A savoury pudding? Yes it works: Vegetable and lentil crumble

Crumbles are one of my favourite puddings, especially on a cold day to warm and fill me up, there’s nothing like it. A while ago I came across a vegetable crumble in a magazine, and I was intrigued to know what it was. Was it one of these sweet puddings that you put vegetables in, like carrot or courgette cake that are all the rage these days? No, it was a savoury crumble, with vegetables in sauce as the base, and breadcrumbs and oats for the topping. I thought it looked appetising, but couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t actually what I’d call a crumble – it didn’t have the classic ‘crumble’ topping that makes a crumble a crumble (wow, lots of mentions of crumble there – can you tell I love them?!) So I thought, I know, I’ll do my own, and do a similar base to the magazine’s suggestion, but use a classic crumble topping of butter and flour (but no sugar) rubbed together to make a breadcrumb like texture before baking.

That was a while ago, and since then I’ve done various fillings with whatever we happen to have in the fridge and cupboards. Just recently I came up with what I think is my best yet, so I thought I’d share it with you on the blog. It’s also a very toddler-friendly food, as the crumble tends to get mixed up with the veggies when served, so it’s a good way to encourage vegetable eating with a tasty starchy topping that will go down easily. Not that we have problems with vegetable eating (yet! I’m not taking it for granted, I know fussy stages happen), but it’s still a good idea to have up my sleeve in case. The lentils give the base a lovely thick texture, and provide protein in a veggie dish (something I’m very aware of as I eat very little meat and no red meat). So here’s the recipe. This would feed about 4 adults, or two adults and a toddler for dinner and then a yummy leftover lunch the next day.

Ingredients

Crumble topping

  • 100g margarine
  • 300g plain flour
  • cumin seeds (or any other herb/spice that you’d like to use)
  • 75g mature cheddar, grated

Filling

  • 120g dried red lentils
  • 1 parsnip, cubed
  • half a large butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 courgette, cubed
  • 500ml reduced salt vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Fry the cubed parsnip and squash for about 5 minutes until starting to brown. Add the courgette and continue to fry for a few minutes.
  2. Rinse the lentils and add to the pan.
  3. Add the stock, bring to the boil, and simmer for a few minutes. Take off the heat.
  4. If you feel confident enough, make the crumble topping whilst keeping an eye on the vegetables frying. If not, wait until you’ve completed stage 3 (I tend to flit between one thing and another quite easily, but Tom is of the finish each stage one at a time before starting the next school of cooking). Rub the margarine and flour together until you get a texture that resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in some cumin seeds (or other herbs/spices) to taste.
  5. Pour the veggie filling into a large ovenproof dish. Spread the crumble topping over the top.
  6. Bake in the oven at 180ºC for about 30 minutes until golden. About 10 minutes before the end, sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and leave to melt and brown off in the oven.
  7. Serve as an all in one dish – vitamins, fibre (vegetables), protein (lentils, cheese) and carbohydrate (crumble topping) all together!

Traffic lights tart with home-made rocket pesto

Here’s a quick Saturday night tea that I made last weekend. Partly inspired by pizza, which I can’t currently eat due to my bread fast for Lent, and partly inspired by my love of pesto, which is pretty high in salt when you buy it from the shops, but if you make it yourself you can reduce or leave out the cheese which usually makes it so salty. Using rocket for the pesto gives it a really strong flavour so the salt is less necessary for flavouring purposes. If you haven’t guessed from the picture already, I called it ‘Traffic lights’ because it has red, yellow and green things on it!

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (you can make it yourself if you have time, but I’ve had bad experiences with pastry before so I only make it when I know I’m not in a hurry – which is hardly ever these days. A decent food processor would help me too)
  • 1 bag of fresh rocket
  • olive oil
  • 1 tin of pinto beans
  • half a tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 large tomato (I wanted to use sundried tomatoes, but when I opened the pot that had been in the fridge, I discovered it had gone mouldy! It hadn’t even been opened long. I’m considering taking it back if I have time.)

