Hidden veg tomato sauce (ready in 15 mins)

hidden veg tomato sauce

Sometimes you just want to get vegetables in to your kids! This tasty hidden veg tomato sauce is a great way to sneak in and to use up leftover veg in a meal, by blitzing the mixture in a food processor until it is red and smooth. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare.

If you always have some tinned chopped tomatoes, garlic, stock cubes, tomato puree and dried herbs in the cupboard then you can just add whatever veg you have. Some veg such as carrots and broccoli can be grated raw and added, instead of frying them first. You can eat the hidden veg tomato sauce with pasta and grated cheese; with added tinned tuna and olives (after blitzing) and a jacket potato; or with tinned beans (e.g. cannelloni beans/chickpeas – added after blitzing and reheated) for homemade baked beans.

The sauce can also be frozen in freezer bags for up to three months, then defrosted overnight for a super simple meal the next day.  The goodness and flavour will be retained, but bear in the mind the mixture will reduce down a bit in the freezer.

hidden veg tomato sauce

hidden veg tomato sauce

My kids absolutely love the sauce with cheese and pasta (oldest seen below trying to eat it as fast as he can), even though they would normally heartily reject half the veg it contains. But little do they know haha!

hidden veg tomato sauce

hidden veg tomato sauce

For an adult portion, simply put some of the mixture aside before blitzing it.

Hidden veg tomato sauce (enough for 4-6 portions)

1 tin chopped tomatoes (I use the value/basic range)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped small
4 mushrooms, chopped
Few heads broccoli, chopped
Any leftover veg you want to use!
1 clove garlic, crushed/chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
Shake dried mixed herbs
1 stock cube, crumbled (I like OXO vegetable as it crumbles easily)

Gently fry the chopped veg with the garlic in some oil for about 7 minutes, until tender but cooked, stirring regularly.  Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, dried herbs and crumbled stock cube, stir well and heat for a further 2 minutes.  Blitz in a food processor until smooth. Eat with pasta and cheese; tuna and a jacket potato; or tinned beans (added at the end).

10 min brothy tortellini and mushroom soup

tortellini and mushroom soup
I discovered the recipe for this brothy soup (based on one in ‘Veggie Food’ by Murdoch Books) years ago, and have made it dozens of times, especially when I want a one-pot 10 minute dinner!  I love slurping it up, hunched over the bowl, and often getting a bit messy in the process (sorry, that was a bit Nigella wasn’t it).

The soup is full of tortellini, sliced mushrooms, spring onions, vegetable stock and a little garlic, and is a bit special.  We have also made it as a starter for friends, who are always impressed and intrigued by a soup with tortellini in it.  If you like you can grate some cheddar or parmesan over the top.  It really is brill.

tortellini and mushroom soup

You can save some soup for the next day but will probably need to add more stock as the tortellini plumps up overnight.

10 min brothy tortellini and mushroom soup (serves 2 hungry people or 4 people as a light meal)

300g tortellini (any flavour)

4 closed cup or chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced

6 spring onions, chopped

1 large clove garlic, crushed/finely chopped

Approx 700ml Oxo vegetable stock (I dissolve 2 cubes in 700ml boiled water)

Small shake dried mixed herbs


Fry the mushrooms and garlic in oil or butter for about 5 mins, until the mushrooms are cooked but a little tender.  Add the tortellini and spring onions, pour over the hot stock and cook as per the pack instructions (normally around 3 mins).  Add dried herbs and pepper.  Eat happily.

Blackberry jam (and more ideas) for the blackberry season!

It’s August, and slowly but surely blackberries are appearing, plump and ready for picking. People have been picking them on our local marshes in London for a few weeks, but in some areas they are still ripening. It’s very satisfying (and cheap!) making something out of foraged fruit.

blackberry jam

Last year me and the kids made blackberry jam – it was our first attempt and it turned out great (see recipe below)!  It’s surprisingly straightforward to make and you can recycle old glass jam jars to store it in. It’s great on toast and swirled through porridge or yoghurt.  For instant cheesecakes, top digestive biscuits with soft cheese mixed with sugar, and a dollop of blackberry jam.

Alternatively, leftover blackberries can be frozen in freezer bags then whizzed in a food processor with apple juice and a banana to make an instant smoothie, or the mixture can be poured in to ice lolly moulds to have later. Frozen blackberries can also be whizzed with some yoghurt and honey to make quick ice cream.

Check out http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/blackberry for lots more blackberry recipe ideas, including cakes, crumbles and drinks.

Blackberry jam (makes 2-3 jars)

800g blackberries

Juice of 1 lemon

500g jam sugar with pectin (readily available)

Finely chop half the blackberries and mash the rest in to a pulp. Mix together then add the lemon juice and sugar. Mix again then leave to stand for 1 hour to draw out the juices.

Put in a saucepan and boil on a high bubbling heat for 8 minutes, skimming any foam off the surface.  The mixture will be a little runny but don’t worry as it will thicken overnight as it cools in the jar.

