place the loins on the pre-heated roasting tray and add the halved cherry tomatoes, cut side facing upwards. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little salt, pepper and mixed herbs, and drizzle olive oil over
  • Place the roasting tray in the same oven as the potatoes, for 15 minutes

  • Place the browned cod loins in a dish with the tomatoes
    • Wash the samphire and drain. Cut off any woody stems
    • Reheat the pan containing the oil that was used to brown the cod. When the oil is hot, add the samphire and stir-fry for 5 minutes
    • Add a few twists of black pepper to the samphire and stir well before removing from the heat. Place on a warmed plate, then add the cod, tomatoes and potatoes. Serve immediately
    Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014

    Carrot and Coriander Soup

    My youngest has been pestering me for "carrot soup" for a couple of weeks now. Where he got the idea from, I haven't a clue. Anyway, I finally got around to making this, prepped last night and made in the slow-cooker today. It tastes fresh, sweet and a little tangy. It is also unbelievably easy - moreso if you buy ground coriander and don't bother dry-roasting and crushing the seeds yourself.

    Needless to say, when presented with the desired carrot soup, the youngest had a strop and insisted that he had really meant "bomato soup".

    The children took exception to the coriander leaves (placed purely for aesthetic purposes), but cleaned their plates. They loved the soup accompanied by cheesy garlic bread, although the youngest was very suspicious about "why mummy made a flower with the bread?"



    • 50g butter
    • 1 onion, finely sliced
    • 6-8 carrots, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • 1 smallish floury potato, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • A piece of peeled raw ginger, approx. 2cm cube
    • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or use ground coriander)
    • 500ml chicken stock (I used a cube of Kallo organic chicken stock)
    • 1 dessertspoon  crème fraiche
    • A pinch of salt
    • About 10 twists of ground black pepper
    • Coriander leaves to garnish
    Serves 4



    • Heat a frying pan to a moderate heat, and add the coriander seeds. Stir the seeds in the pan until they begin to colour, and release aroma. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cook, then crush the seeds with a pestle and mortar
    • Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. When it is melted, add the sliced onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and glossy
    • Place the carrots and potatoes in a slow-cooker. Grate the ginger into the pot, then add the ground coriander.
    • Pour over the hot chicken stock, add a pinch of salt and 10 twists of ground black pepper
    (at this stage I let the whole lot cool overnight and put the slow-cooker on in the morning for yummy tea at 5pm)
    • Place the slow-cooker on low, and cook for 8 hours. If you don't want to use a slow cooker, place all of the ingredients in a large saucepan, cover and boil gently for 30 minutes
    • When the vegetables have cooked until soft, remove from the heat. Add a dessert spoonful of crème fraiche, then blend the soup to a smooth puree
    • Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately with something toasty and oily

    Carrot and Coriander Soup