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry onto a lined baking sheet. Prick it with a fork several times all over the rectangle of pastry, leaving a border of about 2cm around all the edges.
  2. To make the pesto, whizz up the rocket with a decent glug of olive oil in a blender until you get a smooth paste.
  3. Spread the pesto over the pastry, leaving that 2cm border.
  4. Spread a mixture of sweetcorn and pinto beans all over the pesto until it is almost covered with a few green patches poking through.
  5. Cut the tomato into slices and add to the topping.
  6. Finish the topping by pouring a splash of olive oil over the top to keep it moist and brown the beans.
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°c for about 20-25 minutes, until the border is puffed and golden.
My boys loved it....here is Andrew tucking into his
My boys loved it....here is Tom coming back for thirds to finish it off!

40 breadless days, here I come…. but first some pancakes

When I announced to Tom this evening that I’m giving up bread for Lent, his reaction was ‘What??!! Are you mad??!!’…. to which my reply was ‘No, not mad Dear (well no more mad than usual), just wanted to do something really challenging this Lent.’ You see he knows how much I love bread and any bread products; I can’t usually go a day without something along those lines. Since we got a bread-maker, which I still maintain was one of my all-time best Christmas presents, I’ve been slightly obsessed with having fresh bread as often as possible. A few years ago my GP thought I might be gluten/wheat intolerant with the symptoms I was presenting. After 2 weeks of going gluten-free I’m sure I was more happy about the fact that I felt no better than having to carry on life without bread. (In the end it cleared up on its own and was put down to bouts of IBS.) It was a HARD 2 weeks; pasta I could cope without, and wheat cereals like Shreddies and bran flakes just about, but not bread, that was the hard part.

So when a friend at work today mentioned another friend had given up bread for Lent last year, that gave me a great idea. I was thinking of giving up chocolate, as that too would be challenging, but then I thought I’d just eat other things like cake, biscuits and sweets in its place. Having a blanket ban on sweet snacks wouldn’t do me much good either, as I find I need lots of energy during the day, with all the walking, cycling, swimming and of course breastfeeding that I’m doing. So bread was the answer to my search for a Lenten challenge: I would certainly miss it, and it’s not really replaceable with anything similar.

But why bother to give up anything at all for Lent? The tradition, as far as I was taught as a child, comes from the fact that the 40 days before Easter, or the period we call Lent, is a time when Christians take time to reflect on and contemplate quietly what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. Traditionally they used to fast completely; this helped focus their mind on this reflection and contemplation, and it would certainly make them appreciate God’s provision in all the things they missed whilst fasting. More recently the tradtion became giving up just one thing, maybe a food or maybe something else like buying magazines, watching TV or biting finger nails. The point is that it’s something you find hard. However, some people might not find it particularly helpful to give something up to focus more on God. When I was a student, one of the leaders of our church student group once said that actually doing something new/different every day instead might help some people focus on God, for example making an effort to pray for longer or serve others by helping out with a charity. For me this year, as I give up something I know I love to eat, I will try to spend more time focused on God, and every time that I crave some bread, I know it will remind me to do so.

And finally the pancake bit. Along with the tradition of fasting in Lent was the tradition of using up all the fatty food that was in the larder beforehand, so the temptation wasn’t there to eat it. What better way to use up eggs, milk and flour than to make pancakes! This day, always a Tuesday (because Easter is always a Sunday and it’s 40 days before that), became known as Shrove Tuesday (to shrove means to ‘make merry’). In more recent years this has become Pancake Day thanks to the yummy things we eat in this 24-hour period.

This year I decided to make some pancakes for dinner, some with a savoury bean filling, and some with a sweet filling for afters. My pancake recipe was following the legendary Delia (I usually look up basic classic things like this on her website), and the fillings were my own. The bean filling was what has affectionately become known in our home as ‘Beanie thing’. Basically it’s what we have when we want a meal that’s more than just a snack but isn’t too heavy either. It turns out differntly every time because I vary the ingrediens slightly depending on what we have in the cupboard and what we fancy in particular. So I can’t really write an ingredients list, but here’s an idea about how to make it.

