There is a tendency amongst some to view food as just a practical part of life. And whilst this does have elements of truth, it’s a bit hollow. Food is like a little gift – especially homemade food. And I don’t mean food that’s made as a gift; everyday food can innately be a gift. When somebody gives you a cup of tea, it’s a thoughtful act that says ‘I appreciate you’ with each sip. A big paella or a plate piled with fajitas that’s shared amongst friends is like giving that gift again and again, to everyone you care about. Food has the potential to be so much more than practical – if you’ve put in the time to make something, whether a pie with wonky pastry or a slightly ‘browned’ (burnt) cake, then eating it will mean that much more. Just look at the Lurpak advert! Minus, obviously, the bit where they sell their butter. Each of those adverts celebrates the challenge of homemaking food, especially when it comes out looking homemade. And it’s working on this theory, that I think cooking with someone is probably most fun.
Last year I used to tease my flat mate for eating either pasta with sauce or stir fry everyday. This year, it makes me smile when I open the fridge and see noodles or a jar of sauce! But she decided that she wanted to cook more, and so today we made the lentil loaf she had for Christmas dinner. We cooked up a storm. We did the whole thing in our pyjamas because we’re lazy, but this is the point! Cooking with a friend is a relaxed activity that is just a bit of fun, and gives you both something to enjoy at the end of it. Whether you can cook and your friend can’t, vice versa, whether you’re both amazing, or both awful, I would encourage everyone to seek out a friend and cook!
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
- 135g dried green lentils
- 250g sliced mushrooms
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 egg, beaten
- 112g cheddar, grated (preferably mature!), plus sliced mozzarella to top.
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp Marmite
- Salt and pepper
- Thyme, to taste (roughly 1 – 1 & 1/2 tsps)
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into thick batons
- Carrot and swede mash: ready made, bought from Tesco, or other large supermarkets.
- French beans
- Frozen peas
- Vegetarian gravy granules
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees. In a large saucepan, bring salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes and parsnips until tender, drain and remove to a plate. The potatoes will most likely take longer to boil than the parsnips, so ensure that the parsnips aren’t left in too long – they will fall apart 😦
- Whilst the potatoes and parsnips boil, make the lentil loaf. Boil the lentils for around 20 minutes until soft, then drain. Fry the onion, mushrooms & garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the lentils.
- Turn off the heat, and mix the ingredients well in the frying pan. Add the Marmite and mustard powder, and combine. Then, add the beaten egg and stir thoroughly to ensure that all the ingredients are coated in the egg. Sprinkle in the thyme, and stir.
- Grease a deep baking dish, and pour in the mixture from the frying pan. Top with sliced mozzarella, and season! Set aside for later.
- In a roasting tin, drizzle oil. Place the tin in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the roasting tin, and add the boiled potato chunks, tossing them in the hot oil. Season, and put back in the oven for an hour. Place the lentil loaf in the oven, and cook for an hour, until set and golden.
- 30 minutes after the potatoes went into the oven, remove the tray and add the parsnip batons. Place back in the oven, and roast for the final 30 minutes.
- Whilst the potatoes and parsnips are roasting, prepare the green beans and peas. Trim the ends of the beans, and boil for 15-20 minutes. The peas, from frozen, should take 5 minutes to cook – add these to the beans 5 minutes before the end cooking time. Drain, reserving the cooking water, and divide between warm plates. Melt a little butter over the beans, to draw out their flavour.
- As the lentil loaf, unlike a roasting joint, does not produce fatty cooking juice that can be made into gravy, vegetarian granules are needed to help the process along! Follow the packet instructions, reusing the water drained from the peas and beans, rather than boiling the kettle again.
- Remove the lentil loaf from the oven, and leave to stand, keeping warm. Take out the potatoes and parsnips, and divide between the plates.
- Add the swede and carrot mash to the plates, and then slice the lentil roast. Place a slice of the lentil loaf on each plate. Pour over the gravy, season, and serve!
I sometimes think that risotto is one of the most versatile dishes I know. Almost anything can be put in with the rice, and a delicious dish will always be the result. With a bit of time spare at the weekend, you can really put in the effort to create something amazing. For example, roasting vegetables and garlic in olive oil, and then taking effort to infuse the risotto rice with Moroccan spices, before combining the two for a dish full of colour and flavour. Or, say, a sweet potato and rosemary risotto – taking time to whizz up the sweet potato in a blender for a brilliant bright orange colour. Maybe, if you’re going to roast vegetables and garlic, you’d like to roast tomatoes to complement the earthy flavour of a turmeric-yellow risotto. Just to name but two examples. If you’re interested. But just as easily, within 20ish minutes, you can add mushrooms, tease out and enhance their flavour with parsley, and have a satisfying dinner.
- Button mushrooms, to taste, halved
- Arborio risotto rice, approximately 100g per person
- 250ml hot vegetable stock per person
- 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
- Grated cheddar cheese, to taste
- Knob of butter
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Heat in a large saucepan a little olive oil with some butter, and add the risotto rice. It is important to remember that the size of the pan must reflect the amount of rice – keeping it on ‘one level’ during cooking ensures half doesn’t out-cook the rest! This means you will have an evenly cooked meal. Stir the risotto rice in the oil and butter continuously, until the edges of each grain become slightly transparent.
- Add the sliced garlic, and fry until it smells aromatic. Then, add a ladle of hot stock, and stir. It is incredibly important to add the stock gradually – as it is added, it is absorbed by the rice, cooking it. If it is added too quickly, it will evapourate away but the rice may remain slightly raw.
- Half way through adding the stock, stir in the mushrooms, and sprinkle with the parsley. They will cook in the stock, and will darken in colour and reduce in size. Keep adding the stock to the mushrooms and the rice. As it is added, it should begin to form a small sauce, and the rice should be tender but with a slight ‘bite’ in the centre. Add another ladle of stock as the previous one is absorbed almost fully – if you run out of stock, just use boiling water. This process should take around 20 minutes.
- Keep on the heat for 5 minutes more to ensure it is all warmed through. Risotto is not meant to be thick, but creamy and spill onto the plate – if yours is too stodgy, add a little more hot water.
- Once the risotto is cooked, take it off the heat, add a knob of butter, and place a lid on the pan. Leave for 2 minutes, and add the grated cheddar.
- Leave the risotto with a lid on again for around 5 minutes, to allow the flavours to combine, absorbing the butter and cheese for extra ‘ooze’.
- Pour the risotto into a deep bowl. Drizzle a little oil over the top, if it needs further breaking up to ‘ooze’. Season, top with a little more parsley, and serve.