Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps

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My favourite springtime recipe has to be pea and mint soup.  It is so fresh and flavoursome that I ate an unacceptably impolite amount of it at my friend’s house once.  You can make parmesan crisps to dip in to the soup for an extra impressive, yet surprisingly simple, dish.

My other seasonal springtime favourites are: charred lettuce and spring onions with goats cheese; potato, onion and fennel tortilla; asparagus with tomato salsa and crumbled cheese; and watercress pesto (all recipes are on this blog and can be made in 30 mins or less!)

Allow about 25 minutes to make the soup and crisps.  You will need a food processor or hand blender and baking/greaseproof paper.
Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps (serves 4 as a starter or light main)

1 tbsp oil
Large knob of butter
1 medium potato, diced small
700g frozen peas
2 vegetable stock cubes (ideally OXO as they crumble well)
Large handful mint, roughly chopped
65g parmesan, very finely grated (or use double this if you want two crisps per bowl of soup)

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and when bubbling add the diced potato. Fry for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until golden and cooked through. Add the peas then add water so they are only just covered. Simmer for a few minutes, until the peas are tender, then crumble in the stock cubes and stir well. Add the mint then then use a food processor or hand blender to whizz everything together until smooth. If the soup is too thick then gradually add water until you are happy with the consistency.

To make the parmesan crisps, heat the oven at 220 degrees/gas mark 7. Line a baking tray with baking/greaseproof paper and on to this divide the grated parmesan into 4 long strips, in a thin layer. Bake for around 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Leave to cool a little, for about 5 minutes, then while still a little warm carefully peel the crisps off the baking paper. Cool until firm.

Serve the soup in bowls with a parmesan crisp on the side to dip in!

My Easy Veggie Ramen

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I LOVE RAMEN.  A big slurpy bowl of goodness which is particularly enjoyable when it is cold outside.  You can eat lots, safe in the knowledge it’s pretty good for you.  Feel free to experiment with what veg you use, or add cooked prawns, meat or tofu to the vegetables for extra substance.  In fact, this is a great soup for using up leftovers so almost anything goes.  Also you could cheat a bit and get a pack of instant miso soup and use that as the water/stock base.

Allow 15-20 minutes to prepare the ramen, and remember the garlic, ginger and chilli amounts are only a guide – you may wish to use less or more, according to taste.

My Veggie Ramen (serves 2)

2 eggs

2 tbsp oil (any is fine)

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

Small thumb of ginger, chopped very small, or minced

1 red chilli, chopped very small

4 mushrooms, sliced

4 large cabbage leaves, sliced thin

1/2 red pepper, sliced thin

4 spring onions, chopped small

1 litre hot water (or 1.5 litres if you want the soup more watery)

1 vegetable stock cube

2 tbsp soy sauce

200g noodles (any is fine – I use fine noodles which cook in 3 mins)

4 radishes, sliced thin

1 avocado, sliced in to small chunks

Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Chilli garlic sauce (or whatever sauce you fancy)

Boil the eggs in water for around 6 minutes, then drain, put them in cold water and set aside.

Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for 1 minute in the oil in a saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, cabbage, red pepper, spring onions and fry for another few minutes, until softened.  Add the water, crumble the vegetable stock cube in, add the soy sauce and noodles and simmer for a few more minutes until the noodles are cooked.  Ladle in to bowls then top each bowl with the radishes, 1 egg chopped in half (hopefully it will be a little soft in the middle!), avocado slices, coriander and chilli garlic sauce.  Slurp then go back for more!

Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla

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This potato, onion and fennel tortilla is my favourite recipe from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  The slightly caramelised potatoes and red onions are delicious encased in the egg, and the fennel seeds are a really interesting addition.  As you can see my tortilla turned out flatter and more like an omelette, but it doesn’t matter either way!

We ate our omelette/tortilla with baked trout and peas and sweetcorn, but it would also be nice with a salad and/or sausages.  My kids enjoy eating it with their hands (hence it also makes a great cold snack the next day)!  Allow about 30 minutes to make.