  • Chop and onion and a garlic clove. In a saucepan, fry in a little olive oil until golden and softened.
  • Add a tin of beans (drained first) such as cannellini, borlotti, black-eye, kidney, haricot etc. or even chick peas or lentils.
  • Add some other veg like sweetcorn/peas/grated carrots/diced pepper/mushrooms.
  • Add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Stir well to mix up all the ingredients.
  • Add some herbs like dried mixed herbs or indiviual things like oregano/cumin/parsley (anything you like really). Even add a dash of Tobasco if you’re feeling like a bit of a kick to it.
  • Mix up a couple of tablespoons of cornflour with a little cold water, to form a thin paste. Add this to the bean mixture and stir well. Keep on the heat until it’s thickened up as much as you’d like.
  • Serve with fresh bread (or, if you’re giving it up for Lent, some alternative….need to think about that….), or pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

After we’d finished our savoury pancakes with beans, there were sweet ones filled with white chocolate buttons, which melted and oozed out as the pancake was still hot 🙂 Andrew only had a small taster of mine as I didn’t want to risk a sugar high that close to bedtime (as it turns out he’s shattered after a busy day with Granny and Grandad and went straight off to sleep!) What did you fill your pancakes with? Any unusual toppings that you’ve come up with or heard of? Happy Shrove Tuesday everyone, have a flipping good time 🙂

Top up your toddler with vitamins and iron – the green way

Yummy scrummy in my tummy 🙂

When I came across this recipe for Green Risotto, I thought what a great way it is to get toddlers eating the vitamins and iron that are found in spinach and peas, which are not always the most popular of foods amongst our littluns, though I’m glad to say that so far (I’m aware this can change) ours has shown no signs of being fussy, and it surprises me sometimes just how much of all kids of different foods he’ll try and polish off. At the moment for him it’s more a case of he can’t (in great quantities) rather than he won’t eat spinach, because he only has two teeth (I think he’s put all his developmental effort in mastering walking recently), so I have to cut it up very small for him otherwise he can’t seem to ‘gum’ it very easily like he can other foods. But at least he’s not against the flavour. Peas are definitely one of his favourites – not sure whether it’s the fun of picking them up one by one and perfecting his pincer movement, or the flavour, but all I care about is that he eats them.

The veggies are whizzed up in this risotto, so even the most suspecting toddler won’t be able to see actual pieces of veg, just a lovely thick bright green sauce. And let’s face it, bright colours are so appealing when you’re a little person – that’s why all their toys/books/clothes etc. are brightly coloured. I thought it would be a good idea to share this recipe on the blog, for anyone who’s wondering how they can get those all important vitamins and iron into their littluns who might not be too keen on eating visible plant life.

Do you think I can eat it with this spoon Mummy?!

The recipe is based on one from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew got for his birthday from Uncle Matt and Aunty Helen, along with a gorgeous little kids’ apron for when he’s old enough to help me cook. The book is a fantastic mix of snacks, mains, breakfasts and puddings, all beautifully illustrated with Paddington Bear doing bits of cooking. I’d definitely recommend it if you’d like some child-friendly recipe ideas, for getting them involved in both cooking and eating. This recipe was about half the quantities that it said for 4-6 people, and it served two adults and a hungry toddler just right. It would also freeze well, but I didn’t buy enough spinach this time to make double and freeze half; I’m already planning on doing that next time. I used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan, because I forgot to buy the special cheese and we always have the ordinary stuff in the fridge – it worked fine. I also replaced the butter with olive oil, because we were running a bit low and I needed it for the other recipe I was making that night (post to follow…) So that’s enough of an intro…. on with the green stuff!