Meanwhile, sterilise your jam jars by washing them then putting the jars and lids in the oven at 140 degrees/gas mark 1 for 10 minutes (or a dishwasher cycle).

Leave the jam to cool for 10 minutes then fill the jam jar.  Stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Once opened refrigerate and use within 3 weeks.

Semolina and herb gnocchi – an exciting vegetarian treat

semolina gnocchi

Who knew that gnocchi didn’t just refer to those small oval-shaped Italian potato dumplings, but also to this version from Rome?!  It uses semolina, frying the mixture in wedges until deliciously golden and crunchy on the outside and soft and springy in the middle, and is an unusual and exciting recipe (a rare thing in the meat-free world sometimes!). It’s also pretty straightforward to make and you can prepare the mixture in advance. At around £3.50 in total (serving 4-6 people) it’s a great value dish.

The recipe is based on one from the brilliant ‘Veggie Feast’ course at Cordon Verve cookery school in Walthamstow, London. The school has a range of one-off courses in a lovely friendly setting overlooking the vegetable garden: http://cordonverve.com.

For the gnocchi, you start by heating butter, milk, herbs and ground nutmeg in a saucepan, then add the semolina, egg yolks and parmesan and mix.

semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi

Pour the mixture in to a baking tray, spread out and chill in the fridge before cutting in to wedges and frying in batches.  It takes about 15 mins to prepare the mixture, at least an hour to chill (or overnight if you wish) then around 35 mins to fry.

semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi semolina gnocchi

The gnocchi are naughty, creamy and very comforting, so you need to offset that with some vegetables!  We had them with salad and roast potatoes the first day.  And the following day topped with with tinned chopped tomatoes heated with garlic and dried herbs.  This worked brilliantly.  My boyfriend reckons the gnocchi would be good with chopped chorizo added to the mixture before frying, but then again he thinks everything is better with chorizo.  Everything. 

semolina gnocchi

I have also found recipes for the gnocchi mixture being cut in to discs (before frying) and overlapped in an ovenproof dish, sprinkled with cheese and baked in the oven.  That sounds easier but probably not as golden and crunchy as being fried all over!  Anyway, I am rattling on a bit now, so here is the recipe:

Semolina and herb gnocchi (serves 4-6)

200g semolina (course ground – available in supermarkets)

750ml whole milk

80g butter

Small handful of fresh or dried herbs, chopped or pulled off their stalk e.g. rosemary/thyme/dried mixed herbs

Salt and pepper

1/3 tsp ground nutmeg (available from supermarkets)

2 egg yolks

50g grated parmesan cheese


Heat the butter, milk, herbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a saucepan until boiling quickly.  Take off the heat and quickly whisk or stir in the semolina and egg yolks, until rubbery.  Stir in the parmesan.  Add a little milk if it is too thick to stir.  Taste, and season more if necessary.

Pour in to a smallish rectangle/square baking tray lined with clingfilm.  Cool, then chill in the fridge for atleast one hour (or overnight if you wish).   Slice in to wedges.

When ready to fry, heat a large frying pan until moderately hot and add a little butter (you only want a small knob as otherwise the gnocchi won’t brown easily).  Fry in batches, turning the slices over when they are a deep golden brown (not dark brown or black!)  Cook until both sides are this colour, remove carefully from the pan and eat!  Nice with salad.

Cooking with kids – Baked Spaghetti Cake – like a spaghetti frittata!

baked spaghetti cake

When I saw this baked spaghetti cake recipe (like a spaghetti frittata) in ASDA magazine I tore it straight out.  It looked tasty and interesting, and I thought it would appeal to my kids, who pretend spaghetti is worms!  My kid-friendlier version contains spaghetti, eggs, cheese, asparagus, spinach, dried herbs and chorizo (optional).  You could experiment with it further – it would work with lots of different vegetables and is a great way of using up leftovers.

My kids enjoyed helping to make the cake, breaking the eggs, pouring the ingredients in, stirring, and ‘painting’ (greasing) the cake tin.  The result was as tasty and interesting as I thought it would be, and I was very impressed at how well the cake held together, with a slightly crispy top and a firm, creamy middle. It would also work well cold in a picnic.

The cake takes about 15 mins to prepare (or longer if the kids are helping!) and 40 mins to cook.   The ingredients come to about £6 in total and provide 6-8 servings.

baked spaghetti cake

baked spaghetti cake

baked spaghetti cake

baked spaghetti cake

We cut the cake in to wedges once out of the oven.  We all enjoyed it, apart from my oldest son, who wasn’t so sure.  3 out of 4 is a success in my book though!

baked spaghetti cake

baked spaghetti cake

Baked Spaghetti Cake (serves 6-8 people)

Butter/marge, for greasing

300g spaghetti (can be gluten-free spaghetti)

200g soft cheese (e.g. Philadelphia or cheaper alternative – I use the value soft cheese)

4 eggs

Shake dried mixed herbs

125g cheddar cheese, grated

Very large handful of asparagus tips, chopped small

150g spinach

Optional – handful finely chopped chorizo

Optional – salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5.  Grease a (roughly) 23cm round cake tin.

