roast butternut squash and red pepper soup

IMG_2210When did it get so cold?! This soup is deliciously hearty; warming and fragrant, you can beat the winter blues! Without bacon, it is vegan and vegetarian friendly.

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 4 lengthways
  • 1 large clove of garlic, or two medium cloves, left whole
  • Vegetable stock cube
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sage
  • Bacon, if desired

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 160 degrees.
  2. Scatter the butternut squash chunks onto a baking tray. Pour over a generous amount of olive oil, then sprinkle over the cayenne pepper and paprika.
  3. Peel the garlic, and crush under the flat side of a large knife. Nestle the squashed, whole clove in the middle of the baking tray. Season, then place the tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and browned. Turn the squash to let the other side soften and caramelise.
  4. Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the squash into a blender.
  5. Roast the red pepper in the same tray until soft, and add to the blender along with the cooking oil from the tray.
  6. Crumble the stock cube over the pepper and squash, and add enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a pan. Add more boiling water if the soup is too thick. Add the sage, and warm over a low heat.
  7. In a frying pan, crisp bacon, then slice into strips. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  8. Serve the soup topped with crisp bacon, alongside crusty bread.

seafood paella

What makes paella ‘authentic’ seems to be a contentious issue. Scroll through the comment section of almost any online recipe, and you won’t struggle to find the dispute. Lid versus newspaper, paella rice versus long grain, versus even risotto rice! Everyone’s having a go. One comment criticised a recipe’s authenticity, staking their claim to knowledge on their ex-partner’s brother’s father-in-law who was from Alicante. I have a friend who went to imageAlicante on holiday once (and doesn’t refrain from mentioning it), so maybe I too now understand Spanish cuisine. It isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these arguments, either: my first paella used a recipe branded as unauthentic.

But having made paella several times now, I have to come to a conclusion. What korma means to Britain, to Asia it does not. Do we squabble about it? No! Because we love the creamy, mild taste and savour those toasted nuts. And we still call it curry, even if it’s not really. If you’re still unconvinced, take a line from Shakespeare: “what’s in a name?“. The dish still uses rice, vegetables, meat or fish with largely the same cooking technique, whether in Britain or Spain. And it still tastes amazing. Paella is just the name attributed to dishes like this so people know what you’re on about! A name is by no means the most central part of a dish; that surely, would be its flavour. So very much in that vein, I urge you not to argue over whether the below is truly authentic paella. I’ll save you the trouble – growing scared of the ferocious rice-debate, I modified the paella I already knew how to make as I went imagealong. Instead, focus on what it tastes like! And if you still can’t resist, I’ll let you call it Seafood Rice. If it makes you feel better.

Ingredients

  • Short grain rice, roughly 3 handfuls per person
  • 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • 300g prawns
  • 750ml fish stock
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
  • 5 salad tomatoes, diced
  • Peas
  • A pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp of boiling water
  • Smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. (or a little more, to taste)
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • Fresh parsley

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. add the sliced onion, and cook for 5-8 minutes until it begins to soften. Then add the garlic and paprika, and fry for a further minute. Fry the prawns until slightly browned, and then remove to a plate.
  2. Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat well in the oil and spices. Add the hot stock and the saffron along with its water, stir to ensure all the rice is submerged, then cover. Reduce to a low heat, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Then, add the sliced peppers and quartered tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly al dente. Stir the rice. It should have absorbed the majority of the stock, but a small sauce should still remain. If the rice has no sauce, it is in danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more stock or hot water.
  4. Now add the mussels, peas and return the prawns to the pan. Check the level of stock, and if not too dry, replace the pad lid. Simmer for 4-7 minutes, steaming the mussels open. It’s important to monitor the mussels at this stage, as the longer the mussels cook for, the less palatable they will become. To ensure the mussels remain juicy, do not allow them to overcook!
  5. As soon as the mussels have opened, remove them from the heat. Season, and scatter with fresh parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.

 

 

mexican fajitas

Fajitas are a wonderfully easy dish, made seemingly even easier with starter kits. The pre-prepared packets of tortillas, salsa and seasoning that “just need chicken!”, give the impression that making your own fajitas from scratch would be too difficult and too time consuming, and that simply isn’t true. Of course, making your own tortillas would take a little time (although I made them at school and they’re actually incredibly simple to produce…in fact, I may post the recipe for them on here at some point in the future) but the composition of spices to flavour the chicken, or vegetables, is made from store-cupboard ingredients in about 5 minutes. Plus, if you have these spices to hand in your cupboards, you are actually saving yourself money by making use ingredients you already own – a large pack of tortillas from a supermarket will set you back no more than a £1.50, whereas a full kit is more than double that.

This spice mix recipe gives a really intense smoked flavour; a rustic, earthy feel to the flavour that will emphasise with each mouthful “this.is.homemade.”.

Ingredients

For the spice mix:

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (or less if you’re not into spicy food!)
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ crushed vegetable or chicken stock cube
  • 1 clove of finely sliced garlic

For the fajitas:

  • Bell pepper, sliced
  • Red onion, sliced
  • Mushrooms, quartered
  • Baby sweetcorn, sliced lengthways
  • Chicken breast, sliced (optional)
  • Salad
  • Grated cheddar, to top, to taste

Method

  1. Gather all the ingredients for the spice mix, and combine in a small bowl with a teaspoon. Ensure all the spices are well mixed – the overall colour should be reddy-orange, with flecks of white and green from the sugar and oregano respectively.
  2. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Wrap the flour tortillas in silver foil, and place in the oven for 10 minutes until warmed through. Remove after 10 minutes, and keep warm.
  3. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil. If using the chicken, fry this first.
  4. Then, add the vegetables to the frying pan: the sliced onion first, followed by the baby sweetcorn and pepper. Add the mushrooms last, and fry until everything is tender and slightly browned.
  5. Sprinkle the spice mix over the contents of the frying pan, and stir well to coat everything in the spices. Fry for 5 minutes more to ensure the flavours permeate all the components.
  6. On a clear surface, place a flour tortilla fresh from the oven. Place a layer of salad in a vertical line down the middle of the tortilla, with a gap of 2cm from the salad to the edge of the tortilla at one end.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat; add some vegetables to the tortilla, resting them on top of the salad. Top with grated cheese, if using.
  8. Fold the bottom edge of the tortilla up the gap of 2cm onto the filling. Then take one side of the tortilla, and pull it over to the middle tightly, covering the bottom fold.
  9. Take the other side of the tortilla, and roll this tightly over to the middle also. Place the tortilla join-down on a plate, to prevent it unrolling whilst preparing the rest!
  10. Repeat this process for all the warmed flour tortillas, until the filling runs out. Serve with a scoop of rice, and enjoy!