Look at my grogeous Cath Kitson apron

Ingredients

  • 500g spinach
  • some dried or fresh mint leaves (how much is up to you – depends how minty you want it)
  • 125g frozen peas
  • 500ml vegetable stock (I used reduced salt stock)
  • 50g cheddar cheese
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • 150g rice (I don’t usually buy risotto rice on the grounds that ordinary long grain rice tastes nice too and is considerably cheaper when you’re on a budget like us)
  • basil leaves (optional)

Method

  1. Wash the spinach and cut off any tough stalks.
  2. Put it in a saucepan of boiling water for just a minute, to blanch. Drain, keeping the water.
  3. In the same water, cook the peas and drain. Liquidise the spinach, mint and peas, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary (whoops I burnt out the motor in my aging liquidiser doing this! Time for a new one I think).
  4. Heat the stock and grate the cheese.
  5. Chop the onion finely. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two. You should hear the rice crackling when it’s ready for the next stage.
  6. Add 2 ladlefuls of stock and watch, stirring often, until it is absorbed into the rice. Carry on, a ladleful at a time, until the rice is almost completely soft but the risotto is still creamy. This should take about 20 minutes.
  7. Now stir in the spinach, mint and pea puree, and half the cheese. Add the basil leaves if you have them.
  8. Serve with the rest of the grated cheese.

I polished off my lovely green risotto
Green monster! (He had a bath straight after this... and turned the bath water green!)

Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut tart

We have a great cook book called Cooking For Friends by Gordon Ramsey. It’s where I always look first when (funnily enough) we have friends round for a meal. This weekend we were supposed to have one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round, but unfortunately she was sick and they had to postpone. As I’d bought the ingredients for this tart anyway, I thought I might as well carry on and make it for the 3 of us, and freeze half for another day. It’s a vegetarian recipe which has lots of flavour and really fills you up. I adapted it slightly from the original recipe (of course!), by putting yoghurt and milk in instead of double cream, because I thought it was rich enough with the pastry, feta and parmesan, and because we always have lots of milk and yoghurt in the fridge these days. I think Andrew’s not supposed to have pine nuts just yet (choking hazard?) so I just sprinkled them onto three quarters of the tart and gave the pine-nut-less bit to him. As I thought I was running out of time before our friends came, I forgot to take pictures of every stage, though in the end I should have just looked at my phone earlier and I’d have seen a text to say they wouldn’t be able to make it. Anyway, here goes with what I did manage to capture…

Ingredients

  • 320g ready-rolled shortcrust pastry (I didn’t have time to make my own)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400g spinach leaves, washed and drained
  • nutmeg, to grate
  • 200g feta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • 100ml milk
  • 50g toasted pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

Method

  1. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line a 23-25cm tart tin (Ramsey says to use one with a removable base, but I don’t have one of those, so I used a solid pyrex-style one). Press the pastry into the edges of the tin and leave a little excess dangling over the sides. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion with a little pepper. Stir frequently over medium heat until soft but not browned: about 6-8 minutes. Then wilt the spinach leaves in the same pan as the onion. Stir them over a medium-high-heat just until they’ve wilted, then transfer to a colander set over a large bowl. Press down on the spinach with the back of a ladle to squeeze out the excess water, then cool slightly.
  3. Put the onion and spinach in a large bowl and grate over a little nutmeg. Add the feta, eggs, yoghurt, milk and a generous grating of black pepper. Chill until ready to use.

    Spinach, onions, feta, egg, yoghurt and milk mixed together to make the filling
  4. Heat the oven to 200°c. Line the pastry with foil and fill with baking beans. Bake blind (i.e. without any filling) for 15-20 minutes until the sides are lightly golden. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes until the base is golden and there are no more uncooked patches left. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 170°c.

    Blind baked pastry case - except I noticed when taking this photo that it still had uncooked patches on the bottom, so I put it in uncovered for a bit longer)
  5. Spread the filling over the pastry shell, then sprinkle the parmesan and pine nuts over the top.
    Grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts, ready to sprinkle on top

    Tart ready to go into the oven (pine nuts delibertely only sprinkled on 3/4 of it)
  6. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling is set. Cool slightly before serving.
    Half eaten tart - forgot to take photo when it came out of the oven (probably because Andrew was clearly keen to eat it and was letting me know this!) I think I could have done with squeezing out more of the excess water from the spinach, but it tasted yummy anyway.

    Tart in process of being consumed - served with roasted parsnips and carrots and some couscous salad