Fennel seeds are one of my *exciting ingredients* and also work well in fish pies and Mediterranean tomato based sauces.  They are cheap and last for months in the cupboard!

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Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla (serves 4-6 with a side)

200g potatoes, chopped very small in to approx 1cm chunks (I don’t bother peeling – I like the nutty texture)

1 red (or white) onion, chopped small

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp dried mixed herbs or handful of fresh rosemary/parsley, chopped

5 eggs, lightly beaten, with a little salt and pepper

Fry the potatoes in a frying pan in oil on a medium heat until they start to soften and get a little golden (about 8-10 mins), then add the onion, fennel seeds and herbs.  Mix well and keep stirring for another 6 mins or so, until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic and stir, then pour the eggs in.  Briefly stir and swirl the eggs in the pan until the pan is covered and the other ingredients are nicely spread out.

Once the egg starts to set around the edges, you have two choices.  You can either finish the tortilla off by cooking the top for a few minutes under the grill until set (my preferred option) or you can leave it on the hob to gently cook through.

Once cooked, carefully cut the tortilla in to wedges and eat alongside whatever you fancy.

Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad

This chickpea, herb and halloumi salad is an old favourite of mine from the excellent Cranks Vegetarian Cookbook.  It manages to be both refreshing and filling at the same time.  The flavours of the lemon and herbs really compliment the rocket, chickpeas, roast tomatoes and olives, and the fried halloumi on top is a salty treat.  It’s lovely whatever the season and only takes 20 minutes to make (or 10 minutes if you don’t roast the tomatoes) – whoop!

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Chickpea, herb and halloumi salad (serves 2-4 depending on appetite)

2 x 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp lemon juice

100g pitted black olives, cut in half

Small handful chopped parsley

Small handful chopped coriander

Oil (ideally olive oil but any is fine)

1 clove garlic, crushed

200g halloumi cheese, sliced fairly thick

100g rocket (spinach would also work)

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

If you want to roast the tomatoes (to make them extra sweet), put them in a baking tray with a drizzle of oil and roast on gas mark 6/200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until soft and slightly charred, stirring them a couple of times to prevent sticking.  Alternatively you can just use them raw.

In a bowl mix the chickpeas with the lemon juice, olives, parsley and coriander, a good dash of oil and the garlic.  Season with a little salt and pepper.

Dry fry or griddle the halloumi on both sides in a fairly hot frying pan until golden – this should only take 1-2 minutes each side.

Once the cherry tomatoes are cooked, place some rocket on each plate.  Add the chickpea mixture, the tomatoes and finally top with 2 or 3 slices of the halloumi and a drizzle of oil.  Eat and enjoy!

Wild West Rice (ready in 45 mins)

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Wild West Rice is based on Jamie Oliver’s version of a Native American recipe.  It’s a unique, sweet and nutty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.   Rice is mixed with dried cranberries, onion, chopped almonds, cinnamon, garlic, dill and lemon juice and eaten with lovely thick wedges of roast butternut squash.  We had the dish with baked trout but it would be nice with chicken or a salad too.  My kids rejected the butternut squash but liked the rice!  I had a feeling that would happen, but it was worth a try… They were intrigued by the name of the dish, which sparked off a discussion about cowboys.

I used a packet of pre-cooked microwave rice to speed things up, and stir-fried it with the other ingredients instead of microwaving it.  Pre-cooked rice is absolutely brilliant for making cooking times quicker and can be kept in the cupboard for a good while until needed!

Wild West Rice (serves 4)

2 tbsp any oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped

1 red/white onion, chopped small

1 packet microwave rice (I used brown rice)

Shake cinnamon (I probably used about 1/4 tsp but use what you like – avoid lots though as it will overpower the dish!)

Large handful dried cranberries

Small handful roughly chopped dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 butternut squash, skin on and deseeded, cut in to thick finger sized chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees.  Put the butternut squash chunks in to a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Roast, shaking the tray every 10 mins and turning the chunks if necessary, for around  30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown on the outside (time will depend on your oven).

Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/saucepan on a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add the rice and cinnamon, cranberries, dill and lemon juice and fry for a few more mins until all mixed and cooked through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put the rice on a plate with the butternut squash chunks.  Eat with fish, chicken or a salad.

Pad Thai (ready in 20 mins)

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This delicious Pad Thai recipe (a classic Thai street food dish) is based on one in Asda magazine.  My lovely mother-in-law always keeps their free magazines for me as supermarkets always seem to have great recipe ideas.

This is a vegetarian dish full of texture, flavour, interestingly chopped veg and noodles, and is topped off wonderfully with lime juice, coriander and peanuts.  I am sure chicken and prawns would be great additions too.  To make it family-friendly, sweet chilli sauce or fresh/dried chilli can be added at the table.  I hope one day my kids take the plunge and add a bit of chilli to their meal!

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My youngest son wasn’t sure about this dish, but my oldest wolfed it down.  Three out of four of us liking it is pretty good though.  Allow about 20 minutes prep time.  And chop and freeze any leftover coriander in freezer bags, then it can be used instantly when needed!

Pad Thai (serves 4)

1 tbsp oil (e.g. vegetable/olive)
1 garlic clove, crushed
Thumb-sized piece ginger, finely grated/chopped
400g broccoli, roughly chopped
½ cabbage, finely sliced

Tofu or cooked prawns (I like Cauldron marinated tofu)

1 red pepper, descended and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into ribbons
100g beansprouts
1 tbsp soy sauce
325g noodles (any is fine – I used medium egg noodles)
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped
1 lime, juiced
Peanuts, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the garlic and ginger for 2 mins then add the broccoli, cabbage and pepper (and toy or prawns if using) and fry for 3-5mins until beginning to soften.  Toss in the carrots, beansprouts and soy sauce and fry for another 3 mins.

Separately cook the noodles and put them in bowls, then add the vegetable mixture, and top with the lime juice, coriander and peanuts.  Add sweet chilli sauce or fresh or dried chilli at the table if you fancy.

Veggie sausage and bean cobbler

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This dish is genius because it is healthy, wonderfully warming on a winter’s day and many of the ingredients can be used instantly from your freezer or cupboard.

Baked beans and frozen veg are mixed with cooked sausages and stock to make a tasty stew and then topped with homemade cheesy scones to transform the stew in to a cobbler! The scones are really simple – you just mix the ingredients and then dollop the mixture in messy mounds on top and let the oven turn them golden. The whole dish is a real treat and shows how convenience food can be healthy if you choose wisely.  I have adapted the recipe from Netmums (www.netmums.com), who have lots of family friendly recipes.

Allow about 25 mins prep plus 40 mins cooking time.

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Veggie sausage and bean cobbler (serves approx 6)

For the stew

1 onion, roughly chopped

6-8 sausages (could be meat or veggie. To save time further buy frankfurters then probably no need to pre-cook)

2 cans baked beans

500g frozen veg (could be anything – I used a bag of mixed veg – peas, sweetcorn and carrots)
1 vegetable stock cube (I like OXO)
2 tbsp hot water

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

For the cheesy scone (cobbler) topping

125g self-raising flour

75g cheddar cheese

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp oil (e.g. olive/vegetable oil)

60ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.  Grill/bake the sausages until browned, leave to cool slightly then chop in to bite sized chunks.  Meanwhile fry the onions in a little oil for approx 5 mins, until softened.  In a casserole dish mix the onion with the baked beans, frozen veg (straight from the freezer) and chopped sausages.  Crumble in the stock cube, water and dried herbs and mix really well.

To make the cheesy scone topping mix the flour and cheese together in a bowl with a fork.  Add the egg, oil and milk and mix again.  Using your hands take out smallish mounds of the mixture and dollop it all over the veg and sausage mixture until fairly evenly covered.  The scone topping may be a little sticky so keep a glass of warm water next to you to keep rinsing your fingers.

Bake in the oven for 25-40 minutes (this depends on your oven!), until the scones have puffed up a bit and gone golden brown (it is fine if they sink in to the stew a bit).  Devour and feel warmed up.