Boil the spaghetti as per the pack instructions.  Drain well and put in a large bowl.

Beat the soft cheese and eggs with a fork until smooth and shake over some dried herbs.  Add to the spaghetti.  Stir in the cheddar cheese,  asparagus, spinach and chorizo.  Season with salt and pepper if you like, mix well and pour the mixture in to the cake tin.  Cook for 30-45 mins (this will vary according to your oven), until the cake is pretty set and the top is a little golden and crispy.  Wait five mins then cut in to wedges and eat.

Strawberry and lime tart (20 mins effort plus 1 hour chilling/baking time)

strawberry and lime tart

We ate this last night.  All of it between three adults.  The beautiful combination of strawberry and lime together with the crispy (shop-bought) pastry and the creamy mascarpone makes for a fresh, indulgent summer tart.   It takes about 20 minutes of straightforward hands on effort plus an hour to chill and bake.

strawberry and lime tart

You don’t have to make the glaze – it’s a nice finishing touch but is not essential and the tart looks really pretty anyway!

For an even simpler recipe idea, you could just top digestive or shortbread biscuits with the lime, icing sugar and mascarpone and strawberries (make sure the mascarpone mixture is slightly thicker so it doesn’t fall off).

strawberry and lime tart

Strawberry and lime tart (serves 6-8 if you are sensible, or three if you are really reckless!)

300g ready to use puff pastry sheet (available from supermarkets)

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Zest and juice of most of a lime

1/3 jar strawberry jam

200g mascarpone cheese

1 tbsp cold water

2 tbsp icing sugar

250g strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Roll out the pastry on to a baking tray and fold over the edges to make a 1/2 inch border.  Brush the border with the egg yolk (use your fingers if you don’t have a brush).  Prick the centre all over with a fork to stop it puffing up too much when it bakes.  Chill for 30 mins in the fridge.  Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5.  Bake the pastry for approx 35 mins or until cooked, with the edges a golden colour, pressing the centre firmly down halfway through if it rises too much.  Cool.

Squeeze the lime juice and strawberry jam in to a saucepan and heat gently until starting to bubble.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Beat half the lime zest with the mascarpone, 1 tbsp water and the icing sugar.  Spread over the tart base up to the border.  Arrange the strawberries on top.  Brush or spoon the jam glaze carefully over the strawberries and grate over the remaining lime zest.  Eat more than you meant to!

Based on a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine

Mini make-ahead fish pies (15 mins prep/25 mins cooking)

make ahead fish pies

I am trying to make the most of my time and freezer at the moment, preparing big meals and then freezing some for later.   These yummy little fish pies can be cooked and served in small containers (I use recycled ramekins from shop-bought desserts) or in one big casserole dish.  I like using ramekins because they look sweet and my kids feel they are having something special.  Plus if you want to freeze some then you can freeze the pies in portions (I put the ramekins in a freezer bag).  Adults or older/hungrier kids may need at least two portions per meal though!

make ahead fish pies

The fish pies are simpler to make than most – you chop and boil some potatoes (I don’t bother peeling them) and mix with chopped fish, torn spinach, onion, parsley, soft cheese and a stock cube.  Make sure some of the fish is smoked to give the pies a particularly delicious flavour.  My kids and partner love smoked fish and wolfed their meal down!

If freezing, Freeze the pies once they are in the dish but before cooking, then you can simply take them out and put them in the fridge in the morning to defrost (or overnight if having for lunch), and cook at mealtime!

Don’t laugh, but I have decided to serve the kids a pretend ‘restaurant’ meal at home every so often, with posh napkins (tea towels).  We did this yesterday and they loved it.  They actually said things like ‘oh this waiter is very nice and her food is delicious’ and ‘thank you very much’.  They would NEVER say that normally..!

Mini make-ahead fish pies (fills 8 ramekins or a casserole dish)

8 small potatoes, chopped small and skins on

40g spinach, torn or roughly chopped

1 small onion, chopped small

300g fish pie mixed fish, chopped (or a combination of smoked fish and non-smoked fish.  Smoked river cobbler is particularly cheap and tasty.  You could also use smoked pollack, trout, cod, salmon etc).

Small handful parsley, chopped or shake of dried herbs

150g soft cheese (I use the value one)

1 stock cube

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200 degrees.

Boil the potatoes for about 8 minutes, until tender.  Drain and put in a large bowl.  Add the spinach, onion, fish and parsley and mix.  Add the soft cheese and a little hot water and mix until the right consistency (see photo above).  Crumble in the stock cube and mix again.  Put the mixture in to individual ramekins/containers or a large casserole dish.  Cook on an oven tray for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and the fish is cooked through.  This may take longer in a casserole dish. Serve with a sprig of parsley on top.

If freezing, do this when the fish are in their containers but not cooked yet, then take out the night before or in the morning and cook as above (or maybe a little longer to ensure the pies are cooked through).