Seasonal pumpkin, blue cheese and watercress lasagne

When I saw this seasonal recipe I thought it looked unusual. The roast pumpkin, cinnamon, chilli flakes, garlic, blue cheese and watercress compliment each other perfectly and it makes an interesting change from a more traditional tomato-sauce-based lasagne. It would make a good veggie Christmas dinner option too (although you might need to use butternut squash instead).

pumpkin watercress blue cheese lasagne

You need to allow about 1 hour 45 minutes to make this, but at least 1 hour of that is cooking in the oven so it is not all graft! You could prepare the roast mix in the morning and then layer the lasagne and cook it later on.

The recipe is based on one from Guardian Cook but I have adapted the quantities and used danish blue cheese instead of gorgonzola as it is cheaper. Next time I might try topping it with chopped walnuts.

pumpkin watercress blue cheese lasagne

Instant dry chilli flakes are great by the way – they might not be fresh but they are still delicious! I often use them in salad dressings and when roasting veg. In fact I would even go so far as to say they are an *exciting ingredient* (see the ‘exciting ingredient’ category on the right hand side for more ideas).

For a more traditional veggie lasagne (my signature recipe!) check out this link: http://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/my-veggie-lasagne-50-mins-prep50-mins-cooking-and-the-versatility-of-soy-sauce/.

Pumpkin, blue cheese and watercress lasagne (serves 4)

1 medium sized pumpkin or butternut squash, cut in to wedges and skin chopped off (pumpkin is easier to cut!)
4 garlic cloves, skins on
1 tsp cinnamon
1-2 pinches dry chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper
A glug of olive oil
60g grated parmesan
6-8 dried lasagne sheets
150g danish blue, gorgonzola or stilton cheese, crumbled
2 bunches watercress, roughly chopped
200ml double cream

Heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4. In a large bowl mix the pumpkin, garlic, cinnamon, chilli, salt, pepper, glug of olive oil and a splash of water. Place on a non-stick baking/roasting tray and roast for approx 30 minutes, until soft. Stir regularly to avoid sticking.

Pop the garlic out of their skins, finely chop and put back with the pumpkin mixture and then add 40g of the parmesan. Mix together. Turn the oven up to 190 degrees/gas mark 6.

Layer the lasagne dish. Start with the lasagne sheets, then the pumpkin mixture, half the danish blue cheese and half the watercress. Layer again with the lasagne sheets, pumpkin mixture, remaining danish blue and watercress and then pour over the cream. Sprinkle the lasagne with the remaining parmesan then bake for approx 40 minutes, until the top is bubbling and golden. Serve with salad.

Mussels with cider, leek and shallot sauce (ready in 25 mins)

mussels

Now it is blustery and cold outside I can’t stop eating brothy comfort food, and the great thing about this dish is it is filling yet low in calories. The tender mussels sit in a subtly flavoured sauce of cider, leeks, shallots, garlic, parsley and creme fraiche. There is something quite therapeutic about washing the mussels during the preparation and then messily prizing them out of their shells in order to eat them. Bread (ideally baguette) is essential for soaking the sauce up as you go along and wiping the bowl clean at the end!

This recipe is based on one by Sainsbury’s but I have adapted it slightly. Allow just 25 minutes to make this dish and make sure you have an extra bowl at the table to put the empty shells in!

Please excuse the lower quality photo above – my boyfriend’s camera is away this weekend…

Mussels with cider, leek and shallot sauce (serves 4 with bread)

1kg fresh mussels
Olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 leek, trimmend and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped
300ml cider (original recipe specifies Somerset cider but you don’t need to be too specific – just don’t use really cheap stuff!)
1 heaped tbsp lighter creme fraiche
1/2 x 28g pack parsley, chopped
Baguette or bread, to serve

Wash the mussels under cold running water, removing the beards and any dirt. Discard any mussels that are open. Heat a large glug of oil in a pan and add the shallots and leeks. Cook for 5 mins until softened then add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Pour in the cider and cook for a further 5 mins.

Tip in the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 mins, shaking/stirring occasionally until all the shells have opened. Discard any that remain closed.

Stir in the creme fraiche and half the parsley and season with ground black pepper. Ladle in to bowls and top with the remaining parsley. Serve with bread to mop up the sauce.

Based on a recipe by Sainsbury’s

Cheat’s banoffee pie (ready in 30 mins)

easy banoffee pie

How heavenly is caramel from a Carnation tin? I treasure this stuff. A buttery biscuit base, Carnation caramel, chopped bananas and whipped cream makes an absolutely gorgeous, classic dessert – banoffee pie. I have added toasted almonds for a little crunch and bitterness.

It takes 5 minutes to prepare the banoffee pie base, 10 minutes to top with the caramel, bananas, whipped cream and almonds, 15 minutes to chill and possibly only seconds to eat.

Cheat’s banoffee pie (serves 6-8 people)

150g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g melted butter
397g tin instant caramel (I used Carnation’s)
2 ripe bananas, chopped in to rounds
250ml whipping cream, whipped until thick
A handful of toasted flaked almonds (to toast them yourself simply heat on a dry frying pan for approx 1 minute until golden, shaking regularly to avoid burning)

Mix the biscuits and butter together and press in to the base of a 20cm cake tin. Spread over the caramel, put on the chopped bananas, spoon on the whipped whipping cream and top with the flaked almonds. Chill for 15 minutes in the fridge. Eat.

The People’s French onion soup with cheesy toasts – ready in 30 minutes

easy french onion soup

I love a stocky soup, especially when it starts to feel cold outside. Slurping up onion soup and dipping bits of cheesy toasts in to it is deeply satisfying. Traditionally this soup is topped with small rounds of baguette and melted gruyere cheese but I had to budget hard with shopping this week so used regular bread and cheddar cheese, and dried herbs. Still delicious and a simple dish to make as long as you don’t mind chopping and stirring a bit!

Plus you have the added bonus of finishing off the wine with your meal.

The People’s french onion soup (serves 4)

Olive oil
4 largish onions, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
A large knob of butter
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
A good sprinkle of dried herbs
Salt and pepper
180ml dry white wine (cheapest is fine)
3 cubes veg stock, crumbled (I like OXO)
2 – 4 pieces of any bread (allow half to one slice per person depending on how hungry people are)
Approx 80g cheddar cheese, grated

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add all the onions, stirring regularly to avoid burning. You may need to add more oil. After about 10-15 minutes they should be soft and a little sticky. Add the butter, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes, continuing to stir. Add the wine, cook for another 5 minutes to reduce it down and then add the stock cubes and some boiled water until you are happy with the consistency. It should be be pretty watery. Simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Meanwhile place the toast under the grill on one side until browned, take out and top the other side with the grated cheese and then finish off grilling that side until the toast is brown and the cheese is melted. Cut each slice of cheesy toast in to 4 pieces. Ladle the soup in to bowls and top with the pieces of toast. Eat greedily.

Sausage/veggie sausage tray bake (10 mins prep/50 mins cooking)

veggie sausage tray bake

I love tray bakes because you just chuck everything on a tray and the oven does (almost) all the work!  This sausage tray bake is made up of meat or veggie sausages, whole cloves of garlic, torn sage, parsnips, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and is topped with feta cheese.  You could easily add/subsititute other vegetables such as broccoli, courgette, butternut squash (if you want to sprain your wrist chopping awkwardly..), carrots, asparagus and peppers or use goats cheese instead of feta.  Remember that vegetables shrink when roasting so don’t assume you have too much.

veggie sausage tray bake

I was first introduced to roast whole cloves of garlic over a camp fire and have never forgotten it – you can pop the insides out and eat them whole as they become soft, sweet and almost caramelised! And sage is an unusual and distinctive tasting herb that goes well with veg and sausages.

Allow at least 1 hour for chopping the veg and cooking time.

Sausage/veggie sausage tray bake (serves 4)

8 meat or veggie sausages (for veggie sausages I like the Cauldron range)

2 red onions, cut in to wedges

2 parsnips, cut in to chunks

2 small sweet potatoes, cut in to chunks

100g mushrooms, chopped in half

8 whole unpeeled cloves garlic

1/2 20g pack sage, roughly torn

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

200g feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5.  Put the sausages on a non-stick baking tray along with the veg, garlic and sage. Generously pour over some olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Mix everything up well with your hands.

Cook in the oven for around 50 mins, until everything is cooked through.  Shake the tray regularly to avoid burning.  You may need to add more oil.  About 5 minutes before taking the tray out of the oven crumble over the feta cheese.  Serve with salad!

Caribbean saltfish with peppers and onions (20 mins plus soaking time)

I recently had saltfish for the first time, cooked by St Lucia born Marilyn.  She topped it with peppers and onions, and I had a rude amount of it.  You have to soak the saltfish before cooking (to rehydrate it), and then once it hits the saucepan it becomes tender, flaky and delicious and, of course, pretty salty.  A simple dish with lots of flavour!

saltfish with peppers onions

Saltfish is eaten lots in the Caribbean alongside a fruit called ackee, which I will have to try next time.  It is also popular in Spain where it is eaten with tomato sauce and potatoes.  And I think it goes well with a salad or some rice.  We live in a multicultural area so can buy the saltfish in our local corner shop or supermarket, but am not sure how easy it would be to find otherwise! 

Allow at least a few hours for soaking the saltfish before making the dish, and change the water at least once!

Ingredients (serves 4)

300g saltfish (skinless and boneless)
2 different coloured peppers, cut in to strips
1 onion, cut in to strips
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Once the saltfish has soaked, give it a good rinse to get off some of the salt, then chop it in to chunks.  

Fry the peppers, onion and garlic in vegetable/sunflower oil for about 5 minutes until softening and then add the fish.  Heat and stir for about another 10 minutes until the fish is tender, cooked through and flaky. Serve alongside some rice, salad, or if you want to be really authentic, ackee.

Yummy peanut and date bars (chocolate topped so extra kid-friendly!)

It’s a nice feeling giving your kids a snack and knowing exactly what is in it. These nutritious yet moreish peanut and date bars contain only roasted peanuts, dates, a little honey and some chocolate on top, and are simple to make.

peanut date bars

Peanut and date bars (makes around 10 bars)

200g unsalted peanuts
250g dates, roughly chopped
A good squeeze of honey
100g milk chocolate buttons (or more if you want it really chocolatey!)

First put the peanuts on a non-stick oven tray and roast in the oven at gas mark 2/150 degrees for approx 10 mins until golden brown (make sure you check them regularly and keep giving the tray a good shake – burnt nuts are bitter and horrible!)

Put the peanuts, dates and a good squeeze of honey in a food processor/blender and blend until the mixture is sticky and fine (you may need to do this in two batches). Cover a shallow square/rectangle shaped container with tin foil then press the mixture on to it until evenly dispersed. Melt the chocolate in the microwave (do this in short bursts to avoid burning) and pour and spread it evenly over the mixture. Refrigerate for a few hours then cut in to bars.

Keep them in the fridge – they will last a few days!